SALINAS, Calif. – Alessandro Balzan, of Rovigo, Italy, won in GT at the Pirelli World Challenge Grand Prix of Monterey at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca Presented by Cadillac while Johnny O’Connell of Flowery Branch, Ga. clinched his fourth straight title in a dramatic race. In GTA, Eric Lux of Buffalo, N.Y. won the race with Frank Montecalvo of Highlands, N.J. taking the Championship. In GT Cup, Colin Thompson of Doylestown, Pa. won both the race and the GT Cup title.
With O’Connell and Olivier Beretta of Monte Carlo, Monaco, separated by just a handful of points all eyes were on the Championship contenders as the lights went off on the standing start. It was Balzan, however, getting a jump from the outside of the front row into the Andretti Hairpin in the No. 29 NGT Motorsport MOMO Ferrari 458 GT3 Italia.
O’Connell and his No. 3 Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-VR GT3 took advantage of the clean start by rocketing to second place on the opening lap from his fifth grid position. Pole sitter Alessandro PierGuidi, of Tortona, Italy, in the No. 30 NGT Motorsport MOMO Ferrari 458 GT3 Italia found himself third after the opening lap.
Rival Beretta, in the No. 61 R. Ferri Motorsport Ferrari of Ontario/Toronto/Alberta Ferrari 458 GT3 Italia, also made moves on the opening lap, charging from 12th on the grid to eighth, earning him the Optima Batteries Best Standing Start Award.
In GT Cup, Alec Udell of The Woodlands, Texas, in the No. 17 GMG Amsource Capital/Panther Pipeline Porsche 911 GT3 Cup got the jump to lead the first lap on Champion Thompson’s No. 11 Kelly-Moss Motorsport Porsche of Bucks County/Penn Valley Constructors/Sherwin Williams Automotive Finishes/Austin Hatcher Foundation Porsche 911 GT3 Cup.
In the GTA class, it was Lux in the No. 08 DragonSpeed Rembrandt Charms/Monticello Motor Club Mercedes-Benz AMG SLS GT3 that led the first lap over Martin Fuentes of Mexico City, Mexico, in the No. 07 Scuderia Corsa/Hublot/Samsung/UnderArmour Ferrari 458 GT3 Italia. Lux’s move into the lead was named the Cadillac Move of the Race.
By lap three, Beretta was on the move, and was already in sixth position having passed Kevin Estre of Lochau, Austria, in the K-PAX Racing McLaren 650S GT3 and Mike Skeen, of Charlotte, N.C., in the CRP Racing DeVilbiss/Hawk Performance Audi R8 LMS Ultra.
On lap seven, PierGuidi passed O’Connell for second place, and started running down Balzan for the race lead, while Lux and Udell still led in GTA and GT Cup respectively.
Five laps later, Beretta was in the top five, underscoring the fact he needed to score more points than O’Connell in the race to take the Championship. Meanwhile, Balzan’s lead was down to just 2.25 seconds as PierGuidi was lapping consistently faster.
On lap 16, Beretta passed Windermere, Fla.’s Ryan Dalziel in the No. 31 EFFORT racing World PMO Porsche 911 GT3R to move into fourth place while PierGuidi closed Balzan’s lead down to 0.548 seconds, the closest it would be for the entire race.
Thompson flexed his Championship-form on lap 20, using faster GT cars coming through the field to get around Udell for the GT Cup lead, and going on to take his 13th victory of the season.
In GTA, Lux held a comfortable lead over Montecalvo in the Bayshore Racing Mercedes-Benz AMG SLS GT3 and Christina Nielsen, of Aarhus, Denmark, in the No. 7 TRG-AMR Royal Purple/Orion Energy/LaSalle Solutions/PassTime USA Aston Martin Vantage GT3. Fuentes had fallen back due to a drive-through penalty for avoidable contact.
By lap 25, Beretta had reeled in O’Connell and attacked going into the Andretti Hairpin in a bid for third place. Corners later, the two Championship protagonists made contact in the Corkscrew. Beretta was able to continue and took third place but O’Connell was momentarily stopped, dropping him to 14th and provisionally handing the Championship to the Ferrari pilot.
