Goikhberg and Pepper hit their stride in GT World Challenge America

Richard S. James photos

Goikhberg and Pepper hit their stride in GT World Challenge America

SRO America

Goikhberg and Pepper hit their stride in GT World Challenge America

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Misha Goikhberg came to Fanatec GT World Challenge America Presented by AWS after having previously sampled prototypes all the way to DPi and Trans-Am TA2, among other things, before deciding that he liked the idea of GT3. And while he came in under the best possible circumstances, paired with Giacomo Altoe in a K-PAX Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3, the start of the season quickly got rocky.

Minutes before the start of the first race of the season at Sonoma Raceway, Goikhberg and Altoe were bumped to the Pro category from the intended Pro-Am class — Michael Dinan and Robby Foley in the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW befell the same fate. Then, before the second weekend of the season, the series opted to change the Pro class rules to require an FIA Silver-rated driver in each pairing. While that didn’t affect the Altoe-Goikhberg pairing directly since Goikhberg is Silver, it did affect the championship-defending duo in the No. 1 K-PAX Racing Lamborghini, Andrea Caldarelli and Jordan Pepper. That Platinum and Gold pairing would have to be split up, so Pepper landed with Goikhberg (pictured left to right, top), and Michele Beretta came in to partner Caldarelli.

Although it was all a bit odd, none of that changed Goikhberg’s outlook on the championship nor why he joined in the first place, and he and Pepper have jelled nicely as the season has progressed.

“I really love the whole global GT3 formula, so I wanted to get involved in that,” Goikhberg says. “I did a season of that [in IMSA] with Acura, a season with Lamborghini and then found myself joining K-PAX at the beginning of the year.

“I think it’s just a very strong organization. I also wanted to do a full season of Trans-Am., and there were too many conflicts with IMSA. I was also curious about trying an SRO championship, which is very popular in Europe, so it just made sense at the time.”

As far as the changes at the beginning of the season, Goikhberg maintains a philosophical, go-with-the-flow attitude: “These things happen. They’re kind of outside my control. And I enjoy working with Jordan,” he says.

The same goes with Pepper. Although he’s disappointed in not being able to defend the 2021 Pro category title, and still hopes to maintain second in the championship as all of K-PAX’s drivers will now have different points totals, he’s found satisfaction in pairing with Goikhberg.

“One thing I have to give Misha credit for is how hard he works,” declares Pepper. “Obviously at the beginning, we kind of just got chucked together at New Orleans. It was a late-addition track — it was quite a tough weekend the way everything worked. But one thing like I’ve always admired is how he’s not giving up.

“And I think it’s so different to what he’s used to in IMSA. Although they share the same platform car, the Pirelli tires are very new and hard to get your head around at the beginning. But I think the results have shown, if you look position-wise, our goal is obviously to go out and win. But the delta to the 1 car, which has won almost everything this year, is closing every weekend. At the end of the day, it’s just Misha growing and getting used to it. So I think we work really well together and yeah, I think we’re not far away from getting a win.”

They’ve already achieved one goal: beating their teammates, finishing ahead of them at Road America. But they’re still working on the overall victory. The learning curve has been a bit steeper than Goikhberg expected.

“I didn’t expect to take as long to figure out the tire,” he admits. “I’ve driven on the Michelin for years now, and I thought it would be more straightforward. But it’s fine; I like a challenge and I think, ultimately, figuring out the Pirelli tire will make me a better driver.

“I just think I need a little bit more seat time. I think we’re as close as we’ve ever been. We need one weekend where a couple of things fall our way to get the momentum and from there on, perform to our potential,” Goikhberg says.

Pepper says he sees things playing out a little differently had there been a little less turmoil at the start of the season and he and Goikhberg had been working together from the beginning.

“It would have made more sense that the rules were set in stone before the year and myself and Misha started the year together,” he asserts. “I think it would have allowed us to build on the momentum that we are currently building on a lot sooner, which maybe could have led to better results early on in this championship. But that’s how racing is sometimes — it’s not fair. And if you don’t like it, don’t do it. So that that’s pretty much the way I go about it. K-PAX handled the situation the best way possible — they found a good replacement for myself on the No. 1 car with Michele. Obviously, they’ve carried on dominating. It was kind of nice to win last year and start off the year winning again. But the target and the challenge has not changed; the goal is to go win. And I’m not going to be happy until we do so.”

Goikhberg has a similar goal, although he admits that, coming into the season expecting to contend for the Pro-Am title, there’s no way to really consider the season a success. “But I think if we close out the season strong, on par with the No. 1 car, it’d be a great success for me to drive to that level. If not, then it’s a learning experience,” he says.

Goikhberg and Pepper have three more opportunities to get that victory, at Sebring International Raceway on Sept. 23-25, then two weeks later in the Intercontinental GT Challenge Indianapolis 8 Hour.

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