The three SRO Motorsports America series, joined by IMSA Lamborghini Super Trofeo, made their debut at NOLA Motorsports Park last weekend. The track was a replacement for the new Ozarks International Raceway, originally scheduled for the weekend, which was lacking some expected infrastructure. Despite NOLA Motorsports Park only hosting a couple of spectator events prior in its 10-year history, teams and series officials had high praise for the organization of the event and the facilities. While spectator amenities were lacking, the track did its best to accommodate the fans that showed up to watch the Fanatec GT World Challenge America Powered by AWS, Pirelli GT4 America and TC America doubleheaders.
The drivers generally enjoyed the track as well. Although the circuit is flat, some long straights and a mix of fast and slower corners made for a challenging layout.
“I really enjoyed it,” said Colin Braun, who with George Kurtz won Pro-Am on Saturday in a Mercedes-AMG. “Obviously we had a good weekend for CrowdStrike and Riley, getting a win and getting another podium on the last day, so of course I enjoyed the weekend. The track itself was definitely faster and bumpier than I expected, but it was a lot of fun. I think it’s a really good layout, technical and fast. But also I would say it’s a hard track to pass on. I think that’s a good thing and a bad thing – you’ve got to work for it.”
Said Bryan Sellers, co-driver of the No. 08 Mercedes-AMG with Scott Smithson: “I think it was a pretty good event, especially for an impromptu event. I think that the circuit did the absolute best job they could do with the time that they were given. I was actually really happy. I mean, I think that the race unfolded pretty well. We had a lot of green flag racing, which was great. And other than incredibly hot temperatures, there’s really not much to complain about.”
K-PAX Racing determined that NOLA was the 25th circuit the team has visited in World Challenge competition. Delving further into the stats shows that in nine of those 25 debuts, the team scored a victory and 18 times left with a podium finish. Of course, with Andrea Caldarelli and Michele Betretta’s sweep of the weekend in the No. 1 Lamborghini Huracan, those numbers increase to 10 and 19.
Ashton Harrison scored her second GT World Challenge America victory in the second race of the weekend, winning Pro-Am with Mario Farnbacher. It was her first win in her first full season in the series. Harrison won the Silver category in the Indianapolis 8 Hour last October, but this was her first in the Racers Edge Motorsports Acura NSX in a normal 90-minute race.
“Working with Mario has been so great because even though I had time with him at the Indy 8 Hour and HPD Academy, he and I click really well and I think our driving styles are very similar,” she said. “The Racers Edge team just always puts together a great program and gives us a really, really good, consistent car, and add that with a really quick pit stop. I hope to continue this trait going into the rest of the season because I think we are contenders for the Pro-Am championship, but we do still have our work cut out for us.”
In addition, Harrison was racing Lamborghini Super Trofeo as well, which meant four races over the course of the weekend in 90-degree heat and high humidity.
“I’m too happy to notice [the fatigue] right now, but I’m looking forward to a recovery day tomorrow. And a lot of water,” she said with a laugh.
One way to make a race start intriguing is to dump a bunch of water on one part of the course while leaving the rest of the track dry, with all the cars on slicks. That’s exactly the scenario Mother Nature delivered for the start of Sunday’s GT World Challenge race, with a rain shower drenching the far end of the circuit, including the fast Turn 6, just as the cars were leaving pit lane.
“I love difficult situations like this, slicks and rain,” said Farnbacher. “I’ve grown up in Germany so I’m kind of used to it. But here, with the high temperatures it was not a big, big difference because the heat on the road, the surface temperature and everything gave a lot of grip. It was a bit more slippery so you just took a bit more chance there.”
Speaking of Mother Nature, she certainly made life difficult for the Pirelli GT4 America drivers on Saturday. While there was a high chance of rain all weekend, it never really materialized except for Saturday afternoon when lightning interrupted a race that had already been under full-course caution since seconds after the green flag waved.
Right at the start of the scheduled 60-minute race, several cars got together as they passed under the starter’s stand, crippling three of them, including the No. 15 BSport Racing Aston Martin Vantage of Bryan Putt, the No. 82 BimmerWorld BMW M4 of James Walker Jr. and the No. 53 AutoTechnic BMW M4 of Rob Walker. Three disabled cars and oil laid down on the track meant a lot of cleanup.
Twenty minutes into that cleanup, though, and lightning strikes in the area brought out a red flag. The lightning was followed by rain — a lot of it — and the race wasn’t resumed until the rain had stopped and track emergency vehicles had circulated enough that most of the standing water was gone.
However, there was still standing water on the back stretch between Turns 12 and 13. After a lap and a half of green-flag running, both Jason Bell in the GMG Aston Martin and Paul Sparta in the Random Vandals BMW fell afoul of the puddle, meeting the tire wall after spinning. The cleanup, which would include re-arranging the tire wall, meant the race wouldn’t resume. Although the field headed for driver changes as soon as the full-course caution came out, the second drivers never saw a green-flag lap. Indeed the whole race, which effectively lasted 2h27m, had less than two green flag laps total.
Sunday’s GT4 America race, thankfully, had much more green-flag racing and ran the full hour, with Eric Filgueras and Stevan McAleer taking their fourth overall victory in four races in the No. 18 RS1 Cayman .