GTWC America: Ashton Harrison claims Pro win at class debut
At her Pro class debut in GT World Challenge America, Ashton Harrison claimed a a class podium after a charging race 1 from 14th on the grid, followed by her first class success thanks to a last corner move for the win.
Ashton Harrison continues her relentless rise in sports car racing, with another outstanding result at the 2023 GT World Challenge America season opener, where the 2022 ProAm champion started where she had left off: a class win and a podium, in two charging races.
Harrison, who is combining a double program in SRO, returning to GT World Challenge after the title-winning season at debut, as well as in IMSA, where she is contesting her first campaign in the Michelin Endurance Cup.
At the wheel of the #93 Racers Edge Motorsports Acura NSX GT3 Evo22, Ashton Harrison and Mario Farnbacher secured 4 victories, seven podiums en route to win the ProAm title.
Harrison and Farnbacher have reunited for a second year in the Fanatec GT World Challenge America powered by AWS, again at the wheel of the Racers Edge Motorsports with WTRAndretti Acura NSX GT3 Evo22, sporting the traditional Harrison Contracting Company red livery - this time tackling the Pro class.
At the first round of the season at Sonoma, California, Harrison and Farnbacher returned to the venue that brought them their first class podium in 2022.
"I’m ready to start the 2023 season at Sonoma and to see how far we’ve progressed in the last year, as we get ready to compete in the Pro class, which is a big step for me, but I feel that I’ve made big strides and I’m ready to take on the challenge", Harrison said.
"There’s no better person to do that with than Mario. I’m excited to really get to work and thankful for Racers Edge Motorsports and Honda/HPD Racing for providing the opportunities for myself and Mario, with the support from Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Autosport and Harrison Contracting Company. I’m looking forward to success and continuing to grow and learn as a driver.”
In their new Pro-class challenge, Ashton Harrison and Mario Farnbacher were second in FP1 and fifth in FP2, as both teams had big hopes for qualifying.
In Q1, the #28 RS1 Porsche GT3 of Eric Filguiras and Steven McAleer topped the timesheets, but a red flag left Harrison in P14 on the grid for race 1. But there was immediate redemption, as the second qualifying session saw Mario Farnbacher claiming pole in the Pro class and fifth overall.
The RS1 Porsche of Filgueiras shared the front row with the Wright Motorsports Porsche of Adam Adelson. At lights out, Chandler Hull (Bimmerworld BMW) managed to find a way past Adelson, while in the #93 Acura for the first stint, Harrison recovered to P11 on the first lap, kicking-off her team's recovery mission.
Fifth-placed Jeff Burton went off at Turn 2, bringing out the first neutralization of the race. Meanwhile, James Sofronas (GMG Racing Audi) received a drive through penalty for not having tires properly fitted at the scheduled time before the start.
Filgueiras had to defend from Hull at the restart, as the #94 BMW M4 GT3 looked fast early on. Further down the order, Charlie Luck spun in the #45 Wright Motorsports Porsche but was avoided by the rest of the pack, including Ashton Harrison who moved up to P8 overall, gaining 6 positions.
Once cleared the Esses Racing Mercedes of Will Hardeman, Harrison hunted down Seth Lucas, at the wheel of the Pro MDK Motorsports Porsche.
With 50 minutes to go, the pit window opened and several crews opted to pit early.
Ashton Harrison inherited the lead, having stayed out. Farnbacher got behind the wheel on lap 24, then rejoining in eighth overall, fifth in the Pro class.
After the round of pit stops, Stevan McAleer (RS1 Porsche) was still comfortably in the lead, preceding the #120 Wright Motorsport driven by Adelson over 7 seconds behind.
Farnbacher overtook the Conquest Racing Ferrari - at the 296 GT3 global SRO debut - and gained fourth in class on lap 30. The German was also closing in on Trenton Estep (MDK Motorsports porsche) at a fast pace.
At the same time, Adam Carroll - making his debut in the series with Esses Racing - and Jan Heylen battled for P4 in ProAm, followed closely by Ross Gunn and Daniel Morad. Heylen completed the pass with 22 minutes to go; Gunn and Morad engaged in their own battle as well, allowing Carroll some breathing space.
With 12 minutes left on the clock, Mario Farnbacher was intensifying the pressure on the #53 Porsche and found a way past Estep at Turn 6 to clinch third place in the Pro class.
In a calmer second part of the race, Eric Filgueiras/Stevan McAleer took a dominant win for RS1, who preceded Adam Adelson/Elliott Skeer (Wright Motorsports Porsche) and the Crowdstrike by Riley Mercedes of George Kurz and Colin Braun.
The overall winners were joined by Bill Auberlen/Chandler Hull and Ashton Harrison and Mario Farnbacher on the Pro podium. The Racers Edge Motorsports crew in fact completed a spectacular recovery from 14th on the grid to stand on the rostrum, in a convincing start of the season.
