Alvaro Parente and Andy Soucek claimed their first Blancpain GT World Challenge America victory of the season in the first race of the weekend at VIR yesterday.
The duo, sharing the #9 K-PAX Racing Bentley Continental GT3, expertly held off the advances of their Pro-class competitors to strike a third-time-lucky win after finishing second in both races of the season-opening round at CoTA.
Parente led away from pole position but had Patrick Long for close company in the #58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R throughout the opening stint.
A quick mid-race driver swap from the K-PAX crew created some breathing room between the Bentley and the Porsche. But a hard charge from Long’s co-driver Scott Hargrove, who was able to claw back the lost time, put Wright’s #58 Porsche back into contention for the win.
Hargrove spent much of the second stint mirroring Soucek and eying up a move, but a mistake and a trip through the grass at Oak Tree Bend brought out the safety car with 12 minutes remaining ended his challenge.
This bunched up the field, but Soucek was able to hold station in the final three minutes of the race and take the victory after a strong restart.
“I got out of the pits and we had a good strategy, we were not undercut by our rivals, so we ended up having a good gap to Hargrove. But, unfortunately, I made a small mistake going wide at Oak Tree and I went on the grass and lost a couple of seconds,” explained Soucek.
“From then I thought not to push as much and get the tires to work. At the restart, I knew I had two lapped cars between me and Marco Holzer, so I was quite relaxed on the safety car restart. I pulled the gap and that was it. It took one year and two races for the win to happen, so happy days. We need to keep up the momentum.”
Marco Holzer in the #24 Alegra Motorsports Porsche took second, after his teammate Wolf Henzler made a move on Miguel Molina early in the race which put him into position to take second when Hargrove made his error.
Eventually, the #61 R. Ferri Motorsport Ferrari 488 GT3 of Molina and his teammate Toni Vilander, took third. Though they were made to work for the final podium place as Vilander had to make a move for position on Kyle Marcelli’s #80 Racers Edge Motorsports Acura NSX GT3 Evo at Oak Tree on the final lap.
Meanwhile, the second K-PAX Bentley of Maxime Soulet and Rodrigo Baptista, which won a Race at CoTA and started Race 1 at VIR third, failed to finish the race, retiring after 12 laps. The car suffered front-end damage after an incident which forced it into the pits for repairs.
Despite losing out on the top-three place, Marcelli, who had briefly got past Molina at the final restart – still came through to clinch Pro-Am class honours along with his driving partner Martin Barkey.
Acuras finished 1-2 in Pro-Am, with Till Bechtolsheimer and Ryan Eversley finishing second (and fifth overall) in their Gradient Racing machine, just ahead of Matt Plumb and Alfred Caiola’s #99 One11 Competition Ferrari 488 GT3.
The result helps Barkey and Marcelli extend their lead in the Pro-Am drivers’ standings heading into tomorrow’s 90-minute contest.
In the Am class, Martin Fuentes and Caesar Bacarella converted their pole position into a third consecutive victory aboard their tricoloured #7 Squadra Corsa Garage Italia Ferrari.
Race 2 starts today at 13:15 local time in Virginia.
Photo courtesy of World Challenge America