The 2020 GT4 America season came to an end at the iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with American driver Erin Vogel enjoying a competitive weekend in a last-minute Sprint and SprintX double commitment.
The 2020 GT4 America Series reached its final race event of this crazy 2020 as it contested its sixth round last week in one of the most iconic racing venues in the world - Indianapolis Motor Speedway, in conjunction with the Intercontinental GT Challenge 8-hour race and with IndyCar.
American driver Erin Vogel approached the last weekend of her debut season in the SRO-sanctioned championship targeting a clean weekend and more class top-ten finishes, after showing great progression throughout the year - despite several technical troubles had hampered some of her weekends.
With a smoother run at Circuit of the Americas, Vogel was P8 and P10 in the Pro-Am category, as she then joined Flying Lizard Motorsports for a two days test at Indianapolis in preparation for the season finale.
“It’s been great to see each of our drivers grow and develop as the season has progressed, and we’re looking forward to an exciting final run for those championship titles.” - commented Darren Law, project manager of the Flying Lizard team that operates Vogel's McLaren 570S GT4 car, which she shares with factory driver Michael Cooper in the SprintX series.
More issues prevented Vogel-Cooper to take full advantage of pre-event testing at IMS, but the drivers of the #30 machine could still extract some valuable data and experience.
“I'm so grateful to Flying Lizard that we are going into this final weekend of the series at Indianapolis with confidence,” said Vogel before the event. “We were fortunate to be able to test there earlier in September, and it was a great opportunity to get a first look at the track and the facility, which is truly world-class. The ambiance is incredible, and I'm very excited that we'll have loyal fans there to welcome us into this home stretch of 2020.”
The "Racing Capital of the World", in fact, hosted 10,000 spectators for the first time this season. In such difficult circumstances, SRO has proven once again to be one of the world's leading motorsport promoter as the organization managed to put together a first-class calendar - featuring some of the most iconic racetracks in the US - in the midst of Covid uncertainties.
“I’m looking forward at racing at Indianapolis." - added Cooper. "We were able to get some laps around the course a few weeks ago which should give us a head start on a lot of the other GT4 cars in SprintX.”
It turned out to be a very busy weekend for Erin Vogel at IMS: following a last minute call, she was announced on the grid of the Sprint series as well, subbing in for Tony Gaples in the Blackdog Speed McLaren.
In the always action-packed SprintX, Race 1 got off to a chaotic start when the leading #47 Nolasport Porsche of Matt Travis was hit by Jarrett Andretti in the Andretti Autosport McLaren into Turn 1, with the Nick Wittmer in the ST Racing BMW advancing into the lead. Few moments later, Chandler Hull in the #26 Classic BMW M4 GT4 collided with Joe Dalton's #33 Aston Martin at Turn 12, triggering the first Safety Car of the race.
When the action resumed, the two Samantha Tan Racing BMWs led the pack, shortly before a second full course yellow freezed again the competition: the hood of the #71 Marco Polo Motorsports KTM X-Bow went up in the air and required the intervention of the track marshals to be cleared.
Starting from 19th overall position and 10th in Pro/Am class, Erin Vogel had a great start in the #30 Flying Lizard McLaren: she gained four positions in the hectic opening laps and constantly avoided the carnage to advance into 15th overall, ninth in class, just before the race interruptions. In similar fashion, she moved up two more places prior to the second Safety Car and she faced the restart in P13.
Showing again great racecraft in the close battles, Erin quickly gained seventh in Gt/Am and a very respectable P12 overall before handing over to Michael Cooper when the pit window opened.
Ahead, Wittmer continued to lead, but the eyes were on the fast charging #47 Nolasport Porsche, as Travis could recover from the back of the field to third in Pro/Am after the first corner incident. He would close in on championship rival Michael Dinan in the #21 Flying Lizard Aston Martin, before most drivers performed their driver change at the mid-race mark.
Jason Hart, taking over from Travis in the Porsche, passed Robby Foley for second in class and sixth overall.
