West Pro/Am team Kenny Murillo and Christian Szymczak (photo above) were victorious in Saturday afternoon’s GT4 America SprintX race at Portland International Raceway, part of the 59th Annual Rose Cup Races presented by Fastlife.TV. The 60-minute, 45-lap race was an entertaining contest featuring intense, door-to-door battles and multiple lead changes.
At the start, second qualifier Vesko Kozarov (No. 91 Rearden Racing Audi R8 LMS GT4) powered into the lead through Turn 1 over polesitter Szymczak (No. 34 Murillo Racing Mercedes-AMG GT4) as Jon Miller (No. 28 ST Racing BMW M4 GT4) slotted into third ahead of Ryan Dexter (No. 63 Dexter Racing Ginetta G55).
While positions were maintained through the opening laps, there was no shortage of action as the leaders ducked and weaved down the long front straight, searching for an advantage and a way past the car in front into Turn 1.
Through lap 7, the top five drivers featured the leaders in all SprintX categories: Kozarov in the overall lead and first in the West Am class; Szymczak second overall and first in the West Pro/Am category; Miller third overall and second in the West Pro/Am category; SprintX Am class leader Kris Wilson (No. 16 Auto Technic Racing BMW M4 GT4) fourth overall; and Dexter fifth overall and first in the national Pro/Am category.
The battle for second overall came to a head on lap 15 as Miller pulled alongside Szymczak down the front straight and the two went side by side through Turns 1 and 2, Miller easing ahead through Turns 4 and 5. With Szymczak preoccupied with Miller, Wilson took advantage and slipped past Szymczak, dropping him back another position.
With the action behind him, Kozarov was able to gain some breathing space, opening up a 1.351 second gap over Miller, with Wilson now in third, Szymczak in fourth and Dexter fifth.
In the Am category, championship points co-leader Preston Calvert (No. 51 Team Panoz Racing Panoz Avezzano GT) had moved up from an 11th starting position into 8th.
As the pit window opened on lap 19, attention turned to pit lane and teams executed various pit strategies. The leaders all extended their track time and stayed out until near the end of the pit window. Szymczak and Dexter were the first lead pack drivers into the pits with Murillo assuming duties behind the wheel of the No. 34 machine and Warren Dexter behind the wheel of the No. 63. Miller pitted on lap 22 to hand over to Harry Gottsacker, while Wilson finally entered on lap 23 to pass the reins to John Allen, and Kozarov stretched his entrance into the pits until lap 25 — just before the pit window closed.
As the pit window ended, Jeff Burton, who had taken over for Kozarov, re-entered the race and narrowly assumed the lead over Gottsacker through Turn 1. Burton, though, couldn’t hold off the driver of the No. 28 machine who eventually passed for the lead on lap 26. Then on lap 27, with Murillo now in second pursuing Gottsacker, both drivers needed to make evasive moves to avoid a lapped car through Turns 1 and 2. Murillo was able to carry more momentum and overtook Gottsacker for the lead. Burton pursued in third. Jason Hart, in the No. 47 NOLASPORT Porsche 718 Cayman CS MR slotted into fourth with Allen fifth overall.
By lap 30, Murillo had opened a .528-second lead over Gottsacker. Allen, who was running in fifth and first in the Am category, was then given a stop-and-go penalty by Race Control for a pit stop time violation. Matthew Keegan, who had taken over for Calvert, assumed the lead in the Am category.
As the race neared its end, a hard-charging Gregory Liefooghe in the No. 19 Stephen Cameron Racing BMW M4 GT4 was on the move, first passing Hart for the lead in the Pro/Am category and then Gottsacker for second overall.
At the checkered, Murillo (Szymczak) took the overall and West Pro/Am category win, while Liefooghe and teammate Sean Quinlan placed second overall and first in the Pro/Am national class, Gottsacker (Miller) were third overall and second in the West Pro/Am category; Hart (Matt Travis) were fourth and second in West Pro/Am; and Jason Wolfe (Samantha Tan) in the No. 38 ST Racing BMW M4 GT4 were fifth overall and third in the West Pro/Am class.
West Am competitor Drew Staveley (Frank Gannett), driving the No. 24 Ian Lacy Racing Ford Mustang GT4, crossed the line in sixth and first in the West Am class while Keegan (Calvert) was seventh overall and first in Am class.
“I messed up at the start of the race and quickly found myself second, then third, then fourth,” said Szymczak in Victory Circle. “I was really worried that we were in a bad spot when I gave the car to Kenny. But he did a phenomenal job, so congrats to him and the whole team. We’re really happy.”
“The race was different from anything I’ve ever driven,” said Murillo. “We were actually in no-conserve mode, just trying to get around people as fast as we could, so I could build a little bit of a gap and maybe conserve some tires. I knew there were some really fast guys out there like Jason (Hart) and Liefooghe, so I knew I needed some tire for them — and I didn’t do the greatest job, but, you know, I’m happy with the results.”
GT4 America SprintX and SprintX West teams next take to the track for the second SprintX 60-minute race of the weekend set for a green flag start Sunday at 1:55 pm PDT.
All SprintX races will be streamed live on gt4-america.com and via audio simulcast on SiriusXM satellite radio Ch. 383 (983 on the app). CBS Sports Network coverage for SprintX races at Portland airs July 28 at 4 pm EDT. Check your local listings for additional broadcast time and channel information.