Ashton Harrison returns to GTWC America victory at COTA
Ashton Harrison bounced back after a few challenging weekends and was the protagonist of a spectacular round at COTA, claiming her first overall victory of the season in GT World Challenge America, also recovering from the back of the grid to second on Saturday.
Ashton Harrison and Mario Farnbacher were the protagonists of a brilliant weekend at Circuit of the Americas, where the drivers of the #93 Harrison Contracting Racers Edge Motorsports Acura NSX GT3 Evo22 collected a class podium and their first overall win of the season in GT World Challenge America, their second in the PRO class, bouncing back after an unlucky previous meeting at NOLA. Heading to Texas for the third round of the SRO-sanctioned championship, Harrison was eager to move forward in the championship standings from their third place in the PRO class, as the series returned to COTA after a hiatus - on a track that had brought success to the Racers Edge Motorsports outfit in both 2019 and 2020. “I’m excited to be back with the team at COTA", Harrison commented before the weekend. "The goal is to regroup from our difficult weekend at NOLA, and get back to work to regain the points we lost from that event." "Even though our results weren’t what we wanted, or expected, I still think we made a statement for the Harrison Contracting Acura NSX GT3, in showing the performance of the car, the performance of us as teammates, and what the team is capable of doing on track. So I think it’s just about executing and putting our heads down to focus on the championship, which is obviously the goal." "COTA has a lot of complex corners, and I know our NSX will be strong under those conditions", Harrison continued. "Big shout out to everyone at Racers Edge Motorsports with WTRAndretti for putting in all the overtime to repair the car from uncontrollable damage, so I’m really thankful to them for their commitment to keeping Mario and I up front. So let’s go get some wins. We’re still very much in this championship fight.” Harrison, who is contesting a double campaign in GTWC America as well as her rookie season in IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup, had taken a PRO victory in Race 2 at Sonoma, but then hit trouble in New Orleans, where she scored no points across both races. In the Pro/Am class, Samantha Tan and John Edwards (ST Racing) were chasing their first class win of the season, having displayed race-winning pace since the start of the campaign, but eventually falling victim of misfortune in both events. At NOLA, Tan was hit by a technical issue while in contention for the win in race 2, having showcased great speed all weekend. The ST Racing duo had secured a respectable fourth place finish in class in race 1.
In the first qualifying session, Tan was seventh in Pro/Am and 12th overall, with Harrison having a rough qualifying and lining up P15 overall, near the back of the grid. At lights out, overall pole sitter Manny Franco (#21 Conquest Racing Ferrari) lost the lead to Eric Filgueiras (#28 RS1 Porsche) and Chandler Hull (#94 BimmerWorld BMW), who would battle with Franco for third. With a good start, Tan moved up several positions and advanced to eighth overall after the first few laps. Ashton Harrison was also making up places and, once she overtook Charlie Luck's #45 Wright Motorsports Porsche, she chased Samantha Tan's BMW. Harrison had gained five places in the first 20 minutes of racing - but that progress was lost once she received a drive through penalty for a contact with another car at the start of the race. In a brilliant first stint, Tan attacked the #16 ACI Motorsport's Porsche of Torres with 1 hour and 6 minutes to go, just before the first caution was deployed: the PRO class leaders Franco and Hull had collided at Turn 1, ending their race with a heavy crash into the barriers. The 10 minute neutralization delayed the pit window - after which teams started their mandatory pit stops with 39 minutes to go. Samantha Tan pitted from sixth overall, handing over to BMW factory driver John Edwards after a stunning stint. Mario Farnbacher took over from Ashton Harrison from P13 overall. The #28 RS1 Porsche held the lead, with now Stevan McAleer behind the wheel, followed by Trenton Estep (#53 MDK Motorsports Porsche). The leaders would battle out for the overall win in a spectacular duel that eventually resulted in Colin Braun (#04 Crowdstrike by Riley Motorsports Mercedes) passing both. Estep would return ahead towards the end of the lap, as John Edwards - who had passed Spencer Pumpelly in the #16 ACI Motorsport Porsche - joined the battle for the lead, trading places with Wright Motorsports' Elliot Skeer. In a three-wide moment at turn 1, the ST Racing BMW M4 GT3 was sandwiched and hit by the #04 Mercedes, eventually resulting in damage and a DNF for the Canadian team. Meanwhile, Skeer had re-taken the lead, while also the #53 MDK Porsche would drop down the order due to damages. The Wright Motorsports driver managed to pull away from McAleer and Torres, taking the first overall win for the duo. Thanks to a good recovery in the final minutes, Mario Farnbacher emerged in third place in the PRO class; he hunted down the closest class competitor and eventually got ahead once his rival had to pit for damages. With seventh overall and second in class, Harrison/Farnbacher salvaged a very positive class podium on Saturday.
