Motor Sports

SALEEN/SATURN WIN WORLD CHALLENGE CUPS

by Larry Roberts

November 07, 1997

Almost every major auto racing event has one or two of what's called for lack of a better name, "warm-up" races. They are events that fill in time before the major race of the day, and are designed to maintain spectator interest before the main event.

In the case of the Sports Car Club of America Trans Am races, the "warm-up" is the SCCA World Challenge race for Touring 1 and Touring 2 cars and might well be called "Trans Am Jr." While the Trans Am cars are specially-constructed racers that pretty much look like domestic pony cars and carry V8 carbureted engines, the World Challenge is open to both foreign and domestic machinery. These races are also different from the Trans Am events in that there are actually two races in one.

Touring 1 (the fastest cars in the race) are large displacement, specially-built cars that have to remain fairly "stock." As of today, the dominant car in this class is the Saleen Ford Mustang 351 SR. It won the manufacturer's cup, though it was aided by sheer numbers. There were half a dozen of them running and points earned by any Ford car count towards that maker's championship. By contrast, Acura is represented in Touring 1 by a pair of NSX coupes and it took second by virtue of four wins, three second place finishes and one fourth by Honda ace Peter Cunningham. It also celebrated a third place finish about mid-season by the very versatile Boris Said.

Other sportsters allowed to compete in SCCA World Challenge Touring 1 events are the Corvette, Camaro, Firebird, BMW M3, Mazda RX-7 Turbo, Porsche RSR and several others. All the cars have to be production- based, and while they are allowed a liberal amount of modification to make them go fast and handle well, the rules aren't totally open. As an example, they are required to run on street-legal Department of Transportation (DOT) tires rather than special racing slicks.

Touring 2 World Challenge cars run in the same events as the Touring 1 racers but they're less modified and carry lots less horsepower. Cars that qualify for the Touring 2 category are the Acura Integra, Honda Prelude, Olds Achieva, a couple of BMW models and the Saturn SC coupe. As if to prove how egalitarian Touring 2 racing is, Paul Boorher took second place in the Touring 2 driver's championship piloting a Saturn SC, which helped that company capture the maker's championship by having its drivers win points in all 11 races.

Over the years, the SCCA World Challenge championship has underwent many changes since its inception 25 years ago. The beginning can be traced back to a concept that the Sports Car Club of America developed in 1972 to provide a class for its members to race cars right off the showroom floor. It was labeled "Showroom Stock," and was an instant success. But by the mid-'80s, the original idea of amateur drivers racing unprepared cars grew out of favor and the class developed into another program wherein the auto makers could showcase their products to non-participating spectators.

And now that the ailing SCCA Trans Am series has had a monetary steroid injection from the new-found major sponsorship of the National Tire & Battery stores (a Sears, Roebuck freestanding retail format), and BF Goodrich, the tag-along World Challenge races will no doubt profit as well. Brian Richards, a good friend who is a podium finisher in the Touring 1 class in his Mostly-Mazda Mazda RX-7 Turbo is elated. He could hardly keep the excitement out of his voice when he exclaimed that next year would be ".... very, very interesting.." for the SCCA World Challenge "warm-up."

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