On the first day of summer, 1980, a 24-hour showroom stock race was staged at Nelson Ledges Road Course near Youngstown, Ohio. The success of the Nelson Ledges "Longest Day" and the amazing response to a second such event at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in August, 1984, prompted the SCCA to combine several existing endurance races into a manufacturers' series for 1984.
This new series was expanded into a six-race professional showroom stock endurance racing series for 1985. The 1985 series was billed as the Playboy United States Endurance Cup, with Playboy Magazine its title sponsor. There were four classes in 1985 (GT, A, B and C) with a per-race purse of $20,000 and year-end bonus of $60,000.
A number of changes were made in 1986, as Escort replaced Playboy as the sponsor and the class structure was altered. A new class was introduced-Super Sports (SS) and the B and C classes were combined. The per-race purses jumped to $28,000 and the year-end points fund was increased to $80,000-split among the four classes. Once again, six races were held, including two 24-hour events.
The series continued to grow in 1987, as the number of races jumped to eight and the per-race purse was upped to $36,000. The class structure remained intact and Escort was retained as the series' title sponsor.
In 1988 and 1989, the SS class was eliminated, thus making the GT cars the premier class with the A and B classes remaining unchanged.
A dramatic off-season followed the 1989 Escort Endurance Championship, in which the series was completely restructured and renamed. For 1990, World Challenge® was born.
The new series featured cars homologated by manufacturers. The rules were along the same lines as the European Group A specifications, rather than the showroom stock configuration of the series from 1985 through 1989.
The 1990 Escort World Challenge featured two classes of competition following the restructuring. The top class, World Challenge, showcased high-performance sports cars like the Chevrolet Corvette and Lotus Esprit Turbo.
The second class, Super Production, was for lower-horsepower sports cars including the Honda CRX, Eagle Talon and new Mazda Miata.
There was concern of whether or not anyone could compete with the Corvettes, which moved over from the Corvette Challenge to World Challenge. Doc Bundy and Scott Lagasse put those ideas to rest, winning the inaugural World Challenge race for Lotus-a three hour event at Sears Point. Bundy would win twice more on the season, but a poor finish at Dallas allowed R.K. Smith to win the Championship in a Powell Motorsport Corvette on the strength of three solo wins.
In Super Production, Bobby Archer's HKS Performance Eagle Talon waged a season-long battle with the American Honda Honda CRX Si of Peter Cunningham. In the end, Archer drove to victory in the season-ending St. Petersburg round to take the Drivers' Championship and clinch the Manufacturers' title for Eagle.
In 1991, a third class, Super Sport, was included for Camaros and club configuration Mustangs. Shawn Hendricks had a banner year in his Bakeracing Corvette, taking the World Challenge title with top-five finishes in all eight races and two wins. Actor Bobby Carradine was second in a Lotusport Lotus Esprit, followed by Andy Pilgrim's Goodyear Corvette. Lou Gigliotti took his first Drivers' Championship in Super Sports, winning three of the six races in his Young Chevrolet Camaro. Mitch Wright earned the Archer Brothers and Eagle their second-straight respective titles in Super Production, winning two races en route to topping Norris Rancourt's Carmichael Honda CRX Si by six points.
In 1992, the series underwent another major facelift. One more class was created, and the classes were renamed A, B, C and D, with some cars re-classified to meet market needs. Endurance Races were a thing of the past beginning in 1992. All races became one-hour sprints.
Lotusport disappeared prior to the 1992 season, leaving Corvette to dominate the season. Smith took his second Drivers' Championship in a Dieline Corp. Corvette over Kim Baker and teammate Bill Cooper. Gigliotti again took the B class in his Pace America Camaro over the Metalcraft Mazda RX-7 Turbo of Makoto Yamamura. Dave Jolly won his first World Challenge Championship in the C Class in a Metalcraft Oldsmobile Achieva. While Honda missed the Drivers' Championship again, it took the Manufacturers' title off the strength of Taz Harvey's second place. Neil Hannemann won the new D Class Championship in the HighwayMaster Eagle Talon over teammate Bill Saunders.
In 1993, the D class disappeared as the Eagles grew turbos and moved into the B class with the BMW M3. Racing legend Elliott Forbes-Robinson broke the Corvette streak, piloting the Dal Tech Nissan 300 ZX Turbo to five wins and a 13-point win over Smith's Dieline Corvette and Boris Said's BluBlocker Saleen Mustang.
Gigliotti's two season-ending wins in the B class weren't enough to overcome Willy Lewis' Archer Brothers Eagle Talon T. Ron Emmick and Cunningham battled all season long in the C Class, with Emmick's Metalcraft Oldsmobile edging Cunningham's Autotechnica/Red Line Oil Honda Prelude by three points. Honda again took the manufacturers' title.
Classes were renamed again in 1994 to World Challenge, Touring Car and Super Production. Porsche returned as a major player with Kelly Moss Racing. Price Cobb topped teammate Mauro Baldi after winning the final three races of the season. Cobb's title propelled him to the worldwide Porsche Cup-becoming the first driver to do so.
