It was a tough weekend at Watkins Glen International for all the Pro teams in Fanatec GT World Challenge America – although two of them did get their maiden wins of the season – as Pro-Am squads took the overall victories in both races.
Juggernaut K-PAX Racing had its year-long winning streak broken as penalties, mechanical issues, tire trouble and just general lack of pace piled onto the Lamborghini team’s two cars. On Saturday, Michele Beretta in the No. 1 K-PAX Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo had contact early on with Turner Motorsport’s Michael Dinan while fighting for the lead, forcing the No. 96 BMW M4 GT3 off the track, and received a one-minute stop as a penalty. Due to a miscommunication, Beretta drove through the pits instead of stopping, so he had to come back in to serve the penalty, putting the No. 1 in a deep hole. The No. 3 Lamborghini of Jordan Pepper and Misha Goikhberg had already spent several laps in the pits to fix a misfire.
From that first incident involving the K-PAX No. 1 and Turner, it was proving to be a very bad day for anyone at the front. The No. 33 Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG of Russell Ward and Philip Ellis (below) had tire trouble while Ellis was battling with the No. 6 US RaceTronics Mercedes-AMG of Steven Aghakhani and Loris Spinelli for the lead. Then Spinelli had a tire go down as well. That left Robby Foley in the Turner BMW in the lead of Pro, but not overall; nevertheless they claimed the first class win for the new BMW M4 in GT World Challenge America.
The first car to have a tire issue, though, was the Pro-Am leading No. 93 Racers Edge Motorsports Acura NSX GT3 Evo22 of Ashton Harrison and Mario Farnbacher. Had they not had that issue, they could have been the overall winners. Instead, it was Charlie Luck and Jan Heylen in the No. 45 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3R that officially broke the K-PAX streak.
Things looked much better for Winward on Sunday, having taken the lead from US RaceTronics on the pit stop. They had the field, including K-PAX, covered on outright pace, Ward maintaining a gap to Aghakhani in second before Aghakhani began to drop off the pace. But a problem at the rear of the Winward car, not immediately identified after the race, meant that Ward had to slow, allowing George Kurtz to sweep through in the No. 04 CrowdStrike with Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG to claim the overall victory for he and Colin Braun.
“It’s just unbelievable. Our guys did a great job giving us a great car,” said Kurtz. “We had the pace today and we just kept our head down, cranked out the laps and with a little bit of luck, we got the win. [Ward] had some issue, obviously. We hope that’s rectified, but we took advantage of it and at the end of the day, we won overall it’s it’s a big win for Colin and I.”
The Winward duo were clearly deflated at losing the overall victory, but still were able to relish the Pro class win and the fact that they had the field covered in the second weekend the team has run this season.
“I think we just have to take the kind of momentum we have now, because we always perform quite well, especially in the long runs,” said Ellis. “Probably the strongest car out there both days and you know, yesterday was very unfortunate and today the same thing. It’s tough that we didn’t get the overall again, but it could have been a lot worse. We have to take it as it is; at the end of the day, it’s still a win and I think that’s what we have to build on that and carry that momentum into the next race.”
SAE students as observers
SRO Motorsports America and K-PAX Racing hosted a group of engineering students from nearby universities’ SAE teams, including Rochester Institute of Technology’s (RIT) Formula SAE and Baja teams, as well as Cornell University’s FSAE team. The students had the opportunity to hear from team principals and engineers, as well as meet some drivers.
“It’s an awesome experience,” said Sam Georgal, who is going into his third year at RIT and is the chassis design engineer for the school’s FSAE team. “We get to really see what it’s like to be in the industry, because a lot of the members of our team are really interested in getting into motorsports. So this really lets them get a feel for what it is and for them to meet professionals in the industry so that you can network and really prepare for this as a career.”
K-PAX Racing invited the students into their garage where Program Manager Darren Law and other members of the team gave them an inside look into what goes on during a race weekend.
“These are all future engineers and are all studying racing and engineering and car building,” said Law. “So we really like to talk to them, show them what we do give them a little insight into the race program, the GT program and, and answer questions for them because this is kind of what they all aspire to do. So it’s been it’s been really neat showing them everything and spending time with them and introducing them to the engineers and talking about our program.”
The other streak
The K-PAX streak where the No. 1 Lamborghini and Andrea Caldarelli hadn’t lost a race this year was impressive. Equally as impressive, although not unbroken, is the string of wins put together by Eric Filgueiras and Stevan McAleer in GT4 America. The pair of drivers and their No. 18 RS1 Porsche Cayman GT4 (below) have now won seven of eight races overall and in the Silver category. They have swept every weekend except VIR, where their pit strategy and the timing of a full-course caution didn’t mesh, but they picked it up again at Watkins Glen.
Cars missing, cars appearing
ST Racing missed their second weekend of the season due to parts supply issues for their new BMW M4 GT3. With a big crash in the first race at VIR last month, ST Racing couldn’t get the parts needed to repair the BMW and get to the Glen, thus Samantha Tan and Nick Wittmer had to sit out another weekend.
However, a late entry from Hardpoint for PJ Hyett and Gunnar Jeannette in Pro-Am took the field’s numbers back up. The Hardpoint Porsche 911 GT3R had some struggles during the weekend, though. No word on whether Hardpoint, Hyett and Jeannette will return for any more races this season.