Martin Fuentes claimed his third-consecutive SRO GT World Challenge America championship for Ferrari by virtue of running second in the Pro Am category at the three-hour mark of the Indianapolis 8 Hour.
Pro-Am. Fuentes added another accolade to his stellar resume, wrapping up the title by virtue of achieving 70-percent of the opening three hours in the Squadra Corse No. 1 Hublot Ferrari 488 GT3 co-driven by Alessandro Balzan and Mark Issa.
“This definitely is the highlight of my career,” Fuentes said after completing his opening stint. “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 excited. We were focusing on the championship [during the opening three hours]; now, we will go for the 8 Hours.”
Fuentes secured his third-consecutive championship, the fifth of his career in the series – all at the wheel of a Ferrari.
Conditions changed dramatically with the waving of the American flag to start the event, with a sudden downpour. Balzan started on the Pro Am pole and in fifth position overall, and pitted on the opening lap to change to grooved tires, falling to 20th position. Balzan worked his way through the field, taking the overall lead on lap 23 near the one-hour mark. Balzan then pitted, with Fuentes taking the class lead before pitting shortly after the two-hour mark.
Balzan again regained the class lead, pitting to return Fuentes to the Ferrari seven minutes before the three-hour mark, allowing him to finish up his championship season behind the wheel.
“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.”
Unofficially, Fuentes claimed the crown with a 37-point advantage. Co-driver Rodrigo Baptista – who shared in the team’s five victories this season – missed the event, with his place taken by Balzan. Baptista finished third in the standings, 38 points in arrears.
Originally scheduled as an exhibition race for the series, the opening three hours of the Intercontinental GT Challenge was added to the World Challenge America schedule due to the cancellation of the race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park due to COVID-19 concerns.
Overall. A setback due to track conditions resulted in an early day for the No. 31 Vital Speed Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 of Trevor Baek, Ryan Briscoe and Jeff Westphal.
Baek started eighth overall, running in the GT3 Overall class. With rain picking up at the green flag, Baek spun on the opening lap before pitting for rain tires. ‘
Precipitation continued to fall in the early going, resulting in puddling – especially on the front straight. On lap 9, Baek spun after hitting a puddle entering the front straight. He spun twice before the car cut to the left and tagged the wall, badly damaging the left-front suspension.
“It’s a real shame,” Briscoe said. “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 – we saw cars lifting down the front straight – and as we looked up, 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.
“He was doing a great job up until that point. It’s unfortunate for the whole team. It’s a learning experience for him, but I only wish we could have gotten in a few more laps here today.”
After nearly three hours in the paddock for repairs, the car returned to the event. Unfortunately, Baek had an incident in Turn 10 to bring out another caution and send the car back to the garage.