Hannemann won his second Drivers' Championship in three years-this time in Touring Car, scoring two wins in his Archer Brothers Eagle Talon to best Gigliotti's Camaro by seven points. Jolly again took the Super Production Drivers' Championship away from Cunningham's Prelude, but Honda again took the Manufacturers' Championship over Oldsmobile.
The World Challenge class was again renamed in 1995, to Sport, but little changed, as Porsche battled Corvette for supremacy. David Murry piloted his Rohr Motorsport Porsche 911 GT2 to five wins in eight races to top John Heinricy's Morrison Corvette 432 to 369. Hannemann took his second-straight Touring Car Championship by a single point (389 to 388) over Archer Brothers Racing teammate Lewis as Eagle topped Chevrolet for the Manufacturers' title. After finishing runner-up three times, Cunningham took the Super Production Class Championship in his RealTime Racing Honda Prelude over Paul Booher's ICY Racing Saturn, giving Honda its fourth-straight Manufacturers' Championship.
World Challenge was split into two categories, Sports and Touring, in 1996, each broken into two classes, designated S1, S2, T1 and T2.
With the S1 class not arriving until late in the season, the S2 class featured the fastest World Challenge cars ever. Loosely based on the European FIA GT2 rules, the cars ran on slick tires for the first time; and, while fields were small, provided exciting racing. Almo Coppelli's Callaway Corvette edged Shane Lewis' radical Mosler Intruder by two points. The top four manufacturers were within two points, with Saleen winning a tiebreaker with Porsche to take the title over Callaway and Mosler. Martin Snow took the three-race S1 Championship in his Porsche 911 Turbo.
Gigliotti returned to championship form in 1996, taking the T1 title in his LG Saleen Mustang, winning two races. Lewis' Talon and Kermit Upton's BMW completed the top-three, with Eagle taking Manufacturers' honors in a tiebreaker over Ford/Saleen.
Rookie Michael Galati won the second-straight T2 Drivers' Championship for RealTime Racing's Honda Prelude by two points over Taz Harvey's Prelude and Alain Chebeir's BMW. Honda captured its fifth-straight World Challenge Manufacturers' Championship.
High costs eliminated the Sports Category in 1997, and the T1 Championship shaped up as a battle of American muscle versus high-revving Japanese technology. Cunningham earned his second World Challenge Drivers' Championship in T1, driving to four victories in his RealTime Racing Acura NSX, despite missing one race. Gigliotti's Saleen Mustang was second, with two wins, followed by the similar car of Rob Fellows. Ford/Saleen's strong presence rewarded it with the Manufacturers' Championship.
RealTime Racing introduced the Acura Integra Type R to T2 in 1997, with rookie Pierre Kleinubing earning the Drivers' Championship over Booher's Saturn and teammate Galati. Points for Acura and Honda were split in 1997, allowing Saturn to take the Manufacturers' Championship for the first time.
Saleen returned to the 1998 T1 Championship, sweeping the top two spots in the Drivers' Championship with Terry Borcheller and Ron Johnson over Cunningham's RealTime NSX. The specialty car builder also dominated the Manufacturers' Championship.
Galati used consistency in his RealTime Acura Integra R to take his second T2 Championship-the fourth-straight for the team-over teammate Kleinubing and Lance Stewart's DC Sports Integra R. Acura earned the Manufacturers' Championship, the sixth for American Honda.
The off-season between 1998 and 1999 proved to be the most pivotal for the World Challenge, as the Speedvision Network-a cable broadcasting station dedicated to the fastest things in the air, water and the road-became a part owner in the series and its title sponsor. Exposure and purses grew exponentially, as did the fields. The 1999 season would average nearly 50 cars per race between the two classes.
Archer drove a Viper Speed Dodge Viper to his second-career Championship, winning the Speedvision GT title by a scant point over Peter Kitchak's Porsche 911. Porsche took the Manufacturers' title over Chevrolet, which featured the debut of its new C5, with Scotty B. White giving the car its first win (Vancouver). Archer earned a $50,000 bonus for his Championship-the biggest ever in SCCA Pro Racing history.
Galati branched out to form his own Speedvision Touring Car Acura team in 1999, but the results were the same, taking the title by three points over RealTime's Kleinubing and his teammate Hugh Plumb. Galati tied the all-time record for consecutive wins at the start of the season (four). Acura again took the Manufacturers' Championship.
In 2000, both series ran separately for the first time and standing starts made their debut. The season saw giant jumps in participation, averaging over 70 cars per event between the two series.
Jeff McMillin became the first driver ever to win a title without a win when he scored top-10 finishes in all 10 Speedvision GT races. He became only the third driver ever (joining Galati and Plumb from 1999) to record 10 top-10s in a season. Galati jumped to the Champion Audi GT team in 2000 and finished second, recording the marque's first win in World Challenge at Las Vegas. In all, six different drivers and marques won on the season.
