The second half of the GT World Challenge America season started with Ashton Harrison's dominant double-victory at Road America; with a strong recovery despite a damaged car after a first lap incident, Erin Vogel was able to charge back in Race 1 and secure a top-5 in Race 2 in RealTime Racing's home race.
The second half of the 2022 GT World Challenge America season started with another remarkable result for the women of the championship: Ashton Harrison (Racers Edge Motorsport) was able to claim back-to-back victories in Road America, with Harrison and teammate Mario Farnbacher completing flawless stints in the two races at the iconic North American racetrack.
Harrison, at her first full season in SRO America, continues to impress in GT3 machinery and is now only 2 points behind championship leaders Wright Motorsports in the ProAm class.
Erin Vogel - at her first year with the Acura platform and tackling RealTime Racing's home race at the Winsconsin venue, had a challenging first race, but was able to bounce back on Sunday and, with great charges in her stints, completed some good passes to finish in the Top-5.
Vogel and Michael Cooper were coming off their first podium of the season at Watkins Glen before the summer break, and entered the second part of the season with high hopes after finding good solutions with the car's setup at the previous round.
“Gaining our first podium of the season shows that we're making progress with understanding the car, and it was definitely the right way to enter the second half of the season." - explained Vogel before the Road America race. "Hopefully we'll see a few more podiums before the year is through."
“I love Road America. I've raced there with various series over the past four years, and it's a track I look forward to every year. The track is fun and challenging, plus the town and the fans it draws are always some of my favorite of the season."
Home race often means more support and interaction with the fans - and RealTime Racing took the opportunity to let the fans sign the hood of the #43 Acura NSX GT3 Evo22 during Thursday's parade nearby Elkhart Lake.
After a dry practice day on Friday, rain disrupted Saturday's qualifying sessions: Vogel had a good session and slotted into fifth place in ProAm, while Cooper was seventh fastest in the session that set the grid for Sunday.
Ashton Harrison was sixth in Q1 and Farnbacher claimed third overall - and ProAm pole position in Q2.
Mercedes swept the front row in both qualifying sessions, as Winward Racing and US Racetronics shared pole positions at Road America.
Russell Ward had a great start and took the lead straight away; the race, though, was set to see its first big turn of events just two corners after the start, when Steven Aghakhani (US Racetronics Mercedes) spun and was collected by Michael Dinan, and George Kurtz - with Erin Vogel also involved after a car blocked her escape route at the last second.
“Coming into Turn Three something happened ahead of me and then the field started splitting like the red sea,” Vogel said. “I saw the 6, but I was already on the edge of the track, so there was no place to go but in the grass, because there were cars in the way everywhere. I was just about to congratulate myself that I’d gotten out of the way when something hit me on the side.”
Vogel drifted through the grass but managed to avoid terminal damage to the RealTime Racing's Acura, while Ashton Harrison drove through the mayhem unscathed and gained 5 positions, advancing into P3 in ProAm.
The Safety Car was immediately deployed and the new order saw Ward leading Beretta, Goikhberg and Hull - the latter on top of the ProAm class.
Erin Vogel's Acura suffered some bodywork and wheel damage - now out of alignment; she pitted two times for checks but managed to go back out without losing a lap. The target had now switched to damage limitation with the wounded car.
The race resumed with 1 hour to go: Ward pulled away from Beretta, while Hull was putting pressure on Goikhberg. Harrison attacked Luck for second in ProAm and could complete a brilliant pass after a few attempts.
The KPAX teammates were also fighting for second overall - but the caution was back out when Jeff Burton (TR3 Lamborghini) made contact with the inside barrier at Turn 5. It was a shorter interruption this time and, a few minutes later, cars were back up to speed: the KPAX Huracans and the BMW of Hull resumed their fight for the overall podium, leaving Russell Ward unchallenged in the lead.
Ashton Harrison, meanwhile, cleared AM entry Charlie Scardina and moved into fifth overall, then quickly chased and caught up with Hull and the group of front-runners.
At the same time, Vogel made a couple of aggressive and bold moves stick and charged up the field, passing Washington and Gannett at the restart - bringing the home-team up to fifth in class despite the tough start.
The pit window opened and everyone dived into the pit lane except for Washington in the GMG Racing Porsche, who gambled and stayed out, hoping for the rain; he would pit one lap later.
Mario Farnbacher got behind the wheel of the Racers Edge Motorsports Acura and retained P4 overall and second in ProAm; Erin Vogel handed over to Michael Cooper after another very good stint, marked by a solid recovery and great passes despite the difficult circumstances.
Philip Ellis took over from Russell Ward and retained the overall lead in the Winward Mercedes, followed by the two KPAX Lamborghinis of Caldarelli and Pepper. After a great first part of the race by Chandler Hull, Bill Auberlen took over the BimmerWorld BMW M4 GT3 from the ProAm lead, a few seconds clear of Mario Farnbacher.
Cooper battled with the Mercedes DXDT of Bryan Sellers, who managed to get ahead of the wounded Acura NSX GT3 despite Cooper's good defensive driving. He would lose out to Dirk Muller's Mercedes AMG GT3 as well a few laps later.
