Kevin Estre and the K-PAX Racing with Flying Lizard Motorsports team returned in style to the Pirelli World Challenge after sitting out at Miller Motorsports Park, with an impressive win in Round 18 of the season Saturday at Sonoma Raceway.
The Frenchman, in the No. 9 McLaren 650S GT3, started second and made the winning pass of polesitter Renger van der Zande with over 15 minutes remaining and held the lead through to the end of the caution-free, 50-minute race.
With just over 15 minutes to go, Estre dove to the inside of van der Zande at the Carousel, with van der Zande running wide and Estre moving past for the lead.
He held on to win by 1.373 seconds as van der Zande’s tires fell off.
The win is Estre’s fourth this season, tied with Johnny O’Connell for the most this season, but as Estre missed the pair of races at Miller and has had five other finishes of 20th or worse, he entered Saturday’s race 360 points behind Ryan Dalziel in the championship.
He remains a mathematical longshot for the title with two races remaining.
Van der Zande, making his series debut after an accident in qualifying took him out before the sole Detroit race, recorded a runner-up finish filling in for Dalziel in the No. 31 EFFORT Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R.
He had set the fastest race lap of 1:34.933, before Estre’s teammate Robert Thorne set a late flier of 1:34.554 on new tires to clinch the pole for Sunday’s 50-minute Round 19 of the season.
Mike Skeen enjoyed an uneventful drive en route to third place in the No. 2 CRP Racing Audi R8 LMS ultra, his fourth podium of the season and first since Road America.
Meanwhile the three championship contenders who were active in today’s race ended fourth, fifth and seventh, respectively.
Olivier Beretta finished just ahead of O’Connell, with O’Connell unofficially moving into the points lead by 53 points over Beretta (1557-1504).
James Davison finished seventh after starting 13th, and now ranks just behind Dalziel (1484-1414) for third in the championship.
Meanwhile two other local teams joined Flying Lizard in winner’s circle, with TRG-AMR (Petaluma) and GMG Racing (Santa Ana) scoring class wins.
The GTA battle saw a great dice between Christina Nielsen and Frankie Montecalvo, with Nielsen breaking through for her first series win after holding off the GTA points leader.
Montecalvo spun on the first lap and fell to the rear of the field, and another class leader fell by the wayside as Martin Fuentes was assessed a drive-through penalty for hitting his teammate Duncan Ende.
It promoted Nielsen, in the No. 7 TRG-AMR Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3, to the lead and from there she held off Montecalvo, Henrique Cisneros and the returning Mike Hedlund en route to her first win, not far from Kevin Buckler’s Petaluma headquarters.
Alec Udell secured his third GT Cup presented by MOMO class win of the season in the No. 17 GMG Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup, following a rare unforced error by champion-elect Colin Thompson.
Thompson ran wide at Turn 9 and fell to third, finishing behind Udell and Sloan Urry.
Tomorrow’s second race of the weekend, and second-to-last race of the season, occurs at 10:55 a.m. PT.