SRO Indy 8 Hour entry shows growth in its second year

Images by Richard S. James

SRO Indy 8 Hour entry shows growth in its second year

SRO America

SRO Indy 8 Hour entry shows growth in its second year

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The second edition of the Indy 8 Hour Presented by AWS, Round 2 of the Intercontinental GT Challenge, takes place this Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The race, which began as the California 8 Hour and spent three years at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, will feature the largest field of GT3 cars to appear in North America and an international roster of the world’s top GT3 drivers as manufacturers aim for a championship.

The SRO Motorsports Group Intercontinental GT Challenge is normally a series of five endurance races, one on each continent. The worldwide pandemic continues to interrupt sporting events, so this year the Liqui-Moly 12 Hours of Bathurst in Australia and the 10 Hours of Suzuka weren’t run, leaving the 24 Hours of Spa, the Indy 8 Hour and the Kyalami 9 Hour in South Africa, scheduled for December.

At its heart, the Intercontinental GT Challenge is a manufacturers’ championship — although there is a drivers’ championship as well — and it’s an important one to the manufacturers participating. While the number of manufacturers is down from last year due in part to the cancellation of the Australian and Japanese races, those that are involved treat the ICGT with great regard. Audi Sport, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Mercedes-AMG and Porsche typically make sure that their factory pilots are stacking the odds in their favor.

“I am happy that our customer teams will be providing a large part of the field with seven cars in the second IGTC round at the legendary circuit of Indianapolis,” says Stefan Wendl, head of Mercedes-AMG Motorsports Customer Racing, illustrating how serious the manufacturer is about winning the manufacturers’ championships in both the Intercontinental GT Challenge and the worldwide GT World Challenge manufacturers’ championship. “Next to the established American teams, we can also rely on the support by very strong crews from Europe and Asia with AKKA ASP and Craft-Bamboo Racing. With this line-up, we are going into the 8 Hour race in a positive way, trying to be successful in every class and winning the GT World Challenge manufacturers’ title for the third time in a row.”

Ferrari took first blood at the 24 Hours of Spa with a thrilling pass in the final 10 minutes by Alessandro Pier Guidi on Dries Vanthoor’s Audi. The winning Ferrari line-up that also included Nicklas Nielsen and Come Ledogar is back in one of two Ferraris fielded by AF Corse. Antonio Fuoco, Alessio Rovera and Callum Ilott, who recently made his IndyCar debut at Long Beach and will race in 2022 for Juncos Hollinger Racing, are in the other Pro Ferrari.

Despite losing the first round, it’s Audi that leads the manufacturers’ standings after Spa, thanks to finishing second and third — the top two finishers from each manufacturer score points toward the championship. Audi, with Team WRT and Sainteloc, is bringing three Pro line-ups and one Silver entry, as strong an entry as is allowed in the series. The three pro line-ups are: Dries Vanthoor, Charles Weerts and Christopher Mies; Mattia Drudi, Robin Frijns and Nico Mueller; and Christopher Haase, Patric Niederhauser and 2017 IGTC drivers’ champion Markus Winkelhock. Audi scored the first IGTC victory on American soil in the inaugural California 8 Hour.

Mercedes-AMG, like Ferrari, is bringing two squads with stellar line-ups. The Craft-Bamboo Racing team, running its first race outside of Asia with an assist from Lone Star Racing, has Maro Engel, Luca Stolz and Jules Gounon. Team AKKA ASP, facing challenges due to its car being held up in customs and forced to borrow a car from GT World Challenge America regulars DXDT Racing for testing, has Raffaele Marciello, Felipe Fraga and 2020 Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS champion Timur Boguslavskiy. Mercedes-AMG’s efforts will be bolstered by Winward Racing’s Silver entry, DXDT’s three Pro-Am squads — including last year’s winning Pro-Am trio of George Kurtz, Colin Braun and Ben Keating and Kenny Habul’s SunEnergy1 Racing Pro-Am car.

