For the second consecutive day, yellow flags dominated the 50-minute Pirelli World Challenge race on the streets of St. Petersburg while a solid winning drive was overshadowed.
Olivier Beretta took his second win of the season in Round 4, driving the No. 61 R. Ferri Motorsport Ferrari 458 Italia GT3, by 1.180 seconds over Nick Catsburg.
The win came on the same day Scuderia Ferrari won its first Formula 1 Grand Prix in nearly two years, as Sebastian Vettel won the Malaysian Grand Prix earlier in the day, and with team boss Remo Ferri sporting a Scuderia Ferrari jacket.
Beretta leapt from third on the grid to lead by the end of Turn 1, ahead of Catsburg, who had started second in the No. 25 Blancpain Racing Lamborghini Gallardo FL2.
Polesitter Andy Pilgrim bogged down off the line in the No. 8 Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-V.R and fell back.
The race had barely completed a full green lap before the first caution of the race flew, for two separate incidents. Walt Bowlin crashed his No. 23 M1 Racing LLC Audi R8 LMS ultra at Turn 5, in what was a single-car incident.
The bigger crash occurred following an innocent spin by Dan Knox in the No. 80 Lone Star Racing Dodge Viper SRT GT3-R exiting Turn 2.
Knox looped the car, with Tim Pappas in the No. 54 Black Swan Racing Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 nailing the brakes to avoid contact. Several GTA cars split the pair, both stopped in the middle of the road, without damage.
However, the incident grew in volume, scale and length when several GT Cup presented by MOMO drivers arrived on the accident scene, albeit with yellow flags waving on driver’s right at Turn 2.
The GT Cup class had started 30 seconds after the GT/GTA runners off the line, in a late change confirmed by the series to prevent a repeat of Saturday’s start line crash that took out the top three GT Cup drivers from Circuit of the Americas.
Phill Fogg Jr., the Saturday class winner, spun into the accident roughly 15 seconds after it first occurred in the No. 18 TruSpeed Autosport Porsche 911 GT3 Cup, with Mitch Landry in the No. 97 Landry Racing car and Lorenzo Trefethen in the No. 13 ANSA Motorsports car also following suit, and adding to the accident.
Fogg Jr. crashed into Pappas’ rear end, severely damaging the Mercedes, while Landry also incurred serious damage. Trefethen continued with slight damage.
The resulting accident blocked the track and while the race was not placed under red flag conditions, it did cause a yellow that took the race inside of 20 minutes remaining before it restarted.
Beretta led Kevin Estre, Catsburg, Ryan Dalziel and Mike Skeen on the restart. Catsburg quickly got around Estre for second on Lap 16, exiting Turn 1, and began a charge reminiscent of his predecessor in the No. 25 Reiter Engineering Lamborghini, Tomas Enge, in this race last year.
But while Catsburg stayed close to Beretta, he was unable to catch the Ferrari driver for the lead. Estre took the No. 9 K-PAX Racing with Flying Lizard Motorsports McLaren 650S GT3 to third; for all three drivers, it was their second podium finish of 2015.
Dalziel and Johnny O’Connell completed the top five, with Pilgrim sixth and Saturday winner Ryan Eversley in seventh. Meanwhile Skeen’s race ended following contact from James Davison, with Davison receiving a drive-through penalty.
GTA was less eventful with DragonSpeed’s Frankie Montecalvo scoring his first class win of the year in the No. 66 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3. Michael Lewis (No. 41 EFFORT Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R) and Henrique Cisneros (No. 30 MOMO NGT Motorsport Ferrari 458 Italia GT3) completed the class podium.
In GT Cup, two of the drivers eliminated Saturday redeemed themselves on Sunday. Colin Thompson (No. 11 Kelly-Moss Motorsports) took his third win in four races after starting from pit lane in a repaired car. Sloan Urry (No. 02 TruSpeed Autosport) was second in a backup car, while Trefethen was third. Both Thompson and Urry slithered through the Turn 2 accident without damage, and drove clean races from there.
The GT/GTA/GT Cup season resumes at Long Beach on April 19, with a single race on the street course.
RESULTS: Round 4