PWC explains 2017 provisional schedule release process

Photo: PWC

If it seemed somewhat surprising to see how the Pirelli World Challenge 2017 provisional schedule was disseminated this past weekend at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, it was because simply, it was.

While there was talk going into the weekend that the 2017 schedule would come out, the intended goal for World Challenge was only to release its 2017 schedule once all dates were finalized and no TBAs were listed on the calendar.

However, SRO Motorsports Group used its weekend at the Total 24 Hours of Spa for a formal release of SRO calendars to come out.

It’s SRO’s marquee weekend of the year and similar to the ACO and the 24 Hours of Le Mans, or INDYCAR and the Indianapolis 500, there’s always going to be a greater amount of news released.

While the intention was for one SRO round of its Intercontinental GT Challenge to be the one World Challenge-related schedule item to be the one thing released, what instead happened was the provisional World Challenge schedule was released there as part of SRO’s “2017 Projects and Evolution: PWC.”

What further complicated matters was then that the Mid-Ohio date listed by SRO was incorrect, and the some of the World Challenge paddock seemed to discover the information from Spa rather than directly at Mid-Ohio.

For all intents and purposes, the SRO and PWC relationship has been a strong one since the formal partnership has been expanded in 2016, and what this weekend amounted to was a miscommunication over who said what, how much, and when.

In speaking with PWC President/CEO Greg Gill at Mid-Ohio this weekend, the process was meant to inform key PWC stakeholders (manufacturers and teams) of the provisional schedule internally, before any widespread release.

“For us, as you know, this is the earliest we’ve ever released a provisional schedule. We’re very happy with that,” Gill told NBC Sports.

“However, the actual release process featured a couple of TBA dates. At this point, not understanding what and how SRO would do on our behalf, we made the decision to have our annual manufacturer council meeting here, as is our habit, to give them an ‘on-screen look’ only.

“Here’s our provisional schedule, here’s our intention – this is not going to be released. This is for planning purposes… and by Sonoma, we’ll have a permanent schedule.”

Gill and SRO head Stephane Ratel, who was named to the WC Vision Board of Directors earlier this year as part of SRO Motorsports Group becoming a shareholder within WC Vision, talk regularly and agreed it was just a miscommunication.

“It wasn’t intentional on our part and I can assure you it wasn’t intentional on Stephane’s part, either,” Gill explained.

“Stephane was doing what he normally would, releasing the information. Eight months into our relationship, there could not be a higher degree of respect for their professionalism.”

The breakdown of the schedule itself, then, features a couple notable adjustments.

Four confirmed IndyCar weekends are announced, with the return of races at St. Petersburg, Long Beach, Road America and Mid-Ohio – the Mid-Ohio weekend at a corrected July 28-30, 2017 date rather than the Aug. 4-6, 2017 date as listed by SRO.

World Challenge standalone, and therefore headliner, weekends are at Virginia International Raceway, a new addition (more on that in a second), and returning rounds at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, Lime Rock Park, Utah Motorsports Complex (date TBA) and Circuit of The Americas.

VIR comes as a replacement round for the Barber weekend, which each of the last two years has come the week after Long Beach and proven a logistical headache from a back-to-back race weekend standpoint. Gill has sought to alleviate that concern for teams from that cross-country commute in a matter of a few days.

COTA, meanwhile, moves from its March date the last two years to Labor Day weekend, the first weekend of September.

Utah’s date is TBA while the second TBA on the schedule looks like it could be Sonoma, but a date and final formal details are not set in stone there beyond being listed as “September.”

The Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca season finale – which moves from September last year to October this year – will stay in October in 2017 but also feature the 8-hour Intercontinental GT Challenge race for the SRO.

With the likelihood that IMSA would release its 2017 calendars this weekend, it remains to be seen whether there are any conflicts. Gill stressed the importance, from his vantage point, of not having any conflicts, to help any customers who’d be interested in running either or both of the two series.

Then we get to the fact that there’s the Sprint and Sprint-X formats both listed on the 2017 schedules.

Sprint formats are listed at the four IndyCar joint weekends and the second TBA, while Sprint-X formats are listed for the five standalone headliner events.

Further details of quite how Sprint and Sprint-X will be regulated, run and operated will come likely by Sonoma this year, if not sooner.

The total amount of Sprint and Sprint-X races for 2017 has not been determined at this point.

Gill explained that for Sprint-X, which is in its first year this year, the idea to keep this type of racing going was created independent of the SRO involvement in the series, but does closely sync up with the Blancpain Sprint Series format that is run overseas.

“It’s consistent with what we’ve discussed,” Gill said. “With Sprint and Sprint-X, there was influence of the SRO with extended sprint race. It is successful for them with increased car counts.

“There’s Blancpain Sprint – which (mirrors) our extended sprint – and then Blancpain Endurance as SRO championships.

“Sprint-X developed out of an interest from our team-based customers with multiple cars, this is a good idea for us to do. During that time and evolution from May at Detroit 2015, we found the relationship with SRO, and SRO happens to have that exact format. That gave us a lot of 10-year history to build off of.”

Between now and Sonoma (Sept. 16-18), and with the Utah round of Aug. 12-14 the next chance for the World Challenge paddock to reconvene before Sonoma, Gill and World Challenge are planning further dialogue and communication of the process before finalizing the schedule – and format – details of the 2017 World Challenge season.

Mid-Ohio is often a stressful weekend because there’s the mix of planning for the next year and championship battles in the current year that generally make emotions run high.

Asked whether the World Challenge paddock is a happier one this Mid-Ohio year compared to the last two, Gill said yes, but with different word choice.

“Yes, but given happy is an emotion and a moving target, we have to have a more clear communication process, and a more transparent process,” he said.

“That’s key for us. Last year I sat here and apologized for the series’ poor communication and that we needed to do better.

“That’s what we’re working towards on a daily basis.”

2017 Provisional Pirelli World Challenge Schedule

Date            Track

March 10-12     Streets of St. Petersburg
April 7-9       Streets of Long Beach
April 28-30     Virginia International Raceway
May 19-21       Canadian Tire Motorsport Park
May 26-27       Lime Rock Park
June 23-25      Road America
July 28-30      Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course
August          TBA
Sept. 1-3       Circuit of the Americas (COTA)
September       TBA
Oct. 13-15      SRO Intercontinental GT Challenge - 
                Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca

Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night / DB3 Inc.

On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.

Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)