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  • Writer's pictureLIAM REDFORD

Samantha Tan claims first ever GTWC America victory

Samantha Tan took her first GT World Challenge America class victory at the end of a spectacular weekend at Road America, where Tan and her ST Racing teammate Neil Verhagen were the star of two races that resulted in a streak of four consecutive ProAm podiums.


Samantha Tan, ST Racing, Road America, GT World Challenge America
Photo credits: SRO / wwwlagunasphotography.com

Following three consecutive runner-up results in the GT World Challenge America Pro/Am class, Samantha Tan charged through the field to claim victory at Road America. Alongside Neil Verhagen, the ST Racing duo showed superb speed throughout the weekend in their BMW M4 GT3. Finishing second in race one with Neil claiming fastest lap, Samantha was the star of race two in a chaotic stint which featured a safety car, together with a number of close battles with both Pro and Pro/Am class competitors.


Aiming to build upon an impressive first outing alongside Neil Verhagen in which the duo collected a pair of runner-up finishes in the Pro/Am class at Virginia International Raceway, confidence was high heading into Road America. Finishing opening practice in seventh was a good base to start the weekend for the ST Racing team, with both drivers showing excellent pace in session two.


Setting the fourth fastest Pro/Am time in second practice, Neil improved on his best time by one second, with Samantha running a number of consistent lap times to establish herself as a leading Am driver ahead of qualifying.


Qualifying gave Samantha and Neil a chance to improve on their encouraging practice performances with Tan taking charge of Q1 in the BMW M4 GT3. Matching her best time from practice, Samantha set the sixth fastest time in the Pro/Am class, while beating a number of Pro class drivers in the process. Setting the quickest time for ST Racing across the weekend so far, Neil’s Q2 lap time placed him fifth in Pro/Am and with a great chance to fight for the podium places in the two races to come.


Samantha took the start of race one and moved into the top-5 on the opening lap, before overtaking Scott Smithson for fourth on lap two, also moving the ST Racing BMW M4 into the top-10 overall. Tan’s progress was then halted by a safety car on lap three, before gaining another overall position on the restart. A second safety car shortly after allowed the field to close up once more, with Samantha showing excellent potential in the few racing laps which had been completed at this stage.


Samantha Tan, ST Racing, Road America, GT World Challenge America
Photo credits: SRO / wwwlagunasphotography.com

As racing resumed on lap nine, a fantastic restart allowed Tan to move into a provision podium position in the Pro/Am class, with her sights set on Anthony Bartone for second. On lap 11, Samantha made a move on her rival and set about catching Ashton Harrison for sixth place overall. Regularly lapping one second faster than her rival, while even matching the race leaders at times, Tan set consecutive personal best times on lap 14 and 15 as she put herself in position to make a move on her competitor.


As the pit window opened, this allowed Samantha to bring the BMW M4 to the attention of the ST Racing team on lap 16. A great stop by the crew allowed Neil to remain on the tail on the Racers Edge Motorsport Acura, passing Mario Farnbacher on the out lap for sixth overall. This put Verhagen closer to the class-leading Mercedes of Colin Braun with over 40 minutes of the race still remaining.


Consistently lapping quicker than the drivers ahead, Neil passed Jan Heylen for fifth overall on lap 23, before overtaking Stevan McAleer two laps later. This meant that Braun was the next car to pass and although the gap remained sizeable, Verhagen continued to set new fastest laps of the race in pursuit of his rival.


With back-to-back fastest laps to finish the race, Neil crossed the line fourth overall, second in the Pro/Am class and just six tenths of a second behind Braun. It was a superb drive from Verhagen in just his second race weekend with the team, with Sam and Neil gaining seven places in the overall classification with excellent overtakes from both drivers.


Samantha Tan, ST Racing, Road America, GT World Challenge America
Photo credits: SRO / wwwlagunasphotography.com

Neil started race two from fifth in the Pro/Am class and made a great start, moving into fourth by the end of the opening lap. Racing in amongst the Pro class drivers, progress was set to be challenging as he closed in on overall race one winner Alessandro Balzan. The Italian driver defended hard before Verhagen made a nice move on lap 11 and set his sights on the RealTime Racing Mercedes of Adam Christodoulou. Neil overtook the Briton on lap 14 and immediately set personal best times as he chased down Daniel Morad for second in Pro/Am.

With a series of consistently fast laps, Neil had closed the gap to just a couple of seconds by lap 23 when he handed over to Samantha for her stint. Immediately on the pace, Tan set her sights on Ziad Ghandour in the TR3 Racing Mercedes, running side-by-side at the conclusion of her out lap before completing the pass for second in Pro/Am into turn one. The ST Racing driver was consistently faster than the drivers ahead, taking multiple seconds out of race leader George Kurtz as she cut the gap in half within just four laps of her stint.


As Tan and fellow BMW driver Chandler Hull got within touching distance of the leader, Kurtz was involved in an on-track incident with Paul Kiebler which forced both cars into retirement and the commencement of a safety car period. Samantha did a superb job in order to avoid the incident, taking to the grass to narrowly miss the damaged cars. This meant that Tan assumed the class lead, while running second to Hull in the overall classification.


When the race resumed, Samantha was under pressure from a number of Pro class drivers behind her and was forced off line on the initial restart which resulted in her picking up marbles on her tyres. Although this setback moved her down to fifth overall, Tan remained in the Pro/Am class lead and defended well from Adam Adelson.


Settling down into her rhythm, Samantha pulled away from her class rivals in the closing stages to claim her first ever Pro/Am class victory in GTWC America, while also finishing third overall following incidents for drivers ahead.


Samantha and Neil have been the team to beat since Verhagen joined the lineup at ST Racing with no finish lower than second in Pro/Am in their last four races. Tan’s race pace was extremely strong at Road America, even challenging Pro class drivers in race two where she may have been set for overall victory had the safety car not been deployed.


The ST Racing duo will aim to carry this momentum forward to the next round of the championship which takes place at Sebring on the weekend of September 23rd/24th.


Samantha Tan, ST Racing, Road America, GT World Challenge America
Photo credits: SRO / wwwlagunasphotography.com

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