Sporting a new name and format, the Pirelli World Challenge has evolved into the Blancpain GT World Challenge America. Rounds 7 & 8 are this weekend at Sonoma Raceway. Nineteen bright and flashy GT sports cars are entered with many familiar names. Saturday they had qualifying, after two practice sessions on Friday. The qualifying was broken into two sessions, one for each of the two races – Saturday afternoon and Sunday noonish. After their qualifying they joined all the Blancpain drivers for a well-attended autograph session in the cool shade under the grandstands. It proved so popular, it ran 40 minutes past time.
This weekend Sonoma Raceway, which is celebrating its 50th Anniversary, ran a different configuration. It is 2.50 miles long, incorporating Turns 7, 8, 9 and the Bus Stop/chicane in Turn 10 plus long 11. This no-name configuration hasn’t been run in recent memory.
Miguel Molina of Spain had the pole for the first GT race Saturday afternoon, in No.61 Pro R Ferri Motorsport Ferrari 488 GT3, with a lap of 1:37.310. He and teammate Toni Vilander of Finland kept their lead after their pit stop for driver change. Scott Hargrove/No.58 Wright Motorsports Pro Porsche 911 GT3 started second, but soon was passed for position by two Bentleys, Rodrigo Baptista/No.3 Pro and Andy Soucek/No.9 Pro. They ran together for the first half of the race. After the pit stops sorted out the order, it was again the Ferrari, with the two Bentley Continentals in second and third with drivers Maxime Soulet and Alvaro Parente. Vilander won the Pro Hard Charger Award for the fastest race lap of 90.70 mph.
Left to Right: Andy Soucek, Alvaro Parente, Toni Vilander, Miguel Molina, Rodrigo Baptista, and Maxime Soulet. Plus Happy Team Representatives with their Blancpain clock for top team.
In the Pro-Am category, Pole sitters Mike Hedlund/No.43 RealTime Racing Acura NSX started the race, with co-driver Dane Cameron finishing. The two are about as local as one can get, with Cameron growing up 15 miles from the track, and Hedlund hailing from Silicon Valley’s Redwood City. Cameron said he hasn’t raced at Sonoma Raceway for ten years, but back in the day when he worked for the Russell School, he ran every course configuration the track had. Hedlund also has many laps on the wine country circuit.
Left to Right: James Sofronas, Dirk Werner, Dane Cameron, Mike Hedlund, Matt Campbell and Anthony Imperato.
Second and third in Pro-Am were Anthony Imperato and Matt Campbell in No.91 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3, and James Sofronas and Dirk Werner/No.14 GMG Racing Porsche 911 GT3.
The lone entry in the Am category was Martin Fuentes and Caeser Bacarella in No.7 Ferrari 488 GT3. They finished 13th.
This was the first time for R.Ferri Motorsport at Sonoma Raceway, for the team and for the drivers, so they had no experience with the track. They also had a fill-in engineer as their regular European engineer had family business back home. Vilander said the Ferrari handled well in the corners, whereas some of the other cars had more power on the straights. Despite the track surface, the Ferrari drivers were able to manage the tire degradation fairly well. Vilander said that qualifying was important, and their car has had no reliability issues so far. They see little improvements with each race.
Cameron said they were able to keep their lead after the pit stop, and then stretch it out. They also were able to manage the tire degredation. Team Owner P.D. Cunningham was on hand for the celebration. No one knows just how many victories this makes for his long-running RealTime team. Something to check.
While the GT Series is international with all foreign manufacturers, 23 of the 38 drivers are American, with another five coming from North America. Other countries represented are Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Finland, Germany, Great Britain, Mexico, Portugal and Spain.
Left to Right: One11 Competition Pro-Am Ferrari during pit stop; Dane Cameron & son signing posters; and GT Ferrari steering wheel.
The TC Class race Saturday afternoon was uneventful, with the 12 cars mostly parading around the road course. These sprint races have single drivers with no scheduled pit stops. Pole sitter Johan Schwartz/No.80 Rooster Hall Racing BMW M240IR Cup won the 40-minute race, leading flag to flag. Second and third were Teammate Steve Streimer/No.81 BMW, and Robert Nimkoff/No.20 Auto Technic Racing BMW M240IR Cup. The only incident was with third-place Toby Grahovec/No.26 Classic BMW BMW M240IR Cup came together in Turn 7 with Shaun Webster/No.31 Hard Motorsport BMW M235IR Cup. Webster spun but both cars continued.
Left to Right in Bentley Corral: 1951 Bentley; Black Bentley; and 1935 Bentley.