Ian James, driving the #50 Team Panoz Racing Panoz Avezzano GT, won a lights-to-flag victory in Round 17 of the 2017 Pirelli World Challenge GTS/GT3 championship at Sonoma Raceway, California.
Second across the line, 1.369 seconds behind after starting from the front row of the grid alongside James, was the #80 Mantella Motorsport KTM XBow GT4 piloted by Martin Barkey. Barkey’s second place was the Canadian driver’s first podium finish of the season, despite lying third in the GTS drivers championship going in to the Grand Prix of Sonoma.
The final podium position in the Pro category was taken by Parker Chase in the #19 Performance Motorsports Group Ginetta G55.
Derek DeBoer, driving the #007 TRG-AMR Aston Martin Vantage GT4, put in a dominant performance to convert his class position into a win in the GTSA category and also to move up the field from sixth on the starting grid to finish fourth overall. Second in the GTSA category, and in tenth position overall, was Mark Klenin, piloting the #62 KPR McLaren 570S GT4.
The #11 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro GT4 driven by Tony Gaples occupied the final podium position.
English-born and now resident in Arizona, James dominated the Pro field with ease as he led away from the line, chased by Martin Barkey in the #80 Mantella Motorsports KTM XBow GT4. James pulled his lead out to over 3 seconds with 20 minutes to go but was content to control the race and allow Barkey to close up over the final laps.
Parker Chase, piloting the #19 Performance Motorsports Group Ginetta G55 started from fifth on the grid and had to fight with 2017 GTS Drivers Champion Lawson Aschenbach before moving in to third place at the half-way.
“We would have had a better starting position but we had some difficulties in qualifying,” said 16-year old Chase, who raced in the British GT Championship earlier in the season. “I think we would have started on the front row if not much closer than where we were. It was a good race. I was just focused on trying to catch Ian and the Panoz and see if we could get our first win. Overall, it was great.”
Ian James was quick to praise Team Panoz Racing as he celebrated his sixth win of the season.
“I’ve really got to thank everyone at Panoz for the car they gave me,” said James. “Martin (Barkey) kept me really honest there. He was a couple of seconds back there the whole time and I really couldn’t make any mistakes. Don Panoz is here this weekend and I’d love for him to take a trophy back. I love racing in the series and hopefully (we have) one more to go tomorrow.”
James reflected on what might have been had the team been able to put points on the board at the opening round of the season at St. Petersburg.
“Yes, ‘would’ve – could’ve’,” continued James. “We’ve had a great year and everybody’s really happy. Lawson (Aschenbach) won the championship early but maybe we’ll come back next year and give him a harder time.”
Derek DeBoer, driving the #007 TRG-AMR Aston Martin Vantage GT4, ended George Kurtz’s consecutive run of eight victories with a decisive performance to win the GTS class and finish fourth overall.
DeBoer was excited to have battled amongst the Pro entries in the early stages of the race, citing his knowledge of the circuit as an important factor in his class win.
“Yes, we get a lot of time down here,” said DeBoer. “Thank you to TRG. They put together an amazing sportscar in the Aston Martin. Those first five laps with the big dogs were a blast. We had something to give to them. I was battling with tyres. I had some lock-up on one of the turns. I was just trying to hang on and stay in that spot and watch these guys check out a little bit.”
“The track felt pretty good but after the first lap I saw a lot of car parts and stuff,” continued DeBoer. “So there was a little bit of jumping and ducking and diving. It’s a great technical track. There’s no time to breath, there’s no time to think about anything else other than the task at hand and that’s what I love so much about racing sportscars. The Aston was awesome today!”
There was drama on the final lap as Mark Klenin in the #62 KPR McLaren 570S GT4 and Tony Gaples in the #11 Blackdog Speed Shop battled for second place in class with Klenin snatching the position with seconds to go.
Tony Gaples’ third place finish, however, means that Blackdog Speed Shop have provisionally won the GTS Teams Championship. George Kurtz has also secured the GTSA drivers championship with one race to go.
The lights go out for Race Two for the GTS/GT4 field at 13:30 local time on Sunday September 17.