Change can be a very good thing sometimes.
For the last number of years, the battle for the World Challenge Championships has started at Sebring International Raceway – but not this year. March 26-28, the World Challenge will crank it up on the Streets of Petersburg, Florida, where we run alongside the IRL series.
I will be running at Sebring before St. Pete for the ALMS 12 hours of Sebring endurance race. I’ll be driving a Porsche with James Sofronas and Bret Curtis and the stand-out GMG Motorsports team. I am really looking forward to running with James and Bret in the Porsche GT3RS. We’ll be competing in the new ALMS GTC class.
For me Sebring will be a great warm up for the first World Challenge race. We last raced at St. Pete in 2006 and I was driving the Cadillac CTS-V when an electrical problem completely cut the electrics on my car for about 30 seconds while I was leading with about two laps to go. I’ll just forget that little episode.
I love the track – it’s a real racers track. When I say that, I mean that it has really tight technical parts and awesome fast kinks that are taken at over 120mph, where you have to twitch the car left or right, sliding just inches away from the concrete walls.
St. Pete is a street course, but large parts of it have more of a road course feel than most street circuits. It has an airstrip as the main straightaway. After that main straight, where at times we could battle five cars wide, we have a brutal right-hand turn that immediately funnels down to a one-lane chicane, which then opens up into a very fast right hander on to another very wide short straight. It’s great to drive and a blast for the spectators who congregate by the thousands in the turn one grandstands.
The mid part of the track has a tight technical area that really challenges the chassis set up of the car. In part of this section there are a couple of huge heaves in the track that can cause the car to go airborne right before you have to brake and turn for the next corner, it can be a heart stopper if you try to carry too much speed here. I have found it quite difficult to stop a car while it’s in mid air, but I’ll keep trying!
The back side of the track has my two favorite sections. They are both really fast. After the airborne section there is a very fast left hand kink that is taken at over 120 mph, followed by an always slippery 90-degree slow left hander.
The last complex before coming back on to the main straight is tricky, fast and dangerous. The straight up to the complex is wide enough for two cars to come in to the chicane together, but there’s no way two cars could get through there intact. Over the years we have seen numerous crashes in this complex where drivers refuse to give way and ultimately take each other out.
As you can tell, St. Pete is a track where fools are not suffered gladly. Even a simple spin out here can cause massive damage as speeds are very high and the concrete walls are not forgiving in any way.
So, what did World Challenge decide for our first season opening weekend? They decided to have two races, one on Saturday and one on Sunday! Just to make sure that the car owners and sponsors have completely grey hair by the end of the weekend.
As a driver I’m always happy to race so I’m excited to have a full weekend of street action in St. Pete. As a plus, we are running with the IRL Series. It’s always good to run with the IRL Series – between the two series, we get a huge and enthusiastic crowd.
There is another change in 2010 for fans to look forward to.
World Challenge has traditionally had two races running separate classes, the GT class where Vipers, Corvettes, Volvo S60s and Porsches run and the TC class for BMWs, Hondas, Mazdas and Acuras. For 2010 World Challenge we will run both the GT and TC classes together and add a third class in the middle called GTS. All three classes will run together in the same race!
This will be awesome in my humble opinion. For most of my career I have run multi-class fields and handling traffic is a part of racing skill. World Challenge in 2010 will create the traffic variable like I have never dealt with in this series.
The speed differentials between GT and TC classes on the straights will be huge, possibly over 50 mph in some places. A major point however is this – the TC and GTS cars will be as fast, or even slightly faster than the GT cars through some apexes of some corners. This is especially true on a street course where the much wider GT cars will have to take slower and wider lines through the tighter corners. This traffic speed differential and corner speed scenario will require skill, patience and luck to deal with and remember, concrete isn’t very forgiving, it’s going to be a blast!
World Challenge has a great fan base. The fans are knowledgeable and super enthusiastic. They remind me of NASCAR fans in many ways, and just like NASCAR fans they love to follow their favorite drivers and their favorite manufacturers.
