History of the Pirelli World Challenge

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Story by Beth Dolgner

It’s a dream that’s all too common among gearheads: Take a bunch of modified production cars and race them against each other. Today’s Pirelli World Challenge Championships scratches that itch, and its roots date back nearly 40 seasons.

Through the years, the series has seen some of the most competitive street stock racing in the United States. Manufacturers have used it as a development and marketing platform for their new models, while drivers have enjoyed long and lucrative careers in the series.

The list of World Challenge participants reads like a who’s who of American sports car racing: Randy Pobst, Elliott Forbes-Robinson, Stirling Moss, Terry Borcheller, Boris Said, Peter Cunningham, Max Angelelli, Tommy and Bobby Archer, Bill Auberlen, and even actor Bobby Carradine.

Virtually every popular sports car—as well as a slew of less-than-successful models—has made an appearance in the series. American muscle cars like the Chevrolet Corvette, Saleen Mustang and Dodge Viper have gone up against imports and exotics like the Acura NSX, Honda Prelude, Aston Martin DB9 and even the Peugeot 505 Turbo. Factory-backed efforts often share paddock space with independent teams.

The series has evolved since its inception, but the basic premise has more or less remained intact: The cars circling the track have a lot in common with their street-driven counterparts.


SCCA introduced the Showroom Stock format to modern-day sports car racing at the onset of the 1972 season. Designed to be an economical racing platform for amateur drivers, the class placed a $3000 price ceiling on cars. Even back then, that price cap made Showroom Stock a significantly less expensive alternative to other race classes.


A 24-hour Showroom Stock race was held at Ohio’s Nelson Ledges Road Course, and SCCA racers embraced it enthusiastically. The format that would evolve into World Challenge was gaining strength.


Another 24-hour race, this time at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, was staged in 1984. As with the event’s predecessor in 1980, endurance racing and the Showroom Stock format proved to be a winning combination. SCCA decided to combine a number of endurance races to create a series.


Playboy Magazine signed on as title sponsor of SCCA’s first professional street stock series, a championship for very mildly modified, production-based race cars. The six-race SCCA Playboy United States Endurance Cup series featured 10 car manufacturers, and races ranged in length from 4 to 24 hours.

The inaugural race, held at Southern California’s Riverside Raceway, had an impressive starting grid: 87 cars in four classes, GT, A, B and C. A team points fund sponsored by Escort Radar Warning Receivers was partially responsible for attracting those record-setting numbers. There was a $20,000-per-race purse and a year-end bonus of $60,000. This series was now a professional venture.


The Playboy title sponsorship was short-lived, and Escort took over the role for 1986. The series, now called the SCCA Escort Endurance Championship, also changed its class structure. The B and C classes were combined, and the SS—or Super Sports—class was introduced. SS became one of the most popular classes in the series by harboring fierce competition among cars like the Chevrolet Corvette and Porsche 944 Turbo.


The series grew to eight races in a season. The second year for the SS category was also its last, as GT became the premier class in the series for 1988.


The term ”Endurance“ was finally dropped, and the series adopted the still-used World Challenge name. The SCCA Escort World Challenge Championship received a technical overhaul, as manufacturers homologated their cars and ran them in one of two classes: World Challenge or Super Production.

The World Challenge class turned into a battle between the Chevrolet Corvette’s American muscle and the Lotus Esprit Turbo’s English handling prowess. Meanwhile, the Eagle Talon dominated the Super Production class.


The dual-class structure lasted just one season. In 1991, the popular Super Sport class returned, providing a battlefield for American muscle cars like the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro. Camaros heavily outnumbered the few Mustangs that showed up, although Terry Borcheller drove a Mustang to a second-place finish in the class championship. Lou Gigliotti took the class title in a Camaro, winning by an impressive 76-point margin.


The “Endurance” part of the World Challenge title was dropped two years before, but 1992 showed a real format shift when each race became a 1-hour sprint. While the races were shorter, they continued to attract more entries. The new class designations were A, B, C and D, and they featured a wide range of cars, from the ever-popular Corvette to the Oldsmobile Achieva. The A class was practically an all-Corvette affair, while the other classes had a much more diverse mix of entries.


The D class was eliminated, and those displaced cars moved into the three remaining classes with appropriate modifications. The Eagle Talon, for example, was a dominant force in the D class; it received a turbo and moved up to B competition. The Nissan 300ZX Twin Turbo propelled Elliott Forbes-Robinson to the championship that year.


The class names changed yet again, becoming World Challenge, Touring Car and Super Production. The Porsche 911 began three years of dominance with this season.


The World Challenge class became known as the Sport class, but otherwise the series remained relatively unchanged.


The World Challenge series underwent another significant structure change in 1996. The entries were split into two categories: Sports and Touring. Each of those had two classes: S1 and S2 in Sports, and T1 and T2 in Touring. However, the S1 class didn’t develop until the season was underway, so the early rounds featured the S2 class as the fastest cars on the track. The S1 class came together in time for a short three-race championship.

The season also saw a shift in tire use. For the first time in the series, cars ran on slicks—as expected, speeds were up. The series later reverted to race-spec DOTs, in keeping with Showroom Stock tradition.


The Sports category disappeared in 1997. It was only sparsely populated in 1996, largely due to the high cost of running a competitive car. As costs continued to rise, SCCA chose to eliminate the Sports category altogether.