Up ahead, South African star Jordan Pepper was putting lots of pressure on the sister car of Andrea Caldarelli, until the green #3 Huracan gained the position after a very last second dive by Pepper with 30 minutes left on the clock.
The crucial moment of the race in the ProAm class came with 10 minutes to go, when Mario Farnbacher closed in on Bill Auberlen and fought his way up in the class lead after a really exciting duel in the final 20 minutes of the race. With an outstanding pass at Turn 5, Fanbacher and Harrison swept the competition and claimed their second class win of the season.
“Our goal long-term is the championship", said Harrison after her victory.
"Wins help us with that. And we’ve had a bit of unfortunate luck the last couple of rounds, so this is well-deserved for us and the team. And Racers Edge Motorsports gave us a really great car. It was an exciting race the entire time.”
Philip Ellis won the overall and Pro class, over 8 seconds up the road of Jordan Pepper and Andrea Caldarelli.
Michael Cooper and Erin Vogel were ninth overall and sixth in ProAm, still making it across the line after a challenging race hampered by the lap 1 incident.
“We weren’t sure if we would be able to continue, but I was able to bring it in and the RealTime crew was able to patch it back together pretty well,” Vogel commented.
“We definitely had some issues, just between missing bodywork and damage. It wasn’t the ideal race car at that point, but we did what we could with it. I was able to pick up a couple of positions and the team did another great pit stop. It was just about holding on after that and finishing the race.”
The Winward Mercedes of Ellis lined up on the front row alongside race 1 ProAm winner Mario Farnbacher, followed by Pepper and Auberlen for the second race of the Road America weekend. Pepper surprised Farnbacher at the start, as Ellis had another perfect getaway at the green flag.
Jan Haylen was also on the move and with fifth overall, the Wright Motorsports Porsche chased the Racers Edge Motorsports Acura of Farnbacher, but soon had to defend from the Mercedes of Sellers. Having started P9 overall, Michael Cooper lost two places on the first lap and settled in P11, P9 in ProAm, with a fully repaired NSX.
Stuck behind the AM Triarsi Competizione Ferrari driven by Onofrio Triarsi, Michael Cooper then had to watch his mirrors from the Aston Martin of Drew Stavely, as the two battled for P7 in ProAm. Cooper finally found a way past Triarsi and made a move stick at Turn 1, gaining a few cars' length to Staveley.
Ellis picked up where he had left off on Saturday and brought the #33 Mercedes AMG GT3 back into pit road for the mandatory driver change mid-way through the race with an impressive margin of over 18 seconds to second-placed Jordan Pepper.
KPAX, though, miscalculated the minimum pit stop time and they would later receive a drive through penalty for its #3 Huracan.
Mario Farnbacher had a flawless first stint and handed over to Ashton Harrison from the ProAm lead, ahead of Charlie Luck and Scott Smithson who took over from Heylen and Sellers.
Michael Cooper had some great laps towards the end of his stint and handed the #43 Acura to Erin Vogel from P6 in class. With a perfect stop by the RealTime Racing's crew, Vogel gained a position and resumed her race in fifth place.
With 15 minutes left, Smithson passed Luck and gained second place in ProAm, as the latter struggled with tyre deg. He would also lose out to Chandler Hull in the closing stages, losing out on a class podium.
After serving the drive through penalty, Misha Goikhberg saw his race going from bad to worse as the #3 KPAX Lamborghini came to a halt on track with less than 10 minutes to go, ending their race prematurely.
Ashton Harrison had a drama-free stint and frequently lapped on par with the Pro entries; her pace was unmatched from any of the ProAm drivers and she took the #93 Racers Edge Motorsports Acura NSX GT3 across the line to sweep the weekend and claiming the team's 100th victory since its founding in 1990. Harrison and Farnbacher also stepped on the outright podium with P3 overall.
“I trust Mario to always give me a good car", Harrison commented. "I had to basically remind myself that whenever we get out of pit lane, I have one job to do, and I know I can do it."
"We’ve proven before that we’re a great pairing. As soon as I left pit lane, my job was to keep it in the front and keep the gap", she continued. "I don’t even remember what times we were doing; I just remember focusing forward, and it paid off. So I was really glad to hear we had a comfortable gap, and it was just about taking it home."
Philip Ellis and Russel Ward also claimed back-to-back victories for Winward Racing, preceding the #1 KPAX Lamborghini of Caldarelli/Beretta, who charged from eighth on the grid -
Erin Vogel was back in the ProAm top five: the RealTime Racing driver was almost 2.5 seconds faster than Charlie Luck in fourth in the very final laps, but she couldn't close the gap in time before the chequered flag.
“The car felt really good and I was happy with it from the start,” Vogel summed up.
“The RealTime guys and gals did a great job on the pit stop and we gained a couple of positions in the pits like we typically do, which is always really cool. I’m thankful they are so good at what they do, because it makes my job a lot easier."
"I started to catch sight of some cars right at the end there and I got one pass in and ended up P5 in class. This time I don’t feel like we finished in the top five because other people had a bad day, so it felt good to really earn it. I’m super happy for the team.”
While Ashton Harrison will head to VIRginia International raceway for the final domestic round of the Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America, GT World Challenge America is set to return to the track on September 23–25, for the sixth double-header round at Sebring.