The Ultimate ADHD Sports Car Series
Road and Track by Marshall Pruett
Coming off a thrilling season finale weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, the Pirelli World Challenge series reaffirmed its position as this country's finest sports car championship for the ADHD generation.
At one hour or less, the slam-bang PWC races are the polar opposite of IMSA's multiple-act WeatherTech SportsCar Championship endurance format which starts at two hours and jumps up to long-haul adventures that span anywhere from six to 24 hours.
Both are awesome in their own ways, and if you're a fan of lengthy motor races, IMSA has you covered. But if you're also keen on the immediacy—and occasional desperation—that comes from a swarming pack of drivers with minimal time to improve their positions, PWC is a big slice of GT heaven.
"In an endurance race you're giving 100 percent, but you might have a guy in front of you that's on a different strategy and so you don't need to go crazy to get by. Here, in World Challenge, you take EVERY opportunity to get by and that turns up the risk factor you're willing to accept," said Jon Fogarty, who drives the No. 99 "Red Dragon" McLaren 650s GT3 for GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing.
As a two-time Grand-Am Rolex Series driving champion, Fogarty specialized in endurance competition, and with his switch to PWC in 2015, the Californian ace says the 50-minute mindset required to succeed in his McLaren is nothing like the approach that delivered a pair of titles in a Daytona Prototype.
"That part's cool and everybody's doing it," Fogarty added. "It means people are pushing all the time and that leads to good racing. And I do like the fact that there's two races most weekends. Having two chances to go 110 percent and make passes is even better. It's a great format to watch and it asks a lot of the drivers."
There's something inherently fantastic about skilled drivers using supercars in timed combat. PWC's marquee GT class features race-bred factory Acura TLX-GTs, Audi R8s, Bentley Continental GT3s, Dodge Viper GT3-Rs, factory Cadillac ATS-V.Rs, Ferrari 458s, the aforementioned McLarens, factory Nissan GT-Rs, and Porsche 911 GT3 Rs, and with the exceptional amount of hip-checking, body slams, and paint trading that takes place, the series provides fans with a chance to see millions of dollars of machinery behaving badly.
Inside the cockpit, Fogarty has also found the style of racing in PWC has brought a heightened level of pressure to perform.
"My perspective is different because I am coming from such a long stint in endurance racing, and I am finding joy in the nuances of adapting back to a sprint format. It's a new challenge, maybe one I underestimated," he said.
"Your lap times are so critical in qualifying because there's so little time to make up for it in the race. The worst is when you have a bad qualifying session and you're mired back in the pack. Even if you have a great car and it's faster for the race, it's hard to show it because you're surrounded by a ton of cars and never have a clear track to put down fast laps."
Fogarty has also found his basic approach to sports car competition required a significant tweak after years of kicking endurance racing ass. It makes appreciating those who thrive in PWC GT, like the new champion Alvaro Parente from the K-PAX McLaren team, even easier.
"To me, sprint racing is so much about building momentum on the weekend and keeping it going," said Fogarty, who struggled at times with finding the right flow last season. "It's weird: It makes the weekend more continuous. In endurance racing, it's important to qualify well and to have pace, but the race is a separate part of the weekend. And it's usually such a long race where you have pit stop strategy and the car is going to change how it handles from hour to hour that missing out in qualifying doesn't matter as much.
"In sprint racing, the race is connected more to what you do in every step prior to the race; it's a big recognition to make. When you see guys driving kind of crazy, it's probably because they have to do something big to make up for and from the fan's perspective, it makes for a good show."
The Monterey PWC GT race airs this weekend on CBS Sports Network.