Eric Filgueiras and Stevan McAleer are back on the victory train in Pirelli GT4 America, taking the overall and Silver Cup victory in Race 1 at Watkins Glen International aboard their #18 RS1 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS Clubsport.
GT4 America was the afternoon cap to a busy day of racing at Watkins Glen, getting underway at its scheduled start time just before 4:05 PM local time. Conditions were good, and the skies were sunny for most of the race.
After taking pole position for Race 1 earlier in the morning, Filgueiras led the field to the green flag, ahead of Pro-Am Cup leader Tom Capizzi in the #52 Auto Technic Racing BMW M4 GT3, and Silver Cup rival Gavin Sanders in the #34 Conquest Racing/JMF Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT4. Capizzi was doing well to keep Sanders behind him for a time, but he had a frightening moment exiting turn six and nearly hit the armco barriers. He kept his composure though and settled back in while Sanders moved into overall second place.
Filgueiras was doing his part, pulling out a margin of over four seconds by the end of his stint while chaos erupted behind him. The #15 BSport Racing Aston Martin Vantage AMR GT4 (Bryan Putt/Kenton Koch) retired after Putt crashed in the Esses, trying to avoid the slow-moving #2 GMG Racing Vantage GT4 (Jason Bell/Andrew Davis). The #83 RS1 Cayman RS (Nelson Calle/Juan Martinez) and the #888 Zelus Motorsports Vantage GT4 (Sean Whalen/Matt Guiver) pushed one another off through the Bus Stop.
After 25 minutes of racing, the pit window opened for compulsory driver changes. Filgueiras immediately dove into the pits and gave the closing stint to McAleer, who re-emerged with the race lead.
When the pit window was closing, McAleer was leading the #34 Conquest/JMF AMG GT4 of Michai Stephens by over eight seconds. But at that moment, Al Carter in the #98 Random Vandals Racing M4 GT4 suffered a left front brake failure approaching turn seven, and crashed into the tyre barriers. Very fortunately, Carter was able to get out of his car uninjured.
This incident brought out a Safety Car, and it erased McAleer’s overall lead over Stephens. It also erased a gap of over four seconds between the top two in Pro-Am: The #52 Auto Technic M4 GT4 of John Capestro-Dubets, and the #124 ARG/Rotek Racing Ford Mustang GT4, which started in the hands of Edgar Lau – and was now in the hands of the former Ford GT factory driver Billy Johnson Jnr.
The race restarted with 17 minutes left. McAleer, Stephens, and ‘JCD’ ran tail-to-nose. Capestro-Dubets passed Stephens for second overall, while Johnson moved into fourth overall by passing the #68 Smooge Racing Toyota GR Supra GT4 (Kevin Conway/John Geesbreght).
On lap 22, Johnson passed Stephens for third overall at the Bus Stop chicane and was closing in on Capestro-Dubets for the class lead. The two were tail-to-nose exiting turn seven, and wheel-to-wheel as they approached turn eight. Then, the two Pro-Am leaders collided, sending Johnson off course.
The #52 Auto Technic M4 GT4 retired in the pits with damage, while the #124 ARG/Rotek Mustang cut a tyre, spun out, and went back to the pits before retiring.
Up at the front of the field, McAleer drove the sort of confident stint that GT4 America fans have become accustomed to this season, and he brought home a sixth win of the season for the green #18 RS1 Cayman RS, winning the race by 2.6 seconds after 29 laps of racing.
But as co-driver Filgueiras explained, this victory was far from a sure thing for the Rennsport One crew given the adversity they had to overcome this weekend. “It was not an easy win, and in fact, the weekend started off pretty problematic. We had a red flag in practice one, wet weather conditions in practice two, and we had a transmission failure,” said Filgueiras.
“The team worked all night to replace the transmission and get us up and running. Starting the race, my objective was to get away and to give Steven a car that he could fight with and race with so that’s what was important to me. We are really happy.”
The #34 Conquest/JMF AMG GT4 of Sanders and Stephens finished second, and the #68 Smooge Racing GR Supra of Conway and Geesbreght finished third.
But there was still one more fight to be settled – who would finish fourth overall and win Pro-Am Cup with the top two crashing out?
Veteran sports car racer Ian James, in the #24 Heart of Racing Team Vantage GT4, suddenly found himself fending off the #8 Flying Lizard Motorsports Vantage GT4 of Andy Lee and the #120 Premier Racing Cayman RS of Elliott Skeer for the top step of their podium with just under 15 minutes left to run.
Lee threw everything he could at James to try and take the lead, but in time, he would open the door for Skeer to take second place with a lunge at the Bus Stop, and make a run of his own for the class victory.
Skeer got as close as the rear bumper of the Heart of Racing Vantage in front of him, but he couldn’t get past. James and his co-driver Gray Newell held on for their first class victory of the season, their first since last year’s Watkins Glen meeting.
“My race was made by Gray’s great start. He put me in a good position to bring this one home,” said team principal and ace driver James. “They were catching me at the end there and I knew where it was quicker to defend them while also trying to look after the tyres. In the last couple laps I got some breathing space, but what a great feeling to come here and win at Watkins Glen.”
“I was lucky enough to have this track be my first win last year, that was so special,” said Newell, son of video gaming legend and team co-founder Gabe Newell. “Coming back and being able to do it again, it’s just amazing, it is a real validation of the hard work we’ve been doing. I just tried to keep it tight and clean during the race and pass it off to [James], there’s nobody I trust more than him to get it done.”
Coming from 15th on the grid, Skeer and Adam Adelson finished fifth overall and second in Pro-Am, with the class podium completed by the Flying Lizard duo of Lee and Elias Sabo in sixth overall.
The #47 NOLASPORT Cayman RS (Scott Noble/Jason Hart) held off the #39 Cameron Racing AMG GT4 (Chris Cagnazzi/Guy Cosmo) for seventh overall on the final lap. They finished ahead of the #112 Dexter Racing GR Supra (Dominic Starkweather/Ryan Dexter) in ninth overall.
In tenth, the #36 BimmerWorld M4 GT4 of Charlie Postins and James Clay continued their dominance in the Am Cup ranks, taking their fifth class win of the season. It was a comprehensive victory in their class.
Second in class was the #72 KRUGSPEED GR Supra (Anthony Geraci/Jaden Lander, 12th overall), followed by the #53 Auto Technic M4 GT4 (Rob Walker/Alex Filsinger, 13th overall).
GT4 America Race 2 begins tomorrow at 11:10 AM EDT (local time).
Images © Brian Cleary / SRO Motorsports Group AmericaThe post RS1 Back On Top; Heart of Racing Team Hang On For Pro-Am Victory first appeared on dailysportscar.com.