In an impressive and dominating fashion, Brazil’s Rodrigo Baptista recorded his first GT Sprint race victory Saturday at Watkins Glen International with a 11.983-second win in the No. 3 K-PAX Racing Bentley Continental GT3 in the Pirelli World Challenge Grand Prix of Watkins Glen presented by TM Performance.
Baptista, 21, started the 2018 season in the GTA class at mid-season after a GT SprintX overall win at Virginia International Raceway in April with co-driver Maxime Soulet, and the Brazilian driving star has put together an impressive GT campaign in the second half of the 2018 PWC GT campaign. Rodrigo capped off this first PWC GT season with pole position Saturday morning and a wire-to-wire 50-minute sprint race triumph.
Baptista jumped into the lead at the drop of the green flag and never looked back as he consistently extended his margin over front-row starter Daniel Mancinelli of Italy in the No. 31 TR3 Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 car. In addition to the sensational drive in the race, Rodrigo also recorded the race’s fastest lap (116.55mph) to collect the pole for Sunday’s Round 9 contest set for 1:15 p.m. ET.
“I am very excited to win the GT race today,” said Baptista, who won four GTS races in 2017. “I did the simulator coming to Watkins Glen as this is my first appearance here. It did help a little coming to this track. But after five or 10 laps I knew I was up to the proper pace. And the Bentley car felt so good with the K-PAX crew setting up it so well. I didn’t know that the car would be that fast in qualifying and the race today. But now we know the car is good and it will be nice to start from the pole again on Sunday.”
Mancinelli, the Long Beach GT Sprint race winner, settled for the runner-up spot Saturday followed by Le Mans class champion Michael Christensen of Denmark in the No. 24 Alegra Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R and current GT Overall point leader Toni Vilander in the No. 61 R. Ferri Motorsport Ferrari 488 GT3.
The fourth-place finish for Vilander unofficially clinched the GT Overall point championship for the Finn in his initial season in Pirelli World Challenge.
Rounding out the top five in GT Saturday was former GT SprintX champion Michael Cooper in the No. 2 CRP Racing/DeVilbiss Mercedes-AMG GT3.
In the GTA category, another young driver, Anthony Imperato, piloted the No. 91 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R to the class victory Saturday over David Askew in the No. 63 DXDT Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3.
“I consider Watkins Glen my home track and it feels great to get a class win here,” said Imperato. “I only started racing here a few years ago. The Wright Motorsports team is so experienced and they gave me a good Porsche for today. This was only my second race in the Porsche 911 GT3 R as I came from the Porsche Cup series. But it is so much fun to drive the 911 GT3 R. I didn’t have any testing with this 911 GT3 R, but the car felt great throughout the race. I’m ready for the Sunday race now.”
Sunday’s GT Round 9 50-minute sprint event will begin at 1:15 p.m. ET.