As the 18-car field of Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama competitors wound their way around the rolling hills of Sonoma Raceway Saturday afternoon, it was a picturesque vignette, setting the muscle and power of the Porsche 911 GT3 Cup cars against a refined backdrop of vineyards and cultivated landscapes in the first of two 45-minute sprint races.
The technical 2.385-mile road course in Sonoma, California, provided plenty of challenge to series competitors as they made their debut on the 12-turn course, with over half the field turning laps here for the first time.
Platinum Cup points leader Jake Eidson is no stranger to this circuit however, having run here in the past in open-wheel competition. That proved to be a strong advantage as the IMSA Hurley Haywood GT3 Cup Scholarship winner and race pole sitter led the field flag-to-flag in his No. 24 entry for Kelly-Moss Road and Race, setting the class circuit record with a lap of one minute, 38.104 seconds on just his second lap out of the gate.
His class victory edges him one step closer to potentially clinching the series championship this weekend depending on his results in Race 2, which will be run Sunday afternoon in support of the Verizon IndyCar Series Championship race.
Finishing in second in Platinum Cup was the No. 91 of Anthony Imperato of Wright Motorsports/Henry Repeating Arms. The Brooklyn, New York, driver started in third position on the grid, but made his move on the No. 00 of Corey Fergus running for Moorespeed/US LED/Byers Imports as soon as the green flag dropped, taking advantage of the first lap rush to move up to second, and he never looked back thereafter. Imperato earned the Yokohama Hard Charger Award for his efforts, gaining the most positions in Platinum Cup.
And while Fergus settled into third place in class, it was certainly not a dull Saturday drive in California as the No. 63 of McKay Snow for Wright Motorsports/Snow Racing followed Imperato’s lead and pushed up from his starting position of fifth to fourth around the No. 3 of Trenton Estep for JDX Racing/Hertz to fill Fergus’ mirrors for the rest of the race. Fergus and Snow ran in lockstep throughout the race, creating an exciting battle for position, but young Snow didn’t have quite enough pace to catch Fergus in the end, giving Fergus the last step on the class podium.
The Platinum Masters Classmen received a round of applause from the fans crowded around victory podium Saturday as the duo of David Baker and Mark Kvamme roused the crowd with their celebratory antics, proving the championship for drivers aged 45 years of age or older is only a state of mind if you are young at heart.
For Baker in the No. 56 entry for TOPP Racing/Apex Capital Corporation, it was smooth sailing as he remained consistent and managed tire wear throughout the caution-free 28-lap race to earn his fifth win of the season and stretch out his dominating points lead. His friend and rival Kvamme suffered braking issues throughout the sprint in his No. 43 entry for JDX Racing, dropping him two positions from his starting point to finish 16th overall and second in the podium. Kvamme is only 18 points behind Baker in the class championship, keeping the battle tight in the second-to-last race of the season.
And if that were considered a narrow margin in a championship, the Gold Cup class takes the cake. At the conclusion of Saturday’s race, Roman De Angelis and Fred Kaimer are now separated by only one point in the Championship.
De Angelis, in the No. 78 entry for Mark Motors Racing has already earned the Gold Cup Championship in the Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Yokohama, which concluded just a few weeks ago, and he is pushing his pace to see if he can make history in North America and claim a second series championship in the U.S.
The 16-year-old captured the pole and stayed ahead of his challengers, mixing it up with Platinum Cup contenders to take his eighth series victory, pushing him ahead of Kaimer to take the points lead.
De Angelis shared podium honors with series newcomer Mark Nelson running in the No. 32 for Kelly-Moss Road and Race and Competition Motorsports. This was Nelson’s first race in the series and in Gold Cup competition for GT3 Cup model years 2014 to 2016 and his strong debut earned him second place in class and 10th overall. He has previously been competing in the west coast GT3 Cup Trophy USA series.
Rounding out the top three in Gold was the No. 25 of Victor Gomez IV running for NGT Motorsport/Mapfre/Porsche Center of Puerto Rico. The young driver has 10 podiums and three wins this season to his credit.
