It was Ecstasy for Championship points leader Alvaro Parente/No.9 K-PAX McLaren 650S GT3 and Agony for Championship runner-up Patrick Long/No.58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R at the finish of the 50-minute Pirelli World Challenge GT sprint race in the Grand Prix Presented by Nissan at MRLS. Only two points separated the two at the start of the race. Parente, from Portugal, started sixth, while Long, from California, started second, on the front row next to Johnny O'Connell/No.3 Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-V.R GT3, who earned his first pole of the year.
Parente quickly moved up to run third, and the three ran in that order for the entire race ... until Turn Five of the last lap. O'Connell and Long had side to side contact, putting Long into the dust, allowing Parente to move up to second race place, where he finished. The Turn Five incident went under Steward's Review. As of this writing, there is no further information on this situation, and the only results from the race remain Provisional. See below for comments from O'Connell and Long.
Parente won the Cadillac Best Move Award for re-claiming three positions from the rolling-start grid right at the onset of the race. Parente won the championship with 1645 points, Long finished second in the standings with 1625 points with a fifth place race finish; and O'Connell - who mathematically could have won - finished third with 1561. His teammate, Michael Cooper/No.8 Cadillac finished fourth overall in the standings with 1541 points after his third-place race finish. Bryan Heitkotter/No.05 AE Replay XD Nissan GT Academy Nissan GTR GT3 finished fifth in the standings, where he had been coming into the weekend. He finished fourth in the race.
Left to Right: Johnny O'Connell; Cooper MacNeil; and Corey Fergus.
In the GT Class, O'Connell, Parente and Cooper finished 1-2-3, with Heitkotter and Long in fourth and fifth. Long has the fastest race lap of 1:25.983 on Lap 9 of the 27-lap race.
In the GTA Class, Cooper MacNeil/No.79 Alex Job Racing Porsche 991 GT3 R won, finishing twelfth overall, on the lead lap. This was his first win and he's new to the series. He took the lead on the last lap when leader Michael Schein/No.16 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R spun off. Schein turned the fastest GTA race lap of 1:27.058 on Lap 19 and led every lap. Schein finished sixth in class. He won the Optima Batteries Best Start Award for picking up nine positions at the start. Second and third were Tim Pappas/No.54 Black Swan Racing Porsche 911 Gt3 R and Andrew Kim/No.78 Bentley Team Absolutely Bentley Continental GT3.
In the GT Cup Class Pole Sitter Corey Fergus/No.00 Motorsports Promotions Porsche 911 GT3 Cup won. He blew an engine during the test day Thursday and the team was preparing to leave, but changed their minds. He qualified on the pole, turned the fastest race lap of 1:30.028 on Lap 9, and led every lap of his class race. He won the VP Racing Fuels Hard Charger Award for gaining nine positions during the race, starting twenty-ninth and finishing seventeenth overall.
The race had been rather prosaic - until the last lap. The race parade was punctuated by three cautions for cars off course in need of tows. GTA Pole Sitter Martin Fuentes/No.07 spun in Turn Three, bringing out the first caution on the first lap. It took five laps to tow him in and clean up. Fuentes DNF. The second caution was for Fabian Haprecht/No.88 Bentley Team Absolutely Bentley Continental GT3 who had an accident in Turn Four, for three more laps of tow and cleanup. The last caution was for Drew Regitz/No.19 Stephen Cameron Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 off in Turn Two gravel pits and tires. He finished last, six laps down.
In response to questions about his 2017 plans, O'Connell said "There are no announcements pending regarding Cadillac or himself for next year, under the new rules. I've been with the PWC for the past six years and really enjoys the GT format of short sprint races. I find the racing exciting and there are so many top drivers to root for as well as so many different top marques."
Parente is the new GT Champion, in his first full American season of racing. He said he got his best or second best start of the year, moving right up from sixth to third. "What a crazy day. I had a fantastic start… managed to jump into third position. Then I was pushing hard; there were two moments I was into Pat (Long) and trying to pass him. He defended well, I didn’t risk the contact at the time. I didn’t push hard for the move, but I was working on it. Then I realized halfway after the second safety car that it was going to be hard to pass him since he had good pace. And then came that crazy last lap; I can’t describe what went on there. I think there was a little bit of dirt into turn four, Johnny (O’Connell) had a bit of a moment, Pat (Long) tried to pass him on the outside and fought hard for the position in the braking zone and Johnny obviously wasn’t going to back down. I was looking to see and thought, ‘He’s going to go for it,’ and Johnny defended his position, Pat went wide, and I went by. It was a great year. What a fantastic year for Pirelli World Challenge. It’s a great and unique thing going on here in the GT racing world."
McLaren won the GT Manufacturer's Championship. Parente has been a McLaren factory driver for the past four years.
Twenty-eight drivers started, 26 finished, and 23 were running at the finish. Kyle Marcelli/No.2 GT pitted for right front tire damage on the first lap and retired. His co-driver was Drew Regitz.
Other Awards: MotorTrendOnDemand Clean Pass of the race went to GT driver, Bryan Heitkotter/No. 05 AE Replay XD Nissan GT Academy Nissan GT-R GT3. The KIA Turning Point of the race was determined to be the last-lap restart into green and white flags.
Post-race comments on last lap and race.
O'Connell said "Great race, everybody running really hard, it was unfortunate with the cautions that we had. It would have been nice to have had a long run. In that final green-white-checkered deal, I got a good start and then going through turn four and I understeered off and dropped two wheels. That allowed Patrick (Long) to get around the outside of me but never cleared me. So when we went into the breaking zone, I’m on the inside and he’s not clear of me so it’s not my job to give stuff. It’s my job to win races and was very shocked when he started turning down and we had contact. It was unfortunate. I have been fortunate enough to win several championships for GM but I might have played that one a little differently if I were him. But, Patrick (Long) is a very fast and competitive drive and I’m sure he wanted to win this one bad. But I think I just wanted to win it more. It was very nice for Cadillac, all of our people that came out to support us here this weekend. I’m very proud of the team and everything that they did."
Long said "Like I said at the beginning of this weekend, I was proud to still be in contention during the title chase. I raced Johnny (O’Connell) at the end of the race and I expected racing room and didn’t get it. For him not to be in the championship hunt and to be the deciding factor is a difficult situation. In every scenario, there are two drivers that make a decision. There was no intention to try and battle Johnny the entire race. My focus was on the championship and the two times I was alongside or ahead of him, it came down to his mistakes. This is why we all love this sport, it is action packed. I am very proud of Wright Motorsports and we appreciate the support of Porsche Consulting and all of our partners. We will come back stronger from this. In the end, there is sport and there is integrity and we walk away proud of how we handled both situations today."
Sunday's PWC GT/GTA and GT Cup Race will air on Sunday 16 October 2016 at 3pm ET on CBS Sports Network. All PWC competition this year can be found in the archives at MotorTrendOnDemand.com