Eighteen-year-old Trenton Estep kicked off his second Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama season in the best possible way on Thursday afternoon at Sebring, picking up his third career victory in the series in the season opener.
Driving the No. 3 JDX Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup Platinum Cup machine, Estep fought past pole-sitter and early race leader Roman De Angelis in the No. 1 Kelly-Moss Road and Race Porsche with slightly more than 26 minutes remaining in the 45-minute race in a thrilling, side-by-side battle that began in Turn 10 on the 3.74-mile circuit and ended in Turn 13 with Estep at the head of the field.
A full-course caution for an incident in Turn 17, involving the No. 35 Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada entry of Nelson Mason, bunched up the field just past the halfway point in the race, gave De Angelis another shot at Estep.
However, the JDX driver was able to keep him at bay on the ensuing restart and for the remainder of the race to win by 2.227 seconds over De Angelis.
“Me and Roman have been racing together for a long time,” Estep said. “We both have a lot of respect for each other.
“Roman’s an awesome guy, an awesome driver and I have a lot of faith in him. He was defending, I was on the inside, I locked a little wheel and we had a little bit of contact, but we were able to get it done.”
De Angelis – who is competing in both the GT3 Cup Challenge USA and GT3 Cup Challenge Canada series full-time this season – came away with second-place points after leading the first eight laps of what would be a 20-lap race before time expired.
It was the 17-year-old Canadian’s first Platinum Cup start after winning the Gold Cup title in the 2017 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA season.
Max Root, the 2018 recipient of the IMSA-Hurley Haywood GT3 Scholarship, took the final spot on the GT3 Cup Challenge USA Platinum Cup podium in the No. 7 Wright Motorsports entry.
Root took the spot when German driver David Kolkmann pulled off course on the final lap of the race in the No. 71 Park Place Motorsports machine.
In GT3 Cup Challenge USA Gold Cup competition for Porsche 911 GT3 Cup machines built between 2014 and 2016, Victor Gomez scored a dominating victory in the No. 25 NGT Motorsport entry after starting from the class pole position.
Gomez won by 14.641 seconds over Kurt Fazekas in the No. 52 Kelly-Moss Road and Race entry. Rob Ferriol finished third in Gold Cup aboard the No. 5 TPC Racing entry.
“I was super pumped to start the season this way,” Gomez said. “I had a pretty clean start and I had a cushion of a few Platinum cars, and I basically was the whole race defending. They outbroke me with the ABS (Antilock Braking System), but I’m happy to get the win for today.”
Another TPC Racing driver, Michael Levitas, took the GT3 Cup Platinum Masters victory in the No. 36 Porsche ahead of Mark Kvamme in the No. 43 JDC Racing machine and Fred Poordad in the No. 20 Wright Motorsports Porsche.
Will Hardeman drove the No. 19 Moorespeed Porsche to the Yokohama Hard Charger Award in Round 1, improving from a 12th-place overall starting position to finish sixth overall in the race.
Robichon Scores Last-Lap Victory in GT3 Cup Challenge Canada Opener
Last year’s Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Yokohama Platinum Cup championship runner-up got his efforts to improve one more position this season off to a successful start on Thursday, with a last-lap victory in the 45-minute race.
Driving the No. 98 Mark Motors Racing Porsche, Robichon passed his Mark Motors teammate, Roman De Angelis in Turn 16 on the final lap and went on to win by 0.305 seconds.
De Angelis, who was representing the No. 78 Mark Motors team in GT3 Cup Challenge Canada but was driving the No. 1 Kelly-Moss Road and Race entry in GT3 Cup Challenge USA, led all but the final lap of the Canadian race.
It was Robichon’s fifth career victory in GT3 Cup Challenge Canada competition.
“It was a really fun race,” Robichon said. “At the beginning of the race, we really struggled. The car wasn’t quite there. I actually didn’t want the caution to come out, because we really started catching them once I got into a rhythm.
“At the end, after the restart, the same thing, a couple laps we struggled a little bit, but Roman was starting to fall off a little bit.
“He’s my teammate, so we’re good friends, and it’s tough to battle with those kinds of people, but we went for it. He left the door open just a little bit in 16, so I went to the inside, got up alongside him.
“It was an aggressive move, but I was pretty happy with the way it turned out. It was fun racing with the guys up front.”
De Angelis admitted after the race that Robichon’s move caught him somewhat by surprise on the final lap. Nevertheless, he came home with two runner-up results in the same race – also taking second in the GT3 Cup Challenge USA race.
“Honestly, I don’t really know (what happened),” De Angelis said. “I looked in the mirror when I turned in and I saw the front bumper of his car, so I didn’t think he was going to lunge, but he went for the pass.
“I have to see the video to see if it was a decent pass or not, but he made the move stick and he got the win, so I guess he’s a better driver today.”
Finishing third in GT3 Cup Challenge Canada Platinum Cup was Remo Ruscitti in the No. 96 OpenRoad Racing entry.
In Platinum Cup Masters, Marco Cirone took the victory in the No. 88 Mark Motors Porsche.
The second half of this week’s Sebring doubleheader takes the green flag 11:20 a.m. ET Friday. The race will be streamed live on IMSA.com.
RESULTS: Race 1