GT4 America: two class top10 finishes for Erin Vogel at COTA
In the penultimate GT4 America Sprint-X round at COTA, Erin Vogel could finally enjoy a smoother run and claimed two Pro-Am top-10 finishes, as Flying Lizard Motorsports tracked down some of the issues that have been hampering her debut season.
The fifth round of the SRO-organized GT4 America championship made a second visit this year to the current home of the F1 USGP, the majestic Circuit of the Americas venue in Austin, Texas.
American racer Erin Vogel, at her debut in the series, has shown great progress throughout the season but, together with experienced works driver Michael Cooper, the Flying Lizard Motorsports pair could not maximize the potential of their McLaren 570S GT4 after a series of unfortunate technical gremlins hampered their season.
Nonetheless, Vogel always looked comfortable in the midfield battles and displayed great racecraft at the wheel of the #30 McLaren, with only situations outside of her control - as often is the case in motorsport - denying the duo of a class podium so far. Finishing fifth and sixth last round at Road America, Vogel and Cooper entered the double-header at COTA with high hopes.
“I’m looking forward to returning to COTA for the second time this year,” said Erin before the race. “It’s great that the series has been able to redirect for the events that weren’t possible this season, and that COTA is able to welcome us back again. We are confident that we have a much better handle on the chassis than we had at the season opener in March, and with the extra hours the team has been putting in on the car we hope to have the pace that has been eluding us for much of the season.”
Before heading to Austin, the #30 Flying Lizard crew had a 2-day test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in preparation for the GT4 America final round at the famous racetrack, where the Californian outfit tried to solve the issues that has been plaguing Vogel's first season in the series. Unfortunately, the weekend at Circuit of the Americas didn't get off the line as expected - with the #30 McLaren suffering from electrical issues, forcing Vogel and Cooper to sit out the first practice session.
"Our boys stayed late last night to make another attempt at running down this electrical demon." - wrote Erin on her social media, before the Flying Lizard crew could fix the issues:
"Well I'm happy to report that the car ran flawlessly today." - wrote Erin on Friday.
"Flying Lizard Motorsports got that demon wrangled and sent it packing. Now that I've had some seat time it's time for me to improve upon today's performance for a strong finish tomorrow!"
The 30-minute qualifying was divided into two 15-minute sessions to set the grid for Race 1 and 2 respectively, with the SprintX championship returning to a 2 races format this weekend. Vogel completed the first session in P9 in GT-Am class and P17 overall, while Cooper took over in the following 15 minutes to claim a P10 in class and a P15 overall.
The Samantha Tan Racing BMWs put in strong performances to secure Race 1 pole position with Nick Wittmer, who edged teammate Jon Miller in the closing stages. Miller, co-driver of the other female racer and team owner Samantha Tan, had previously topped the first practice session.
Pole for the second race went to the #2 GMG Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 following the disqualification of the #33 RS1 Aston Martin that finished on top in the second heat of qualifying.
When the lights went out for Friday's race, the ST Racing BMW M4 GT4 led the field into Turn 1, with Wittmer ahead of Miller in the #28 and #38 Van Gogh-inspired liveries.
At the hairpin, Parker Chase attempted a move on Miller for second, but gifted a chance to the #36 Andretti Autosport McLaren of Jarett Andretti, who advanced to third after the long straight leading to Turn 12.
The action was promptly interrupted by the Safety Car at the end of the opening lap though, as the Sean Quinlan-driven #19 BMW M4 GT4 came to a stop and forced the Stephen Cameron Racing driver to an early retirement.
The green flag was waved again 12 minutes into the race and the ST Racing racers saw their lead under threat from the fast charging McLaren and Panoz Esperante: on the long back-straight, Miller was demoted to fourth, with Parker Chase also putting pressure on Andretti. One lap later, the Panoz driver moved up to second and chased down Wittmer.
It was a tight fight for Pro-Am honor as well, with Flying Lizard's Michael Dinan in the #21 Aston Martin Vantage GT4 able to find a way past the battling Anderson and Burton in the #63 Dexter Racing Ginetta and #91 Rearden Racing Aston Martin. When the two drivers made contact, Burton found himself with a puncture and parked his car - triggering the second Safety Car of the day.
The restart coincided with the opening of the pit-stop window for the mandatory driver change.
Erin Vogel, who had taken the start of the race in the #30 McLaren, had a very solid first stint and advanced to 16th place overall and eighth in class. She masterfully avoided the midfield chaos and incidents, enjoyed a trouble-free run and pitted at the mid-race mark to hand over to Michael Cooper.
After the driver changes were completed, Harry Gottsacker maintained the overall lead in the #28 Samantha Tan Racing BMW, ahead of the Panoz Esperante - now with Roman De Angelis behind the wheel. While there was a lead change in Am category - as Zak Anderson in #7 Nolasport Porsche Cayman rejoined P1 in class - Robby Foley in the Flying Lizard Aston Martin also maintained the leadership in Pro-Am, jumping ahead of both the Andretti Autosport McLaren of Colin Mullan and the second ST Racing BMW, now driven by Samantha Tan.
Michael Cooper had a clean second stint and could climb to 15th place overall - eighth in class - and pulled away from the rest of the pack.
But there was more drama up ahead, as the overall leader Gottsacker was handed a drive through penalty for a minimum pit-lane time infringement. When the #28 BMW took the way of the pitlane to serve his penalty, De Angelis inherited the top of the classify and brought it across the line to take victory for the Panoz Racing team.
Bill Auberlen (BimmerWorld BMW) overtook the #47 Nolasport Porsche with five minutes left on the clock and moved up to fifth overall and third in Pro-Am. He closed in dramatically on the second Panoz of Ian James, but couldn't ultimately find a way past and settled for third in class. Hart dropped further back in the Nolasport Porsche and finished eighth overall after a spin at Turn 20.