Kleinubing captured his second title by winning the Speedvision Touring Car Championship for RealTime over rookie Neal Sapp (TC Kline Racing BMW 328Ci). Acura took the manufacturers' title, but fought BMW into the last race.
In 2001, new changes include a new spec tire from Toyo Tires, and boosted purses across the board due to various new sponsorships.
Michael Galati became the first driver to win four World Challenge Drivers' Championships, taking the Speedvision GT title with four wins and helping Audi to its first-ever Manufacturers" Championship. Galati battled his former team owner Peter Cunningham all the way. Cunningham won the statistics race, recording seven poles and five wins in his supercharged Acura NSX, but a DNF at Lime Rock hurt his title chances. Galati became the second-straight Speedvision GT driver to place in the top-10 in each race, and he and Cunningham each eclipsed the $100,000 mark in purse and contingency prize money earned for the first time in series history. Audi took the Manufacturers' title by a scant point over Acura, with Porsche a close third. Johannes van Overbeek (Porsche, third in points) was the only driver other than Galati or Cunningham to win a race.
Pierre Kleinubing captured his second-straight Speedvision Touring Car title and the third of his career (all with RealTime) with a consistent run, earning three wins in his Acura Integra R. Neal Sapp won four races, and finished runner-up for the second straight year and helped BMW earn its first-ever Manufacturers" title in a runaway over Acura. Other drivers scoring wins in Touring Car were Steve Pfeffer (BMW), Bill Auberlen (BMW) in a run from last to first in the Lime Rock rain and Roger Foo, recording the first win for the Honda Civic Si.
In 2002, Speed Channel took over for Speedvision as the title sponsor after Speedvision was bought by Fox and re-named. The series names changed to Speed World Challenge, Speed GT and Speed Touring Car, respectively.
Michael Galati continued to set new records by capturing his fifth Drivers' Championship, and second-straight Speed GT Championship. The Championship once again came down to Galati and Cunningham, with Galati scoring three wins and finishing no lower than sixth in all ten races. Cunningham took the Championship down to the final event at VIR, but his exceptional run of finishes, including one win, five podiums and ten top-10 finishes was no match for Galati. Randy Pobst finished third in the Championship with four wins and a podium finish in each of the seven events he entered. Based on Pobst"s dominating run, Porsche took home another Manufacturers’ title, its third in four years.
In Speed Touring Car, defending Champion Pierre Kleinubing faced a stout challenge from an unlikely source, RealTime Racing team boss Cunningham. Originally running Speed Touring Car to help Kleinubing score a third straight title, the plan changed mid-season when two straight 34th place finishes evaporated Kleinubing’s points lead and moved Cunningham into contention. At season’s end, Cunningham’s consistency gave him the title, his third World Challenge title and sixth overall in SCCA Pro Racing competition. Rookie of the Year Marc Kirberg completed the top three in the final point standings. Acura, by virtue of the strong runs by both RealTime pilots, brought home its fourth Manufacturers’ Title since 1998.
In 2003, SPEED GT switched to the new Toyo Proxes RA-1™ race compound DOT-approved tire, which helped establish new track records in both qualifying and in the race.
In SPEED GT, it looked like Bill Auberlen was poised to win the Drivers’ Championship
with a good showing in the penultimate round of the season at Road Atlanta. He had a 20-point lead over Randy Pobst. However, on lap 13 a broken halfshaft forced Auberlen to retire, while Pobst went on to win the race . With the win and coupled with Auberlen’s 25th place finish, Pobst catapulted into first place and held a 12-point lead heading into the season finale in Puerto Rico. Despite a variety of scenarios, Pobst could essentially clinch the Championship if he finished fourth or better, regardless of where Auberlen finished. After qualifying on the pole, Pobst took matters into his own hands and won the Caribbean shootout. With the win, Pobst not only won the Drivers’ Championship, but he also secured the SCCA SPEED GT Manufacturers’ Championship Presented by Racer Magazine for Audi. Auberlen (three wins) and Phil McClure (two wins) completed the top three in the final standings. Other winners on the season included Mike Fitzgerald (two wins) and rookie Paul Mumford, who was tragically killed in a plane crash shortly after his win at Laguna. Tom Oates won Rookie of the Year.
In SCCA SPEED Touring Car, Auberlen captured the Drivers’ Championship following his second place finish at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca with two races remaining. Auberlen thoroughly dominated SCCA SPEED Touring Car with four wins, eight podiums, three pole positions, set seven fast race laps and never finished below fourth place. Three-time SPEED Touring Car Champion Pierre Kleinubing (three wins) and Auberlen’s teammate Will Turner finished second and third, respectively in the final standings. With Auberlen’s help, BMW won the SPEED Touring Car Manufacturers’ Championship Presented by Racer Magazine. Other winners on the season included Bob Endicott, Peter Cunningham. Matt Plumb won the SPEED Touring Car Rookie of the Year, becoming the second Plumb brother to win the award, matching the feat of brother Hugh in 1998. Additionally, after qualifying second four times, Shauna Marinus became the first female driver to win a Touring Car pole position.
