After a lengthy rain delay kept the action at bay, the sun finally broke through the clouds to shine down on NOLA Motorsports Park and shake up the Fanatec GT World Challenge America powered by AWS field for their first race of the weekend. The slippery track surface ramped up the level of unpredictability going into this race, as drivers were faced with the challenge of finding the perfect balance between risk and reward.
Despite the slick track conditions, drivers in the Pro class did not hesitate to get their elbows out and challenge for every opportunity. Eric Filgueiras had to fend off an early attack from Manny Franco on board the No. 21 Conquest Racing Ferrari 296 GT3 as he tried to dive down the inside. The leader positioned his No. 28 RS1 Porsche GT3 R 992 to remain in the lead as he began to settle into a comfortable rhythm. As the track continued to dry, Ashton Harrison gradually made up ground and closed the gap to the leaders ahead in the No. 93 Racers Edge Motorsports Acura NSX GT3 EVO22.
As soon as the pit window opened up, most of the field elected to come down pit lane to hand their mighty machines to their teammates. A full-course yellow followed suit and took a significant chunk out of RS1’s lead and bunched up the rest of the field with a little under forty minutes remaining, much to the delight of Conquest Racing’s Alessandro Balzan as he had just clocked the fastest lap of the race.
Green flag racing resumed with 21 minutes remaining in the race. Mario Farnbacher had a great launch, overtaking Balzan before locking his sights on race leader McAleer ahead. However, the Acura skidded off the track a few corners later and became beached in the gravel, bringing out another full-course caution with 17 minutes left in the race.
As the race restarted with just under 13 minutes remaining, the No. 94 BimmerWorld BMW M4 GT3 of Bill Auberlen closed in and settled into second place, hunting down McAleer. Balzan remained right on their tails, not losing sight of second place. With just a few minutes left on the clock, Auberlen made a daring move on the inside of McAleer but ran too deep and compromised his exit, allowing Balzan to retake second place in the closing stages of the race.
It was a thrilling sprint to the finish as McAleer crossed the line to claim RS1’s second race win this season, with Balzan and Manny Franco bringing home second, followed by Auberlen and Chandler Hull in third place.
“We had early conversations after qualifying about the potential incoming rain and how it affects this place,” explained Filgueiras. “I did everything I could to try to build up a gap like we had at Sonoma, but the full course cautions made things tricky yet exciting for us. It was a nail-biter at the end, and that’s why we have Stevan in our car because he is always able to deliver under pressure. This RS1 crew is fantastic, hats off to all of these guys and all the hard work they do. I want to give a special shout out to our fearless leader Justin who is just about to have his first child. This race is for him, Danielle and their family.”
When discussing the closing stages of the race, McAleer added that “I knew the BMW behind me had quite a lot of straight line speed, and I had to wisely choose my approach. The track conditions were difficult, but I knew the two hairpins were dry on the inside so I could go on the defensive around there. When I saw Bill coming off the last corner it was clear that he was closing the gap and ready to make a move. I gave him two choices to attempt an overtake; one on the rain line and one on the dry line, and he overshot it so I managed to pull back ahead. I am very happy to get another win for the team.”
PRO-AM and AM classes
Adam Adelson got a great start as the green flag waved, moving up to first behind the wheel of the No. 120 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3-R (991.ii). Pedro Torres also took advantage of the tricky conditions and slotted behind into second in his No. 16 ACI Motorsport Porsche 911 GT3-R (991.ii). Despite initially losing some positions at the start, Scott Smithson began to fight back in his No. 08 DXDTracing Mercedes-AMG GT3 as the sun crept through the clouds more and more. The PRO-AM field certainly did not hesitate to get their elbows out, with wheel-to-wheel battles taking place across the board, at times going three-wide through corners and making a splash to gain some ground.
Pit stop strategy and timing played a big role in the ever-changing leaderboard, with a perfect handover from Adelson allowing teammate Elliott Skeer to take control and remain in the lead, with Bryan Sellers jumping in to continue the progression Smithson had made and now tasked with the job of closing the gap to first place.
A puncture on the left rear tire of the No. 45 Wright Motorsports brought out the yellow flags as Jan Heylen was left stranded on the side of the track. As the green flag resumed once more and the race approached its final minutes, the leaders in the PRO-AM class were not only fighting for a class win, but for overall position as well.
Skeer led the charge on the three Pro drivers ahead, with Sellers ready to strike at any moment. The two barrelled down the twisting turns and put every ounce of power into their hunt. They ultimately crossed the finish line first and second in class, taking fourth and fifth in the overall standings. The No. 007 TRG Aston Martin Vantage AMR GT3 of Derek DeBoer and Ross Gunn took home third place.
“These cars are absolutely incredible,” said Adelson. “The team gave us the most amazing machine to drive and I am so glad we were able to capitalize on this performance today. My teammate did a fantastic job and he has taught me so much throughout our time together.”
“This track is where I grabbed my very first win with Porsche, and it feels incredible to be able to do it together again,” added Skeer. “I’m very proud to be able to do this again 8 years later, not only with John, but with my best friend as well. We’ve been working together for the past three years and I couldn’t have asked for a better result today. This is absolutely perfect, many thanks to the team for giving us an incredible car and flawless strategy.”
Anthony Bartone and Andy Pilgrim drove a very clean race to bring home the win in the AM class, with Bartone noting that “this was my first time driving in the wet, so I think it was very decent for my first time in these conditions. I’m very happy with our performance out there today and to bring the car back in one piece, it’s really all you could ask for.”
His teammate Pilgrim gave his praise, adding that “Anthony listens and executes really well. He has a ton of natural talent and my job is to help him be as quick as he can be, and I think he’s doing great.”
Race Two is up next on Sunday, April 30 at 1:45pm CT to close out the weekend.
All qualifying and race sessions are streamed live on the GT World YouTube page. Join Ash Vandelay on Twitch by following the SROMotorsports channel. Vandelay hosts six-hour programs Saturday and Sunday, where she is joined by drivers while chatting with fans and giving an interesting insight into that day’s races.