After 23 laps, De Angelis took victory from Dinan-Foley (#21 Flying Lizard McLaren) and Andretti-Mullan (#36 Andretti Autosport).
With 10th place overall and Am class victory, the #7 Nolasport Porsche 718 Cayman driven by Zac Anderson and Sean Gibbons claimed the category championship.
Michael Cooper and Erin Vogel were P8 in Pro-Am and 11th overall, as the two co-drivers clinched their fourth top-10 of the season.
The #38 ST Racing of Samantha Tan and Jon Miller was 14th across the line, fourth in the Silver category, after Tan made contact with the lapped #71 KTM.
"I was looking to set up for a pass on the Classic car under braking, after the back straight, but that wasn’t possible after the KTM car got by” said the driver-owner. “The race today wasn’t optimal” - she added. “The two yellow flags during Jon’s stint essentially eliminated the gap he had from the pack. By the time I got into the car, the tires were not great, and the setup change we made resulted in a bit too much understeer/snap oversteer. We finished 4th in class today. It was a bit frustrating, but we got some points, and we’re potentially 3rd in the championship right now."
"Tomorrow, we’ll have sticker tires, and I’m definitely looking for some redemption.”
Under a sunny Texas sky, Saturday's race got underway with Andrew Davis leading the pack in the #2 GMG Racing Porsche, in what it turned out to be a clean start for the whole 23-car field. Bill Auberlen's #82 BimmerWorld BMW was overtaken by James in the #50 Panoz Esperante Avezzano GT4 for second overall. Auberlen, in the midst of the several battles for position, fell to fourth as also Greg Liefooghe (Stephen Cameron Racing) moved ahead in the #19 BMW M4 GT4.
As Davis could extend his overall lead by over 2 seconds, Auberlen lost fourth to Jan Heylen (#37 RS1 Porsche) - the latter closing in quickly on Liefhooge. Approximately 20 minutes into the race, Heylen found a gap and stripped the BMW driver of second place.
Auberlen kept dropping down the order and was passed by Kenton Koch for fifth overall.
Starting from 12th place on the grid, Michael Cooper had a stunning getaway and spent his whole stint in the action-packed midfield: with cars going three-wide for most of the laps, Cooper battled hard with Vesko Kozarov in the #91 Reardon Racing Aston Martin - in a fight that didn't spare contacts but luckily without consequences.
Cooper finished his stint in P12 and pitted when the window opened. Erin Vogel rejoined in 14th position overall and P10 in Pro-Am.
When the dust settled, the #2 GMG Porsche - now with Jason Bell in the driving seat - maintained overall lead, ahead of Bryan Putt (#15 Bsport Aston Martin) and Matt Keegan (#50 Panoz Racing).
In the #28 Samantha Tan Racing BMW M4, Nick Wittmer started his stint in 9th overall position and begun an impressive charge through the field: he first passed Andretti in the #36 McLaren after an exciting battle at Turn 19 and then went on to move up the order until he caught up with Putt and Keegan, who had meanwhile swapped positions for third overall.
Wittmer found a way past both drivers with 12 minutes left on the clock and continued his chase with unmatched pace. But it wasn't ultimately enough to catch Jason Bell, who crossed the finish line to take victory in the #2 GMG Racing Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 after a flawless and solitary drive.
Wittmer brought ST Racing to second place overall and Silver class victory, finishing ahead of Jarett Andretti, Charlie Belluardo and Matt Keegan.
After a great start from Jon Miller, the second ST Racing car was affected by another contact with a KTM car and picked up left-front control arm damages. He limped back to the pits and, despite the team was able to fix the damage and send the #38 car back on track, Miller-Tan finished down in P21, four laps behind the leaders.
"Today was bittersweet” said Tan. “We definitely had a podium car and I had a great stint, keeping up with the pack.", she added, saying that the second-overall position and class victory of the sister car will certainly motivate her even more for the upcoming round.
Erin Vogel had another trouble-free stint, moved up to 13th place overall and maintained tenth place in the Pro-Am category, marking her most consistent weekend of the season in GT4 America.
"Even though we don't have much to show for it on the race track, I'm happy with this weekend's results." - commented Vogel. "The team has been working incredibly hard and was able to track down an electrical issue that's been haunting us on and off for over half the season, and which has stolen important development time from us during testing and practice throughout the past few months."
"The guys spent a lot of time this weekend and the weekend before working to get our car issues solved." - echoed Michel Cooper. "They got the intermittent power issue solved, but we still have a few little gremlins here and there. They’ll keep working on it and we’ll keep fighting through and hopefully be a little stronger at Indy."
"Erin did a really good job in race two, and she was super consistent. Given the car she was dealing with, she was punching way above her weight. She’s making progress all the time. We just need to get a few things sorted."
The next and final round of the SRO GT4 America will in fact be contested on one of the most famous racetracks in the world, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, on October 1st-3rd - where the Vogel-Cooper duo will try to clinch their first podium in the championship.
"We are also still looking for Erin to continue her run to a podium finish with Michael Cooper in Sprint-X." - commented Flying Lizard's program manager Darren Law. "She has had a difficult season as far as tough luck with car issues but we had a solid run this past weekend and look to close out the year with another good run at Indianapolis.”
After the newly-found reliability, Vogel is optimistic coming into the final round: "With one race to go in the season I'm just hopeful that we can find some of the pace we've been lacking recently, now that we'll be able to take full advantage of our remaining track time."
"We're all excited to end the season at an iconic track like Indy, and it will be a good place to have some fun and wrap up a challenging season on a positive note."