Squadra Corse Ferrari team Martin Fuentes and Rodrigo Baptista won Saturday afternoon’s Round 5 GT World Challenge America powered by AWS race at Sonoma Raceway with the grid struggling for numbers in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, just seven GT3 cars making the entry for the weekend.
The GMG Racing Porsche team of James Sofronas and Jeroen Bleekemolen finished second. Am division team Fred Poordad and Max Root running the Wright Motorsports Porsche finished first in class and third overall in the race.
Pole sitter and Silver division competitor Shelby Blackstock, in the #93 Racers Edge Motorsports Acura NSX GT3 brought the field to green and launched successfully into the lead ahead of Pro/Am driver Sofronas, who started second in the #14 Porsche 911 GT3 R (991) and fellow Pro/Am driver Fuentes, who started third in the #1 Ferrari 488 GT3. Poordad, slotted in fourth behind them in the #20 Porsche 911 GT3 R (991.II).
Blackstock pulled away and grew his lead to over 15 seconds over Sofronas, while Fuentes maintained striking distance to the driver in the #14 machine. Behind Poordad who held fourth, a battle for 5th raged as Pro/Am driver George Kurtz in the #04 DXDT Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 defended challenges from TR3 Racing’s Ziad Ghandour in the #24 Ferrari 488 GT3. Then on Lap 20, Sofronas ran wide through turn 7 allowing Fuentes to move into second overall and first in Pro/Am.
Drama then ensued shortly before the official pit window opening, as Blackstock came into the pits and changed over to Hindman. The stop outside of the official pit window opening meant the team would need to serve a penalty. With the #93 car in the pits, Fuentes moved into the lead over Sofronas and Poordad. At the 45-minute mark of the race, the official pit window opened, and Fuentes came in first to change over to Baptista. Sofronas entered second to change over to Bleekemolen. Poordad came in third to change over to Root. At the end of the pit window, the charts showed Hindman in the lead, but officials then ordered the Racer’s Edge Acura down pit road to serve an 87-second penalty for the early pit stop infraction.
Baptista moved into the overall lead, with Bleekemolen second, Root third. Baptista then went to work building up a 14-second lead, but with just over 15 minutes remaining officials issued a full-course yellow to clean up debris through turn 9. Baptista’s lead evaporated and the field bunched up for the restart of the race. With under 10 minutes remaining in the contest, Baptista led the field back to green and launched successfully into the lead. The action behind him was heated as Bleekemolen successfully thwarted Root’s challenge through turn 2. Root then, in turn, had to fend off challenges from Colin Braun, who had taken over the reins of the #04 machine from Kurtz. With battles raging behind him Baptista built his lead to 3.2 seconds and at the checkered, crossed the line 2.074 seconds ahead of Bleekemolen.
“We had a big gap before the safety car came out,” said Baptista. “I was hoping the guys behind me would start battling on the restart and that’s what happened. “Rodrigo did a great job, we were stressed out when the yellow came out,” said Fuentes. “We are happy, we are back in the lead in the championship.”
“We are trying to shoot for overall podiums,” said Root. “The Wright Motorsports car was fantastic today. We had an opportunity today and we took it to finish on the podium.”
The Racers Edge Motorsports Acura NSX team of Shelby Blackstock and Trent Hindman scored a dominant, flag-to-flag overall and Silver Division GT World Challenge America powered by AWS win on Sunday afternoon at Sonoma Raceway.
Am Division team Fred Poordad and Max Root running in the Wright Motorsports Porsche scored an impressive second overall and first in class finish. GMG Racing Porsche team James Sofronas and Jeroen Bleekemolen won the Pro/Am race, finishing third overall on the day.
DXDT Racing’s David Askew and Ryan Dalziel finished fourth overall and second in Pro/Am, while the team’s second DXDT Racing team of George Kurtz and Colin Braun finished fifth overall and third in Pro/Am.
The 90-minute race was contested under sunny and hot 87-degree Fahrenheit weather conditions. From pole, Hindman, in the #93 Acura NSX GT3 launched successfully and into the lead while Braun, in the #04 Mercedes-AMG GT3 slotted into second. Bleekemolen, in the #14 Porsche 911 GT3 R (991) followed in third. Root in the #20 Porsche 911 GT3 R (991.II) was able to slide under Rodrigo Baptista in the #1 Ferrari 488 GT3 to slot into fourth.
Over the next number of laps, Hindman would build a 4.9 second lead over Braun. Behind the leaders, a battle for fifth raged with Baptista, TR3 Racing’s Jeff Segal in the #24 Ferrari 488 GT3, and Dalziel in the #63 Mercedes-AMG GT3.
A full-course yellow then ensued as two GT Sports Club competitors (the GT Sports Club race ran concurrently with the GT World Challenge race) came together through turn 3. After the cleanup, the race restarted on lap 14, and Hindman again launched successfully back into the lead, with Braun, Bleekemolen, Root, Baptista, Segal and Dalziel maintaining their positions.
At the 35-minute mark of the race and the pit window open, Hindman who had built his lead back up to six seconds came into the pits first to changeover to Blackstock. Bleekemolen, Root, Baptista and Segal all followed, while Braun and Dalziel looking to make up valuable seconds elected to stay out and came in right before the pit window closed. The Squadra Corse Ferrari team were able to execute a cleaner pit stop and Martin Fuentes who took over the reins for Baptista exited pit road ahead of Sofronas now behind the wheel of the GMG Racing Porsche.
With the pit window closed, the Racer’s Edge Motorsports Acura team still held the lead with Blackstock out front by 8.7 seconds. Kurtz now behind the wheel of the #04 Mercedes-AMG GT3 ran in second, while Poordad sat third after taking over for Root.
Fuentes and Sofronas then engaged in a heated battle for fourth that lasted the balance of the race. Dramatics ensued shortly after the pit window closed as race officials issued a drive-through penalty to the #04 machine for a pit lane speed violation on the driver changeover.
Kurtz would come into pit lane dropping him from second to 7th, moving Poordad up into second overall. By lap 35, Fuentes and Sofronas had caught Poordad and the three competitors then engaged in a late-race battle. With Fuentes looking for a way around Poordad, Sofronas waited in the wings looking to pounce on any mistake made by the two competitors ahead of him.
Then on lap 46, Fuentes’ Ferrari looked to encounter a right front suspension problem and the #1 machine ran wide off into a runoff area through the carousel section and turn 6. Sofronas moved into third. Fuentes would bring his machine around and into the pits ending his day. The focus then shifted to the battle for third in Pro/Am shifted to Ghandour, who had taken over for Segal, and Kurtz who had rebounded after serving the drive-through penalty.
On the white flag lap, Ghandour would power slide coming off the bottom of the turn 6 carousel opening the door for Kurtz who slid by. But Ghandour fought back and attempted to push under Kurtz for position through turn 7. The machines came together with Kurtz’s #04 spinning and Ghandour’s #24 Ferrari continuing on. Ghandour crossed the line ahead of Kurtz, but immediately after the checkered, officials awarded the fifth overall and third in Pro/Am spot back to Kurtz/Dalziel.
“I am really proud to be part of this Racer’s Edge Motorsports crew,” said Hindman. “They gave us a fantastic Acura NSX GT3 and Shelby did a hell of a job in the race and with the qualifying.”
“It was a great run today,” said Poordad. “After Max’s (Root) first stint I had to live up to that challenge because he got us into a great position. It was all I could do to hold those guys (Fuentes and Sofronas) off and I am very pleased with the outcome.”