Matthew Fassnacht, the 2017 Touring Car TCA champion, spent last year campaigning the GT4 SprintX races with Christian Szymczak in a Murillo Racing Mercedes AMG GT, and the plan for 2019 was to do that again in the new East championship. But after testing the team’s second GT at Virginia International Raceway, he thought entering the Sprint races might be a good thing. Good call, as he went on to win both sprint races.
“We had that extra car testing [at VIR] a couple of weeks ago, and it felt so good, I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll run those Sprint races,” Fassnacht said. “I worked out a deal with the series, worked out a deal with Ken [Murillo], and I’m glad I did that. The car was really hooked up. I’ve never had the chance to run up front with a lot of really talented pro drivers, so running with [Spencer] Pumpelly and those guys was a huge new experience for me. Every time you have an experience in this sport where you succeed around people who are clearly better than you, it opens doors, it gives you confidence. It was a lot of fun, but it’s kind of a big step for me.”
Fassnacht was fast immediately, perhaps thanks in part to that testing, and carried that speed all the way through both races. He had some good fortune — Pumpelly’s Porsche had tire issues in both races that took him out of the running, and Jarett Andretti’s McLaren was taken out of the lead in the Sunday race with the same issue — but Fassnacht had put himself in position to capitalize on the misfortune experienced by the others. And a fact that shouldn’t be lost is that Fassnacht is classified as an Am, and he beat all the Pros on both days.
Fassnacht and Szymczak didn’t have the same kind of luck in the SprintX rounds. Doing both takes a toll — Andretti, Marko Radisic, Michael Dinan, Alan Brynjolfsson and Chris Omacht are among the others who raced Sprint and SprintX at VIR. Even if the schedule accommodates both, keeping the races separated by a GT race in between, there’s still the matter of running two races in a day. Last year Fassnacht also raced TCR, which he says was tougher due to the schedule, but combined practice for both GT4 categories at VIR made that aspect a challenge.
“The only thing that was tough was jumping from one car to the other in practice. We had a broken shock in the [SprintX] car, and driving an easy car and a hard car back to back was a big challenge. I could have done better, but I was just a little afraid of the car for a few laps,” he says.
Winning both Sprint races was a great feeling, but beating all the Pros could be an issue for the gentleman driver who makes his living in institutional investing and calls New York home; last year when Rodrigo Baptista won the GT race overall at VIR, he was immediately elevated to Pro status. But so far Fassnacht’s Amateur status is safe.
And while Fassnacht stated after the VIR wins that he had no plans to compete in the rest of the Sprint races, he obviously found something he liked — he’s pulling double duty for both Sprint and SprintX again this weekend at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park in the Fooji Mercedes AMG GTs.