Kenny Habul admitted Sunday’s California 8 Hours was almost “too close for comfort” following an early-race accident that put his Intercontinental GT Challenge Bronze Cup championship prospects in jeopardy.
The SunEnergy1 Racing owner/driver, who headed into the season-ending round with a 20-point lead over Black Swan Racing’s Tim Pappas, needed his No. 75 Mercedes-AMG GT3 to complete only 70 percent of the overall race-winning laps to claim the inaugural title.
An accident in the second hour with the No. 46 PPM Lamborghini Huracan GT3 of Steve Dunn, however, sent the AKKA ASP-run Mercedes to the garage with considerable damage.
“That guy didn’t know what he was doing and unfortunately he turned in on me,” Habul said. “This AMG is tremendously strong but it’s just the way it hit, it broke the steering column in half.”
Extensive repairs, which included replacing the right-front suspension and steering rack, put the Mercedes of Habul and co-drivers Luca Stolz and Mikael Grenier back on track more than 80 laps behind.
“That was two hours to repair,” Habul said. “We got it out with probably four or five minutes to spare to make the 70 percent rule.
“That’s really what was amazing. That got us some more points, but in the end we didn’t need them as congrats to Nick Leventis, who took the first place for the Bronze drivers.
“But it was a little bit too close for comfort for me.”
Leventis’ Pro-Am class win in the No. 42 Strakka Racing Mercedes, which finished ahead in the overall classification to the No. 54 Black Swan Porsche of Pappas, ensured Habul would win the title regardless.
The U.S.-based Australian becomes the first champion in SRO’s newly established title for gentlemen drivers.
“This was a real global, around-the-world racing trip,” Habul said.
“We utilized four different AMG customer teams to make this happen. That’s probably most special part. Every race was a different crew, different teams and somehow we put it all together.
“I went to Bathurst to have some fun. I hadn’t driven there in 20 years and called up Jamie Whincup and he said. ‘Yeah, why not?’ Then AMG called me and said, ‘Oh we want to put a couple other drivers in.’
“At that point, I didn’t even know about this championship.
“That was amazing, second place there. Of course they talked me into keep going and buying another car. So we went to Spa with Bernd Schneider, Thomas Jaeger and Martin Konrad and finished third there.
“Then it was Suzuka, which I had been watching since I was a kid and won that race with Luca and Mik and here we are now.”
It marked Habul’s long-awaited first championship title, in a career that saw the solar energy mogul take a pause from motorsports to pursue his business career in America.
The former Australian Formula Ford and F3 driver returned to racing in the mid-2000s, initially in NASCAR, prior to making the switch to GT racing last year, initially in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
“It’s really nice for my kids to see it and for me to finally get some recognition,” Habul said.
“I drove very well this year and was very close to the pros in times and at times, nothing in it. That’s all I wanted to do, was to prove that I could do it and prove that I belong and have a chance out there.
“I never expected any trophies and now I have a cabinet full. At 45 years of age, it’s a real dream.”