GT4 America: more adversities for Erin Vogel at Sonoma despite strong performances
It was a weekend "where the results don’t reflect the efforts" for Erin Vogel at Sonoma, in the third round of the GT4 America championship.
SRO's GT4 America championship hit the track again at Sonoma last weekend for its third round of the 2020 revised schedule - with Erin Vogel and Samantha Tan again targeting progresses in their respective classes.
It was the home race for Californian Flying Lizard Motorsports, as the Sonoma Raceway hosted another triple-header following the VIRginia round, where the Vogel-Cooper crew claimed their best result of the season so far and the second top-ten finish.
“We’ve done a sufficient amount of testing here with our GT4 drivers, and I think they’ll be strong here this weekend." - commented Darren Law, Program Manager at Flying Lizard Motorsports before the event. "We had some mechanical problems at VIR and still fought hard to bring in strong results, so we’re hoping to have a smoother run to the podium this weekend.”
Vogel's previous round was in fact hampered by mechanical issues which forced the #30 McLaren 570s GT4 to start all the three races from the back of the grid. Cooper and Vogel fought back with racecraft and determination and were able to gain several places, showing promising pace for the upcoming rounds. Erin Vogel returned to the Californian track after making her debut in the GT4 America last year, in preparation for her 2020 full season campaign.
"We're very excited to be at our home track this week." - she said. "Being that it was also the site of my first races with the series last year, I'm definitely looking to improve upon that experience. I've grown a lot as a driver in the past year, so I'm coming into this weekend feeling so much more prepared than I was a year ago, with a very well-prepared car that we had out on track for a full day of testing and prep just last week."
"I know the Flying Lizard crew has been working very hard at the shop for the past week and more to have the best car we can bring to the table, and that's incredibly confidence inspiring as well."
Vogel could also count on Michael Cooper's experience at Sonoma, where the McLaren works driver previously clinched five victories and five additional podiums in the championship.
But it was soon another uphill battle for the talented duo, who took the start from the 20th grid position (9th in Pro-Am class) and had a rough first race of the weekend.
The action-packed race saw polesitter Nicolai Elghanayan in the #71 Marco Polo KTM X-Bow GT4 sprinting away in the Silver class and overall lead, followed by the #47 Nolasport Porsche driven by Matt Travis and the Andretti Autosport McLaren with Colin Mullan behind the wheel. The Flying Lizard Motorsports' Aston Martin of Michael Dinan had a great weekend from the get-go and was fourth in the opening stages, preceding the #38 Samantha Tan Racing BMW - initially driven by Jon Miller.
Erin Vogel was in charge of the first stint of the race and, after she immediately seized opportunities to move up the field with three fine overtakings, she had contact with another car and spun, rejoining at the back of the pack. But, just as she was making up for the time lost, Vogel was involved in another accident when a Porsche went off at Turn 1 and collided with the #30 McLaren. Vogel continued, but the battle scars had surely impacted the handling of her beautiful McLaren.
When the pit window opened, Mads Siljehaug took over from Elghanayan in the leading KTM, maintaining both class and overall position ahead of Jason Hart in the Nolasport Porsche 718 Cayman GT4. Robby Foley in the #21 Aston Martin was then able to pass Andretti in the #36 McLaren for third overall and Samantha Tan slowly dropped down the order in the #38 BMW.
When Michael Cooper jumped in the #30 Flying Lizard McLaren, he rejoined in P17 overall and P9 in class. The experienced driver charged through the field up until reaching the 12th position - also with a great double-pass at Turn 11. But the streak of bad luck wasn't over for the Vogel-Cooper team, who reported a further mechanical issue on the last lap which put them 14th overall and P9 in Pro-Am class.
There was drama also up ahead, with the commanding KTM X-Bow also suffering from mechanical troubles: Siljehaug lost the leadership with 18 minutes left on the clock and dropped all the way down to P20, leaving Jason Hart with an 8-second margin on the Flying Lizard Aston Martin. The Nolasport team claimed victory in the first race, their fourth of the season so far.
The Marco Polo Motorsports crew bounced back in Saturday's second race, as Mads Siljehaug and Nicolai Elghanajan took a dominant victory in both the overall and Silver category classify. The Marco Polo Motorsports duo led Foley and Wilson after the start - the #16 Rearden Racing Mercedes AMG moving up two positions.
The race was briefly interrupted by a Full-Course yellow when Ty Clarke went off in the #111 Motorsports USA McLaren at Turn 2 in the opening minutes.