But the real highlight of the weekend would come one day later. Farnbacher had put the #93 Racers Edge Motorsports Acura in second place in class in Q2, seventh overall. In less than three minutes of racing, the German driver gained three positions overall and the class lead. Ahead, Braun (#04 CrowdStrike by Riley Mercedes) led Ryan Dalziel (#33 Triarsi Competizione Ferrari), as race 1 winner Elliot Skeer attacked and passed the #28 RS1 Porsche - which dropped behind Morad, Farnbacher and Edwards as well. From 15th overall on the grid, in fact, John Edwards had a blistering start to his stint in the #38 ST Racing BMW, determined to make up for Saturday's disappointment: he was soon up to sixth overall. Positions were further shuffled when the #33 Triarsi Ferrari received a drive through for improper starting procedure; Dalziel had meanwhile overtaken Colin Braun for the overall lead, but had the penalty to serve, while the Crowdstrike Mercedes eventually retired with electrical issues. It would be Elliot Skeer (#120 Wright Motorsports Porsche) to seize the lead, preceding Daniel Morad (#9 TR3 Racing Mercedes), Mario Farnbacher and John Edwards. Morad became the new leader with 46 minutes to go, just before the pit window opener. Ziad Ghandour (TR3 Mercedes) emerged in the lead after the round of pit stops - but he soon lost the position to the charging Ashton Harrison in the #93 Acura, with a brilliant pass for the lead at the beginning of her stint. Samantha Tan was also moving forward; the Canadian hunted down Charlie Luck in the #45 Wright Motorsports Porsche, and then leapfrogged Ghandour, who was losing ground, having lost the overall lead - as well as the Pro/Am lead to the #120 Wright Motorsports' Porsche of Adam Adelson. With 30 minutes to go, Samantha resumed her battle with Luck, as she was in contention for the Pro/Am podium. As laps went by, though, Tan started to struggle for tyres and then had to defend from the #28 RS1 Porsche driven by Eric Filgueiras. This duel allowed the return of Jeff Burton and Seth Lucas. The Pro entry of Filgueiras managed to navigate through the field and grabbed second place overall, while in Pro/Am Adelson found a way past DeBoer (#007 TRG Aston Martin). Visibly struggling with her tyres, Samantha Tan could do nothing to keep the #53 MDK Porsche at bay and dropped to eighth overall, fifth in ProAm. Ahead, Ashton Harrison had kept consistent pace throughout her stint and, despite a late charge by Filgueiras and a few rain drops, she comfortably took her first outright win of the season, 2.4 seconds ahead of the RS1 Porsche. "Every time I came into the back straightaway, I had a millisecond to look into the last corner. The last five or six laps, I started to see [Filgueiras'] car, and I just knew that there was a gap and that if we kept our heads down and watched the weather, we would win this race", Harrison explained. "Mario did an amazing job at the start. He's more than half the reason we're in this position; I'm so thankful for him." The result meant that Harrison/Farnbacher earned the eBoost Super Fuel Hard Charger award for gaining the most positions (six) from their starting position.
“A challenging weekend but a great way to end it", Ashton continued. "I’m super excited for Honda, HPD, Racers Edge Motorsports, WTRAndretti and Harrison Contracting to get an overall win in Race 2. We capitalized on the opportunities that were presented to us on Saturday to get up to P2, and both results are important to our championship goal." "Since we’ve had our fair share of bad weekends, I think it is important to be in the position to collect the points that we were able to get this weekend at COTA with our win in Race 2. I think that everyone at Racers Edge Motorsports did a really good job to help keep us competitive as we could be with some of the situations we were dealt, either way we persevered and pushed forward and were able to come through with important points, which puts us back in the position to fight for the championship." With a PRO class podium and a victory, the duo in fact now sits second in the championship standings, ahead of the fourth double-header at VIRginia International Raceway. "I am looking forward to being back with the team at VIR in a couple weeks where I feel our Acura NSX is really strong", Harrison concluded. "We’ve had potential for success there in the past so I’m looking forward to more opportunities to get back the championship lead.” Having shown once again race winning pace in the Pro/Am class, Samantha Tan and her ST Racing crew couldn't yet capitalize but salvaged to a fifth place in class in race 2 after Saturday's heartbreak. The Canadian driver, though, will have to quickly reset and regroup, as she travels to Europe for the GTWC Europe collective test at Spa Francorchamps, ahead of her second participation in the 24 Hours of Spa.