Thanks in part to both a highly competitive racing format and top-notch drivers, SPEED World Challenge moved even closer to the forefront of the road racing landscape in 2004. In it’s September issue, Car and Driver magazine called World Challenge "the best road racing in the country,” telling its readers what World Challenge enthusiasts had known for years.
In SPEED GT, Tommy Archer proved that winning a championship doesn’t mean winning every race. In fact, he only won once (Portland), but it was his eight top-five finishes in 10 events that propelled him and his Dodge Viper Competition Coupe to the SCCA SPEED GT Drivers’ Championship. The title was especially impressive considering Archer had not competed in World Challenge since 1991. Michael Galati led all SPEED GT drivers with three wins in 2004, driving an Audi RS 6. Those victories and five podium finishes overall led him to a second-place finish in points, just six behind Archer. However, because of Galati’s and teammate Randy Pobst’s (who won at Lime Rock and finished fourth in points) efforts, it was Audi who walked away with the SPEED GT Manufacturers’ Championship presented by RACER magazine. Competing in the brand new Cadillac CTS-V, Max Angelelli won two races, including the season-opener at Sebring, and finished third in the point standings. Rookie Wolf Henzler burst on to the scene in 2004 with two victories, and Ron Fellows also earned a win at Mosport. Mike McCann took home Rookie of the Year honors, beating out his brother, Jim.
Bill Auberlen flexed his championship-winning muscle once again in 2004, earning his second-consecutive SPEED Touring Car Drivers’ Championship. Auberlen didn’t waste any time in his BMW 325i, taking both the pole and the win at the first two events of the season, and three of the first four. Though he didn’t win another race for the remainder, his efforts were good enough to hold off Nic Jonsson, who finished second in his BMW 325Ci. Matt Plumb picked up the first two wins of his SPEED Touring Car career and used those, plus nine top-10 finishes, to earn third in the point standings in his Acura TSX. On the strength of Auberlen and Jonsson’s showings, BMW handily won the SPEED Touring Car Manufacturers’ Championship presented by RACER Magazine. A late-season push by Acura (two wins by Pierre Kleinubing and one for Plumb after an early win), closed the gap to 69-54. Dino Crescentini won the SPEED Touring Car Rookie of the Year.
Tim Wiens, owner of 3R-Racing, was presented the Jim Cook Award and Jason Marks, of Bimmerworld, was named recipient of the Zimmermann Cup.
SPEED World Challenge ratcheted up the "wow" factor a few more levels in 2005 as both the SPEED GT and SPEED Touring Car Drivers' and Manufacturers' Championships were in doubt until the very end of the year. That was especially the case in SPEED GT, which was fittingly named the "most competitive road racing in the world" by RACER Magazine in its June issue.
Those who thought Tommy Archer's 2004 Championship run was improbable after he won just a single race had to think Andy Pilgrim's run to the top simply unfathomable as the Team Cadillac driver earned his first title without recording a single win. Consistency was once again the name of the game as Pilgrim never finished lower than 10th and finished second twice. His efforts, along with teammates Max Angelelli, Max Papis and Ron Fellows (who all won races), propelled Cadillac to the SPEED GT Manufacturers' Championship Presented by RACER Magazine over Porsche.
Had it been based on finishes alone, Pilgrim's title would have gone to Archer (who won twice to start the season), but a pair of five-point penalties (Cleveland, Infineon), forced Archer behind Pilgrim. Farnbacher Loles Porsche driver Wolf Henzler also scored a pair of wins (Mid-Ohio, Denver), and Lou Gigliotti broke a couple of major streaks as he won (Infineon) for the first time since 1997 and broke a 24-race winless streak for Corvette. Robin Liddell scored a victory at Cleveland, and Dino Crescentini broke into the winner's column in his very first SPEED GT race (Portland). Sonny Whelen earned SPEED GT Rookie of the Year honors and finished 12th overall in the point standings.
After winning Championships in 2003 and '04, Bill Auberlen only made cameo appearances in SPEED Touring Car 2005. He did well at the events he ran (two wins and three podium finishes), but his downgraded role in the series opened the way for an epic, season-long showdown between individual drivers and their teams. Peter Cunningham, World Challenge's most successful driver in history, earned his 29th career win to jumpstart his and his RealTime Racing team's season. Not to be outdone, Randy Pobst, a former SPEED GT champion who signed on with Tri-Point Motorsport in the off-season, put Mazda on the map with a win at St. Petersburg in Round Two.
