Kelvin van der Linde led home an Audi 1-2 in Sunday’s California 8 Hours while Tristan Vautier secured the Intercontinental GT Challenge drivers’ title from third position.
Audi secured its third consecutive IGTC manufacturers’ championship by taking maximum points in the second running of the season-ending enduro at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
Van der Linde, who becomes a two-time race winner, shared the Land-run Audi R8 LMS GT3 with Christopher Mies and Christopher Haase after the latter qualified on pole.
They survived two drive-through penalties early in the race, for an unsafe release and passing under yellow, but made up positions through a strategy call from Peter Baron.
The German squad replicated a game plan it used at the Total 24 Hours of Spa by pitting a lap earlier than its competitors and then driving through the pit lane on the next lap to reset drive times and pass other cars in the pits for track position.
It meant the team entered the pit lane 11 times, compared to seven for most of its rivals.
Dries Vanthoor followed the South African to the line in the No. 19 WRT Audi which he co-drove with Robin Frijns and 2017 IGTC champion Markus Winkelhock.
Third went to Maro Engel in the No. 175 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3, which was positioned high enough to give the drivers’ title to Vautier.
Engel and Vautier shared the AKKA ASP-run car with Maxi Buhk.
The Frenchman entered the weekend tied for the points lead with Raffaele Marciello, who was placed in the No. 43 Strakka Racing Mercedes which had led for a while earlier in the race.
That car’s race unfolded when Marciello was involved in a battle which included the SunEnergy1 car and ultimately led to the Italian going off track and picking up dirt on the car.
The team elected to keep him on track and make limited efforts to clean the debris in later stops, while contact with Sheldon van der Linde late in the race gave him a puncture.
Van der Linde dropped to fifth late in the race due to a drive-through penalty for a drive-time violation.
As a result, the No. 911 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R of Fred Makowiecki, Romain Dumas and Dirk Werner was elevated to fourth, as the best non-Audi or Mercedes.
Bentley Team M-Sport looked set to challenge for the race win but contact with a GT4 car at the bottom of the Corkscrew for Andy Soucek took the British team out of contention, while the sister car also lost time earlier in the race for contact.
Strakka Wins Pro-Am, Habul Crowned Bronze Champion
Strakka took the GT3 Pro-Am class win with its No. 42 Mercedes piloted by Nick Leventis, Felipe Fraga and David Fumanelli.
Although Leventis won the class, the IGTC Bronze Cup drivers’ title went the way of Kenny Habul, despite losing a considerable amount of time earlier in the race.
The U.S.-based Australian and co-drivers Luca Stolz and Mikael Grenier managed to complete the minimum requirement of 70 percent of the overall winning race laps despite contact with the PPM Lamborghini Huracan GT3.
This setback cost the team more than 80 laps undergoing suspension and steering rack repairs with Stolz finishing 28th overall but enough for Habul to beat Tim Pappas to the Bronze championship.
Rearden Takes GT4 Class Honors
Rearden Racing claimed back-to-back class victories in GT4, benefitting from a late-race stop for the No. 12 Ian Lacy Racing Ginetta G55 GT4.
Vesko Kozarov took the No. 626 Audi R8 LMS GT4 to a one-lap victory over a hard-charging Spencer Pumpelly in the No. 66 TRG Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport MR in second.
It came after Drew Staveley relinquished the class lead for a fuel-only stop with 30 minutes to go and was forced to remain in the pits for the mandatory 145-second pit stop time.
Kozarov shared the class win with co-drivers Max Faulkner and David Roberts.
The No. 12 Ginetta came home fourth in class behind the Justin Piscitell-driven No. 65 Murillo Racing Mercedes-AMG GT4, which completed the class podium.
Multiple early race issues for the No. 99 Bryan Herta Autosport Hyundai i30-N gave clear sailing to the sister No. 98 car to claim TCR class honors, with the No. 14 US Racetronics Lamborghini Huracan Super Trofeo finishing 15th overall as the lone GT Cup entry.
John Dagys contributed to this report.
RESULTS: California 8H