Driver-owner Samantha Tan defended hard but started to drop down the order after coming out of pitlane in second in her #38 ST Racing BMW. After completing the move on Tan, Jan Heylen (#37 RS1 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4) continued to make up positions up until third place overall.
Michael Cooper - 12th after Erin Vogel's flawless driving stint - started a heated battle in the midfield with the #50 Panoz and the #59 BMW. Unfortunately, a contact between the latter and Vogel's teammate put the #30 McLaren out of contention as it picked up radiator damages. More incidents involving the #19 BMW forced the race direction to send out the third Safety Car of the day. The race went back to green with 10 minutes left on the clock: Jan Heylen had the perfect restart and moved up into the lead from third, ahead of Roman De Angelis (#51 Panoz) and Harry Gottsacker (#28 ST Racing BMW).
There was more drama for championship contenters Dinan/Foley, as they received a drive through penalty for a pitlane infraction which sent them down the order, leaving the battle for points down to the final race.
In a very exciting final laps of the first race, the front-runners fought closely until the chequered flag, when Heylen crossed the line 0.138 seconds ahead of De Angelis and Gottsacker.
Despite the SprintX Race 2 was contested at 08:00AM in chilly conditions, the action on track promised to provide more heated action than ever for the final round of the season.
At the green flag, the #33 Notlad Racing Aston Martin driven by Patrick Gallagher led the field ahead of Andrew Davis (#2 GMG Racing Porsche), who had found a way past Robby Foley in the title contender #21 Flying Lizard Aston Martin. His direct rival - Jason Hart in the #47 Nolasport Porsche - moved up several places and advanced to seventh overall.
Michael Cooper was first out on track in the #30 Flying Lizard McLaren, as he took the start from 15th overall but dropped back to 17th after the opening stages. Cooper recovered and managed to pass the #17 Porsche - before gaining one more position when the #71 Marco Polo Motorsports KTM had more troubles and was forced to retire after a fire in the pitlane.
The first Safety Car was out when Toby Grahovec (#26 Classic BMW) and John Tecce (#69 BGB Motorsports Porsche) made contact and got stranded in the gravel trap at Turn 3. When the race went back to green, the pit window had approached and the drivers dived into the pitlane for their mandatory stop. Cooper handed over to Vogel in 16th overall place.
When the pit window closed, Joe Dalton in the #33 Notlad Aston Martin maintained the overall lead, but technical issues on the Vantage GT4 gave the ultimate opportunity to the #21 Flying Lizard crew - now with Michael Dinan behind the wheel - to fire up into class and overall lead. Behind him, also Bryan Putt (#15 Bsport Racing) got past Dalton, before the former race leader further dropped down the order.
The championship battle was all in the hands of Matt Travis in the #47 Nolasport Porsche, who could move up the field up until second overall, with Dinan as his only target less than three seconds ahead. But, as the title fight reached its apex, Dinan could extend his margin by few vital tenths in the final laps, crossing the finish line 3.8 seconds in front of his title rival, thus claiming victory and championship honors.
With three minutes to go, Erin Vogel managed to overtake two more cars and took the #30 McLaren in P13 overall across the line, 7th in class - concluding a very positive debut season with three class top-5 and three top-10 finishes overall. In her first year in such a competitive series, Vogel proved to be a fast learner and accumulated plenty of valuable experience that will certainly reveal crucial next year.
"Overall, it was a tough season, but we pushed through and had some good runs." - said Michael Cooper. "I’m very happy with Erin’s development over the course of the year. She gained a lot of valuable experience to utilize next season."
Furthermore, Vogel and Cooper's results, combined with Pro/Am champions Dinan/Foley, helped to secure yet another team title to the Californian powerhouse Flying Lizard Motorsports: “We have to give credit to Erin Vogel and Michael Cooper, they had some tough luck this year but their good finishes contributed to the overall effort for the team Championship in SprintX," said project manager Law.
"It was really a highlight to end the season at Indy, with the Indy teams and the 8-hour running their warm ups for the weekend." - commented Vogel.