The new RealTime livery got plenty of time in the spotlight as Pierre Kleinubing won the next three races (Road Atlanta, Mid-Ohio, Cleveland), giving Acura a stronghold on the Manufacturers' Championship. Auberlen's return and maxed-out REWARDS weight stopped Acura's winning streak cold as Auberlen won Rounds Six and Seven (Lime Rock, Infineon) - the last rounds he would compete in. A first win by Eric Curran at Denver followed by another first-time winner in Charles Espenlaub at Mosport highlighted the next two rounds and set up best-finisher take all between Acura and Mazda at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. John Angelone stole the show to a degree, handily winning in an Audi, but Peter Cunningham rose to the occasion once again, finishing third (a spot in front of Pobst), which clinched the Drivers' Championship for Cunningham and another Manufacturers' title for Acura.
New faces and seasoned veterans combined to make 2006 a year for the SPEED World Challenge record books. SPEED GT saw the debut of two new cars: the Aston Martin DB9 and the right-hand drive Nissan Skyline GT-R. Both turned quite a few heads in the paddock and the Aston Martin squad was able to notch a fifth place finish at Road America with driver Johnny Mowlem.
New drivers were also causing a stir in SPEED GT. Rookie Lawson Aschenbach was practically flawless in his first full-season of SPEED GT competition. Behind the wheel of his Porsche 911 GT3 Cup, he climbed the podium steps three times, including a win at St. Petersburg, and never finished worse than ninth. Numbers like those gave veterans Lou Gigliotti and Andy Pilgrim a run for their money and helped Aschenbach become the first driver in SPEED GT history to win the Championship in their rookie season. Thanks to an equally strong performance from Porsche teammate Ricardo Imery and guest appearances by Randy Pobst, Porsche won a tight SPEED GT Manufacturers’ Championship by a scant three points over Dodge.
The RealTime Acura squad was once again the team to beat in SPEED Touring Car, but this time it was Pierre Kleinubing leading the charge. Kleinubing collected seven podiums in 2006, including wins at Infineon and Miller Motorsports Park, on his way to claiming his fourth SPEED Touring Car Championship. Tri-Point Mazda driver Randy Pobst fought all the way to the finale with Kleinubing, but would fall short for the second year in a row. Show signs of a future champion, Chip Herr collected the most wins (three: Mid-Ohio, Road America, Road Atlanta), but lacked the consistency of veterans Pobst and Kleinubing, finishing a career-best third in points. In addition, Kleinubing’s four poles in 2006 pushed him to the top of the career-poles list with 30. The RealTime Acura crew posted four wins in 2006, which was enough to help Acura clinch the Manufactures’ Championship after Round Ten at Road Atlanta.
Defending SPEED GT Champion Lawson Aschenbach returned in 2007, but traded in his Porsche for a ride with Team Cadillac. Porsche’s efforts to defend its Manufacturers’ Championship Presented by RACER Magazine were headed instead by K-PAX Racing’s Randy Pobst and Michael Galati. It was the Corvette of Eric Curran however, that looked poised for a Championship run, taking the first two races with ease. But, poor luck and several DNFs throughout the season kept Curran from capturing his first World Challenge Championship, even with two more wins at Mid-Ohio and Mosport. Instead, it was Pobst fighting for the Title with Aschenbach and his Cadillac teammate Andy Pilgrim. A string of podium finishes mid-season, including wins at Watkins Glen and Toronto, gave Pobst a comfortable margin over Pilgrim heading into the final round at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, where he earned his second-career SPEED GT Championship by 16 points. Pilgrim and Aschenbach’s hard work would not go unrewarded though, their efforts earned Cadillac its second SPEED GT Manufacturers’ Championship.
The first two rounds of the SPEED Touring Car schedule provided some foreshadowing for how the 2007 season would shake out. Mazda’s Jeff Altenburg won both races by small margins over teammate Pobst, with defending Champion Pierre Kleinubing and his Acura in third. Kleinubing would stand on the podium three more times, but was unable to score a World Challenge victory in 2007, his first winless season in World Challenge since his 1997 debut. Altenburg and Pobst meanwhile continued to put in solid finishes. Pobst even made history, sweeping both Touring Car races at Watkins Glen in addition to the GT win. The duo’s stellar performances earned Mazda its first Manufacturers’ Championship a round early at Road Atlanta. The Driver’s Championship on the other hand, would go down to the wire at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. While leading the race and in position to claim the Championship, contact with Kleinubing sent Pobst into gravel at Turn Two and handed Altenburg his first SPEED Touring Car Championship, while Peter Cunningham took his second win of the season.