Following a spectacular second qualifying session, Samantha Tan Racing's John Edwards would start from pole position in race 2, ahead of the Crowdstrike Mercedes and the TR3 Racing Mercedes. Fifth overall - and from Pro class pole position - Mario Farnbacher and Ashton Harrison were aiming to better Saturday's podium result.
In a clean start across the field, Edwards initially held off Braun, but the driver of the #04 Mercedes managed to grab the lead at Turn 8 after a side-by-side duel that also allowed past the #9 TR3 Racing of Daniel Morad. The Samantha Tan Racing driver tried to respond one lap later, but Morad defended. Fifth overall, Mario Farnbacher held the Pro class lead ahead of Bill Auberlen and Seth Lucas. The latter overtook the #94 Bimmerworld BMW for second in class - but Farnbacher still had the two ProAm cars of Spencer Pumpelly and Jan Heylen in between his #93 Acura and the closest Pro competitor.
Colin Braun, meanwhile, was five seconds up the road in the overall lead. Corey Lewis (DXDT Mercedes) hit trouble with smoke coming out of the engine, but he was able to reach the pits and retired.
In a vastly over-optimistic move, Spencer Pumpelly hit Mario Farnbacher at the Turn 11 hairpin, sending the #93 Acura into a spin. The German dropped all the way down to P11, and fourth in class, with 1 hour and 4 minutes to go. Pumpelly would receive a drive through penalty for causing the accident. 17-year-old Trenton Estep took over the lead in Pro class, having passed Auberlen and McAleer. The three were caught also by Mario Farnbacher and Alessandro Balzan (Conquest Racing Ferrari 296), as the five Pro cars were separated by a few tenths of a second.
The two Wright Motorsports Porsches of Skeer and Heylen closed the gap to John Edwards, but proceeded to fight between themselves before the pit window opened. Skeer pitted straight away - as well as Pro leader Estep. Balzan, meanwhile, had overtaken Farnbacher with both extending their stints.
Colin Braun pitted from the lead and George Kurtz took over the race leading Mercedes; on the same lap, Samantha Tan jumped aboard her #38 BMW M4 GT3 from fourth overall. Farnbacher handed the reins of the #93 Racers Edge Acura to Ashton Harrison on lap 29 - a strategy that gained her track position over the RS1 Porsche now driven by Eric Filgueiras.
A brilliant pit stop for the TR3 Racing Mercedes resulted in an overall lead change: Ziad Ghandour was out in front of George Kurtz after the round of pit stops.
Ghandour also was coming under pressure from Kurtz, who eventually made a move stick on lap 35. Third in Pro, Ashton Harrison was quickly catching Manny Franco's Ferrari. Having joined the two class leaders, though, Ashton made a small mistake and lost a few seconds after a short trip to the grass. Approximately two seconds per lap faster, Harrison was soon back in the gearbox of Manny Franco and overtook the brand-new Ferrari with 22 minutes to go.
Two laps later, Harrison took over the lead with a bold move into Turn 7 on Seth Lucas.
While navigating traffic, Manny Franco bounced back and forced his way past Harrison at Turn 7 on the final lap, making contact with the #93 Acura. Ashton then fought back on the very last corner, completing a brilliant pass for the Pro win at her class debut.
George Kurz and Colin Braun took overall and ProAm wins, beating Ziad Ghandour and Daniel Morad.
At her debut in the Pro class, Ashton Harrison proved to be one of the drivers to beat, securing a podium from 14th on the grid on Saturday, and a win after a recovery from a spin on Sunday.
“A good way to finish our weekend here in Sonoma and debut in the PRO category", said Harrison after the spectacular success. "I'm super thankful for everything Racers Edge Motorsports has done to help us get to this point, especially being a graduate of the HPD Academy – it’s been a great day for all the graduates."
"This is good for us leading into the next couple races. The Acura platform has done us well. I’m so thankful for Harrison Contracting for giving me the opportunity to stay in SRO, to be with Mario, and everybody at Racers Edge Motorsports and Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Autosport has done an amazing job. It is a really good program, and I can’t wait to see everybody again in NOLA."
"I always think as a driver you try to get better and better every weekend, and I know I have some room to grow as always", harrison continued. "Working with Mario has been a huge benefit for me. Everybody at HPD and Racers Edge have been so encouraging in developing as a driver. Honestly, I have to sit and pinch myself that I can’t believe I just did that. Last year, I wouldn’t have done that [pass for the win]. This year, I am willing to take those risks because I have developed so much over the year. I have an amazing teammate and I can’t wait to get to NOLA.”
NOLA Motorsports Park is set to host the second double-header of the season on 28-30 April. But before that, Harrison will return behind the wheel of the Acura GTD at the upcoming Grand Prix of Long Beach, having also confirmed her entry in the next IMSA round.