A driver's eye view of battling the world's fastest supercars in the Pirelli World Challenge
Four years removed from racing ensures wide eyes once the lights turn green. And in the Pirelli World Challenge, that happens from a standstill, with 50 other cars on the grid all screaming at around 6,000 rpm, waiting to drop the clutch and explode into chaos.
When that happens your senses heighten, your reactions feel faster and time slows ever so slightly. In reality, of course, your brain turns to hyperdrive granting you the ability to fathom and react to things that may ordinarily seem impossible – like an Audi R8 Ultra spinning directly in front of you.
Or when your suspension lets go during a fast right-hand bend.
Or when a Camaro decides to drive into your right rear fender, just for kicks.
Yes, racing in World Challenge is about as awesome as it gets; my career was in open wheel race cars, with a handful of Daytona Prototype sports car races sprinkled in for good measure. Here, the cars we race all began life as production cars. They’re heavily modified, sure, but the engines are effectively the same, and in the case of my teammate’s Audi R8, it still has a working blinker column behind the steering wheel.
World Challenge, then, is a venue for automakers or aftermarket suppliers to prove their products in a competitive environment, making the series as a whole one of the most relevant forms of motorsport in the country.
Make no mistake, though, these cars are hard-core, many of which are homologated for FIA GT3 racing. But they compete in an all-out sprint series with no pit stops, one driver, and consistent, wheel-banging action. Where else can you see a true head-to-head sprint between Audis, McLarens, Bentleys, Ferraris, Mercedes, Lamborghinis, Cadillacs, Chevrolets, Porsches, Acuras, Dodges and more – cars you could buy, if you had the dough? The grid is littered with high-priced exotics massaged into high-tech race cars, and the caliber of drivers has increased dramatically over the years, with plenty of aces at the helm.
At this past weekend's Mid Ohio double-header event, I was racing the Emkay Fleet Management / Hawk Performance C6 Corvette. The car has won races in the series, although it lacks the downforce of the FIA GT3-spec cars due to its age. Still, it sounds the better than any other car out there, and that’s gotta be worth a few tenths, right?
The team I was running for was CRP Racing, the guys chasing championship leader Johnny O’Connell in his Cadillac CTS-V R. It was to be a learning weekend, one where I hoped to shed four years’ worth of rust and put on a good show. At times, we did. However our weekend was marred by bad luck; in qualifying our transponder failed, meaning that we had to start at the back in 24th. After 35 minutes of racing we were up to 11th and racing hard, passing cars, and in a close battle for 8th. But a sudden downpour ended the race 15 minutes early, meaning we ran out of time to advance further.
For race 2 we lined up 11th, expecting a solid result. Only the car wouldn’t start on the grid, so we started from last again. There, I narrowly missed the aforementioned crashing R8 and served a drive-through penalty for not starting in the right position. Then we had a multitude of niggling issues, likely stemming from that first-lap crash avoidance by bouncing through the kitty litter. And the angry Camaro GTS driver I was passing probably didn’t help either.
Still, I had fun.
You can see some of this madness in the video above, and I think you’ll agree that much of it is indeed wild – although I might have preferred a slightly more straightforward return to professional racing, and for my GoPro to not die prior to the rain hitting in race one. Which is where the action really got crazy; after the red flag waved, my vision through the fogged-up windscreen was so bad that I had to simply stop on track, completely blind, and wait for a tow back to the pits. I could have been driving up an embankment, past spectators and to the nearest beer tent for all I could see. Given the weather, that might have been preferable.
Maybe next time we’ll get a smoother run and claim the results that we deserved, but for now, sit back and enjoy the sound of that ‘Vette. I know I did.