The first ever Fanatec GT World Challenge America presented by AWS race at NOLA included major position changes, ruthless door-to-door action, and racers frequently battling the edge of grip to maintain or gain position. As this was a brand-new track for almost all of the racers, nobody had a particularly strong advantage which helped keep the field tight.
After a fast start and right as the green flag waved, Michael Dinan (No. 96 Turner Motorsports BMW M4) shot ahead and quickly grabbed P3 within Pro-Am. Whether he was too early was under review, but was eventually deemed legal. Not too long after, contact happened between Charlie Luck (No. 45 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3-R), Scott Smithson (No. 08 DXDT Racing Mercedes AMG), and Jason Harward (No. 88 Zelus Motorsports Lamborghini Huracan), causing a brief yellow flag. Unfortunately this resulted in the Wright car losing 13 laps behind the pitwall.
The K-PAX Racing duo controlled the race, maintaining P1 and P2 throughout, keeping a sizable amount of real estate between them and the rest of the field. Michele Beretta and Andrea Caldarelli averaged an overall 20-second advantage for much of the race.
The battle for third was tough early on between the BMW of Michael Dinan and Steven Aghakhani (No. 6 US Racetronics Mercedes-AMG), showing a true test of wits and German manufacturer rivalry. Ultimately, Aghakhani ran out of grip after a bold move on the inside, resulting in Dinan driving away to a comfortable gap.
After experiencing mechanical issues during practice and qualifying, Erin Vogel (No. 43 RealTime Racing Acura NSX) was able to move ahead and gain five positions early on. After handing off the car to Michael Cooper, Cooper drove it home to fifth place in Pro-Am, a solid jump from their 11th place starting position.
Entering the second stint, Colin Braun jumped into the No. 04 CrowdStrike Racing by Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG and moved up two spots to seventh overall.
Not too long after, some brilliant BMW vs. BMW action went down between Bill Auberlen (#94 Bimmerworld) and Robby Foley (No. 96 Turner Motorsports) for a couple of laps, despite Auberlen competing in Pro-Am and Foley in Pro. Regardless of class, P3 overall is worth a fight, and perhaps there was some friendly rivalry going on as well. Moments later, Loris Spinelli, taking over the US Racetronics Lamborghini from Aghakhani, got ahead of Auberlen and stayed on Foley’s bumper for a ruthlessly long time to try and nab third in Pro. Ultimately, Spinelli and Foley made hard side-by-side contact, resulting in a cut tire on the BMW, creating a lengthy full-course yellow flag to pull it out of the gravel trap.
The restart was nothing short of thrilling with just four minutes to go. In Pro-Am, Colin Braun and Mario Farnbacher got the jump on Auberlen, with Braun quickly becoming the Pro-Am race leader within three corners. The rest of the field followed suit with some bold moves and big changes in position. Thankfully, none of which caused the race to end under yellow.
In the final moments, Caldarelli took the overall win for K-PAX Racing in the #1 car, followed by Colin Braun grabbing first in Pro-Am, and Onofrio Triarsi (No. 23 Triarsi Competizione Ferrari 488) grabbing the win in Am.
K-PAX filled out the top two Pro podium spots with the #1 (Beretta/Caldarelli) and No. 3 (Goikhberg/Pepper) Lamborghini Huracan GT3s, followed by the No. 6 US Racetronics Mercedes-AMG GT3 (Aghakhani/Spinelli) in third.
“All of the team did a great job,” Beretta said of the K-PAX effort. “We had a good car for the race, Andrea managed the pace, and I think we did a clean race with no mistakes. We look forward to the next one that will be a little more tricky.”
Pro-Am saw a mighty change-up, with Colin Braun raging ahead several positions and driving home the No. 04 Crowdstrike Racing by Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3 (co-driven by George Kurtz) to the win. Right behind him was the No. 93 Racers Edge Acura NSX GT3 (Harrison/Farnbacher) in second, and the No. 94 BimmerWorld BMW M4 GT3 (Hull/Auberlen) in third.
“I knew we had strong pace, but I didn’t know how the restart was going to happen,” Braun said about the final moments of the race. “I got down into Turn 3 and everybody checked up on the inside, and I committed to staying on the inside. Mario went on the outside, and I thought he was going to get it done there, but I just ran the tight line and got the drive off.”
In Am, the No. 23 Triarsi Competizione Ferrari 488 GT3 (Scardina/Triarsi) held the lead and drove home to victory over the No. 61 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GT3 (Saada/Grunewald). “We had a good gap in the beginning of the race,” Triarsi said of how their race went. “We stayed consistent, we stayed clean clean, and it’s very hot in there so we stayed calm and made sure there was no contact on any of the restarts, and pushed through until the end.”
The CrowdStrike Fastest Lap went to the No. 9 TR3 Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3 (Ghandour/Altoe) in Pro-Am with a 1m34.800s.
Race 2 goes down at 1:15 p.m. CT on Sunday.
The weekend schedule, live timing and scoring, and session reports are available at Gt-World-Challenge-America.com. Check out race live streams for free on YouTube at GT World.
Finally, get up-to-the minute info on the Fanatec GT World Challenge America powered by AWS social channels on Facebook at @gtworldchallengeamerica, Instagram at @gtworldchallengeamerica, and Twitter at @gtworldcham.