GTWC America: Another class podium for Ashton Harrison at VIR
Despite a difficult qualifying, Ashton Harrison bounced back from adversities and grabbed important points for the championship by earning her fifth Pro class podium in GT World Challenge America at VIR.
GTWC America's reigning ProAm champion Ashton Harrison earned her fifth Pro class podium of the 2023 season following a challenging fourth round at VIRginia International Raceway, bouncing back from adversities and grabbing important points for the championship.
Harrison, who shares the #93 Racers Edge Motorsports Acura NSX GT3 Evo22 with sportscar ace Mario Farnbacher, showed promising speed in practice, as the duo led the Pro class in FP1 - but a qualifying crash later in the afternoon proved to be a hurdle for the team's chances. Harrison and Farnbacher entered the weekend second in the Pro class championship standings - at their first season in GT World Challenge America's main class - following four class podiums and two class victories - respectively at Sonoma and at the previous round at COTA.
With championship ambitions, the drivers of the #93 Harrison Contracting Acura would need to recover from a difficult qualifying and look at the bigger picture.
The Racers Edge Motorsports' crew worked hard to fix the car, which would start from sixth in Pro and 16th overall in Saturday's race 1, as Harrison knew she would need to get a clean start and move up the order.
Joining the field for the Pro class for first time, TR3 Racing's line up of Daniel Morad and Kenton Koch - this weekend subbing in for Ziad Ghandour in the #9 Mercedes AMG GT3 - started from overall pole position, followed by the ProAm Crowdstrike by Riley Mercedes of George Kurtz and the Bimmerworld BMW of Chandler Hull.
Harrison had a cautious start and was temporarily down to 16th, but then she reclaimed her starting position by moving ahead of Vincent Barletta in the #096 Turner BMW. She continued to make up places when Jeff Burton and Derek Deboer made contact, leaving the door open to Tan, Wetherill and Harrison.
With a clean drive in her stint, Ashton rose to ninth in class before the mandatory pit stop, when Mario Farnbachr got behind the wheel rejoining in the same position.
Daniel Morad - now in the overall leading TR3 Racing Mercedes, made a mistake and went wide, temporarily losing first to Bill Auberlen; in a dramatic development, the BMW driver also made a similar mistake, swapping back positions.
Mario Farnbacher was aiming to carry on with Harrison's good recovery drive, when he picked up a puncture on lap 35 and had to pit once again, dropping towards the back of the field. Racers Edge Motorsport's rough day continued with another cut tire with 8 minutes to go; Mario Farnbacher eventually crossed the finish line in P16.
Despite the difficult Saturday, race 2 on Sunday still provided an opportunity for redemption: Mario Farnbacher set pole position among the Pro entries in Q2 and would line up from third overall, behind Robby Foley's Turner Motorsport BMW and Colin Braun's Crowdstrike by Riley Mercedes.
Farnbacher, though, had to give up third place at the race start, when Jan Heylen moved up from fourth on the grid. It was a tricky first stint for the German, who was under pressure from the ST Racing BMW of Niel Verhagen - who got by a few laps later - before settling in fifth overall. He still defended the Pro class lead throughout his stint, before he handed over to Ashton Harrison at the mid-race pit stop.
Harrison rejoined as the Pro race leader after a strong pit stop and, once the #96 Turner Motorsport BMW - previously in the overall lead - dropped down following a slow stop, she started to put pressure on Vincent Barletta. Harrison found a way past and gained fourth overall. Behind her, the Bimmerworld BMW driven by Chandler Hull was making up ground for the first place in Pro, but a drive through penalty for speeding in the pit lane hit the #94 machine, allowing Harrison some breathing space.
Once at the wheel of the #9 TR3 Racing Mercedes, Daniel Morad was charging up the order and, with 15 minutes left on the clock, the Canadian caught up with Harrison, eventually finding a way past the #93 Acura.
Despite falling to second place, Harrison and Farnbacher added another class podium to their resumé and, by finishing ahead of their main championship rivals, they reduced the gap in the points tally.
"Cannot thank my team enough", Harrison commented. "What a challenging weekend, happy to cap it off with a podium and grab good championship points."
While GT World Challenge America will return to the track at Road America on 18-20 August, there will be no rest for Ashton Harrison, who is back behind the wheel this weekend, for the upcoming IMSA Sahlen's Six Hours of the Glen.