The Squadra Corse Ferrari Pro/Am pairing of Martin Fuentes and Rodrigo Baptista won Saturday afternoon’s Round 5 of the GT World Challenge America powered by AWS series race at Sonoma Raceway.
Just over 2s behind, the GMG Racing Porsche team of James Sofronas and Jeroen Bleekemolen finished second overall while Fred Poordad and Max Root (Wright Motorsports Porsche) finished third overall and first in the Am class.
Polesitter and Silver division competitor Shelby Blackstock (No. 93 Racers Edge Motorsports Acura NSX GT3) brought the field to the green and launched successfully into the lead ahead of Pro/Am driver Sofronas, who had started second in the No. 14 Porsche 911 GT3 R (991) and fellow Pro/Am driver Fuentes, who’d started third in the No. 1 Ferrari 488 GT3.
Poordad, in the No. 20 Porsche 911 GT3 R (991.II) slotted into fourth.
Blackstock pulled away in the early laps, growing his lead to more than 15 seconds over Sofronas, while Fuentes stayed in striking distance in the No. 14 machine. Behind fourth-placed Poordad, a battle raged for fifth as Pro/Am driver George Kurtz (No. 04 DXDT Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3) fended off a challenge from TR3 Racing’s Ziad Ghandour in the No. 24 Ferrari 488 GT3.
Then, on Lap 20, Sofronas ran wide through Turn 7, Fuentes moving into second overall and first in Pro/Am. More drama ensued shortly before the official pit window opening, as Blackstock came into the pits and changed over to Trent Hindman. The stop outside of the official pit window opening meant a penalty for the team.
With the No. 93 car forced to take an 87s time penalty, Fuentes assumed the lead over Sofronas and Poordad. At the 45m mark, the pit window opened officially, and Fuentes came in first to change over to Baptista. Sofronas entered second to change over to Bleekemolen, while Poordad handed over to Root.
Baptista moved into the overall lead, with Bleekemolen second and Root third. The Ferrari driver then went to work, building up a 14-second lead. With just over 15m remaining, though, officials issued a full-course yellow to clean up debris in Turn 9. Baptista’s lead evaporated as the field bunched up for the restart.
With under 10m remaining, Baptista led the field back to green and launched successfully back into the lead. Bleekemolen successfully thwarted Root’s challenge through Turn 2 as Root had to fend off a strong challenge from Colin Braun, who had taken over No. 04 machine from Kurtz.
With all the scrapping behind him, Baptista built his lead to 3s and, at the checkered, crossed the line 2.074s ahead of Bleekemolen.
“We had a big gap before the safety car came out,” said Baptista. “I was hoping the guys behind me would start battling on the restart and that’s what happened.
“Rodrigo did a great job, we were stressed out when the yellow came out,” said Fuentes. “We are happy; we are back in the lead in the championship.”
“We are trying to shoot for overall podiums,” said Root. “The Wright Motorsports car was fantastic today. We had an opportunity today and we took it to finish on the podium.”
With the win, Fuentes and Baptista unofficially take over the lead in the Pro/Am championship standings. Competitors now get ready for Sunday’s Round 6 scheduled to start at 1:15pm. The race will be streamed live on youtube.com/GTWorld and broadcasted live on CBS Sports Network.