Kelvin van der Linde outdueled Audi ace Christopher Mies in a final hour dash to the checkered flag to score a dramatic win for Audi Sport Team Magnus in the inaugural Intercontinental GT Challenge California 8 Hours at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
The young South African, who won this year’s 24 Hours of the Nurburgring driving alongside Christopher Mies for Land Motorsport, restarted the No. 44 Audi R8 LMS behind his erstwhile teammate with just over 40 minutes to go.
Twenty minutes later, he worked his way into the lead with a daring outside maneuver in Turn 4 after several laps of near-constant pressure on Mies.
Mies and Land had to settle for the second step of the podium after dominating the race for over seven hours.
K-PAX Racing took the final step of the podium with Bryan Sellers taking the No. 9 K-PAX Racing McLaren 650S GT3 across the line in a distant third.
The only thing that could stop an Audi 1-2-3 proved to be the competition between the marque’s frontrunners themselves.
Contact between the Land machine and the No. 11 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT entry while negotiating traffic in the final hour sent both cars careening off track.
Mies was able to continue on through the gravel trap while Robin Frijns in the WRT car was not so lucky. The Belgian team lost two laps waiting to be retrieved during the fourth and final safety car period of the race.
The two European squads had set themselves apart from fellow Audi challenger Magnus by taking advantage of the minimum pit stop delta rules on the final stop.
With all three teams running close together on track before the stops, both Land and WRT chose to ignore the 117-second minimum time required when changing tires and left the pits and therefore to take a drive-through penalty.
Even after serving the drive-through, Land and WRT had increased their lead over the Magnus Audi which had complied with the rules.
The contact between Mies and Frijns occurred just minutes later, however, effectively nullifying any advantage gained by the gambit, and van der Linde ran down Mies on the final restart to take a lead he would not relinquish.
The 21-year-old South African claimed victory alongside fellow Audi GT3 pool drivers Pierre Kaffer and Markus Winkelhock.
Black Swan Racing picked up the GT3 Pro-Am class win, while the No. 193 MARC Cars Australia Marc Mazda 3 V8 entry topped the Invitational class. GT4 class honors went to the No. 26 Rearden Racing Porsche.
RESULTS: California 8H