If you’ve never paid attention to the Pirelli World Challenge Series, 2014 will be a great year to start.
This year’s season is poised to be the best yet, with several new teams and automakers joining the fray including a whole host of exotics like as the Ferrari 458 Italia and McLaren MP4-12C. With the series kicking off this weekend on March 28 in St. Petersburg, Florida, we’ve decided to toss together a preview of some of the more exciting teams and vehicles to keep an eye out for – while getting you up to speed.
On that note, here’s the basics of what you need to know to get the most out of watching World Challenge, which this year is celebrating its 25th anniversary as a series. Each year there are roughly 14 to 16 races at 12 venues throughout the U.S. and Canada, often alongside an IndyCar event. Each race lasts 50 minutes, so it’s a sprint to the finish every time. Making each race more exciting, is that it’s a standing start format – like Formula 1. And perhaps the most important fact is that every race is live-streamed on WorldChallengeTV.com – which is refreshing considering how hard it is to watch most race series.
Over the past few years numerous new vehicle classes have been added, from the sub-compact B-Spec to a new class this year for gentlemen drivers. With six different classes, it can be confusing, so we’ll just focus on the top-tier (and most exciting) GT class.
Seen above, the K-Pax Racing team is changing things up this year by bringing back McLaren racing to the U.S. K-Pax Racing has been competing in the World Challenge Series since 2007 and is no stranger to the events. It will however, have a fresh new face this season as it will no longer be racing Volvo S60.R vehicles, but rather the British automaker’s 12C GT3 race cars. It marks the return of McLaren to North American sports car racing for the first time in 30 years.
K-Pax Racing’s 12C GT3 race cars still have stiff competition, however, with R. Ferri Motorsport competing with a pair of GT3-spec Ferrari 458 race cars. That won’t be the only team competing with the 458 Italia either, as DragonSpeed will also field a pair of the Italian automaker’s exotics with Mike Hedlund behind the number-64 car and Henrik Hedman driving the number-10 car. As for the R. Ferri Motorsport team, the number-61 458 GT3 will have Anthony Lazzaro behind the wheel while Nick Mancuso will pilot the number-16 car.
No race series is complete without an entry that represents Audi, and GMG Racing will be campaigning the Audi R8 LMS ultra this season. The California-based team captured a team-high three victories last season and narrowly missed out on the GT championship. It will field four race vehicles at St. Petersburg this weekend and GMG team owner James Sofronas is looking forward to sealing the championship this year with the more extreme R8 LMS ultra and a team of talented drivers.
But it won’t be easy for any of the teams involved when Team Cadillac continues to compete at a high level. Drivers Johnny O’Connell and Andy Pilgrim are more than ready to defend their driver and manufacturer championships from 2012 and 2013. Most importantly though, Cadillac is looking forward to the new competition from McLaren, Ferrari and other automakers to prove American muscle won’t be easily taken down. “I think all of the new entries and manufacturers is all positive for the series,” said Andy Pilgrim. “With two prime sports car racing series, I think the World Challenge Series is really a great place for teams to race. The new cars will be interesting for us as drivers and especially for the fans.”
But when it comes to GT class racing, you can never count out Porsche. This year, Effort Racing will be bringing two brand new 911 GT3 Rs to the series with some particularly eye-catching livery.
In addition, Reiter Engineering will be campaigning Lamborghini Gallardo GT3 race cars in what will certainly be a sight to behold once all the exotics are hitting the track.
And while a BMW Z4 might not be as exciting as the McLaren 12C or Ferrari 458 Italia, seasoned BMW race team Turner Motorsport has also recently announced it will compete in this year’s World Challenge Series. The team competed at the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring, grabbing a hard-fought seventh place finish and will be campaigning in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship for the rest of the season. The announcement to join World Challenge as well comes as a unique surprise with Turner Motorsport having a long history in the series.
Last but hardly least, you’ll want to keep an eye out for the all-new Acura TLX GT race car. Long time Acura Motorsports partner RealTime Racing is hardly a stranger to World Challenge, but the TLX GT will face some stiff competition against the European exotics and even the Cadillac team. But you can’t count out Peter Cunningham and RealTime Racing, the most successful team in Pirelli World Challenge history. “In our 27 years of racing Hondas and Acuras, we have developed a clear understanding of what it takes to win races and championships,” RTR team principal Cunningham said. “In 2014, the Pirelli World Challenge GT class looks to be more competitive and diverse than at any time in the history of the series, and we look forward to the challenges that lie ahead. We will be working hard to develop the new TLX GT into a winning package. That’s what we love to do.”
To make the TLX GT competitive, the car will feature all-wheel drive and a new twin-turbo V6 engine – similar to what is expected to debut in the upcoming NSX road car.
Make sure to catch all the World Challenge Series action by watching it live streaming here.