Provisional Fanatec GT World Challenge America Pro drivers’ champions Andrea Caldarelli and Jordan Pepper added to yesterday’s series-clinching performance with another win in a weekend super sweep at Sebring International Raceway.
Racers Edge anchor Taylor Hagler brought the No. 93 Acura NSX GT3 home after completing a stellar recovery drive started by co-driver Dakota Dickerson from a lap 1 incident that saw them off course and essentially sent to the back of the grid. Additionally, the fourth-place finish by polesitters Wright Motorsports (No. 20 Porsche) provisionally secured the Pro-Am category Drivers Championship for Fred Poordad and Jan Heylen. Finally, The AF Corse team (No. 61 Ferrari 488 GT3), already Am-class champions elect, closed out the Sebring weekend on top of the Am podium.
With the highly competitive Pro-Am drivers’ championship still up for grabs and the Pro-Am points leaders No. 20 Wright Motorsports starting from P1, the race was sure to be contentious and delivered no less than the maximum amount of drama in the early leg of the opening lap. Ryan Dalziel, driving the No. 63 DXDT Racing Mercedes-AMG, made contact with Matt McMurry in the No. 77 Compass Racing Acura, who in turn connected with Dakota Dickerson’s No. 93 Racers Edge Acura and sent him off course.
During the course of the melee, more middle-of-the-pack contact occurred with Robby Foley (No. 96 Turner Motorsports BMW) connecting with Conrad Grunewald’s No. 61 AF Corse Ferrari; both continued on beyond the contact. In the final turn of the opening lap, Michael Cooper (No. 19 DXDT Racing Mercedes-AMG) connected with Madison Snow in the No. 88 Zelus Motorsports Lamborghini, sending Snow off course; here, too, both cars were able to continue without performance-reducing damage.
By the end of the opening lap commotion, and the DTP served by Dalziel in lap 4 for creating the incident, Dickerson had lost 10 positions overall, McMurry was down four, and the remainder of the field had settled into a holding pattern that essentially saw Heylen building a commanding lead at the front; Grenier (No. 33 Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG) and Pepper (No. 3 K-PAX Racing Lamborghini) in two and three, with Dennis Lind (No. 9 TR3 Racing Lamborghini) behind them in fourth; Corey Lewis (No. 6 K-PAX Racing Lamborghini) holding on to the fifth position from a hard-charging Dickerson; Cooper, Drew Staveley (No. 12 Ian Lacy Racing Aston Marton), Foley and McMurry rounding out the top 10; and Snow, Grunewald, Onofrio Triarsi (No. 23 Triarsi Competizione Ferrari) and Dalziel shuttering up the field as the pit window opened.
Lind was the first to enter the pit, followed immediately by Lewis. One by one, the requisite pit stop strategies unfolded, with Heylen once again staying out until the last minute of the pit window, ostensibly to maximize the lead he would be able to hand off to co-driver Fred Poordad and secure the Top Five finish needed to clinch the championship. However, seconds after the close of the pit window, Charlie Scardinia lost control of the No. 23 Ferrari and spun off-course and into a set of tire barriers, initiating a full-course yellow condition. During the extraction and clean-up, the No. 96 BMW was noted as running slow, eventually hobbling into the pits and ultimately retiring due to a mechanical issue.
After approximately 10 minutes of safety car conditions, the return to green brought the compression of the pack together and the erasure of any gaps built-up during the first stint. Still, Caldarelli was able to defend against any challengers and remain in the lead for the duration of the race. Running in second place was Russell Ward in the No. 33 Winward Mercedes-AMG followed by Altoe (No. 9), Venturini (No. 6) and Hagler (93) who had moved into the fifth spot overall while capturing the top Pro-Am class spot from Poordad (No. 20) who ultimately fell to eighth overall (fourth in Pro-Am) with Sales (No. 77) on the attack in between them. Just behind Poordad was Harward (No. 88), Askew (No. 63), Gannett (No. 12) and Saada (No. 61.)
Venturini and Altoe exchanged positions constantly for the remainder of the green-lit race, with Venturini eventually able to get the checkered flag first and put the K-PAX sister car on the podium behind Ward. In Pro-Am, Hagler deftly held off any and all charges for positioning, including from Erin Vogel (No. 19) who would finish second in class and Sales (No. 77) who had helped the team come back from the early incident to a podium finish.
Near the end of the race, the Pro-Am drivers’ championship suddenly came into question when Harward (No. 88) got into a defending Poordad (No. 20) in Turn 7, causing both to spin. Both cars were able to recover without losing positions, but Harward was issued a Drive-Through Penalty for the contact that ultimately sent him to the back of the pack. The fourth-place-in-class finish, however, was enough to provisionally award the Pro-Am Drivers championship title to the No. 20 Wright Motorsports co-drivers, Heylen and Poordad.
Catch the encore presentation of the GT World Challenge America Sebring weekend on CBS Sports Network, broadcasting at 6:00 p.m. ET on October 3; check your local listings for channel information.
GT World Challenge America competitors now head to Indianapolis to wrap up the season and make the last push to capture the championships on the line as the series finale once again hits the Racing Capital of the World, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, as part of the Intercontinental GT Challenge powered by Pirelli Indianapolis 8 Hour powered by AWS weekend on October 15-17.