Just one round after the McLaren 650s’ of K-PAX Racing had to sit out because of Balance of Performance issues, the team are back with a bang after Kevin Estre won the GT Class in the first race at Sonoma.
Christina Nielsen came top in the GTA class, with Alec Udell doing the business once again in GT Cup.
At the start of the race, the EFFORT Racing/World PMO Porsche 911 GT3R of Renger van der Zande – who is sit in for Ryan Dalziel while he is on WEC duty – claimed the lead going into turn one with Estre sitting ready to attack in second.
However, the McLaren man had to stay on his toes as Mike Skeen – in the DeVilbiss/Hawk Performance CRP Racing Audi R8 – looked to make up further places after already passing Michael Lewis in the sister EFFORT Racing Porsche to move into third.
For much of the early running, the top three stayed with only Olivier Beretta in the Ferrari of Ontario 458 GT3 and Johnny O’Connell in the Cadillac Racing ATS GT3 hoping to disturb that balance in the podium places lying in fourth and fifth respectively.
On lap 21, France’s fastest McLaren driver (of the modern era – don’t worry Alain!) pulled a move for the lead that would eventually earn him move of the race, as he pulled alongside van der Zande at the carousel and held his nerve to claim the lead going into turn 7a/7b.
Once in the lead, he couldn’t escape the Porsche man’s attentions and as the flag fell Estre took yet another hard earned win for the K-PAX squad with only 2.74 seconds in hand.
Mike Skeen would take the final podium position but Beretta made sure it wasn’t easy for him and would finish only 0.8 seconds back. Johnny O’Connell carried on his strong form by finishing fifth.
“I’m really happy and proud of this victory after two or three really hard weekends,” said Estre. “I’m really happy for the team because they put in so much hard work in the past few weeks, and also this weekend. Finally, we made it to the podium and to victory. It’s been a long time. The car was just perfect through the race and we were really more consistent than the others, and that’s what brought us this win. I’m really looking forward to a good race tomorrow and to be back on the podium.”
Frankie Montecalvo got through the first couple of corners in the lead in his Mercedes SLS, but coming into turn four he spun and handed his lead to Nielsen in the TRG-AMR Aston Martin Vantage who herself was fighting off Mike Hedlund in the Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 458.
Once everything had settled down a few laps in, the new top two remained as they were with Hedlund’s team mate Martin Fuentes in the hunt for a podium in third place.
On lap seven Fuentes moved up to second place and in a moment of madness went deep into turn 7a/7b and collided with his team mate and GT competitor Duncan Ende. That meant Nielsen had to go wide to avoid Ende and Fuentes moved into the lead. However, that upset race control and Fuentes was slapped with a drive-through penalty. When he went to serve his penalty, Nielsen and Hedlund reclaimed first and second with Henrique Cisneros claiming third place.
Going into the final stages of the race, the only mover was pole-sitter Montecalvo who made easy work of both Cisneros and Hedlund to claim second.
Finally GT Cup and second place starter Alec Udell claimed the lead in his Porsche GT3 Cup going into turn one after drag-racing pole sitter Colin Thompson – also in a GT3 Cup – down the front straight.
However, Udell’s lead would only last three laps as Thompson, with the bit between his teeth, would reclaim first place. Sloan Urry, in third place, was watching the action in front unfold and was readying himself for a lunge up the field.
He would only end up second though because Thompson, fighting off any challenges to his lead with aplomb, went off track at turn nine on lap 23 and both Udell and Urry went past him to take first and second respectively.