If you like stock-bodied sports car racing with real cars going fender to fender, check out the Pirelli World Challenge. The series gathers the world’s top sports cars together for a 50-minute bumping and grinding session. It’s wild and wooly racing, and the fans love it, as evidenced by the huge crowd that came to the season opening race in Saint Petersburg, Florida. A total of 49 cars started the race in three classes: GT, GT-A (amateur) and GTS. The series is sanctioned by the SCCA (Sports Car Club of America), and falls under their Pro Racing division.
Over the winter, the SCCA decided to allow GT3 spec supercars from Europe to compete in their top GT class. This greatly expanded the GT car count for the first race. The event was held on the 1.8-mile temporary street circuit located around Saint Petersburg’s downtown waterfront, and provided great viewing for spectators.
Twenty-seven cars were entered in the GTS class from seven different manufacturers. This included Camaros, Mustangs, Aston Martins, Nissan 370Z, and other familiar brands. Lawson Aschenbach won the 2013 GTS championship with his Blackdog Racing Camaro, and his was one of six Camaros qualified for the Saint Petersburg race on Saturday morning under damp conditions.
The Camaro is a well-developed car for this series. It is a solid platform and race ready it weighs 3,500 lbs. It is powered by a 6.2 liter LS3 engine that is restricted to around 400 rear-wheel horsepower (450 flywheel), according to World Challenge Technical Director Ken Brown (the engines make 500 at the crank unrestricted). Two 50-minute races were scheduled for Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning. Lawson qualified second quickest behind the GTS pole-winning Porsche at 1:23.879 in damp conditions. Andy Lee in the No. 20 Camaro was third quickest in GTS at 1:24.526. The other Camaros were further down the order.
Before race one could start on Saturday an unexpected severe weather event hit the track and forced the fans to be evacuated to shelters. The bad weather continued and race one was cancelled. The series shared the weekend with the Indy car series and the schedule did not allow room to add a second World Challenge race on Sunday.
Fortunately the weather cleared on Sunday and it was a perfect day for racing. Forty-nine cars took the green flag and pole setter Tomas Enge driving his Lamborghini balked at the standing start and cars went left and right to avoid contact. When the dust settled Andy Lee had the GTS class lead and was closely followed by Aschenbach. For most of the race, the two Camaros were glued together. Lawson tried every trick in the book to pass Andy, but could not pull it off.
A long yellow near the end of the race provided Lawson with an opening he needed. Shortly after the race resumed under green Andy made contact with the Seferlis Camaro while exiting Turn 3. This slowed Andy enough to enable Lawson to squeeze by on the outside and take the lead on lap 26. He held this position until the checkered flag and took the GTS victory by .839 seconds. Lee did set the fastest GTS race lap at 1:20.461 trying to catch Lawson. The season is off to a good start for Camaro and World Challenge.