With the SRO GT World Challenge America Pro-Am championship in hand for Ferrari at the three-hour mark, Squadra Corse came through with another second-place finish in its category in the Indianapolis 8 Hour.
Pro-Am. Martin Fuentes, Alessandro Balzan and Mark Issa took a pair of second-place finishes in class for the No. 1 Squadra Corse Hublot Ferrari 488 GT3.
After securing the GT World Challenge America Pro Am title for Fuentes in the opening three hours of the event – which counted as a double-points season finale for the series – the trio turned their attention to the American round of the Intercontinental GT Challenge.
Running near the front throughout the event, Balzan took the car home in eighth overall and second in the Pro Am category.
The final five hours were in sharp contrast to the opening race-within-a-race. Setting the scene was the waving of the American flag to open the contest. On cue, a heavy downpour caught out virtually the entire field that was on slick tires, including the Pro Am pole winner and fifth-overall starter Balzan.
Balzan fell to 20th when he pitted at the end of the opening lap for rain tires. Following an extended caution, the Italian worked his way into the overall lead before turning the Ferrari over to Fuentes, who remained at the point in the Pro Am battle.
“Today the circumstances were the hardest I have ever experienced,” Fuentes said after his opening stint. “[The choice of dry or rain tires] is very challenging, like a coin toss. I couldn’t tell the team if the track was dry or if it was wet. I wanted to pit [for dry tires], but the team told me to hold on, they were expecting rain in 10 minutes. The tire pressure of my rears was extremely high because there was no water on the track, and I was worried that they were going to blow.”
Balzan retained the lead through his second stint, pitting shortly before the three-hour mark so that Fuentes could claim the title on the race track in second position.
“This definitely is the highlight of my career,” Fuentes said after winning his third-consecutive championship and the fifth of his career in the series – all at the wheel of a Ferrari. “I’ve been racing for awhile, and I think this is the biggest championship that I have won, that I would ever win. I’m exciting. We were focusing on the championship [during the opening three hours]; now, we will go for the 8 Hours.”
The team ran in the second position throughout most of the remainder of the event, with Fuentes and Issa trading the wheel before turning the car over for the final hour to Balzan – who was able to continue after being knocked off the course by another competitor.
Balzan was a late substitute for Rodrigo Baptisa, who shared five victories this season with Fuentes. Unofficially, Fuentes claimed the crown with a 37-point advantage, with Baptista finishing third, 38 points back.
Overall. A pair of on-track incidents failed to deter Vital Speed Racing, which managed to be running at the finish with the No. 31 Ferrari 488 GT3 of Trevor Baek, Ryan Briscoe and Jeff Westphal.
Baek was a victim of track conditions early in the race. He hydroplaned in heavy rain entering the front straight on the ninth lap, spinning twice before tagging the wall.
The team spent nearly three hours repairing suspension damage to the left-front corner. Baek returned to the race, but was involved in an incident in Turn 10 on his next lap out, returning the Ferrari to the garage.
The team returned to the fray with 2:20 remaining. Baek was back at the wheel, managing to click off many laps without incident before turning the car over to Briscoe for the final stint. The IndyCar veteran managed to pick up a position to place 21st and seventh in GT3 Overall.
“It’s a real shame,” Briscoe said after the initial incident. “He was just starting to get experience out there. He was building on his speed, and then all of a sudden the rain came down really hard. We were going to come on the radio and was going to tell him to watch the aquaplaning on the front – but he was already into the wall. It looked like as he was coming up on the banking, the track conditions were bad and it just aquaplaned, and the car spun around on him. It’s unfortunate for the whole team. He was doing a great job up until that point.”
2021 season set. Earlier in the weekend, SRO announced the 2021 GT World Challenge America calendar.
The 2021 campaign will open at Sonoma Raceway on March 5-7. Following a yet-to-be-determined weekend at COTA’s Circuit of The Americas, the series visits Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, May 21-23; Virginia International Raceway, June 11-13; Road America, Aug. 27-29; and Watkins Glen International, Sept. 15-17. The season is again set to close at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Oct. 15-17.