Patrick Long, Martin Fuentes and Alec Udell took GT, GTA and GT Cup victories, respectively, in Round 1 of the 2016 Pirelli World Challenge season at the Circuit of the Americas.
Long, in the No. 31 EFFORT Racing Porsche GT3, led into turn one from the pole on a rolling start as the field spread out four and five wide dramatically behind him. Charging on Long’s No. 31 from behind was Bryan Heitkotter, in the No. 05 Nissan GT Academy Nismo GT3 GT-R, who took over the lead with an outside maneuver exiting turn 1.
Contact on the opening lap between James Sofronas (No. 14 GMG Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R) and Duncan Ende (No. 67 TRG-AMR Aston Martin Vantage GT3), brought out a short full course caution. The No. 90 Autometrics Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R, driven by Joseph Toussaint also had to be removed from the track after incurring a bent right-front corner suspension.
With the green flag back in the air with 39 minutes to go in the 50-minute race, Heitkotter remained in control of the race while Long stalked him from second position on the track.
At the halfway point of the race, Long had turned up the pressure on Heitkotter for the race lead as the two had pulled a small gap from Davison and Cooper, with O’Connell in fifth and Lewis in sixth, ahead of K-PAX Racing McLaren 650S GT3 teammates Alvaro Parente and Colin Thompson.
The lead gap maintained at half a second as the laps clicked away, with Heitkotter’s Nissan out front on Long’s Porsche, but with 12-minutes to go, the lead margin was down to just over three tenths of a second.
With 10-minutes to go, the lead battle intensified as Long executed a decisive pass to take over the top spot and pulled away from Heitkotter to take the win in the season opener. It Long’s sixth career Pirelli World Challenge victory. Heitkotter finished second ahead of Cooper, who passed Davison late on the last lap to complete the podium in his GT debut for Cadillac Racing. Davison finished fourth ahead of O’Connell in fifth in GT.
“At the start, I saw a bunch of smoke in my mirrors and I knew something fast was coming up. I didn’t leave him (Bryan Heitkotter) the outside but he made some race track that I didn’t know was there,” said Long.
“I had to settle in and I was scratching my head about where I was going to make a pass if possible. Towards the end, I could see he might be getting a little warm as he put his hand out the window and his tires were getting worn too. So I just kept hitting my marks and tried to wear him down a little. When I forced a little error in turn 12, I kind of over-undered him in 13. Then I had to run because traffic was difficult at times and I didn’t want to get held up. I couldn’t stay close in the high-speed stuff because I had a lot of aero push. I was poking my nose out to get some air over my car. I knew I had to pass in the esses due to the agility of my car. I knew in the tight stuff I could rotate the car a little better.
"Traffic is tough at times and I’m going to learn how different things work in the races. I knew it was an all-out sprint type of racing in PWC. When you are on the Porsche factory team, you know that every single time you sit in the car that it is a sprint. Overall, just a great way to start to the 2016 PWC season for Effort Racing and Porsche.”
GTA and GT Cup
In GTA, pole-sitter Martin Fuentes, driving the No. 07 Scuderia Corsa Hublot Underarmour Ferrari 458 Italia, led from the start with 2014 GTA Champion Michael Mills, driving the No. 46 Mills Racing BMW Z4, in second and Michael Schein, in the No. 16 Wright Motorsports Porsche GT3-R., in third early.
In the GT Cup class, Udell, in the No. 17 GMG Porsche 911 GT3 Cup, took the lead on the rolling start from pole-sitter Sloan Urry, in the No. 22 TruSpeed Autosport Porsche 911 GT3 Cup, with Austin-based driver Will Hardeman, in the No. 18 WPD/Moorespeed Porsche 911 GT3 Cup following in third. By the end of lap one, Urry had regained the lead from Udell.
GTA saw Fuentes hold down the lead as Schein passed Mills for second, as those two were running 19th and 20th overall, with Fuentes a bit further up the track in 13th overall.
Back in GT Cup, Urry remained in the lead over Udell and Hardeman, with Alex Welch, driving the No. 08 GMG Red Beard Racing/Morgan Adams Foundation/Torque Branding Porsche 911 GT3 Cup, in fourth. Udell was able to close on Urry for the lead, however, and Hardeman at the same time was challenging Udell for second position in a close GT Cup race.
Fuentes continued to lead in GTA, having built a 16-second gap over Mills in second with further distance back to Schein’s Porsche in third.
Fuentes took the victory for his second career class win, with Mills second and Schein completing the podium.
Udell was able to build a gap in GT Cup to take the victory, the fourth of his PWC career, with Urry passing Hardeman for second in the late stages of the race. Udell’s drive earned him the VP Racing Fuels Hard Charger Award, having improved seven overall positions during the race.