There was definitely a different feeling about the SRO Motorsports America season-openers at Sonoma Raceway in 2022. Likely a big part of that was the spectators. While it was by no means a packed house, the presence of enthusiastic spectators at Sonoma for the first time in three years was certainly a welcome change.
But there was enthusiasm beyond having fans again. With more than 130 cars across the four series, including 20 GT3 cars in Fanatec GT World Challenge America Powered by AWS, there seemed to be a real gravity to the weekend, and there was good competition to be found in every race, if not always at the front.
K-PAX remains on form
To no one’s surprise, the K-PAX team and the defending champion duo of Jordan Pepper and Andrea Caldarelli dominated the weekend in Fanatec GT World Challenge America’s Pro category, just as they did the opening Sonoma weekend a year ago. Pepper threw down a blistering lap in the wet qualifying session to take pole for Saturday’s race, and Caldarelli set the fastest lap in both races.
It was the pit crew that was the star on Sunday, though, getting the service done quickly so that Pepper, having taken over from Caldarelli, got out ahead of Steven Aghakhani. Aghakhani’s co-driver, Loris Spinelli, had qualified on pole and led Caldarelli for the first half of the race.
In addition, the newly-bumped-up-to-Pro duo of Misha Goikhberg and Giacomo Altoe finished third on Sunday.
Derogations removed last minute
The No. 3 Lamborghini Huracan of Goikhberg and Altoe was one of two cars added to the Pro class minutes before Saturday’s first race for GT World World Challenge America, the other being the No. 96 Turner Motorsports BMW M4 GT3 of Michael Dinan and Robby Foley. While five Pro cars is nice to see, not everyone was happy about the change, and even less so about the manner in which it was handled.
“The class change really caught us by surprise,” said K-PAX Program Manager Darren Law. “[The series] literally changed our class five minutes before the race.”
Both Dinan and Goikhberg are rated Silver by the FIA, but the teams asked for and received derogations for them so that the teams could compete in Pro-Am, in which the Am driver can be no higher than Bronze. Several other drivers also received derogations, including Ashton Harrison, Chandler Hull, and Samantha Tan – all rated Silver but permitted to compete in Pro-Am. The speed exhibited by Goikhberg and Dinan during the weekend – Dinan was especially effective in wet qualifying – meant the derogations were removed.
“The sporting regs are really clear about driver derogations,” explained SRO Motorsports America President and CEO Greg Gill. “And the key level when you move someone to a different area is to evaluate their speed relative to the class that they’d be moving to make sure that, at a 10-lap average, they are well within that,. In both the drivers’ cases as derogations were removed, they were well into the Silver category and well above Bronze. The decision then had to be made by the Sporting Board of what to do. The regret we have is in the timing of how it was handled.”
There were other changes during the weekend as well; Eric Filgueras in Pirelli GT4 America had been initially granted a derogation that was removed before qualifying. He and Stevan McAleer won the Silver class and overall on both days in an RS1 Porsche Cayman GT4 RS.
New Am drivers on the podium
A few drivers in their first full season of GT World Challenge America stood on the podium at Sonoma. Charlie Luck, making the switch from GT America, won Pro-Am on both days with Jan Heylen in the Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3R.
Ashton Harrison and Mario Farnbacher finished third in Pro-Am on Sunday as they begin their full-season run in the Racers Edge Acura NSX Evo22. Harrison has been on a GT World Challenge America podium before, having won the Indianapolis round last season with Matt McMurry.
Eyes on 2024 and Corvette
Laura Klauser hasn’t hung around the the GT World Challenge paddock since Cadillac last had its ATS-Vs in the series. Then the head of Cadillac’s motorsports programs, she’s now the Sports Car Racing Program Manager for General Motors. With a new Corvette GT3 car coming in 2024, she wanted to refresh herself on what’s happening in SRO America.
“I haven’t been in the SRO paddock since 2017, so I know a lot has changed,” she said. “So I wanted the opportunity to get the lay of the land again and see what’s different than what I remember. And I’m glad I did, because a lot has changed since 2017. And it’s really exciting to see all the cars in the grid, the various classes and how they’re interspersed and, and all of that. So it was it was more to understand the lay of the land here. We know that SRO is one of our targets for ’24. We’d like to see a team or two in here with the [Corvette], as well as IMSA.”