Ferrari teams executed a pair of late-race passes on the challenging Circuit of The Americas layout to emerge with the Pro-Am victory and double-podium finish in Sunday’s round two of the SRO GT World Challenge America season.
Martin Fuentes took the Pro-Am lead with a three-wide pass with 13 minutes remaining and held on to win in the No. 1 Hublot/Ferrari of Fort Lauderdale/The Concours Club 488 GT3 started by Rodrigo Baptista. Fuentes was running second when third-place competitor made an aggressive move for the lead from the outside. The Ferrari driver dove to the inside and emerged with the lead. Fuentes was briefly challenged in the closing minutes, but regrouped and pulled away to win by 1.499-seconds.
“I was looking at the front, but then I saw the Mercedes trying to pass everyone on the outside,” Fuentes said. “I tried to avoid a crash and hoped for the best. I tried to keep myself to the inside, and I came out with the lead coming on to the main straight. It was a handful. It was fun, though.”
New Squadra Corse co-driver Baptista was caught on the outside at the start, falling to fifth place. He pitted with 43 minutes remaining, with a lightning-fast pit stop – only nine-tenths of a second over the minimum – enabled Fuentes to rejoin the event in podium contention.
Making a bid for a third-consecutive GT World Challenge America title, Fuentes and new co-driver Rodrigo Baptista opened the year with a third-place finish on Saturday.
One lap after Fuentes made his pass for the lead, series newcomer Ziad Ghandour completed a move to put the No. 24 TR3 Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 started by Matteo Cressoni on the Pro-Am podium. Cressoni started on the outside of the front row – earning the class pole – and ran in second for most of his stint. The Italian was turning the fastest laps in the class prior to his pit stop.
After finishing fifth in the class on Saturday, TR3 Racing took fourth overall and third in Pro-Am on Sunday.
Both of the Vital Speed Ferraris were eliminated in separate incidents during the second half of the event.
The No. 6 Vital Speed Ferrari retired shortly after Mark Issa took over for Rich Baek. Issa, a Ferrari Challenge graduate, had light contact that led to a decision to take the car to the paddock. The team was credited with a third-place finish in the Am category.
“I was going through a corner at such a high speed, looking for an opportunity to gain and gain,” Issa said. “Sometimes the throttle is ahead of the rubber. It was such a soft hit that I was sure everything was going to be OK. I drove it in, just to make sure, and the team told me it was better not to keep going. Sometimes, rock bottom teaches you things mountain tops won’t. At the end of the day, you have to have some progression. This is where the beginning is – I can’t wait to see what is at the end.”
On the restart following the first caution with 26 minutes remaining, Trevor Baek was hit by another competitor entering the first turn. The No. 7 Vital Speed Ferrari was turned around and unable to continue with extensive rear-end damage, placing eighth in Pro-Am. Jeff Westphal ran fifth in Pro-Am during the opening half of the event.
CANADA UP NEXT
The 12-race GT World Challenge America season continues on May 16-17, with a pair of races at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.
For additional information, live streaming and live timing and scoring, visit gt-world-challenge-America.com.