As the Pirelli World Challenge season draws to a close, two separate PWC championships were in the balance at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) this weekend. The PWC SprintX Championship – focused on 60-minute races with two drivers per car – would conclude with three races on the Austin, Texas-area circuit.
But, it was not only the SprintX Championship that the three races – held Friday evening, Saturday afternoon and Sunday midday – would impact. An overall champion for each was also up for grabs and with only two rounds now remaining, to be held at Sonoma Raceway, September 16 and 17, success during this past weekend in Texas was vital.
As he was in 2016, the epicenter of the PWC title chase is North America’s only Porsche factory driver Patrick Long (Manhattan Beach, California). Long entered the three COTA rounds, which included a make-up race from earlier this summer, with a dark horse-shot at the SprintX title with his longtime driving partner Jörg Bergmeister (Germany).
However, it is the overall honors, the combined SprintX and Sprint Championships, that Long is targeting. The Sprint Championship portion is a five weekend, ten-round title where drivers compete solo in 50-minute races. Long, the 2011 PWC Driver Champion and 2016 runner-up, currently leads the overall title chase with the No. 58 Porsche Consulting Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R entering the final two races in Sonoma.
The Overall Pro/Am battle was even more Porsche-centric with two teams deep in the mix. The No. 14 GMG Porsche 911 GT3 R of James Sofronas (Villa Park, California) and Porsche Junior driver Mathieu Jaminet (France) won all three of its races in Texas. Sofronas has been on a hot streak with ten PWC wins thus far in 2017. Entering the weekend, Sofronas was in a heated fight for Championship honors with the No. 16 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R shared by Michael Schein (Glen Cove, New York) and Jan Heylen (Tampa, Florida). Schein controlled the early part of the season but Sofronas the second-half. After the No. 16 suffered a drivetrain failure on Saturday, hopes for the SprintX and overall titles waned for the personable New Yorker while Porsche die-hard Sofronas locked eyes tightly on the trophies.
For the first race of the weekend Bergmeister made full use of the No. 58’s front row starting position to take the lead into Turn 1 of the 20-turn facility. Despite a lap two yellow flag, the multi-time champion was able to pull a gap on second-place before handing the Wright Motorsport machine over to Long in the lead. Long was pressed early in his stint while still on cold tires but pulled away for the win, the team’s third of the year.
Round 9 of the SprintX Championship on Saturday, saw a more frustrating result for the No. 58. Long, took the start but was balked when championship challenger, and 2016 title winner, Alvaro Parente slowed at the green flag. Long was forced to take evasive action and, as such, was narrowly ahead of his championship rival at the start-finish line. Long would take the position going up the hill of the circuit’s first turn only to be tapped and spun. Caught-up and eliminated in the melee was the GTX Pro/Am Porsche of Calvert Dynamics with drivers Alec Udell (The Woodlands, Texas) and Preston Calvert (Potomac, Maryland) as well as the No. 017 Case-it Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport MR GTS-X Pro/Am entry of Trent Hindman (West Long Branch, New Jersey) and Adam Merzon (Greenwich, Connecticut). While the No. 58 suffered no damage in the first turn antics, Long was forced to fight his way from the back of the field. That was not the end of it however. PWC officials deemed Long passed prior to the green flag and was assessed a drive-through penalty. Long and then Bergmeister fought hard and finished in eighth-place.
The final round of the GT SprintX took place on Sunday. By virtue of the car’s best lap in Saturday’s race, Bergmeister started the car third. Bergmeister charged hard at the start, gaining a position and handed the Porsche Consulting machine over to Long with just over 30-minutes remaining in the race running in second-place. While the No. 14 911 GT3 R fell out of the overall lead – it held the Pro/Am top spot and Sofronas and Jaminet would win their third race of the weekend – the No. 2 Mercedes AMG nipped the No. 58 in the pit lane. Long chased the No. 2 but, with the overall title in mind, drove smartly to the second place finish.
The total SprintX Championship tally for Porsche Motorsport North America customers was three. In addition to Sofronas, titles included Joe Toussaint (Houston, Texas) and Cory Friedman (Charleston, South Carolina) earning the GT Cup Am/Am class title in the No. 90 Autometrics Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car. Additionally, the GTS-X Pro/Am trophy was awarded to the No. 017 Case-It Racing Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport MR of Adam Merzon (Greenwich, Connecticut) and Trent Hindman (West Long Branch, New Jersey).
