Pirelli World Challenge, the Sports Car Club of America’s pro series, kicked off its 2013 season with a one-hour race Saturday evening, and the race showed how much great racing goes on under the radar in North America.
World Challenge is a lot like Grand-Am’s Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge in that it features large grids of mildly modified street cars—real cars you could actually see on the street—and offers insane amounts of action throughout the races. World Challenge has a few more high-end cars—Mercedes SLSs and Audi R8s—more like FIA GT1 in that respect—and runs two races per weekend sometimes. Otherwise the series are similar.
World Challenge, with one-third the race duration, might be even more manic than CTSCC; drivers have no strategy but to go faster; no pit stops, no new tires, no refueling, and new for 2013, no weight penalty for winners.
World Challenge used to use a Rewards system, where the fastest cars would have to carry ballast to keep the fields tight. This led to some drivers not going all out for race wins—if a car could finish second twice in a weekend it could gain more points than if it won one race and finished well back in the second due to the added weight.
With all that gone, there drivers have nothing to consider but how to get around the car ahead.
Alex Figge and Randy Pobst in the KPAX Volvos owned the first row, but right behind was Ryan Dalziel in the Privacy Star Porsche, who picked off Pobst in Turn Ten halfway through the race. James Sofronas in one of the GMG Audi R8s picked off Pobst next, while Dalziel set off after Figge.
Just after two-thirds distance in the timed race, the #51 Bushey Nissan broke, necessitating a safety car, which closed up the field and set up a four-lap shootout. On the restart Figge managed to hold off Dalziel on the run into Turn One, but carried too much speed and ran wide, letting the Porsche driver by on the way to Turn Two.
On the next lap Randy Pobst ran wide at Turn Ten, letting both Cadillacs get past him. The finishing order was Dalziel, Alex Figge, and James Sofronas.
With the margin of victory only 1.312, 2.1 seconds covered the top three finishers—and that was just GT.
The GTS class battle was just as involved with Jack Baldwin getting by the Camaro of Andy Lee on the restart to take the win—and as with the GT class, non-stop battling throughout the field all race long. This was the kind of race where the spectators either got their drinks before the green flag waved or went thirsty.
“As the race progressed, I could run with Andy, we were both deteriorating at about the same rate,” Baldwin said after the race. “I really don’t think I had anything for him—I was looking for something, but I’m not sure. When we hit that caution, I thought it was going to help him more than it helped me. But when the tires cooled down I felt that grip and that was what I needed. I knew I was going to get one shot at him, and we got it done. My hat’s off to Andy, he races hard, he races clean, he’s a good driver.
“This is great for me. I was born and raised here in Tampa, I’ve raced here before in St. Pete, so this is my actual home town. It’s really great to win here in St. Pete, I love this race and I love this race track.”
Then just in case fans hadn’t experienced unexpected results,Dalziel’s front splitter was found to be ten millimeters to wide in post-race tech inspection, and the victory was given to Alex Figge after all.
“I don’t know what to say about winning a race in the tech shed,” Figge told world-challenge.com. “Ryan and I are close friends, and I’ve known the guys at TrueSpeed for a long time. I know they didn’t do anything intentional, and you hate to win this way. It’s nice to get the points, but I’m looking forward to getting another shot at doing it on the track tomorrow.”
The second fifty-minute race of the weekend starts at 10:25 a.m. Sunday. Tickets can be purchased at the gate or through the IndyCar Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg website.
The race will also be streamed live at www.world-challengeTV.com.
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