Pirelli World Challenge Goes All Out At Lime Rock Park
Story and Photos by Mike Bumbeck
The Pirelli World Challenge is an action packed racing series featuring a multitude of makes, models and horsepower options. If a win on Sunday, sell on Monday is the mantra of motorsport then a few new sport and touring cars were likely sold after thousands of race fans descended into Lime Rock Park for the running of the Pirelli World Challenge on Memorial Day weekend. The production car based racing battle is in its 28th consecutive season and hit the storied New England race track for two days of racing action with everything from Audi R8 supercars to Mazda subcompact hatchbacks tossing it up around the 1.50-mile road course.
The Pirelli World Challenge or PWC series carries on a tradition set in motion by SCCA showroom stock with classes ranging from 500-plus horsepower Grand Touring or GT racers to the not far from showroom-spec production machines in Touring Car B-spec or TCB. Lime Rock saw all seven PWC divisions run double races through the rain on Friday and shine on Saturday. Connections between the cars and drivers on the race track and the cars and race fans were strong at Lime Rock with paddock access and a Saturday autograph session offering plenty of access to the racing experience.
The biggest and fastest of the Pirelli World Challenge proved that speed might be a matter of money, but winning is a result of team strategy and driving skill. SprintX races saw the high horsepower Grand Touring heavies run with one driver change during the race. The question of how fast do you want to go was answered in part by Spencer Pumpelly and Dane Cameron who took a first PWC win on Friday driving an Audi R8 LMS. Heavy hitters from Cadillac, Bentley, Acura, McLaren, Porsche, Lamborghini, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, and Ferrari posted quick and fast lap times around unforgiving circuit.
Stepping down in horsepower a bit to Grand Touring Sport or GTS brings an eclectic field of entries by manufacturers from Ford to Panoz. Saturday’s GTS race saw the Flying Lizard Porsche Cayman driven by Rodrigo Baptista way out in front of the pack at the start, falling back in the middle, and then clawing his way back through the pack of everything from Chevrolet Camaros and Ford Mustangs to super light KTM X-Bow machines for the well-deserved win in an tire-to-tire battle of regular and homologated production car racing.
Maybe you’re thinking hey, wait a minute I can’t afford a drive a Mercedes-Benz AMG anything or fork over 162 large for an Audi R8. PWC has got you covered. Some of the most frenetic side-by-side up on three wheels racing action at the Lime Rock running of the PWC unfolded in the Touring Car classes – a group that has become so popular that the field was split into Touring Car or TC running by itself with Touring Car A-spec or TCA running together with the Touring Car B-spec or TCB bunch.
Gracie Hackenberg is an engineering major from Smith College working an internship on the Hale Motorsports TC Miata crew and working with Mazda to build a Grassroots Motorsports $2017 Challenge racer.
It might seem at first glance that TC is overrun with the BMW 235iR, but looks can be deceiving. Hectic action at Lime Rock that called out different automaking design and engineering approaches expertly demonstrated by Elivan Goulart who drove not one but two Touring Cars. On Friday Goulart strapped into the KRUGSPEED Lotus Exige TC entry, got out on the BMWs and pole position Audi RS3 and took the win in a demonstration of light makes right. The battle between Holton in his Audi and Goulet in the Lotus stole some thunder from the Bavarian pack.
Rain soaked the Friday battle between the lightweight mid-engine Lotus Exige and teutonic Audi RS3 heavy.
Factory sealed Mazda MX-5 engine helps preserve the elusive balance of power and parity among different manufacturers in the series.
Saturday TC rounds saw the light vs. might battle resume from the standing start but a tossup with a BMW caused the Lotus to exit the track and make contact with the wall. Goulart was unharmed and strapped into a Mazda Miata and took the TCA win with teammate Matt Fasnacht grabbing second place and the quickest lap time of the Saturday session. Mazda had a strong presence in Touring Car with some folks happily driving their Miata racers from other series into the PWC fray with nothing much more than adding a hardtop, wheel and tire swap, and a few different stickers.
The Saturday GTS race had Goulart out in front on initial laps. A fallback and subsequent contact-induced spin and backward run into the Armco spelled the end of the weekend for the Lotus that proved horsepower isn’t everything.
Elivan Goulart in the car corral with the Krugspeed Lotus Exige prior to the grid lineup and standing start of Touring Car racing action.
We spoke with Kevin and Dean Copeland, the father and son duo behind Copeland Motorsports or CMS about juggling day jobs and running a race program across two different series. The new ND-series MX-5 Cup turnkey Miata racer allowed the team to run in both the MX-5 Cup and PWC for more racing and driving. A top swap and some suspension adjustments tuned to the sticky Pirelli tires get the Miata ready for PWC action. More racing is always good and Dean not only drives but also coaches drivers as they come on board with the growing CMS team.
“The whole reason we’re racing is because of Mazda. They have a great contingency. They have an incredible parts program with discounts. They offer a great racer price. That’s why we’re racing Mazda. It’s the best bang for the buck there is”, said Kevin.
TCA ran together with Touring Car B-spec or TCB cars. Other than safety equipment and a wheel and tire package the tight group of angry-sounding 125 or so horsepower racers are not far removed from their road going Chevrolet Sonic, Mazda 2, Honda Fit, and Mini counterparts. TCB races have been won after mechanical failures were remedied when nearby Honda Fits gave up a part for the TCB cause. Chevrolet Sonic took the win this 3-wheeling weekend, but anything could happen as these mighty mites take care of business.
Race on Saturday, sell on Monday might be more accurate for Lime Rock as the powers ruled long ago that thou shalt not race on Sunday in or around Salisbury, Connecticut but we’re confident that Audi dealers might see some new prospects, Porsche sold a few more Caymans, BMW most likely moved a few 2-series rides and Cadillac hopefully found a couple new drivers. Supercar-level buyers might have already made up their mind, but New England area Chevrolet dealers probably moved a couple of extra Sonics after Saturday Lime Rock TCB racing action.
As race versions of production cars move further and further away from their showroom counterparts in other series, PWC offers up multiple levels of racing that help fans build connections. Last time we checked, V8-powered rear-wheel drive Toyota Camrys or Ford Fusions were not available, but there are certainly a few rear wheel drive Ford Mustangs, a front wheel drive Honda Civic and most definitely a Mazda Miata or BMW out there waiting for new drivers and future racers.
Consult the Pirelli World Challenge for the latest news, results, upcoming races, and links to live streaming broadcast coverage or head on over to Lime Rock Park for future events.