His teammate Kaimer in the No. 23 for NGT Motorsport/Race Deck ultimately finished in fourth, but still collected enough points to remain in the championship hunt against De Angelis.
Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama revved up the day first with an early-morning qualifying session at Sonoma Raceway Saturday. With championships on the line, every session is critical, especially with qualifying points on the line.
The Platinum Cup competitors gave a worthy performance, with six drivers trading the top spot on the time sheets in the 20-minute session. Ultimately, championship points leader Jake Eidson grabbed the pole for the final time near the end of the session, ensuring the No. 24 a front-row starting spot for Round 13 Saturday. Eidson’s fastest lap of one minute, 36.571 seconds was good enough for an eighth pole this season for his Kelly-Moss Road and Race team.
Corey Fergus posted the second-fastest time during the session in the No. 00 Moorespeed/US LED/Byers Imports entry. Fergus lies second in points to Eidson and is making a bid to keep his championship hopes alive with only four rounds of competition remaining. Fergus has three poles and three wins to his credit this season.
Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Yokohama Gold Cup Champion Roman De Angelis captured his 11th pole on the year in the Gold Cup class. De Angelis has started from pole in every USA race he’s entered this season in the No. 78 for Mark Motors Racing, having missed two rounds of competition at Circuit of The Americas earlier this year.
Race 1 Driver Quotes:
Jake Eidson – No. 24, Kelly-Moss Road and Race – Platinum Winner
“I am very, very happy. This is the way we wanted to finish the season and so far so good. We’ve got one down and one more to go and I am happy for the Kelly-Moss team and everyone that put forth a lot of effort to make this happen and hopefully we can get a repeat tomorrow.”
David Baker – No. 56, TOPP Racing – Platinum Masters Winner
“I was off all by myself and lonely today. It was sad because [Mark] Nelson and [Victor] Gomez would not wait for me. At the start, they were beating on each other and it was great. This is a rough track. It’s very physical and hard on us old guys. It’s a beating. This is my first time here and I took a beating.”
Roman De Angelis – No. 78, Mark Motors Racing – Gold Cup Winner
“The beginning was pretty eventful with the Platinum guys. I was right up there. So trying to do my best with them. All in all, it was just tire management. This track is not the best in terms of degrading tires. Probably one of the worst we drive at all year in terms of tire wear. Really just keeping the tires under the car was the key to the race. Happy to pull off a win and get more points. Very happy for Mark Motors and Bestline Auto Tech.”
Anthony Imperato – No. 91, Wright Motorsports/Henry Repeating Arms – Yokohama Hard Charger Award Winner
“I was a bit too conservative on the start and throughout the race just trying to manage the tires. But I should have pushed a little harder to keep up with Jake [Eidson] but he had strong pace. We had the car to win today and I feel like I should have been closer and could have fought for the win but I just didn’t push enough. We are going to go for it tomorrow.”
RACE 2 SUMMARY
The Platinum Cup Championship was in sight for Jake Eidson as the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama series lined up for Round 14 as a preamble to the Verizon IndyCar Series contest at Sonoma Raceway Sunday. Eidson started from the front of the pack in his No. 24 Porsche GT3 Platinum Cup car for Kelly-Moss Road and Race and hoped that his familiarity with the 2.385-mile, 12-turn road course would pay off.
In a decidedly similar fashion to Saturday, Eidson got on the throttle early and maintained his momentum to post another flag-to-flag win that also sealed the Platinum Cup championship for the IMSA Hurley Haywood GT3 Cup Scholarship winner. With this win, the 2017 Champion now has seven wins, 12 podium finishes, and nine poles on his series resume with only two rounds of competition remaining. Even the most seasoned competitors would acquiesce to the fact that Eidson has been impressively consistent, only finishing off the podium twice this year.
Trailing a fraction behind Eidson in championship points, Corey Fergus posted another podium for the weekend with a second-place finish in the No. 00 of Moorespeed/US LED/Byers Imports. Fergus has captured nine podiums and three wins thus far in 2017, but his result was hard won, as Trenton Estep in No. 3 of JDX Racing/Hertz dogged his footsteps throughout the entire race, turning up the heat on the last few laps to battle for position. Despite a last-lap challenge, the 16-year-old was unable to overtake, and finished in third place just behind Fergus as the checkered flag signaled the end of the weekend’s competition.
