Points leader Trenton Estep got his Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama weekend off to a strong start at Sonoma Raceway on Friday, turning in the day’s fastest time from two practice sessions.
Estep posted a best lap of 1 minute, 36.435 seconds (89.033 mph) in the No. 3 JDX Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car in the morning session and it held up through the afternoon session as the quickest of the day. Estep heads into Saturday’s first of two 45-minute races with a 24-point lead in the Platinum Cup standings — for race cars built in 2017 or 2018 — over Roman De Angelis in the No. 1 Kelly-Moss Road and Race machine.
“We had a really, really good start to the weekend, ended out P1,” said Estep after the morning session. “It’s always good to start on the right foot. There’s still a lot to learn, though. This track has a lot of unique characteristics, different from other tracks. All in all, it’s really good.”
Estep was seventh in the afternoon session, but his morning time was more than half a second quicker than afternoon leader Zacharie Robichon in the No. 19 Moorespeed Porsche 911 GT3 Cup machine. Robichon’s session-leading time was 1:36.972 (88.540 mph).
“This morning was my first time on the track,” said Robichon, who is riding a four-race winning streak in GT3 Cup Challenge USA competition. “I’d never seen this track here, and unlike VIR and Road America, where we had that promoter test day, I can’t hide my times here. Right from the beginning, everybody’s got our lap times.
“I struggled a little bit at the beginning and then kind of found the groove towards the end of the second session. This track is weird. It changes quite a bit from morning to afternoon. I’d say I still haven’t quite found my rhythm. We were able to get a good lap in on the second session there, but I think the fastest guys didn’t put new tires on, so I think tomorrow morning it will be a whole different ballgame.”
De Angelis wound up second in the morning and second on the day overall with a best lap of 1:36.959 (88.552 mph). Estep, De Angelis and Robichon were the only drivers in the field so far to break the 1:37 barrier in practice.
The fastest driver in the Platinum Masters class — for drivers over the age of 45 — on Friday was Alan Metni in the No. 99 AM Motorsports/Kelly-Moss Porsche with a best lap in the morning of 1:37.694 (87.886 mph). In the afternoon, Mark Kvamme was fastest aboard the No. 43 JDX Racing Porsche. Kvamme’s best lap of 1:38.222 (87.413 mph) was quick enough for fifth overall in the session.
“What a crazy session,” Kvamme said. “We had good first session out there. We ended up ninth or 10th, but the JDX team and my coach, Mike, and I, they’ve really been working on the setup. I went out there, finally, with some decent tires and all of a sudden, everyone’s joking.
“They thought I had a good lap but they were trying to figure out where I was, because a good lap for me is usually seventh, eighth, ninth or 10th. They couldn’t find me, then they scrolled up and I’m in P1 and was there for a while. It was a ton of fun. The track’s great and the team has done a fabulous job.”
In the Gold Cup class for Porsche 911s built between 2014 and 2016, points leader Victor Gomez IV led both sessions, turning in his best time in the afternoon session. It was a 1:39.860 (85.980 mph) in the No. 25 NGT Motorsport Porsche.
“It was a little bit cold (this morning), so we weren’t really going for a good lap time, more for consistency and getting in the rhythm of the track,” Gomez said. “It’s good to be back in Sonoma. I love this track and to race for the big trophy. I’m really excited.”
Saturday’s schedule calls for a 20-minute qualifying session from 9:45-10:05 a.m. PT, followed by the first race of the weekend starting at 1:15 p.m. PT. Live Timing & Scoring data from the race will be available on IMSA.com.