Will Hardeman led less than 30 seconds of Friday’s Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama race at Sebring International Raceway, but that’s all it took for the driver from Austin, Texas to score his first career victory in the series in the No. 19 Moorespeed Porsche 911 GT3 Cup machine.
Hardeman was third in the GT3 Cup Challenge USA Platinum Cup class when the final lap of the race began, and he remained in that position heading into the 17th and final turn on the 3.74-mile circuit. That’s when the drivers running first and second – Trenton Estep in the No. 3 JDX Racing entry and Roman De Angelis in the No. 1 Kelly-Moss Road and Race Porsche – tangled and spun.
The incident handed the overall race victory to Zach Robichon in the No. 98 Mark Motors entry in the Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Yokohama – competing in its second and final combined event with the USA series this season – and gave Hardeman the USA victory.
“I’ve been in this territory so often in the last few years and in position,” Hardeman said. “When these things happen in front of you – I mean, I was as incredulous as anyone to see what unfolded in front of me when the leaders took each other out in the final corner and I was the beneficiary of that – it was just amazing. You know, if you’re in that position long enough, and eventually you’ll get there.”
Estep, who originally took the lead from polesitter De Angelis on a restart with five-and-a-half minutes remaining, recovered from the spin to come home second, 6.549 seconds behind Hardeman. Estep also won Thursday afternoon’s season opener and finished the weekend with a pair of podium results.
“I think JDX and Hertz are really happy with the weekend,” Estep said. “We got really, really strong points, so I think it’ll be good. It’s a good start to the rest of the year.”
Anthony Imperato completed the GT3 Cup Challenge USA Platinum Cup podium, taking third in the No. 91 Wright Motorsports machine. Another Wright Motorsports entry, Charlie Luck, came home fourth overall and claimed an emotional first Platinum Cup Masters victory in the No. 45 Porsche.
“First off, this is my first,” Luck said. “I’ve never won. I started last year, this is my second podium, first win in Masters. It’s been so much work. I’ve been out of the seat for 30 years, and to get back in racing shape and to compete with these guys takes a helluva lot of work. Awesome work from our team, Wright Motorsports, and I just can’t thank my wife enough and the whole team. It’s just so competitive. There’s no room for mistakes.”
In GT3 Cup Challenge USA Gold Cup action for Porsche 911 GT3 Cup race cars built between 2014 and 2016, Victor Gomez IV swept the weekend with his second victory in as many days aboard the No. 25 NGT Motorsport entry.
“Just starting the season with the sweep, it couldn’t have started better,” Gomez said. “Having my family and my friends here to support, the car was in tip-top shape. Thank you NGT for that. Today was definitely more of an eventful race, more yellow flags. I got to play a little with the Platinum cars at the beginning, but then the Mentos car started to catch on, and I got to fight hard with the Mentos car for the last three laps, so that was good.”
As Gomez mentioned, it was a much closer battle on Friday. That “Mentos car” was the No. 26 driven by Egidio Perfetti, his NGT Motorsport teammate. After winning by more than 14 seconds on Thursday, Gomez’s margin of victory Friday morning was just 1.177 seconds. Perfetti also won the Yokohama Hard Charger Award in the Gold Cup class. Rob Ferriol was third in Gold Cup, his second podium result in as many days.
Next up for GT3 Cup Challenge USA is a doubleheader at Barber Motorsports Park on April 21-22.