While O’Connell mounted his rebound effort, Beretta had to serve a drive-through penalty for the contact in lap 25. Beretta was able to emerge from the penalty into seventh place, well in front of O’Connell who had only mustered up to 12th position.
However, with just three minutes remaining on official race time, Beretta made contact with the wall coming into turn 11, rendering the Ferrari undriveable and forcing Beretta off course. The DNF for the Beretta and the Ferrari meant O’Connell and Cadillac Racing had captured four consecutive Pirelli World Challenge Championships.
Balzan would stand atop the round 20 GT podium joined by teammate PierGuidi in second and Dalziel, in third.
In GTA, Lux’s eighth place overall drive would win him the race, with Montecalvo and Nielsen in second and third.
In GT Cup, Thompson drove to the win ahead of Sloan Urry of Salt Lake City, Utah, who was able to get past Udell for second, as there were reports Udell’s car was damaged. Udell still managed to complete the podium in the final GT Cup race of the season.
“It was a great way to finish the season with a win for the MOMO/NGT Motorsport Ferrari team. It the best way to give them a thank you,” Balzan commented. “I tried to go as fast as possible and win the race today. That was it. The car was so perfect from the start of the race and I got a great start off the line too. We had good starting start practice too. It may have looked easy from the outside but the team worked very hard. It was just a great weekend overall for me.”
Of his GTA win, Lux remarked, “It was nice to get the monkey off our back with a victory today and get to the top step. I really appreciate everyone at Dragon Speed.
Congrats to my teammate Frankie (Montecalvo) on the championship. The chemistry with the team is unbelievable and the car was fast right off the truck. We didn’t have to do much with it this weekend. I was able to start from the pole and run a smooth race with the Mercedes-Benz. It’s very exciting taking my first win at a legendary track like Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.”
Thompson stated, “The start was great for me but Sloan (Urry) and Alec (Udell) did a good job under braking. They were able to get by me two turns later. It made it tough and Alec was fast. We then got a nice gap and we pretty much plateaued with our times at that point.” He added, “With a little luck and some traffic, I was able to get back by him. Then I saved the car for the win.”
With 20 GT/GTA rounds in the books, and 18 for GT Cup, competitors now head to the annual awards banquet, taking place on Sunday night in Monterey, Calif.
Of note, Nielsen also took home the Invisible Glass Clean Pass of the Race Award for her move on Mike Skeen, of Charlotte N.C., in the No. 2 DeVilbiss/Hawk Performance CRP Racing Audi R8 LMS Ultra. Bryan Heitkotter, of Fresno, Calif. won the VP Racing Fuels Hard Charger award, advancing eight positions in the No. 05 Nissan GT Academy GT-R Nissan AE Replay XD Nissan GT Academy Nissan GT-R GT3.
All results are provisional until posted final.
SALINAS, Calif., – Results from Sunday’s 35 lap 78.329 mile Pirelli World Challenge Championship GT/GTA/GT Cup Round 20 race, part of the Monterey Grand Prix at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca Presented by Cadillac, with finishing position, class, starting position in parentheses, driver, hometown, car, laps and reason out (if any).
