Despite some bad luck on Saturday, Samantha Tan showed good speed and secured a top-five in ProAm, in an encouraging start of the GTWC America season that also saw the ST Racing BMW claiming overall pole position.
Returning to GT World Challenge America is talented driver and newly-appointed BMW brand-ambassador Samantha Tan, who is contesting both the American and the European championships with her BMW M4 GT3 and a Ferrari 488 GT3 respectively.
The Canadian driver/co-owner and her ST Racing's teammate Nick Wittmer showed impressive pace in a partial GT World Challenge America campaign in 2022, where they finished fifth in ProAm at debut at Sonoma – but were then forced to miss most of the remaining rounds after being crashed out at VIR, significantly damaging the #38 BMW.
Tan, Wittmer and Harry Gottsacker were back for the final round of the season – the 8H of Indianapolis – where ST Racing took Silver class victory and an overall top10. Samantha would also make her European SRO debut at the legendary Spa 24 Hours, and she will be back in 2023 with a partnership with Rinaldi Racing.
Ahead of the 2023 season opener, Samantha was also named BMW brand ambassador - as the Ontario-native continues to represent the Bavarian brand on and off the track worldwide, with a positive attitude and fighting spirit.
In a strong field of ever-increasing competitive level, the 2023 season was underway with some of the best teams and drivers in GT3 machinery. Samantha Tan - this year partnering with BMW factory driver John Edwards - was fast in the ProAm class, setting the fifth fastest time in FP1.
In Q1, the #28 RS1 Porsche GT3 of Eric Filguiras and Steven McAleer topped the timesheets; despite a red flag, Samantha Tan had a good run to score P8 overall and fourth in ProAm. The second qualifying session turned out to be a perfect result for ST Racing, as John Edwards put the #38 BMW M4 GT3 on overall pole position.
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 Samantha Tan had a difficult start and lost a handful of positions.
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 luckily avoided by the rest of the pack.
Tan recovered to P12, but got stuck behind a train of cars that included the TR3 Racing Mercedes and the TRG Aston Martin.
With 50 minutes to go, the pit window opened and several crews opted to pit early. Samantha Tan pitted on lap 22 and handed over to John Edwards - one lap before the overall race leader. The American found himself in eighth place in ProAm, P13 overall.
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.
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.
John Edwards was struggling to make up positions with the Samantha Tan Racing BMW: he would eventually pit and retire due to a technical issue.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Now fifth in ProAm, Samantha Tan was significantly quicker than Charlie Luck but the Porsche driver defended hard.
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. 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.
Samantha Tan continued to put pressure on Charlie Luck, but she struggled to find a way past. Pro entries Harrison and Franco managed to get ahead with a few minutes to go; Manny Franco forced his way past Harrison at Turn 7 on the final lap, making contact with the #93 Acura - but the 2022 ProAm champion 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. Samantha Tan and John Edwards were fifth in ProAm.
While unlucky on Saturday, Tan and Edwards are likely to become strong contenders for the ProAm class.
"At the peak of the tire, our car was a rocket ship", wrote Samantha. "Finished P5 today and got some good points for the start of the season. The team gave John [Edwards] and I a stellar car and we showed great pace during qualifying. There’s lots to be happy about this weekend but also lots more to learn for the rest of the season."
NOLA Motorsports Park is set to host the second double-header of the season on 28-30 April.