Rexy roars to AO Racing’s least-likely maiden win at Laguna Seca

AO Racing has been knocking on the door of victory since moving to GTD PRO with its No. 77 Porsche 911 GT3 R, and finally got it in a race where it seemed least likely. Starting fifth behind a front row of two Corvette Racing by Pratt Miller Motorsports Z06 GT3.Rs that seemed to have the pace to control the race, AO moved up steadily and used an early pit stop strategy to get the car to the front at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Once there, Laurin Heinrich – in his third IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship start – and Seb Priaulx claimed victory in the Motul Course de Monterey Powered by Hyundai N and the GTD PRO points lead.

“Before the race we were talking about passing on this track, which is historically not so easy,” said Heinrich. “I was preparing quite a lot before, looking at many IMSA races from the past, looking over videos. You just have to set it up right. We had a good car, and we were purposely focusing on having a car to follow other guys, now that we knew we were starting from the third row so we had to overtake some cars. I think our engineers and the whole AO Racing crew did a great job to give us exactly the car that we needed. It was not particularly easy in clean air, but that’s not what you need. You know, as soon as you’re first at Laguna, it’s much easier to stay there than to get there.”

Nicky Catsburg put the No. 4 Corvette on the GTD pole with Antonio Garcia alongside in the No. 3 as the Corvettes looked like they might have the first victory for the Z06 GT3.R on their hands. However Pfaff Motorsports put the No. 9 McLaren 720S GT3 EVO – running a red-and-white livery in honor of Ayrton Senna – into the lead after the first round of pit stops, the first time the car has led since Pfaff switched to McLaren. The No. 3 Corvette was caught out when the only full-course caution came 50m into the race, still not having pitted.


Heinrich, having taken over from starter Priaulx, was third at the restart, and quickly took second from Tommy Milner, now in the No. 4 Corvette. He took the lead from Marvin Kirchhofer as he passed the McLaren in Turn 6 a few laps later. The AO crew then brought the Porsche in first, and they cycled back to the lead after the second round of stops — a lead they would never relinquish as Heinrich drove to a 9s margin of victory over Kirchhofer and Oliver Jarvis in the No. 9 McLaren.

“AO Racing did an absolute awesome job today – and not just today, the whole year, and they’ve been improving each time,” said Priaulx. “It’s just absolutely great to see and they’re really hard-working guys. Qualifying pace wasn’t right there yesterday, but today, Laurin did a great job and just absolutely awesome to win our first race. For the team, a massive confidence boost and great for them to feel that. They’ve worked very hard. We’ve been unlucky with some stuff, but I’m just really, really proud of them all.”

“I think it was clear that the Corvettes had the upper hand in qualifying; there was no way we were going to reach them even with a perfect, perfect lap,” added Heinirch. “Seb did a good job of placing us ahead of all the GTD cars which was crucial for us to stay in our GTD PRO game. He did a good start, kept the nose clean, overtook the Heart of Racing Aston Martin. Halfway into his stint, I could see that he was starting to be faster than the cars ahead of him, so I knew we had something on our hands here. The race was without many full-course yellows, so it was more about long runs. I think that was exactly our strength.”

Catsburg and Milner claimed third in the No. 4 Corvette, with Ben Barnicoat and Jack Hawksworth finishing fourth in the No. 14 Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3. Garcia and Alexander Sims rounded out the top five in GTD PRO in the No. 3 Corvette.

With the victory, Heinrich and Priaulx move into the GTD PRO points lead with 981 points, 56 more than Barnicoat and Hawksworth in second. Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow are third for Paul Miller Racing at 888.

In GTD, Winward powered back into their winning ways after a critical mistake by the No. 557 Turner BMW in the closing minutes. Jake Galstad/Lumen

Winward Racing resumed its dominance in GTD that it momentarily lost at Long Beach, claiming its third win in four races this season and maintaining its spot at the top of the points with Russell Ward and Philip Ellis.

Danny Formal had scored the GTD pole in the No. 45 Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Lamborghini Huracan GT3 EVO2, but the car didn’t have the fight to stay up front, and after the first round of pit stops it was Robby Foley in the lead in the No. 557 Turner Motorsport BMW M4 GT3, followed by Ellis in the No. 57 Winward Racing Mercedes AMG GT3 and Mikael Greinier in the No. 32 Korthoff/Preston Motorsports Mercedes AMG. For a while, Foley was able to open up a gap to Ellis, and it appeared that it might be a storybook ending for Turner Motorsport, celebrating race start no. 577 with BMW and becoming the most prolific BMW race team in the world when the green flew. But as GTP traffic came through the GT field, Ellis reeled Foley in, and it was contact with a passing GTP car, the No. 40 WTRAndretti Acura ARX-06 driven by Jordan Taylor, that ultimately made the difference. Foley turned into the Acura, had light contact and briefly went off track, and Ellis moved into the lead.

“I think we might have had a bit of a better pace when we were out in clean air, but behind them there was no chance of overtaking them,” explained Ellis. “I was actually stuck behind the Aston Martin, the PRO Aston Martin, for quite a bit. Thankfully he let me by and I finally chased down Robby. I think Robby only lost a bit of lap time with the GTPs initially. On our pace, it would have not been a chance of overtaking. It’s sad for them, of course, how it ended. I would have liked to do it on my own, but we’ll definitely take it.”

Foley and Patrick Gallagher ended up second, while a charging Elliot Skeer finished third in the No. 120 Wright Motorsports Porsche he took over from Adam Adelson. Grenier and Mike Skeen were fourth for Korthoff/Preston, and polesitter Formal and Kyle Marcelli were fifth.

Ellis and Ward have a 213-point lead over Gallagher and Foley. Adelson and Skeer are third in the points, while Parker Thompson sits fourth ahead of Grenier and Skeen.

The GTD class has a long break until the Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen at the end of June, while GTD PRO is in action again in three weeks on the streets of Detroit.


Story originally appeared on Racer