There’s a fantastic array of returning drivers, manufacturers and teams that will compete this year in World Challenge.
I am particularly interested in the Brass Monkey Racing Team of Tony Rivera and Steve Ott bringing two Nissan GT-Rs to the series. The Nissan GT-R is an icon in tuner circles and a brilliantly engineered car. This team will be formidable in 2010.
I just heard that my good friend Ron Fellows will be racing in World Challenge once again running a Corvette with the CRP race team. This is fantastic news – Ron is a brilliant racer with wins in every type of race car on the planet. He is mega fast in anything and I know all of us drivers are very happy to see him back in the series.
It’s great to see the TruSpeed team back and running three Porsche GT-3 Cup cars. I have known Charles Morgan and his son Rob for years and both of them are really fast in their Porsches. Last year was a learning curve for them running on the series spec tire Toyo R888s, but I am sure they will be fully sorted for St. Pete. Charles and Rob raise the whole level of any series they compete in, they are total professionals.
I see that Patrick Lindsey will also be stepping into the GT class for TruSpeed after running in TC last year. I don’t know Patrick well off track, but I do know he is quick and a true pro. Last year I was running very hard in practice at Laguna Seca in my Volvo GT car and came up on the back of Patrick in his Mazda6 into the very fast and blind apex turn 6. I knew it was Patrick and decided to slide inside him right at turn in. We both made it through coming within an inch of touching. We both went through fast, gave each other room, never touched, side by side at the apex. Really good stuff. Patrick will do very well this year I am sure.
Two good racing friends of mine, Jason Daskalos and Tony Gaples are coming back. Jason was a race winner last year at Mosport and is teamed with Fred Roberts for 2010, both will be driving the thunderous Dodge Vipers.
Tony Gaples is a class act and it’s great to see him back for 2010. He had some reliability problems last year, so hopefully this year he will be in good position to run full gas with his wailing Black Dog Corvette (that car sounds awesome).
GMG have become a powerhouse in World Challenge. James Sofronas and Dino Crescentini were both race winners last year and are back. They will be running with Bill Ziegler as a third team driver and they will be very, very strong in their Porsches.
Woodhouse Racing will be back again for 2010. The super quick drivers Kuno Wittmer and Jeff Courtney will be running Vipers out of this very experienced team. They will be a force this year.
The K-PAX/3R team will be back with Randy Pobst and myself driving our monster Volvo S60 AWDs. We are ready to run and run hard. Randy and I feel very fortunate to be on this K-PAX/3R team. The team is run just like all the pro factory teams I have been on. Great people, true professionals and programmed to win. Randy and I will be ready to rip up the pavement at St. Pete!
RealTime racing will be running the new GTS class this year with their stunningly quick Acura TSXs. Five-time World Challenge Driver Champion Peter Cunningham and Nick Esayian will be driving and they will be a force to deal with.
The TC class has a good number of cars and many very quick drivers. We have teams running Honda, Acura, Mazda and Scion platforms represented by Mark Hein, Brett Sandberg, Shea Holbrook, Eric Meyers, Charlie Solomon, Robert Stout, Dan Gardner and Tom Lepper respectively. The TC class will be fighting hard at St. Pete, the track there really suits these very nimble cars, especially in the tight sections.
The added dimension of the massively powerful and less nimble GT and GTS cars coming up on the TC battles will be a major factor for the TC drivers. The TC drivers will have to run a race looking out of the front windshield initially as we all do. After a few laps though, it all changes for the TC drivers as the GT leaders will be on them, they will have to drive with one eye out the rear view for most of the time as the faster cars bear down, all between the concrete – such fun! I’ve been in that class, I’ve done it, it taught me a ton and it’s NOT easy. Just watch how good these TC drivers are at working around the faster cars.
St. Pete would be feast for race fans with one race inside the concrete cage, but fans will have TWO races on the weekend! I hope the team owner’s hearts can stand it. Hope to see you all March 26-28th.