Martin Fuentes and Scuderia Corsa head to Mid-Ohio this weekend with a 252-point lead over Frankie Montecalvo the Pirelli World Challenge GTA championship, but hungry to put a disappointing weekend in the last round at Road America behind them.
Third in class points in 2015, Fuentes and the Los Angeles-based team wasted no time announcing that they would be contenders for the series title in year two by rattling off a PWC-record seven consecutive wins to start the 2016 campaign.
The Mexico City native followed up the seven victories with three-straight runner-up finishes before winning again in Race 2 at Lime Rock, giving a tally of eight wins and three second-place results through first 11 rounds of the championship.
Average finish: 1.27.
Fuentes said that unprecedented stretch of success was a source of pride for team and driver alike, but it took its toll.
“Of course it was a big moment for us, breaking the record which was five wins in a row for both GT and GTA,” Fuentes told Sportscar365.
“Breaking that record was a big success for the whole team and for myself as well. And to keep going until the seventh win, it was an amazing run.
“When that streak got finished I was a little more relieved because everyone was pushing for the eighth win, so it was just a little bit of pressure from everyone.
“Now there is no pressure. We are of course still focused on the whole championship, but just getting one win at a time is the main focus.”
While 2016 may be the breakout season for Fuentes, the breakthrough came at Race 1 at Barber in 2015 when the Mexican out-dueled Henrique Cisneros and Tim Pappas to take his first series win.
A strong finish to the season, which included podiums in three of the final five races, gave both competitors and observers a glimpse of what was to come.
With one full year of GT racing experience to draw upon, Fuentes and his team were ready to mount a title challenge this season.
“Last year was very different,” he said. “I was in my first year in a GT car, it was my first year learning the tracks. It was very complicated.
“There were weekends that we had very little practice time. When we shared weekends with IndyCar, we were not on track a whole lot.
“Another thing that was a big issue was that I needed to learn the car. You don’t learn the behavior of the car in 30 minutes.
“It was completely different from what I was used to driving, formula cars and prototypes, it was completely different.
“We really took the whole year for learning. A lot of the tracks were very new, and even though we do a lot of work in the simulator, it’s still not enough.
“Now this year, we came into tracks that we knew already, and it was a whole different ballgame.
“We started just prepping the car, and the first race we won both and the second race we won both again, and that streak kept going.
“I think I’m a different driver [this year], and that shows on the track and it shows in how the championship has been.”
The lone hiccup in what has been a dominant season for team and driver came last month at Road America.
Mechanical issues in both races resulted in no points for Race 1 and fourth-place points for Race 2, plus plenty of frustration to go around.
“I was really frustrated because that was a very, very bad weekend for us,” said Fuentes. “[The team was] so frustrated as well.
“They were very concerned because these things don’t happen, the Ferrari is a very reliable car. It’s very delicate on the outside, but engine-wise it’s a very strong car.
“Our car was tested already in Indianapolis, it’s ready to rock and roll again, and we want to get on the top spot of the podium again.”
Fuentes thinks this weekend in Mid-Ohio is a chance to do just that.
“Mid-Ohio is going to be a good race for us,” he said. “This track at Mid-Ohio is going to be a good track for us for various reasons.
“It’s very tight, very quick turns, and the Ferrari behaves very well on those kinds of sharp turns and a lot of changes of direction.
“I hope I can give [Scuderia] Corsa two wins in a row, and we’re definitely going to try.”