R. Ferri Motorsport secured a hard-fought victory in Sunday’s Blancpain GT World Challenge America contest at Circuit ofThe Americas to deny K-PAX Racing its second triumph of an action-packed season-opening weekend.
The R. Ferri Motorsports Ferrari 488 GT3 had looked set to cruise to a dominant win at the famed Texas track, only to be thrust into an all-out battle because of a late full-course yellow. The resulting racing had international stars Miguel Molina and Andy Soucek putting on a spectacular show around the 3.4-mile circuit.
As the final reckoning loomed the odds seemed to favor the K-PAX outfit. Its Bentley Continental GT3 was the form car following Saturday’s opening event, when a standout performance earned the Californian squad a one-two finish.
“In the end it was a good weekend for us. We didn’t do any pre-season testing so we’ve always been catching up,” said Molina. “Starting the championship with a win is really important and I have to be thankful to R. Ferri Motorsport and Ferrari. To drive with Toni again this year will be great fun and we hope to have a good season.”
The No. 3 Continental GT3 secured pole position for race one thanks to a lap of 2m11.491s by Soucek, who narrowly edged out teammate Rodrigo Baptista in the No. 9 machine as the times tumbled on a drying track.
K-PAX remained beyond the reach of the competition during the opening race, though it was the combination of Baptista and Maxime Soulet that prevailed from the 90-minute contest. Soucek controlled the start calmly to lead the opening stint, but when crewmate Alvaro Parente encountered traffic the sister Continental GT3 gained a crucial advantage and could not be beaten thereafter.
Scott Hargrove and Patrick Long completed the podium in the No. 58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R, finishing over 30 seconds behind the all-conquering Bentley Boys. Jeff Segal and Wei Lu took Pro-Am honors in their No. 31 TR3 Racing Ferrari 488 GT3, securing victory from a highly competitive class, while Caesar Bacarella and Martin Fuentes earned the Am Cup winners’ trophy in their No. 7 Squadra Corse Garage Italia Ferrari 488 GT3.
Sunday’s second contest saw Kyle Marcelli take the start from pole position in the No. 80 Racers Edge Motorsports Acura NSX GT3, ahead of European star Maxi Buhk in the No. 71 P1 Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3.
However, with both of the front-row starters competing in the Pro-Am class, the early favorite was the R. Ferri Ferrari, driven by Vilander and Molina, which took the start from fourth place. K-PAX, meanwhile, faced a more challenging second outing, with both Bentley Continental GT3s starting down the order.
The leading positions remained stable at the start, but Vilander was plainly in a hurry to move to the front. The Finnish ace made quick work of Buhk for second spot and then homed in on the rear of Marcelli’s leading Acura. The Finn then displayed his years of experience by passing Marcelli in style after going wheel-to-wheel for several corners.
Vilander edged away at the head of the field, while Buhk moved into second overall shortly after the half-hour mark by overhauling Pro-Am rival Marcelli. Further back the K-PAX squad’s perfect weekend appeared to be faltering, with neither car able to break into the top five during the opening stint.
The R. Ferri Ferrari changed hands at half-distance in the 90-minute race as Vilander handed over to Molina. With the rapid Spaniard at the wheel, the No. 61 machine looked set to complete a comfortable victory, but as is so often the case in GT3 competition drama was just around the corner.
With less than 20 minutes remaining, a full-course yellow period was called for two separate on-track incidents. Having led by a healthy margin of more than 20 seconds, Molina suddenly faced a high-pressure dash to the flag.
Filling his mirrors as the restart loomed was none other than the No. 9 K-PAX Bentley, driven at this stage by Soucek, which had leapt to third following the mid-race pit stops and then taken second shortly before the full-course yellow.
As racing resumed Soucek judged the getaway best, scything past Molina and into the lead on the run to Turn 1. It looked as though the Bentley had done enough, but Molina fought back and was able to muscle his Ferrari into P1 once more.
It would prove to be a decisive counterpunch from the R. Ferri driver, as his fellow countryman was unable to mount another attack. The Ferrari crossed the line to secure the win, while Soucek and crewmate Parente could be satisfied with a stellar comeback drive and a second podium from as many races. The No. 58 Wright Motorsports Porsche also secured another top-three finish in third, with Hargrove and then Long once again delivering polished performances in their 911.
Having taken victory on Saturday the No. 3 K-PAX Bentley endured a difficult start to the race as a penalty for contact sent Soulet to the rear of the field, but a strong recovery brought the new-spec Continental back to fourth at the checkered flag.
Pro-Am victory went to the No. 80 Acura as Martin Barkey made good on Marcelli’s early work, finishing less than three seconds clear of the similar machine fielded by Gradient Racing. Am Cup honors once again went to Bacarella and Fuentes, who earned a class sweep at COTA in their Ferrari.
“It’s been a fantastic weekend for Racers Edge Motorsports with the Acura NSX GT3. We just took delivery of the car 35 days ago and it’s been all go ever since,” said Marcelli. “We’ve exceeded our expectations with a pole position overall, a podium yesterday and victory today. It’s a team effort and Martin Barkey did a fantastic job closing out today’s race.”
“Yesterday was tough, but it’s the start of the year so everyone’s aggressive,” said Bacarella. “Today, when I got into the lead it was a case of cruise control and building a cushion. It’s great to start the season with a double win – I’m super excited.”
The Blancpain GT World Challenge America campaign will resume on April 27-28, when the series travels to Virginia International Raceway for another pair of 90-minute runs.