Randy Pobst returned with K-PAX/3R in 2008 to defend his SPEED GT Drivers’ Championship and help Porsche wrestle away the Manufacturers’ Championship Presented by RACER Magazine away from Cadillac. Their primary opponents underwent a transformation in the off-season, becoming Team Remington Cadillac and adding Michael McCann to partner Andy Pilgrim. Pobst’s Championship defense got off to a great start with a win at Sebring, followed by a runner-up finish to Brandon Davis at Long Beach. Davis’ win in the ACS Ford Mustang Cobra proved his performance in the rain at Sebring was no fluke and launched him into title contention with Pobst and Pilgrim. Pobst collected his second win of the season at Watkins Glen, but, as always, Pilgrim wasn’t far behind. The Cadillac driver even collected five-straight podium finishes from Sebring through Mid-Ohio. Road America became a turning point for the season, as DNFs for both Pilgrim and Davis, and a third-place finish for Pobst, allowed the defending champ to pull out a point lead with four races remaining. Two more podium finishes and a win at Detroit in that final stretch sealed the deal for Pobst. Though Brandon Davis won the season finale at Road Atlanta and shared the podium with Pilgrim, Pobst’s lead heading into the final round was too much to overcome, giving him his third World Challenge Championship. The Manufacturers’ Championship was clinched by Porsche a round earlier at New Jersey Motorsports Park when James Sofronas took his first-ever World Challenge victory. The 2008 SPEED Touring Car Championship was one of the most thrilling in series history. A podium sweep by the RealTime Acuras of Pierre Kleinubing, Peter Cunningham and Kuno Wittmer at Sebring, was an excellent prelude of what was to come in the 2008 season. Following Kleinubing’s win at Sebring, Wittmer took his first World Challenge victory at VIR by inches over the BMW of Seth Thomas. VIR was also the last race for defending champion Jeff Altenburg, who parted ways with the Tri-Point team to pursue a SPEED GT drive. That left Charles Espenlaub, Jason Saini, Jeff Daniels, and Tindol Motorsports drivers Michael Galati and Chip Herr to carry the torch for Mazda, winner of the 2007 Manufacturers’ Championship presented by RACER Magazine. Rookie and 2007 MX-5 Cup Champion Saini put Mazda on the board first, taking an emotional first win at Miller Motorsports Park, but Acura answered back with another win at Lime Rock Park, at the hands of Wittmer. Herr took the second race at Lime Rock, but at the season’s halfway point, the Championship was clearly a battle between the three RealTime teammates. Though there were surprise wins from James Clay at Road America and from Galati at Watkins Glen and Mosport, not a single podium passed without at least one RealTime driver on the steps. The team clinched the Manufacturers’ Championship for Acura at Mosport and brought the Drivers’ Championship down to the last lap at Road Atlanta. Wittmer was unable to make a pass for fourth stick on Cunningham, which gave the RealTime owner his record-tying fifth World Challenge Championship.
K-Pax Racing changed from Porsche to Volvo in 2009, with Pilgrim joining Pobst to make a two-car Volvo S60 superteam in GT. While both drivers would win races and poles, the car was plagued with aftermarket transmission problems until the end of the season. After having their own developmental season, Brandon Davis was strong all season in his ACS Racing Ford Mustang, and the young driver earned his first professional racing Championship after winning at Mid-Ohio and finishing every GT race in the top eight. After scoring his breakout win in 2008, James Sofronas scored a pair of victories in California (Long Beach and Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca) and piloted his Global Racing Group Porsche 911 GT3 to second in the final standings. Newcomer Tony Rivera looked to have second locked up until a last-lap incident with Pobst put his Brass Monkey Racing Porsche in the gravel at the MRLS finale. Rivera surprised the racing world winning in his very first attempt at Sebring and followed that up with a second victory at Road America. Despite not finishing two of the 10 races, Pilgrim wound up fourth in the Championship, taking wins at New Jersey and Road Atlanta in the Volvo S60. Eric Curran had six podium finishes in his Whelen Engineering Corvette, but never made the top step to finish fifth. The two-time defending Champion Pobst ended up sixth and won at Autobahn Country Club. However, missing the first race after exhausting his engine supply at Sebring was costly to his effort. Behind Sofronas and Rivera, Porsche again claimed the Manufacturers’ Championship Presented by RACER. Bill Ziegler claimed Rookie of the Year honors in his GMG Porsche.
Pierre Kleinubing joined team owner Peter Cunningham and Michael Galati in the rarified air of five World Challenge Championships in 2009, but it was not easy. Kleinubing changed cars after finishing second in the Sebring opener, upgrading from the 2008 spec RealTime Acura TSX to the 2009 model. The all-time leader in pole positions, Kleinubing worked a series of top five finishes before finally scoring his first win in more than a year at Road America in Round Eight of the Touring Car Championship. Despite the win, he was still behind 2008 Rookie of the Year Jason Saini, who rattled off three wins (New Jersey, Autobahn and Mid-Ohio) in six races at one point in his TriPoint Motorsports MAZDA6. The Championship came down to the season finale at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, where Saini needed a solid run to maintain his lead. The weekend went perfectly for Kleinubing. Not only did he earn the pole and lead every lap, but Saini missed out on qualifying bonus points and finished a disappointing eighth, giving Kleinubing a 13-point advantage at the end of the season. Acura captured the Manufacturers’ Championship Presented by RACER, but it was Mazda driver Eric Foss who captured Rookie of the Year honors. Peter Cunningham finished third in his RealTime Acura after winning at Mosport. Seth Thomas gave BimmerWorld its best season to date with a series-high three wins in his BMW 328i to finish fourth. Charles Espenlaub quietly finished fifth in his TriPoint MAZDA6. New for the series in 2009 was a coin flip that could invert the top five. The concept was short lived, though and was removed for the 2010 season.