Long travels to “Wine Country” with a third-place in the final SprintX points tally. More importantly, he holds the Sprint Championship points lead and extended his lead in the Overall Championship with two, 50-minute races remaining. Sofronas holds a commanding lead in both Sprint and the Overall chases, having tied-up the SprintX GT Amateur title. Porsche holds the class lead in each manufacturer’s championship entering the final weekend.
Patrick Long, Driver, No. 58 Porsche Consulting Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R.
“This was a fantastic weekend, all things considered. Three SprintX races brought a lot of adversity for everyone. It was great to be back on the top step of the podium with Jörg on Friday night. Saturday was the toughest for us. Sunday’s race was huge in allowing us to recover and give a minimal amount of points away to our rivals. This has been the overall points weekend that we needed, but there’s still a lot on the line heading into Sonoma. I’m confident that Wright Motorsports will give me a car to fight to the end of this like they have all season. We’re just going to put our heads down, push all the way to the very last lap of the championship and try to close this thing out on top.”
Jörg Bergmeister, No. 58 Porsche Consulting Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R.
“Overall, it was a very successful weekend for us. I’m very happy that we were able to start off the weekend with a win in the CTMP makeup race. Obviously Patrick’s championship is on the line so for Sunday’s race we were a little conservative and pulled off a second-place. It was a really great effort by the team and Patrick extended his points lead by quite a bit so we are all very happy. It’s been great working with Wright Motorsports this year and, of course, I always enjoy being back in a car with Patrick. We had a lot of success together and I really enjoyed the format of SprintX. Hopefully we’ll be back next year.”
Baptista Shines. Flying Lizard Motorsports Adds to Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport MR PWC GTS Success.
Amid blistering temperatures all weekend at Circuit of the Americas (COTA), Flying Lizard Motorsports again made the Pirelli World Challenge (PWC) GTS class podium, securing a race win and a third-place finish in the second to last race weekend of the 2017 season. Under sunny skies and in temperatures in the low 90s (Fahrenheit), drivers Rodrigo Baptista (Brazil) and Nate Stacy (Tulsa, Oklahoma) showed strong performances in their Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport MRs.
Baptista started Race One in third-place, and took second position in the opening corners of the 20-turn track. Stacy started 12th, but quickly charged forward to fight for ninth in the opening lap. Baptista slipped behind the No. 50 of Ian James, opting to save his tires for the second half of race. With track temperatures of 111F, both Lizards fought hard to keep and gain positions as the field spread out. Baptista finished fourth at the flag. Stacy brought his Porsche to the checkered flag in tenth spot. A post-race infraction was found on the race-winning car in technical inspection, disqualifying the leader, resulting in Baptista earning a third-place finish, and Stacy a ninth-place spot.
Baptista and Stacy sat fifth and eleventh for the standing start of Race Two, and again the Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport MRs showed their strength in launching off the line. Baptista went three wide and made the pass on the outside of turn one, climbing from fifth to second-position in the opening lap. Just a few corners later, he made the pass on Harry Gottsacker to take the lead. Stacy showed yet another impressive standing start, launching from 11th to seventh by turn three. Despite heavy pressure from the Ginettas of Parker Chase, and Gottsacker, Baptista continued to lead the field. The three cars pulled away from the rest, but the secondary pack worked to stay within three seconds. Baptista held his ground to the finish, clinching his fourth win of the 2017 season. Stacy finished in eighth-position.
The final race of the season will take place at the Lizard’s home track, Sonoma Raceway in California. The final fight of the Pirelli World Challenge championships will play out at the Grand Prix of Sonoma, September 15-17.
Rodrigo Baptista, Driver, No. 3 Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport MR.
“I think I won race two on the start. I had a really good start. I passed the Ginetta on the first lap, and from there, I just had to hold them off. It was very difficult, and the Ginetta was fast in the esses. The Porsche Cayman Clubsport MR was so strong on the straights, and I created a small gap and stayed there. It was difficult to manage the tires in the heat while getting pressure from the Ginettas. I stayed calm, drove carefully, and finished the race. Thank you to the Flying Lizard team for all their hard work.”
Nate Stacy, Driver, No. 14 Flying Lizard Motorsports Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport MR.
“Congratulations to Rodrigo for getting a race win. It was really hard fought for him. Race two was good for me. I had a really strong start. I held our spot, but the KTM and the Lotus came up late. Unfortunately, they got us, and we didn’t have anything for them in the end.”