***Audi Sport customer racing turned a nine-point deficit to Mercedes-AMG into a 11-point advantage to secure its third consecutive Intercontinental GT Challenge title, following a 1-2 finish in Sunday’s California 8 Hours at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
***While not securing the drivers’ title, which went to Mercedes-AMG’s Tristan Vautier, it still marked a double victory for Audi in the IGTC season finale, with the No. 626 Rearden Racing Audi R8 LMS GT4 of Vesko Kozarov, David Roberts and Max Faulkner claiming GT4 class honors.
“The eight-hour race on this storied circuit couldn’t have gone better,” said Head of Audi Sport customer racing Chris Reinke. “We experienced everything that makes long distance racing so fascinating and a great team sport at top level motor racing. Mere seconds separated the frontrunners over the entire distance.”
***Race winner Christopher Haase jumped to second in the drivers’ championship, one point ahead of Raffaele Marciello, who entered the weekend tied with Vautier for the lead but suffered an incident-filled final two hour stint that included two off-course excursions and contact with the No. 17 WRT Audi of Sheldon van der Linde, which triggered a right-rear puncture and drive-through penalty.
***An additional 30-second penalty was assessed to Marciello’s No. 43 Strakka Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 post-race due to the car’s final stop falling in the prohibited range at 73.8 seconds. The Italian and co-drivers Maxi Goetz and Lewis Williamson finished seventh.
***Marciello reported power-related issues in the closing hour due the dust and debris picked up. “After I had gone off the track, we also had problems with the engine,” he said. “For us, today’s race was unlucky. I tried everything, but unfortunately, it didn’t work out.”
***The No. 17 WRT Audi also served a late-race drive-through penalty but for Alex Riberas exceeding the maximum 65-minute stint length by just 22.5 seconds. DXDT had a similar penalty for a stint length of over 68 minutes for Ryan Dalziel in the Pro-Am class No. 63 Mercedes.
***Andy Soucek took “full responsibility” for the incident involving the No. 113 RHC Jorgensen-Strom BMW M4 GT4 of Daren Jorgensen that resulted in the Spaniard’s No. 8 M-Sport Bentley Continental GT3 sustaining damage and dropping out of contention for the win with less than 2 hours and 30 minutes to go.
***Soucek and co-drivers Vincent Abril and Maxime Soulet were classified sixth, despite a 30-second post-race time penalty due to Abril exceeding the maximum driver stint length. Abril logged 3 hours and 18 minutes of the race, which was three minutes over the maximum cumulative time allowed per driver.
***The No. 7 Bentley dropped out of contention following a trip to the garage in the third hour to repair the car’s left-rear suspension after contact when Jordan Pepper was at the wheel.
***A differential issue for the No. 911 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R dashed hopes of a possible podium finish for Romain Dumas, Fred Makowiecki and Dirk Werner, who finished fourth. It nonetheless marked the highest finishing position for the factory trio this season.
***The No. 75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes completed the required 70 percent of the race-winning distance to be classified by just five laps, after a two-plus hour repair job following an accident involving Kenny Habul in the second hour.
***Habul, who scored third place points in the Bronze Cup, ultimately didn’t need the points to lock up the inaugural title, as Sunday’s Pro-Am class-winning No. 42 Strakka Mercedes of Nick Leventis finished ahead of the No. 54 Black Swan Racing Porsche of Tim Pappas in the overall classification.
***The U.S.-based Australian said he was “really proud” for longtime co-driver Vautier winning the overall drivers’ title. “You could race for 100 years and not have two teammates both win their classes in a championship,” Habul told Sportscar365. “It was kind of unusual but I’m glad it’s him. He’s my best friend in motor racing.”
***Trouble stuck the No. 2 GMG Racing Audi GT4 of James Sofronas with 2 hours and 15 minutes to go when the right-rear wheel came loose and sent Sofronas into the gravel while in the GT4 class lead. The car was classified 28th although did not take the checkered flag.
***The class pole-sitting No. 51 Panoz Avezzano GT4, which made its endurance racing debut, retired in the third hour with engine issues, while the No. 10 PF Racing Ford Mustang GT4, which took the start nearly three hours late due to gearbox issues, was also not classified at the end.
***While initially not planned at the start of the weekend, GT4 cars received wave-bys during the five safety car periods.
***A change in the GT3 Pro-Am class driver requirements appears unlikely following a meeting between Bronze Cup drivers on Saturday evening with the SRO, which had proposed a mandate of two Bronze-rated drivers per lineup next year.
***Sportscar365 understands that the option of Bronze-Bronze-Gold/Platinum or Bronze-Silver-Silver lineups will likely remain in IGTC, despite the enforcement of two Bronze-rated drivers per Pro-Am class lineup in Blancpain GT this year.
***SRO Motorsports Group founder and CEO Stephane Ratel says they are “slowly but surely” aligning the sporting regulations of all IGTC races, but recognizes there will be slight differences in how some races races are operated, namely the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour and Suzuka 10 Hours, which are not SRO-sanctioned.
“We have to appreciate there can be differences,” Ratel told Sportscar365. “It’s perceived as a Challenge in the way we bring together different races that have [different] set of rules. It’s part of the concept. It’s not a series in a way. We only have one winner; we don’t award any second or third place [finishes].”
Jake Kilshaw contributed to this report