A last lap pass by Olivier Beretta allowed R.Ferri Motorsport to open its 2015 Pirelli World Challenge account with a dramatic win at the Circuit of the Americas.
The Monegasque driver used his wealth of GT experience to guide the #61 R. Ferri Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 to victory, ahead of Scotsman Ryan Dalziel in the #31 EFFORT Racing Porsche 911 GT3R.
Pole sitter Nick Catsburg led the field of 49 cars into Turn 1 in the #25 Blancpain Racing Lamborghini Gallardo GT3 FL2, followed closely by Dalziel and Beretta, both of whom had overcome the #9 K-PAX Racing McLaren 650S GT3 of Kevin Estre which had made a slow start.
However, Catsburg’s advantage was to be short lived as the Dutch driver was assessed a drive through penalty for a track limits violation at the start. Serving his penalty on lap four, Catsburg surrendered the lead to Dalziel, who was coming under increased pressure from Beretta and reigning drivers’ champion Johnny O’Connell in the #3 Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-VR GT3 which he had brought up from 8th on the grid.
As O’Connell faded the two race protagonists emerged, with Beretta harrying the GT3 Porsche for the best part of eight laps. On lap 21, the former Larrouse Formula 1 driver executed a well-timed move on Dalziel’s inside heading into Turn 20, and while Dalziel was able to reclaim some lost ground as the pair accelerated onto the front straight, the linear speed advantage of the Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 enabled Beretta to inherit a permanent lead.
With the Ferrari disappearing into the distance, Dalziel settled for second place ahead of O’Connell in the #3 Cadillac. Pole sitter Catsburg recovered to finish 10th overall, 36 seconds behind the leader.
“I pushed hard and had a good start,” said Beretta. “I kept pushing and the [leading] Porsche did a very good job. When I realised it was close to the end of the race, I said ‘I have to go, I have to find a way around’. I tried to do a qualifying lap, I took many risks, but in the end it paid off.”
“I’m happy for the team, for Ferrari, for Remo [Ferri, team owner], and the guys did a very good job,” he added. “We have a good group and we just need to keep going. The season is very long so we have to enjoy the moment, and to keep going like this.”
In the GTA class, Californian Bryan Heitkotter led the first half of the race after starting the #5 AE Replay XD Nissan GT Academy Nissan GT-R GT3 from sixth overall. However, he was denied victory by Michael Lewis in the #41 EFFORT Racing Porsche 911 GT3R who made his move at the halfway point after gradually applying pressure on the Nissan driver.
GT Cup class honours went to Colin Thompson, driving the #11 Kelly-Moss Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 Cup. The win marked Thompson’s first in the Pirelli World Challenge, and was accompanied by the fastest lap of the race for his class at 2m 12.434. In addition, Thompson’s impressive feat of 12 positions gained earned him several special awards, including the MOMO GT Cup Turning Point of the Race, VP Racing Fuels Hard Charger Award and Optima Batteries Best Standing Start accolade.
Round two of the 2015 Pirelli World Challenge will take place on Sunday, March 8 at 18:50 GMT.