But, as soon as the race went back to green, Siljehaug started to build his gap and never looked back, as Jason Hart in the race 1 winning Nolasport Porsche managed to move up to eighth overall.
The #30 Flying Lizard Motorsports' McLaren undoubtedly had a better race: Michael Cooper started from 11th place overall - eighth in Pro-Am class - and held position for the majority of the competition. Cooper defended well from the increasing pressure of a Porsche and pitted for the driver change at the mid-race mark, handing the car to Erin Vogel for her final stint of the day. Erin, who rejoined in P13 after the pitstop, raced flawlessly and was able to regain the 12th overall position in the final minutes, crossing the finish line sixth in Pro-Am.
Further up the order, Elghanayan kept a safe margin from Michael Dinan in the #21 Aston Martin Vantage GT4. Behind him, the #47 Nolasport was handed a drive through penalty that dropped Matt Travis to fifth in class and P9 overall - thus promoting Bryan Putt in the #15 BSport Aston Martin to the last podium position.
With ten minutes to go, Jon Miller made up more positions in the #38 Samantha Tan Racing BMW: he got past Harry Gottsacker in the sister #28 car, before chasing Colin Mullan - but could not found a way past the Andretti Autosport McLaren for eighth and second in the Silver category. It was nonetheless a class podium finish for the Miller-Tan duo, after their fifth place earned in the previous race.
Starting from pole, the #21 Aston Martin of Robby Foley and Michael Dinan had another strong performance to finally claim the race victory in Sunday's race at Sonoma, beating by an impressive 21 seconds margin the #47 Nolasport Porsche 718 Cayman.
Michael Cooper took the start from seventh overall and moved up one place after just one lap. The McLaren works driver closed in on Hart, with Auberlen in the Bimmerworld BMW also charging through the field.
Andrew Davis, third in the #2 GMG Racing Porsche, came under pressure from Kris Wilson in the Rearden Mercedes AMG, who found a way past Davis 15 minutes into the race. But the biggest mover was Siljehaug in the #71 KTM, who was quickly up to P14.
At the 25-minute mark, most of the field pitted for the mandatory driver change, with the front-runners extending their stints towards the end of the pit-window.
Birthday-girl Samantha Tan handed over the wheel of her #38 ST Racing BMW to Jon Miller in 20th overall position, while Cooper was in the pits to swap his seat with Erin Vogel after completing his stint in P7.
When positions settled, Dinan remained in the lead in the #21 Flying Lizard Motorsports Aston Martin, ahead of Putt and Belluardo. On lap 22, Matt Travis caught up with Belluardo and passed him, before advancing to third overall by completing a move at Turn 7 on Bell.
Erin Vogel was set for another strong result when bad luck hit again the #30 crew: an error to the data logging costed them a drive through for speeding in the pitlane and Vogel rejoined in P16 overall.
The #16 Rearden Mercedes also hit trouble: Allen slowed down and lost the leadership in the Am class.
With plenty of action in the midfield, Dinan signed off and, unchallenged, was able to extend his lead by over 20 seconds in the second half of the race. With one minute to go, the battle for second overall heated up: Travis was struggling to get ahead of Putt and, when Dinan crossed the line with 2 seconds left on the clock, the extra lap revealed crucial for the #47 Nolasport crew, who took second away from the Bsport Racing team.
Miller was P14 (P5 in Silver category), while Vogel - after another visit to the pits - was P19 across the line and ninth in Pro-Am class.
Despite more solid performances, the Vogel-Cooper duo haven't been able yet to fully show their potential due to a series of unfortunate circumstances.
"We had a great performance from the McLaren of Erin Vogel and Michael Cooper but the racing luck just wasn’t on their side, it was a weekend where the results don’t reflect the effort they put in." - said Flying Lizard Motorsports' Darren Law.
"They had the pace and I am confident we will see them upfront as well soon this season.”
"As great as it was being at the Flying Lizard home track this weekend, we still had a lot of road blocks thrown at us." - commented Vogel. "I think we had the car to do pretty well this weekend, but once again we just didn’t get the opportunity to show it. We know how well Michael can do here, and he’s given me great coaching, but sometimes there are other factors to deal with that can keep it from showing in the results. I’m looking ahead now to Road America, one of my favorite tracks."
"Erin did a fantastic job all weekend long, and a lot of the attrition we faced over the weekend was completely out of our control." - echoed Cooper.
"It’s been a character building year, but we’re with a great team, and Erin’s tenacity and determination we should have a strong weekend at Road America."
The SRO GT4 America will in fact head to Elkart Lake, Wisconsin, for the fourth round of the season on the world-famous Road America circuit on 28-30 August.