The 2010 season saw major changes come into place for the Series. A new set of regulations were adopted for Touring Car and a new class, Grand Touring Sport (GTS), was launched. As well, the 2010 season marked the first time since 1999, that GT, GTS and Touring Car classes would take to the track in a combined race. The 2010 season also saw an increase in races as the series moved from a 10-race season to a 12-race season with four doubleheader weekends. In GT, Randy Pobst, behind the wheel of the No. 6 K-PAX Racing Volvo S60, took his fourth career Drivers’ Championship, and, along with teammate Andy Pilgrim helped Volvo claim its first World Challenge Manufacturers’ Championship. Pobst took the title on the strength of four wins and eight pole positions throughout the season, also earning his team the Team Championship. Kuno Wittmer and James Sofronas finished second and third respectively in the GT Drivers’ Championship.
The GTS class was created to attract vehicles not previously eligible or competitive for World Challenge competition. Many Touring Cars built prior to the 2010 rules package fit into the new GTS class. Peter Cunningham essentially rewrote the record books in the inaugural season of GTS competition. With World Challenge single-season records of eight wins and 10 pole positions, Cunningham extended his all-time best marks of 40 wins and 42 pole positions. His sixth Drivers’ Championship was also a World Challenge record, as is the ninth Manufacturers’ Championship to which he and teammate Nick Esayian helped Acura claim. Those honors also added up to a Team Championship for RealTime Racing. Esayian finished second in the Drivers’ Championship, while Ernie Jakubowski finished third.
In Touring Car, Series regulations put tighter limits on engine, drivetrain and aerodynamic modifications, but cars were still afforded substantial handling upgrades. World Challenge TC proved to be a launching pad in 2010 for up-and-coming pro drivers. Look no further than what Robert Stout did claiming the 2010 Touring Car Drivers’ Championship in his first pro season at the age of 18 and leading his Team to Manufacturers’ and Team Championships. Stout became the youngest driver in the history of the series to take home a Drivers’ Championship. The 18-year-old also claimed the Rookie-of-the-Year award, and helping Scion to its first Manufacturers’ Championship. Stout was the youngest race winner in Series history when he won at Long Beach, and four wins later became the youngest Champion in Series history. Eric Meyer and Brett Sandberg finished second and third respectively in the TC Drivers’ Championship. Fred Roberts and Jakubowski took home the GT and GTS Rookie-of-the-Year Awards, respectively.
In 2011, the 22nd consecutive year for the series, car counts continued to grow with total entries regularly topping 45. The 2011 season also saw more major positive changes come into place for the series. Pirelli Tire North America inked a five-year deal as the Title Sponsor and also as the Official Tire Supplier. All series racecars would run on P Zero Racing Slicks and P Zero Racing Rain tires starting in 2011. The new title for the series became the Pirelli World Challenge Championships. As in 2010, GT, GTS and Touring Car classes would again take to the track in combined races. The 12-race, eight-event season featured four doubleheader weekends.
In GT, the battle for Drivers’, Manufacturers’ and Team Championships was as competitive as it had been in years – with a number of top teams and competitors running in the class. Porsche factory driver Patrick Long, a three-time American Le Mans (ALMS) GT2 Driver’s Champion, claimed his first Pirelli World Challenge GT Drivers’ Championship piloting the No. 45 TruSpeed Porsche 911 GT3. Long earned the title on the strength of four wins and four pole positions during the season. His success helped earn Porsche its ninth manufacturers’ title, and TruSpeed the GT Team Championship. Johnny O’Connell came over from the ALMS as well and claimed second in the Drivers’ Championship piloting the No. 3 Cadillac Racing CTS-V Coupe. Mike Skeen finished 3rd piloting the No. 2 CRP Racing Chevrolet Corvette. Jason Carter in the No. 85 Racing For Our Heroes Porsche 911 GT3, took home Rookie of the Year honors.
In GTS, veteran Paul Brown’s return to World Challenge competition coincided with the return of the Ford Mustang Boss 302, and the two paired together for five wins and four poles on the way to Brown’s first Pirelli World Challenge drivers’ title and the third Manufacturers’ Championship for Ford. Brown’s Tiger Racing team took home the Team Championship in the class. Eric Foss in the No. 73 Traxxas Ford Mustang FR500 and Peter Cunningham in the No. 1 RealTime Racing Acura TSX finishing 2nd and 3rd respectively. Eighteen-year-old Ben Crosland in the No. 25 Interbank FX/racewithrp.com Ford Mustang FR500 took home Rookie of the Year honors in GTS
In Touring Car, former GT Drivers’ Champion Lawson Aschenbach returned to the series piloting a Honda Civic Si and added the 2011 Touring Car title to his 2006 GT title, winning five races and an equal number of poles and boosting Honda to their sixth Manufacturers’ Championship in the series and first since 1996. Compass360 Racing earned the team title in Touring Car for their support of Aschenbach’s season. Teammates Aaron Povoledo in the No. 88 K-PAX Racing Volvo C30 and Robb Holland in the No. 66 K-PAX Racing C30 finished 2nd and 3rd respectively. Tristan Herbert, in the No. 33 Brimtek Motorsports VW GTi took home TC Rookie of the Year honors.
