The two guys who opened as the headliners for the 2016 Pirelli World Challenge GT championship chase were the two top stories of the weekend at Circuit of The Americas: Patrick Long and Johnny O’Connell. They split the wins, with Long winning Saturday and O’Connell winning Sunday.
But the bigger story to emerge – unfortunately – was that Long’s EFFORT Racing is now in another race this week to repair its car ahead of next week’s St. Petersburg races.
In Saturday’s race, Always Evolving driver and past Nissan GT Academy champion Bryan Heitkotter delivered a rocket start in his Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 and launched to the lead after starting sixth. But Long doggedly pursued him and as Heitkotter’s tires began to fall off, Long seized the moment and passed him at Turn 14 – a right-hander – barely keeping his wheels within the track limits to secure the lead and a win on his return to the series.
The win was the first worldwide for the new Porsche 911 GT3 R, which premiered at the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Incidentally, Long finished best of the new Porsches there, second place in the Black Swan Racing entry he shared with Tim Pappas, Nicky Catsburg and Andy Pilgrim.
Sunday, though, things went awry for Long at the start. Heitkotter’s teammate James Davison contacted Long in the rear, which pitched Long into the outside wall and sustained heavy damage.
The video is below, followed by Davison’s take on the situation.
Davison received a stop-and-hold penalty for the avoidable contact and Heitkotter’s win chances ended later when O’Connell got by inside of 20 minutes to go.
Two popular podiums followed behind “Johnny Red,” who scored the first win for the new “Velocity Red” Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-V.R. Teammate Michael Cooper banked his second podium in as many races in his first weekend with Cadillac, while Jon Fogarty banked the first podium for GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing’s new McLaren 650S GT3, and did so in front of hundreds of GAINSCO agents in the company and team’s home race.
Martin Fuentes swept the GTA class both days, while Alec Udell and Sloan Urry won in GT Cup on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. Udell, from The Woodlands, Texas, scored a popular win on home soil while Urry ended his streak of “nearly” races with his first career win in class.
A stream crash meant most of the second race was hard if not impossible to watch, although an impromptu Periscope from the media center proved a capable backup plan.
The new-look GTS class had, like GT, a mix of old and new rise to the top of the table in its two races. Upon his return to the series, Lawson Aschenbach won Saturday’s race and finished second on Sunday in the Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R. The winner on Sunday was Brett Sandberg (right), a talented sports car veteran who added a GTS win to his past Touring Car wins, posting the first U.S. win for the new KTM X-BOW GT4 in the hands of ANSA Motorsports.
Outside of the on-track situation, there was disciplinary action taken against Mantella Autosport team principal Anthony Mantella, who allegedly got into an altercation with another team member and was both disqualified from Saturday’s race and excluded from participating on Sunday.
A statement from the series read: “Following the March 5 GTS Round 1, a competitor exhibited unsportsmanlike conduct governed under Rule 1.5.11 (Driver Conduct) leading to exclusion from Round 1 as well as the entire meeting as in Rule 1.30.1 (Disciplinary Action). Any further disciplinary action will be reviewed by the SCCA Competition Board and announced in the future.”
Two entertaining Touring Car races occurred as well, featuring the biggest fields of the weekend, among the TC, TCA and TCB classes.
Vesko Kozarov, Elivan Goulart and Ted Hough claimed the Friday wins in the respective categories. Of those, only Kozarov’s was straightforward; Goulart won after two-time TCA champ Jason Wolfe sputtered on the final lap and Hough inherited the TCB win after Will Rodgers’ car flunked post-race tech.
On Saturday, Toby Grahovec (right), Wolfe and Rodgers scored the class wins. Grahovec’s win was the first for the new BMW M235i while Wolfe and Rodgers atoned nicely from their Friday disappointments. Shea Holbrook also delivered her Shea Racing team’s first top-five of the year in her Bubba Burger Honda, fourth in TC following original third place driver Tony Rivera’s disqualification.
GT/GTA/GT Cup and GTS head to St. Petersburg next week, while the TC classes are off until Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, May 20-22.
- Race 1: 1. 31-Patrick Long (Porsche), 2. 05-Bryan Heitkotter (Nissan), 3. 8-Michael Cooper (Cadillac), Pole. 31-Long
- Race 2: 1. 3-Johnny O’Connell (Cadillac), 2. 8-Cooper, 3. 99-Jon Fogarty (McLaren), Pole. 05-Heitkotter
- Race 1: 1. 07-Martin Fuentes (Ferrari), 2. 46-Michael Mills (BMW), 3. 16-Michael Schein (Porsche)
- Race 2: 1. 07-Fuentes, 2. 66-Frankie Montecalvo (Mercedes), 3. 46-Mills
GTC (all Porsche Cup)
- Race 1: 1. 17-Alec Udell (GMG), 2. 20-Sloan Urry (TruSpeed), 3. 18-Will Hardeman (WPD/MooreSpeed), Pole. 20-Urry
- Race 2: 1. 20-Urry, 2. 17-Udell, 3-18-Hardeman, Pole. 20-Urry
- Race 1: 1. 10-Lawson Aschenbach (Chevrolet), 2. 14-Nate Stacy (Ford), 3. 19-Parker Chase (Ginetta), Pole. 46-Scott Dollahite (Lotus)
- Race 2: 1. 13-Brett Sandberg (KTM), 2. 10-Aschenbach, 3. 46-Dollahite, Pole. 13-Sandberg
- Race 1: 1. 3-Vesko Kozarov (Nissan), 2. 26-Toby Grahovec (BMW), 3. 34-Carl Rydquist (Nissan), Pole. 91-Nick Wittmer (Honda)
- Race 2: 1. 26-Grahovec, 2. 91-Wittmer, 3. 3-Kozarov, Pole. 34-Rydquist
- Race 1: 1. 70-Elivan Goulart (Mazda), 2. 12-Jason Wolfe (Kia), 3. 23-Eric Powell (Mazda), Pole. 46-Johan Schwartz (Honda)
- Race 2: 1. 12-Wolfe, 2. 70-Goulart, 3. 49-Joey Bickers (Mazda), Pole. 23-Powell
- Race 1: 1. 68-Ted Hough (Mazda), 2. 94-Tom O’Gorman (Honda), 3. 14-Henry Morse (Mazda), Pole. 68-Hough
- Race 2: 1. 65-Will Rodgers (Mazda) 2. 94-O’Gorman, 3. 14-Morse, Pole. 68-Hough