Class podium for Isabella Robusto at GT4 America debut
At her first start in GT4 America, Toyota Development Driver and stock car regular Isabella Robusto impressed with two spectacular runs in Sonoma, securing her first class podium in a solo run.
Joining her first ever race in GT4 was young American racer Isabella Robusto, a Toyota Racing Development driver and NASCAR Diversity athlete that is quickly coming up the ranks in Late Model Stock, Late Model Pro, ARCA - as well as venturing in the world of sports cars: she is in fact entering the newly launched Toyota GR Cup North America, alongside Pirelli GT4 America, while continuing her program in Late Models and a part time schedule in ARCA with top team Venturini Motorsports.
At Sonoma, Robusto pulled double duties for the two rounds of Toyota GR Cup and GT4 America, where she was supposed to share the Toyota Supra GT4 car operated by Smooge Racing with Joey DaSilva.
"Sadly my teammate was unable to race with me in the Supra because of an injury, so I did both stints with an added time penalty", explained Robusto.
In her solo effort, Robusto made good progress in the practice sessions, as she consistently got closer to the top-5 in Am and then qualified in P4 for Saturday's race, at her first outing in the updated Supra.
A first lap contact for the #26 Heart of Racing Aston Martin, which was hit and spun at Turn 2 on the first lap, opened a chaotic race, as several cars had to take evasive action. The race, though, remained green and Jesse Webb (#34 Conquest Racing Mercedes AMG GT4) retained the lead from pole position, leading the NOLASPORT Porsche of Matt Travis and the ACI Motorsport Porsche of Francis Selldorff.
From 17th overall, Robusto lost a couple of positions at the start, dropping to fifth in class - before the first safety car of the season was deployed, following several contacts through the 42-car field that had left some damaged cars stranded on track.
Webb accelerated away once again with 49 minutes to go, with positions at the front relatively unchanged. Soon after, Isabella Robusto made a superb pass at Turn 2 to gain fourth place in class - but the action was short lived as another crash in the midfield took out the #428 Van der Steur Racing Aston Martin and the #54 Black Swan Racing McLaren.
The pace car returned to the pits mid way through the race, just one lap before the opening of the pit window. Robusto put pressure on the #97 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 driven by Sam Owen, as most of the field pitted for the mandatory driver change. Robusto had to get out of the car and then was strapped back in, with an extra penalty of 3 seconds during her pit stop - and rejoined in P5, 23rd overall. While in traffic, Robusto continued to impress with overtaking moves around the outside of Turn 5 and 6.
Ahead, the NOLASPORT Porsche managed to get in the overall lead by leapfrogging the Conquest Racing Mercedes, after a dominant first stint by Webb. With a perfect pit stop, Jason Hart found himself ahead of Michai Stephens.
A cleaner second half of the race allowed Robusto to keep moving up the order and she eventually grabbed fourth place in the Am class, 17th overall.
The #7 ACI Motorsport Cayman driven by Andrew Davis had also emerged in second place after a different pit stop strategy and reduced the gap to the leaders, but the #47 NOLASPORT Porsche of Matt Travis and Jason Hart held on and crossed the finish line with a 5 second margin to win the first race of the season, ahead of Davis/Selldorf and Stephens/Webb. After the race, though the #7 ACI Motorsport Porsche was found to be non-compliant at scrutineering and dropped to last, promoting Conquest Racing and Random Vandals Racing to the overall podium.
Robusto had a very solid first race in GT4 and led a group of cars in the final laps of the race to finish fourth in class, 16th overall.
From P29 and fifth in Am, Isabella Robusto clearly had the speed for a class podium on Sunday, having shown great consistency and racecraft in the close battles the day before. The #47 Nolasport of Hart had a great start from overall pole position, while John Geesbreght passed Kay van Berlo for second. Robusto - who had initially gained a few positions, was involved in a contact on the second lap. While Hart and Van Berlo had a comfortable advantage, the pack ran at unbelievably close gaps from P3 to P33, in a hectic first stint of constant position changes until the first FCY, brought out by the overall second-placed Porsche of Kay van Berlo. But, as the saying goes, yellow brings yellow and at the restart two separate incidents forced the safety car to neutralize the race once again - just as the pit window opened. Isabella Robusto had a solid recovery and had managed to make up positions up to seventh in class. One lap after the green flag, the mandatory pit stops started: with a clean run in the #67 Smooge Racing Toyota, Robusto had gained almost ten places overall in the first stint and was hunting down her first class podium. A big incident between Roland Krainz and Charlie Postins meant that the last drivers still having to pit dived into pit lane before the third caution was called. With barrier repair underway, the safety car led the pack throughout the second part of the race and AM entry Terry Borcheller took victory in the #20 Toyota GR Supra GT4, after a penalty for the #999 Hanley Motorsports Toyota which had not served its pit stop. The #50 Povoledo Racing Aston Martin and the #37 Skip Barber School Toyota followed, with the #22 Techsport Racing Nissan completing the ProAm podium. With a remarkable second race, Isabella Robusto crossed the finish line in P20 overall and third in the Am class. "A whole different ball game this past week in Sonoma", Robusto wrote. " I ended race one 4th in class and race two 3rd in class out of 43!" Her debut on the SRO platform was highly impressive, claiming a class podium in the extraordinary competitive Pirelli GT4 America field and finishing just outside the top ten in the inaugural weekend of the Toyota GT Cup North America. The GT4 America drivers will be back in action from April 28-30 at NOLA Motorsports Park for the second double-header of the 2023 season.