Lamborghini is relying on its American partners to carry the Raging Bull flag, primarily K-PAX Racing for its Pro entries. Newly crowned Fanatec GT World Challenge America Powered by AWS champions Andrea Caldarelli and Jordan Pepper are joined by Mirko Bortolotti, while Marco Mapelli is the addition to the car normally driven by Giovanni Venturini and Corey Lewis. TR3 Racing adds a Pro-Am effort for Lamborghini.

Porsche is the only participating manufacturer without a Pro line-up. Instead its best shot at points likely comes from Wright Motorsports’ entry that includes Max Root joining 2021 GT World Challenge America Pro-Am champions Jan Heylen and Fred Poordad with a Silver entry. That same combination won the Silver class at the 2020 Indy 8 Hour. Wright will be bolstered by Pro-Am squads from GMG Racing and EBM Giga Racing.

“I don’t think you could call it any manufacturer’s domination, despite how Lamborghini and Mercedes are looking in the championship,” says Greg Gill, President and CEO of SRO Motorsports America. “We saw at the Spa 24 Hours what the Iron Lynx Ferrari was able to accomplish with, after 24 hours, a late-race pass on the outside. That in endurance racing is very exciting when it happens. We can’t guarantee what’s going to happen, but I know from the quality of drivers that are there, drivers teams and manufacturers, it is anybody’s guess who will be the winner at the Indy 8 Hour, because they’re bringing their A-game to this race. That’s the iconic nature of Indy — people want to do well there.”

While other manufacturers may not be participating in the championship, that doesn’t mean they won’t be represented in the race, and Acura, Aston Martin, BMW and McLaren all have teams campaigning cars in the 8 Hour.

BMW is the defending champion of the event, but is represented by only a single entry, the Turner Motorsports M6. BMW factory driver Connor De Phillipi joins Michael Dinan and Robby Foley in seeking an overall victory. Acura has a couple of Silver entries from GT World Challenge America regulars Compass Racing and Racer’s Edge. Taylor Hagler has alternated partnering with Dakota Dickerson and Jacob Abel in 2021, and all three will make up the 8 Hour entry. Compass has regular Matt McMurry, with IMSA Acura competitor Mario Farnbacher and recent HPD GT3 Academy participant Ashton Harrison. McLaren is represented by Inception Racing, which has contested a handful of GT World Challenge America rounds, for a Pro-Am effort, while Crucial Motorsports has an all-pro line-up of Paul Holton, Rob Bell and Ben Barnicoat. The lone Aston Martin Vantage GT3 will be campaigned by Ian Lacy Racing, with Lacy joining regulars Drew Stavely and Frank Gannett.

The Indy 8 Hour has a couple of unique elements from other rounds of the Intercontinental GT Challenge races. The first is that it is also a round within the GT World Challenge America, a three-hour finale that counts for double points. At the three-hour mark, there will be a couple of cars dropping out, having completed the GTWCA portion of the event. Most of the GTWCA regulars, though, will continue for the full eight hours. The other thing that sets it apart is the inclusion of GT4 cars. Thirteen GT4 teams will contest the race, adding another level of traffic to the equation.

Most of the GT4 entrants are Pirelli GT4 America SprintX regulars, with the addition of a third driver. And there are some interesting names in those third drivers, including Lexus IMSA racer Jack Hawksworth joining Smooge Racing’s Toyota Supra squad, Indianapolis local Conor Daly joining Random Vandals Racing BMW, and Pippa Mann doing some stints in the NOLASPORT with OGH Porsche.

The Indy 8 Hour starts at 10 a.m. ET and will be streamed live on the GT World YouTube channel, as will Saturday’s qualifying sessions. Portions will also be aired live on the CBS Sports Network, from noon to 2 p.m. ET and the finish from 4:00 to 6:30 p.m. ET. For Indianapolis locals, a parade and static display is scheduled for Downtown Speedway on Main Street on Friday evening, weather permitting.

 

For more event information and tickets visit ims.com.

 

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