T1 became the premier class, and it was dominated by American and Japanese marques. With the S1-spec Porsche finally out of the picture, Peter Cunningham dominated the series in an Acura NSX, winning the T1 championship.


This season marked the fourth straight T2 championship for RealTime Racing. Big news came in the offseason as Speedvision took over title sponsorship to created the SCCA Speedvision World Challenge.


Time for another class restructuring, as just the GT and Touring Car classes were adopted. Bobby Archer went down in the record books as the first GT winner, earning the title in a Dodge Viper GTS. Meanwhile, Michael Galati won the Touring Car championship in an Acura Integra Type R.


The modern version of World Challenge continued to emerge in 2000, when the GT and Touring Car classes were separated into their own races. Standing starts were also introduced. SCCA noted a significant increase in entries following these changes.


Toyo signed a deal with SCCA to provide a spec tire for World Challenge. As the series grew, so did the purses.


The series name changed yet again. When Speedvision became known as Speed Channel, the series followed suit by becoming the Speed World Challenge.


The DOT-legal Toyo Proxes RA-1 race tire became the GT spec tire in 2003. Bill Auberlen finally snapped the Type R’s dominance in Touring Car, winning the title in a BMW 325i. It was the first time since 1997 that Acura didn’t win a World Challenge title.


The Toyo Proxes RA-1 became the spec tire for the Touring Car class.


Cadillac won their first GT championship at the hands of Andy Pilgrim. Meanwhile, Acura was again on top of the Touring Car class, this time with the Acura TSX.


With the costs of competition increasing, several teams dropped out of the series and grids became smaller. The privateers, once the backbone of the Touring Car class, had mostly left the series. A group of World Challenge drivers got together to create WC Vision, an organization that would take over the management of the World Challenge series. SCCA Pro Racing would still sanction the events. There was an equipment change this year, too, as Toyo’s new Proxes R888 tire became required for both classes.


The series officials decided to shake things up by adding a coin flip to the mix: Depending on how it landed, the coin could force the top five qualifiers to invert their starting positions. Not surprisingly, the coin gimmick didn’t catch on and was soon eliminated.

The same season saw the long relationship between World Challenge and Speed come to an end. For the next two years, the series was known as the World Challenge Championships.


For the first time in 10 years, a new class was introduced to World Challenge. Other classes were tweaked as well. The GT cars were still the fastest, but they were realigned so that the Porsche 911 GT3 Cup became the performance benchmark.

The Touring Cars had gotten a bit too radical thanks to relocated suspension mounting points and sequential gearboxes. The new Touring Car class would feature sedans and coupes that were much closer to stock. The old Touring Cars as well as mildly modified pony cars would fit into the new GTS class. Cars prepared for SCCA Club Racing as well as Grand-Am’s Continental Tire Challenge Series would be welcome to run in the GTS and Touring Car classes, too.

Despite the radical changes, some familiar names continued to do well. Peter Cunningham won the inaugural GTS championship—his sixth title, a series record. Randy Pobst won his third GT title since 2007.


On the equipment side, Pirelli racing slicks became mandatory. Just before the season opener in St. Petersburg, Florida, Pirelli inked a deal to become the series title sponsor as well. Forty-nine cars took the first green at St. Pete, showing that the large fields from just a few years ago are on their way back.

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View comments on the GRM forums
759NRNG SuperDork
2/9/18 8:59 a.m.

Please let's not forget  Andy Pilgrim and Johnny O'Connell...thank you

mazdeuce - Seth
mazdeuce - Seth Mod Squad
2/9/18 9:00 a.m.

Watching the Real Time Racing cars on TV is very much a defining part of how I still look at racing. Watching the FWD Integras battle with their peers convinced me that the crap boxes I drove could be much more than they really were. 

Is there an online source for the races these days? Doesn't have to be live, but I'd love to sit down and follow a racing season again. 

759NRNG SuperDork
2/9/18 9:15 a.m.

MotorTrend on Demand......check out the PWC site some very interesting things happening there.....still no word as to where Johnny O has landed......yea i might find the answer to this, but I'm not a bookface lurker.

bmw88rider SuperDork
2/9/18 11:39 a.m.

First pro race I ever went to was PWC right before Speed bought the series. It was at Heartland Park. Bought my first Integra because of that series. 



trigun7469 SuperDork
2/12/18 3:29 p.m.

I always loved the Pirelli World Challenge, I remember in the early 2000's some of the racers arriving with open trailer and very meager setups. I assume that was how pro racing was in the 50's and 60's. I actually bought a former WC car, look forward to running it in champcar.

racerdave600 UltraDork
2/12/18 3:51 p.m.
mazdeuce - Seth said:

Watching the Real Time Racing cars on TV is very much a defining part of how I still look at racing. Watching the FWD Integras battle with their peers convinced me that the crap boxes I drove could be much more than they really were. 

Is there an online source for the races these days? Doesn't have to be live, but I'd love to sit down and follow a racing season again. 

The RTR Integras racing were some of the best races on TV that I've seen, even now.  Those things were awesome to watch.

Stefan MegaDork
2/12/18 4:13 p.m.

In reply to mazdeuce - Seth :

If you search around on YouTube, there are quite a few of the older races available.

Crxpilot Reader
2/12/18 8:54 p.m.

Some of the first racing I watched on TV had commentators letting you know Plumb's headlight cover was purple "plum".

spacecadet New Reader
2/14/18 9:25 a.m.

In reply to mazdeuce - Seth :

MotorTrend on Demand has everything from PWC

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