It was Kevin Estre and the K-PAX Racing / Flying Lizard Motorsports team who returned in style to the Pirelli World Challenge, with an impressive win 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.
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 degraded. The win is Estre’s fourth this season, tied with Johnny O’Connell for the most this season.
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 over Beretta. James Davison finished seventh after starting 13th, and now ranks just behind Dalziel for third in the championship.
The GTA battle saw a great race between Christina Nielsen and Frankie Montecalvo, with Nielsen breaking through for her first series win after holding off Montecalvo. 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 TRG’s Petaluma headquarters.
After losing the lead halfway through Saturday’s race, Renger van der Zande rebounded in a big way with his first career Pirelli World Challenge win Sunday at Sonoma Raceway. Van der Zande started second in the No. 31 EFFORT Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R but immediately passed polesitter Robert Thorne, in the No. 6 K-PAX Racing with Flying Lizard Motorsports McLaren 650S GT3, off the standing start.
A multiple-car accident behind them occurred at Turn 2. The caution tightened the field but on the restart van der Zande was able to pull away from Saturday’s winner Kevin Estre. The Dutchman held on for the victory by 2.186 seconds over Estre. Thorne had run most of the race in third, but was held up in slower GTA class traffic, and lost the position to Olivier Beretta in the No. 61 R. Ferri Motorsport Ferrari 458 Italia GT3. Thorne and Andy Pilgrim, in the No. 8 Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-V.R, completed the top five, and enjoyed a spirited battle for fourth place in the final stages of the race.
Frankie Montecalvo returned to the top of the heap in GTA in the No. 66 DragonSpeed Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3. Due to the turn 2 incident ahead of them, GT Cup competitors started under yellow.
On winning his seventh race of the season and taking a commanding lead in the GTA Drivers’ Championship, Montecalvo said “we started the season with some ups and downs, so it was really hard for us to make up the points. After all the hard work we put in on the car, we just put our heads down, got some good luck and stayed out of trouble.”
Drew Regitz, in the No. 19 Audi R8 LMS Ultra won the Optima Batteries Best Standing Start Award for gaining nine positions when the lights went out. Regitz also won the VP Racing Fuels Hard Charger Award for gaining 10 positions during the race. Pilgrim won the Invisible Glass Clean Pass of the Race Award for his pass on Thorne on the last lap of the race.
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