The 23rd consecutive season for the series marked the integration of a fourth new entry-level class for Pirelli World Challenge – Touring Car B-Spec (TCB). The Touring Car B-Spec class would feature up-and-coming drivers breaking into the pro ranks of sports car racing piloting platforms like the Kia Rio, Mazda2, Honda Fit, Mini Cooper and Fiat 500. Touring Car B-Spec modification rules were drawn up to limit competitors to manufacturer specified performance spring and shocks to keep overall costs down and give drivers a cost-effective opportunity to run in a professional racing series.
The 2012 season featured eight event weekends across North America with a total of 12 GT and GTS races, 14 Touring Car and nine Touring Car B-spec races. Weekend events included double headers and when the TCB cars raced, triple headers at Miller Motorsports Park, Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and Sonoma Raceway.
In GT, Cadillac Racing rose to the top to claim its 3rd Manufacturers’ Championship behind the efforts of Johnny O’Connell and Andy Pilgrim. O’Connell drove to wins at St.Petersburg and Detroit and was either runner-up or third another five times to take the championship. Pilgrim finished second overall in the Drivers’ Championship winning at Long Beach and had another four trips to victory circle finishing either second or third. Both drivers were models of consistency finishing in the top 5 in 11 of 12 races. Cadillac Racing also claimed the Team Championship.
It was an up and down 2012 for K-PAX Racing’s Randy Pobst. The first half of 2012 was mostly disappointing for Pobst as mechanical gremlins and on-track mishaps plagued him. Pobst however rebounded in the second half of the season taking back-to-back wins at Mid-Ohio helping to solidify 3rd place in the GT Drivers’ Championship.
Madison Snow took home GT Rookie-of-the-Year honors.
In GTS, RealTime Racing’s Peter Cunningham, the all-time Pirelli World Challenge wins leader, piloted his Acura TSX to yet another Drivers’ Championship – his seventh World Challenge Drivers’ title. Cunningham and teammate Nick Esayian also helped Acura claim the GTS Manufacturers’ Championship, the manufacturer’s 10th title.
Rookie sensation Andy Lee battled Cunningham all year long for the top spot overall. Lee finished second in the Drivers’ Championship with an impressive four wins claiming the GTS Rookie-of-the-Year Award.
Veteran hotshoe and former Trans Am Champion Jack Baldwin also fought tooth and nail with Cunningham and Lee and ended up third overall in 2012. Baldwin finished with 1185 points, behind Lee (1264) and Cunningham (1366).
The 2012 season also marked the rookie debut for the two-car Kinetic Motorsports Kia Optima team in the series. Accomplished sports car racer Michael Galati rejoined the series to pilot one of the Optimas along with Canadian Mark Wilkins. The Kinetic Team recorded a tremendous weekend at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park with Galati winning Race One and Wilkins winning Race Two.
In his first year of pro racing, Rookie Michael Cooper posted an amazing six wins to take the Touring Car Drivers’ Championship as well as Rookie-of-the-Year honors for the class. Cooper battled all year long against Compass360 Racing drivers Todd Lamb and Ryan Winchester who finished second and third respectively in the TC Drivers’ Championship. Shea Holbrook made tremendous strides in 2012 finishing fourth overall with an impressive 10 top 5 finishes in 2012. Lamb, Winchester and Holbrook helped Honda claim the TC Manufacturers’ Championship, its 8th.
Fiat 500 driver Jonathan Start broke out of the gate early with back to back wins at Miller Motorsports Park and then drove consistently the rest of the year to take the inaugural TCB Drivers’ Championship. Start also claimed TCB Rookie of the Year honors. A group of Honda drivers helped the manufacturer claim the first Manufacturers’ Championship in TCB.
The year will also be sadly remembered for the passing of series announcer and motorsports personality Tom Hnatiw and 2011 GTS Drivers Champion Paul Brown. In his 30-year career, Hnatiw produced or was involved in over 500 TV shows and was also one of the most recognizable voices in auto racing announcing – for many years he was the voice of the World Challenge series.
Brown made his first World Challenge start in 1993 at Des Moines, and would run another 41 races through the 2000 season before taking a hiatus from the series. After a handful of starts in 2008-2009, Brown returned to the series in 2011 for a full slate with his Tiger Racing/Paul Brown Racing Ford Mustang Boss 302S and won the GTS Drivers’ Championship.