In Platinum Masters competition, the dynamic duo of David Baker in the No. 56 TOPP Racing/Apex Capital Corporation entry and Mark Kvamme in his JDX Racing No. 43 hustled to eighth and ninth overall for the one-two finish in class. This was Baker’s first experience with this track, and the team made significant changes to the car after Round 1 in hopes of continuing his streak and edging him closer to the class championship. He leads Kvamme by only 20 points going into the final two rounds at Road Atlanta.
In a bit of a plot twist in the Gold Cup class, Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Yokohama Gold Cup Champion Roman De Angelis suffered an unknown power failure and slowed to a stop on Lap 3, unable to continue and causing the first caution period of the race. His No 78 Mark Motors Racing GT3 Cup car was towed off course and he was forced to retire from the race. De Angelis only led this championship by one point coming into Sunday’s event. With his third-place finish in Gold, Fred Kaimer reclaims the class points lead for his No. 23 NGT Motorsport/Race Deck squad.
Series newcomer Mark Nelson used a bit of home-court advantage to seize a win in the No. 32 Kelly-Moss Road and Race/Competition Motorsports entry. Hailing from Tiburon, California, Nelson claims Sonoma Raceway as his home track and used his experience to garner a win and a second-place finish in Gold Cup competition this weekend in just his first weekend of racing in the series.
Victor Gomez IV kept his championship hopes alive with a second-place result in Gold in the No. 25 NGT Motorsport/Mapfre/Porsche Center of Puerto Rico GT3 Cup car. His 11 podiums and three wins this season have pulled him to within two points of De Angelis and eight points away from Kaimer in the class championship. With such a tight points battle among them, the crown will be up for grabs for the trio at Road Atlanta in a few weeks.
Bill Smith rounded out the weekend, snatching the Gold Cup Yokohama Hard Charger Award in his No. 42 TOPP Racing/Kung-Fu Saloon entry. Smith was able to improve seven positions in route to the checkered flag.
Coming up next for the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama competitors are the final rounds of competition, Races 15 and 16 at Road Atlanta in support of the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship at the Motul Petit Le Mans in Braselton, Georgia, Oct. 4-7.
Race 2 Driver Quotes
Jake Eidson – No. 24, Kelly-Moss Road and Race – 2017 Platinum Cup Champion and Race Winner
“I couldn’t have done it without the team. A lot of people don’t realize what goes on behind the curtain to make all of this possible. I owe a lot of this to them. And I want to give a shoutout to Racing for Children, for all of their support this season and of course all the support of my friends and family. I had so much support this year and I think all that put together really made all this possible.
[Are you going to take it easy at Road Atlanta?] “I think Road Atlanta is going to be nice because I can race really hard and not have to worry about losing anything. I’m definitely going to give it 100 percent at Road Atlanta and try to finish the season strong.”
David Baker – No. 56, TOPP Racing – Platinum Masters Winner
“We changed the set up on the car. We went back in a pretty drastic direction and we didn’t have any testing time out here. We were like, well, it’s either going to be really, really good or really, really bad. Either way I am going to have fun. But it was good and I am really happy.”
Mark Nelson – No. 32, Kelly-Moss Road and Race/Competition Motorsports – Gold Cup Winner
“I’m kind of out of my mind. I didn’t expect that [earning a victory in his series debut]. Far exceeded my expectations with the caliber of the field and the drivers here. It was a big learning experience for me. I was pushed in a lot of good ways. I got to see the talent and the caliber of the drivers developing. I have the home field advantage here, knowing the track really well. But that only gave me a little bit of an advantage. These guys kept me honest and it was an amazing experience.”
Bill Smith – No. 42, TOPP Racing/Kung-Fu Saloon – Yokohama Hard Charger Award Winner
“It felt a lot better today. I had a very tough and disappointing race yesterday. This track, I’ve never been here before and it really was tough to get used to. Today I just tried to be patient and focus on executing and it worked out. I am thrilled.”
Source. LST Marketing/Photo. Porsche