Welcome to another edition of Steve’s Personal Opinion, where I hold no quarter on certain issues that are on my mind. This time, I turn my attention to Pirelli World Challenge’s…challenges… with their GT series this year, and why this year is make or break for the championship and PWC’s identity.
GT3 racing is dwindling in North America. We’ve seen a decline in numbers in GT/GTA and GTD in PWC and IMSA respectively over the last couple of years. While there have been plenty of new cars coming out within the last couple years, which you would think might increase the overall numbers (Honda, Lexus and updated Ferrari, Bentley and Nissan offerings, and new McLaren’s and Porsche’s coming next year), the numbers have actually been going down.
PWC is basically built around GT racing, first their tube chassis cars, and now FIA GT3 homologated cars, and has been the identity and life blood of the whole organization. Signs of the series losing their grip on the NA GT3 crown have been apparent for a few years now. Let’s look at the Round 1 entries for the last few years. 2016 had a 33 car field in GT/GTA/GTC, 2017 had a reduced 25 GT/GTA/GTC field and this year saw an abysmal 11 car field in GT/GTA.
Meanwhile, GTS (now completely FIA GT4) has exploded to 37 entries at COTA for Round 1 of Sprint-X vs 19 in 2017 and 2016 Sprint season openers.
Certainly, it’s not an issue of teams not flocking to the series. It certainly is run fairly well and now that the SRO has a commanding say in the series, the BOP has improved and the racing has been fairly good in the GT and GTS races because of it.
So what gives in GT?
Apart from the overall decline in GT3 numbers, OEM’s leaving and teams generally flocking to GTS due to crazy costs as the main factors. Or in Cadillac’s case; going the opposite route and going to DPi. However, the real reason in my opinion lies deeper, and we’ve seen signs for years.
It’s PWC’s complete lack of presence at the race track. You look at St. Pete, the only reason there were butts in the seats was because of Indycar. You look at COTA, they were practically giving away tickets and maybe 10 people showed up to watch the main GT races. This and the fact that the races air on CBS a full week after the race on a week night at 9pm and the terrible live stream leave much to be desired.
Even at their lone Canadian date, more people watch the Pinty’s NASCAR Series than PWC. It’s actually quite sad. It’s been like this for many years now, and not much has been done to correct this.
No wonder there are only 11 cars in St. Pete and 15 in Austin. Who wants to sponsor a car with budgets in the multiple millions, if nobody is going to watch? I certainly wouldn’t. [True story, I actually left Mosport during the first ever Sprint-X race, because of the 8 cars between GT and GTS. It just wasn’t fun to watch. Even Micra Cup was a better race.]
So why is IMSA then, the current GT king? Basically, it’s the TV time and the more prestige that come with the series, and also the fact that IMSA can get tushies on the cushies.
Yes, both are having issues at the moment with GT3, but it’s not the life blood of IMSA. It’s sportscar racing in general. There was a time where 5 GTC cars in ALMS was ok, and that’s because of GTE and LMP’s being the main attractions, and always will be.
That’s why PWC is in dire straights here. They ARE GT3 in NA. SRO obviously agrees, as Ratel & Co. have stepped in to attempt to right the sinking ship. The SRO plans on rejuvenating the series, and one of the first things they did was introduce a Pro-Am endurance-ish series similar to Blancpain GT in Europe, albeit nowhere nearly as long in duration. Next, they plan on making it cheaper to run for privateers and getting rid of the Pro aspect of the series, which is one of the main reasons costs have gone up in GT3.
I agree that this needs to be done first, before addressing the fan base. Even if you can eventually get people to come to the track, but the racing is garbage, or not worth watching because of the single digit number cars on track, they will likely never stick around or come back.
The SRO and WC Vision have a lot to do to gain PWC some notoriety. For North America’s sake, it needs to happen sooner rather than later, because PWC is just a sad sad series right now. If this is the current state of the pinnacle series, what does that say for the other series under their umbrella?
The lack of GT entries surely must have some sort of trickle down affect for the GTS and TC races too. If nobody watches for the GT races, then what hope do they have to have people watch the others? It’s something that needs to be addressed before more teams flock to IMSA.
As much as I gripe about IMSA lately with BOP issues, it’s far better racing on the whole. For me, there’s nothing worth watching in PWC. Either on TV or in person.
Except GTS. That is actually decent to watch. Oh and TCR (ok it WILL be fun to watch in the year when we inevitably see more entries later in the year).
PWC needs to look at Blancpain GT and SuperGT GT300 and see where they do it right, and bring it over to North American shores. I’m not asking for the impossible, because it clearly is possible to provide decent coverage and bring in a decent amount of competitors to make it interesting for the fans to watch, which in turn makes the series more money.
They just need to do it, or it will likely mean the end of PWC as we know it.
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