1. GT, (2), Alessandro Balzan, Rovigo, Italy, Ferrari 458 GT3 Italia, 35.
2. GT, (1), Alessandro PierGuidi, Tortona, Italy, Ferrari 458 GT3 Italia, 35, -2.760.
3. GT, (3), Ryan Dalziel, Windermere, Fla., Porsche 911 GT3R, 35, -26.819.
4. GT, (6), Andy Pilgrim, Boca Raton, Fla., Cadillac ATS-VR GT3, 35, -27.409.
5. GT, (8), Michael Lewis(R), Laguna Beach, Calif., Porsche 911 GT3R, 35, -28.664.
6. GT, (9), Peter Cunningham, Milwaukee, Wis., Acura TLX-GT, 35, -41.198.
7. GT, (13), JD Davison, St Petersburg, Fla., Nissan GT-R GT3, 35, -48.641.
8. GT, (14), (A)Eric Lux, Buffalo, N.Y., Mercedes Benz AMG SLS GT3, 35, -55.910.
9. GT, (17), Bryan Heitkotter, Fresno, Calif., Nissan GT-R GT3, 35, -58.705.
10. GT, (11), Ryan Eversley, Atlanta, Ga., Acura TLX-GT, 35, -1:05.035.
11. GT, (16), (A)Frank Montecalvo, Highlands, N.J., Mercedes Benz AMG SLS GT3, 35, -1:05.711.
12. GT, (5), Johnny O’Connell, Flowery Branch, Ga., Cadillac ATS-VR GT3, 35, -1:07.462.
13. GT, (7), Kevin Estre, Lochau Austria, , McLaren 650S GT3, 35, -1:10.890.
14. GT, (19), Duncan Ende, Los Angeles, Calif., Ferrari 458 GT3 Italia, 35, -1:13.745.
15. GT, (18), (A)Christina Nielsen(R), Aarhus Denmark, , Aston Martin Vantage GT3, 35, -1:14.667.
16. GT, (20), Robert Thorne, Littleton, Colo., McLaren 650S GT3, 35, -1:16.173.
17. GT, (10), Guy Smith, Beverly UK, UK, Bentley Continental GT3, 35, -1:18.121.
18. GT, (23), Chris Dyson, Pleasant Valley, N.Y., Bentley Continental GT3, 35, -1:19.008.
19. GT, (25), (A)Mike Hedlund, Woodside, Calif., Ferrari 458 GT3 Italia, 35, -1:24.336.
20. GT, (22), (A)Timothy Pappas, Boston, Mass., Dodge Viper GT3R, 35, -1:25.466.
21. GT, (26), (A)Bret Curtis, Austin, Texas, BMW E89 Z4 GT3, 35, -1:26.038.
22. GT, (21), James Sofronas, Pound Ridge, N.Y., Audi R8 LMS Ultra, 35, -1:38.072.
23. GT, (27), (A)Drew Regitz, Denver, Colo., Audi R8 LMS Ultra, 34, -1 lap.
24. GT, (15), (A)Martin Fuentes, Mexico City, Mexico, Ferrari 458 GT3 Italia, 34, -1 lap.
25. GT, (24), (A)Henrik Hedman, Ft Lauderdale, Fla., MercedesBenzAMG SLS GT3, 34, -1 lap.
26. GT, (28), (A)Alex Welch, Englewood, Colo., Audi R8 LMS Ultra, 34, -1 lap.
27. GT, (4), Mike Skeen, Charlotte, N.C., Audi R8 LMS Ultra, 34, -1 lap.
28. GT, (12), Olivier Beretta, Monte Carlo, , Ferrari 458 GT3 Italia, 31, -4 lap.
29. GT, (29), (A)Jorge De La Torra, Mexico, , Aston Martin Vantage V12, 31, -4 lap.
30. GTC, (30), Colin Thompson, Doylestown, Pa., Porsche 911 GT3 CUP, 34.
31. GTC, (32), Sloan Urry, Salt Lake City, Utah, Porsche 911 GT3 CUP, 34, -8.239.
32. GTC, (31), Alec Udell, The Woodlands, Texas, Porsche 911 GT3 CUP, 33, -14.616.
33. GTC, (33), Lorenzo Trefethen(R), Napa, Calif., Porsche 911 GT3 CUP, 33, -58.310.
34. GTC, (35), Preston Calvert(R), Potomac, Md., Porsche 911 GT3 CUP, 33, -1 lap.
35. GTC, (34), Victor Gomez(R), San Juan, Puerto Rico, Porsche 911 GT3 CUP, 33, -1 lap.
36. GTC, (36), Mitch Landry, Lake Charles, La., Porsche 911 GT3 CUP, 32, -2 lap.
Time of race: 50 minutes, 39.076 seconds.
Average speed: 92.787 mph
Margin of victory: 2.760 Seconds
Lap leaders: Laps 1-35, #29 Alessandro Balzan
Fastest race lap: #30 Alessandro PierGuidi, 1:25.087 (94.689 mph)
Fastest qualifier: #30 Alessandro PierGuidi, 1:23.734 (96.219 mph)