The Fanatec GT World Challenge America powered by AWS field took to the track for the final time at Sebring International Raceway on Sunday afternoon under sunny skies and warm weather. The final 90-minute race of the year was nothing short of an action-packed spectacle, with constant overtakes, strategy gambles, and major championship points on the line. The season will conclude in two weeks at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway with an 8-hour race that pays double points. While the Pro and Am titles are locked in, the Pro-Am class is still a three-way battle.
Pole sitter Allesandro Balzan was quick off the line in the No. 34 Conquest Racing Ferrari 488 GT3, fending off an attack around the outside of the first corner from Pro-Am driver Ryan Dalziel in the No. 13 Triarsi Competizione Ferrari 488 GT3. Balzan set sail into the distance, gradually accumulating a gap to the competitors behind, but the drivers behind were determined not to let him out of their sights.
The battle for second in the class followed closely behind, with both K-PAX Racing cars going back and forth throughout each corner as Andrea Caldarelli (No. 1 K-PAX Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3) and Jordan Pepper (No. 3 K-PAX Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3) got their elbows out. The Pro drivers appeared to struggle for pace as they approached the pit window opening, with Pro-Am challengers getting in the way of their progress and challenging for overall positions.
As Balzan jumped into the pitlane for a driver swap with his Conquest Racing teammate, Manny Franco looked to expand on the lead that was established in the first stint. However, a slow pit stop put them in jeopardy of coming under threat from the cars behind. As Franco got swept up in a battle with Pro-Am drivers, Michele Beretta moved into the overall lead after an exceptional exchange from the K-PAX Racing crew.
The final portion of the race saw Franco and Canadian driver Misha Goikhberg going wheel-to-wheel against each other, fighting at every possible chance to get the advantage over the other. As they continued to close in on the drivers ahead, the pack following behind them began to creep up quietly. The two had to balance the back-and-forth switch between moving from offensive to defensive driving.
Beretta crossed the finish line in first place, securing a double win and the class championship in true dominant fashion. Franco followed in second, an impressive result for the driver’s debut weekend. Goikhberg took the final spot on the podium.
“Another great championship in the books,” said a thrilled Caldarelli. “It was a lot of hard work, and even if we had some weaker weekends, at the end of the day we came here with one target and achieved the result we were aiming for.”
“It may have looked easy from the outside, but I was giving everything I had,” added Beretta. “We had a perfect weekend, and we have to thank everyone in the K-PAX crew who worked night and day. This wouldn’t have been possible without them.”
Pro-Am and Am
There was drama in the Pro-Am class before the race even started, with Mario Farnbacher and the No. 93 Racers Edge Motorsports Acura NSX GT3 coming into the pits with a mechanical issue on the formation lap. Despite returning to the track mid-way through the first lap, the Florida-based team ultimately had to return to the pits shortly after. The team eventually re-joined the race, albeit three laps down from the rest of the field. They had started the morning with an eight point championship lead. While down, they would not give up, as a single point could be the difference after Indy.
Crowds were treated to a fierce battle between the frontrunners, with Dalziel adamantly trying to maintain his lead, while Bryan Sellers (No. 8 DXDT Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3) and Jan Heylen (No. 45 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3-R 991.ii) were on the chase. Colin Braun (No. 4 CrowdStrike with Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3) and Bill Auberlen (No. 94 BimmerWorld BMW M4 GT3) were also making sure to add themselves into the mix as they hunted down an opportunity to move up into podium positions. All top-five racers showed exceptional pace, continuously setting personal best times as the race progressed.
Everything can change in the blink of an eye in racing, as Sellers was caught off guard by Heylen with a sneaky inside line overtake. Braun capitalized on the shocking move and swept past Sellers as well, dropping him back two positions in the same corner.
As the pit window began to loom, teams were faced with the pressure of getting their pit stops and driver swaps just right. Such small gaps between drivers meant that there was no room for error. Onlookers held their breath as the Pro-Am front runners all swarmed the pits at the same time, waiting in anticipation to see who would get the timing right, and where it could all go wrong.
Justin Wetherill and Triarsi Competizione moved into the Pro-Am lead, while Charlie Luck (No. 45 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3-R 991.ii) was entangled in a heated battle with Pro drivers Franco and Goikhberg as they continued to breathe down his neck. Luck’s hard work and determination eventually paid off, pulling off a swift move down the inside of Wetherill to move into the class lead with less than 10 minutes remaining. Wetherill was further overtaken by Chandler Hull in the final laps.
Luck raced to the line to clinch both the Pro-Am win and the points lead, leaving Hull just shy in second as he was unable to make a final attack. Wetherill hung on to the podium in third place.
“We had to get redemption after what happened yesterday,” expressed Luck. “When I sat in the car, I told myself to give everything I had. We were magical today, magical!”
Heading into the double-points 8-Hour finale at Indy, the provisional points are Wright Motorsports with 191, CrowdStrike with 177, and Racers Edge at 176. Any one of the three could be the 2022 Pro-Am champions.
Onofrio Triarsi had a solid race in the Am class behind the wheel of the No. 23 Triarsi Competizione Ferrari 488 GT3, running tenth overall for the majority of his stint. Teammate Charlie Scardina fought hard to bring the car home in ninth overall, while collecting another class win for the team. Although they were running unopposed in the class, the pairing showed impressive pace against drivers in Pro and Pro-Am.
“We’ve been doing a lot of work to learn the car’s aero package,” explained Scardina. “This past year has been helpful in terms of gaining valuable experience.”
“It’s been a great year, it’s been tough but we pushed through it,” added Triarsi. “The goal has been to keep up with the Pro-Am field and we’re working towards that.”
The SRO Motorsports America season will conclude at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on October 7-8 for the Indianapolis 8 Hour presented by AWS.