"Had some great battles in Saturday's race and really enjoyed ending the season with that kind of close racing. Sunday's race was a bit less eventful, but netted us a decent result and I'm glad we don't have to do any more come mornings like that this season!"
While it certainly was a positive yet character-building rookie season in SprintX, Vogel also had a taste of the Sprint series at the final race event.
In the Sprint Race 1, Matt Travis in the #48 Nolasport Porsche could not defend his lead into Turn 1 and was passed by Drew Staveley in the #12 Ian Racing Ford Mustang. Paul Terry also took advantage of the situation and placed his #59 rearden Racing Aston Martin in second position. The race-defining moment would later result in Steveley's second win of the season.
Vogel's SprintX co-driver - also racing under the banner of Blackdog Speed in the Sprint category - moved ahead of Travis few corners later, advancing into third overall.
Michael Dinan (#210 Flying Lizard Aston Martin) was caught in an accident on the second lap, as he collided with Jeff Courtney (#99 RecStuff Racing Mercedes) and brought out the Safety Car.
Having qualified sixth in Am-class and eighth overall, Erin Vogel had a stunning first part of the race, which saw her moving up into second place in class and fifth overall with an amazing move on Christopher Gumprecht in the #79 CG Racing Mercedes.
Gumprecht fought back and re-claimed second one lap later.
Meanwhile, Michael Cooper had passed Terry for second overall - with also Travis completing the move on the #59 Mercedes despite making contact and sending Terry into a spin. Travis was handed a warning - thus maintaining third overall - while Terry had to rebuild his race from P10. Eager to recover, Terry overtook Vogel for third in Am, but then hit and spun around the Mercedes AMG GT4 of Gumprecht.
With 20 minutes to go, Erin had to give up the final podium place to Sean Quinlan in the #119 BMW, but could nonetheless close her first Sprint race in fourth position in the Am category, seventh overall.
"In this afternoon's Sprint race I got a great start, moving from P6 in class to P3." - she explained via her socials. "After some wild battles and a whole lot of swapping of positions back and forth (and back, and forth), I ended the race just a few seconds off the podium with a P4 finish in the AM category, P7 overall."
After 32 laps around the Indianapolis Road Course, Drew Staveley took victory ahead of Michael Cooper and Matt Travis, who kept Jarrett Andretti at bay in the #18 Andretti Autosport McLaren.
The Sprint Race 2 effectively rounded out the GT4 America season and saw Drew Staveley leading the field into Turn 1 after his victory of the previous day. Michael Cooper found a way past Paul Terry for second overall, with the driver of the #59 Rearden Racing Aston Martin preceding Michael Dinan's #210 Flying Lizard Aston in fourth, second in the Am class.
Dinan got ahead of Terry 10 minutes into the race at Turn 11, with also Jarrett Andretti and Jeff Courtney closing in on the #59 Vantage.
Staveley never looked back and pulled away, while Cooper came under pressure from Am-driver Dinan.
Erin Vogel had more battles with Jason Bell for eighth position overall (fifth in Am class). After another very solid race, Erin managed to hold on to her position and advanced to seventh overall when Sean Quinlan dropped back.
With one lap to go, Dinan overtook Cooper coming off of Turn 13: the two drivers - both competing for Flying Lizard in the endurance series - sprinted across the finish line in a drag race for second place. Dinan came out on top by 13 thousandths of a second over the Pro-class champion. Unchallenged, drew Staveley brought home a back-to-back victory for Ian Lacy Racing in the #12 Ford Mustang GT4.
At her first participation in the series, Erin Vogel claimed two class top-5: "So grateful to have been given the last-minute opportunity to fill in for Tony Gaples in the #11 Blackdog Speed McLaren for the final race weekend of the 2020 season." - she wrote.
"It was so much fun to run the longer Sprint race format for the first time this year, and Blackdog puts together a really top-notch program. With the excellent car they provided I was able to bring home two finishes of P4 in class / P7 overall at the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway."
"Thank you to everyone for such a fun end to a whirlwind season!"