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Samantha Tan claims double podium at GTWC America opener in Sonoma

Samantha Tan and Neil Verhagen launched their title hunt to the ProAm class of GT World Challenge America with two second place finishes at the Sonoma curtain-raiser, which saw Samantha battling for the class win in race 2 until the very final laps.

Samantha Tan, ST Racing BMW M4 GT3, 2024 GT World Challenge America, Sonoma Raceway
Photo credits: Fabian Lagunas / SRO

Samantha Tan and Neil Verhagen launched their championship assault to the 2024 ProAm class of GT World Challenge America with two second place finishes at the Sonoma curtain raiser, which saw the Samantha Tan Racing duo battling for the class win in race 2 until the very final laps.

Tan is entering her third season of GT3 competitions - and her second full campaign in SRO-promoted GT World Challenge America with an extended program for her Canadian outfit, which now features a ProAm as well as a Pro crew. Tan returns behind the wheel of the #38 BMW M4 GT4 partnering Neil Verhagen in the ProAm category, following remarkable results in 2023. The duo in fact collected five consecutive podiums and a first win, which resulted in Tan finishing fourth in the drivers' standings.

Samantha, who has also contested the European GTWC Endurance trophy rounds last year, racing among the world's top GT3 teams and drivers, has made impressive steps forward in the last couple of seasons; her speed and consistency are surely going to be valuable assets in her 2024 ProAm campaign.

This was already on display at the season opener at Sonoma Raceway, where Tan and her teammate ran at the top end of the ProAm class as well as in the overall classification.

While an asphalt issue forced the cancellation of on-track action on Friday which eventually required a rapaving the drivers of the #38 BMW set the fourth fastest time overall in the sole practice on Friday, which was also used to set the starting grids for the upcoming races.

Photo credits: Fabian Lagunas / SRO

Samantha would take the start from fourth overall and third in ProAm on Saturday, when she took over driving duties for the opening stint, lining up from the second row. A challenging first lap saw Tan dropping to ninth overall and sixth in class, as the full course yellow was soon out for the stricken Aston Martin of Elias Sabo. Philip Ellis (DXDT Racing Mercedes) had retained the ProAm as well as overall lead, followed by three Pro entries of Adelson (Wright Motorsport), Mars (Racers Edge Acura) and Choksey (ST Racing BMW).

Tan held ninth at the restart and by lap 9 she was faster than the cars ahead, lapping just a few tenths from the Pro car. Tan caught the Turner BMW of Rothberg, and ran within a few tenths as she tried to find a way past. Samantha kept the pressure up throughout the opening stint but the battle allowed Scott Smithson (DXDT Mercedes) to join the duo.

They would remain in this order until the pit stop with 50 minutes to go, when most of the ProAm field pitted. Philip Ellis the highest rated driver in the first stint among the ProAm had managed to gain almost 25 seconds in the lead and stretched his stint during the pit cycle.

On a track where it's inherently difficult to pass on, Samantha handed over to Neil Vergahen on lap 25 and the ST Racing BMW rejoined fifth in class and eighth overall, just behind the #29 Turner BMW now driven by Robby Foley.

Once in the lead, Jeff Burton now had almost 40 seconds to Colin Braun's Mercedes, but the latter quickly closed in. Verhagen and Foley were also catching Adam Carroll (Esses Racing Mercedes) for third in class and fifth overall, once Zach Veach was handed a drive through for speeding in the pitlane. Foley, Varhagen and Sellers caught Carroll in a four-car train for third in ProAm.

Verhagen found a small gap and dived on the inside of Foley to grab fourth on lap 40, then had to quickly clear Carroll in order to stay in contention for the podium. After several laps of close battles, Verhagen grabbed third on the inside of the Carousel then passed Jeff Burton for second at the final corner, as the #91 DXDT Mercedes had fallen behind the #04 Crowdstrike Mercedes of Colin Braun.

Now in clear air for the first time in the race, Verhagen ran his fastest laps and stretched his legs, although Braun was over 30 seconds up the road.

A very competitive ProAm class saw Colin Braun taking class victory and second overall, behind the #120 Wright Motorsports Porsche - while Samantha Tan and Neil Verhagen kicked off their GT World Challenge America season with a second in class that offered a glimpse of their potential in an extremely closely-contested ProAm class.

Photo credits: Fabian Lagunas / SRO

Race 1 winner Elliott Skeer (Wright Motorsports Porsche) led the pack from the overall pole position on Sunday afternoon for the final race of the weekend at Sonoma Raceway, ahead of ProAm leaders Colin Braun (Crowdstrike by Riley Mercedes) and Niel Verhagen, who was in charge of the #38 ST Racing BMW M4 GT3 for the opening stint from third overall and second in class eager to make up one more position compared to race 1 on Saturday.

Skeer had a good launch at lights out, as Verhagen immediately attacked Braun but couldn't quite find a way past into the uphill direction change that almost ended in Bryan Sellers (DXDT Racing Mercedes) having a look for second in ProAm. Verhagen perfectly closed the gaps and was back on the hunt: Braun and Varhagen traded fastest laps and remained within one second to each other through the opening stages but Sellers wasn't far away just behind. With the top five on effectively the exact same pace, Verhagen found himself having to keep Sellers at bay, managing the gap ahead and behind.

Jeff Burton was the first driver to pit for the driver change with 50 minutes to go and Swiss star Philip Ellis took over right at the minimum driving time limit. The Pro crews also pitted, while ProAms stretched their stints, with the top three covered by 7 seconds.

Verhagen brought the car back to Samantha Tan on lap 31 and the driver/owner rejoined third in class, as the #08 DXDT Racing Mercedes made up one position in the pit stop cycle. Samantha, though, was straight on pace and was the fastest of the leading trio, gaining over a second each time it crossed the timing beam by lap 36. Samantha clocked her first laps under the 1m35 mark, in her quest to close a 5 second gap picked up at the stop.

Faster than anyone on track except Ellis, Tan caught Smithson in five laps, but the nature of the track made for a difficult overtaking. Both Smithson and Tan significantly closed in on class leader Kurtz as well, who would have to serve a 5 second penalty for a pit stop infringement.

On lap 47, Samantha fired into the lead once Smithson made a mistake under pressure. In clear air, Tan checked out and was soon under the 4 second gap to the #04 Mercedes of Kurtz, which would have resulted in a class win. In the final five minutes, though, Kurtz found some extra speed and managed to fight back, crossing the finish line just north of the 5 seconds he needed to claim victory in ProAm.

With a stellar performance in race 2, Samantha Tan was seconds away from a race win and nevertheless secured another runner up spot at Sonoma on a track that is certainly not a BMW-favourite clearly suggesting that the ST Racing duo will be fighting for more silverware throughout the 2024 season.

Tan and Verhagen now sit second in the championship standings and will be aiming to continue the podium streak at the second round in Sebring, on 3-5 May.



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