The sun continued to shine over Sebring International Raceway for the first race of the Pirelli GT4 America championship. Although the start of the race was delayed, the drivers remained unfazed as they prepared for an intense battle ahead. With humidity in the air and track temperatures on the rise, the field braced themselves for a challenging 60-minute event.
Eric Filgueiras rocketed away in his No. 18 RS1 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS Clubsport after getting a great start into the first corner, aided by the battle taking place behind him between Michai Stephens (No. 34 Conquest Racing/JMF Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT4) and Am class driver Johan Schwartz (No. 80 Rooster Hall Racing BMW M4 GT4), with Schwartz momentarily getting the jump on Stephens in the overall ranking. This helped Filgueiras establish a healthy lead over the Silver class challenger, allowing him to extend his gap as he sped away into clean air. Nevertheless, Stephens kept his head down and remained focused on trying to catch up to the race leader.
As both drivers dove into the pits at the same time for the mandatory pit stop and driver swap, it turned into a race against the clock for both teams. Steven McAleer took over from teammate Filgueiras, and Gavin Sanders began his mission of hunting down the RS1 machine ahead. While McAleer attempted to pull away, Sanders continued to match the leader’s pace and had him looking in his mirrors.
In a shocking turn of events, McAleer began to drastically slow down around the final corner of the last lap, allowing Sanders to sweep by and cross the finish line in first place. The RS1 Porsche was able to limp across the line to secure second place, with the No. 51 Auto Technic Racing BMW M4 GT4 of Austen Smith and Zack Anderson completed the podium in third.
“I asked the team if we had really just won,” explained Sanders after the shocking end to the race. “It’s surreal and the crew deserves it so much, everyone gives their heart and soul to this team. It just goes to show that you should never give up, and no matter what we face we always come back together as a team.”
“We’re a unit, through and through,” Stephens added. “It’s a testament to the team, we try to get through the hard times so we can enjoy the good ones.”
Adam Adelson wasted no time off the start, quickly moving his No. 120 Premier Racing Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS Clubsport into second position and giving Moisey Uretsky (No. 55 Accelerating Performance Aston Martin Vantage AMR GT4) a run for his money as the two engaged in a heated wheel-to-wheel battle for the lead. Uretsky ultimately kept his cool, and the lead, as he evaded the attack and continued on his way.
Disaster struck for Adelson as he appeared to experience electrical issues and pulled off to the side of the track momentarily before resuming the race. The delay was costly as he lost numerous positions and struggled to regain pace. The team ended up three laps down, out of the points. Adelson and his teammate Elliott Skeer had been the points leaders coming into the weekend.
Justin Piscitell took over from teammate Uretsky and maintained a calm and collected lead in the class battle. But Andy Lee (No. 8 Flying Lizard Motorsports Aston Martin Vantage AMR GT4) was determined to put Piscitell under pressure. As traffic from other classes slowed down the leader, Lee took every opportunity to close in on his rival ahead. It was a sprint to the finish line, as Piscitell just edged out his competitor in order to score a maiden Pro-Am win for Accelerating Performance. Lee finished just shy of the top spot, with Aaron Povoledo bringing home the No. 50 Chouest Povoledo Racing Aston Martin Vantage AMR GT4 in third.
“The car felt amazing, and my teammate did a phenomenal job at saving the tires,” said Piscitell, giving the team high praise for all their hard work. “I was battling with a car in a different class and all of a sudden I saw Andy Lee closing in at the end. He was doing a phenomenal job at chasing us down. It came down to the last corner and I thought he was going to make a move so I just tried to play it smart and drag race to the finish.”
“I couldn’t even watch,” joked Uretsky. “I was yelling and jumping around, it was an unbelievable finish!”. It was the second win of the day for Uretsky who had driven the same car to the GT4 class win in the 40-minute GT America race.
The provisional points race tightened up significantly, with Adelson and Elliott Skeer now tied with Jason Hart and Scott Noble (No. 47 Nolasport Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS Clubsport) at 144 points a piece. Tom Capizzi and John Capestro-Dubets (No. 52 Auto Technic Racing BMW M4 GT4) currently sit 26 points behind, tied with Lee and Sabo. There are still 75 points up for grabs, meaning the Pro-Am championship will most likely be decided in the final race.
Johan Schwartz had an impressive opening half of the race as he established himself as the class leader. As he found his momentum and settled into a comfortable rhythm, Schwartz opted to prolong his stint, while championship leader Charlie Postins swapped with BimmerWorld teammate James Clay to take a stab at fighting for the class lead in the No. 36 BimmerWorld BMW M4 GT4. Todd Brown took over from Schwartz at the last possible pit window opportunity and the Rooster Hall Racing machine returned to the track just ahead of the BimmerWorld challenger.
The strategy gamble ultimately went in BimmerWorld’s favor, as Clay was quickly able to pull off a slick pass on the Rooster Hall car as Brown struggled to warm up his tires. It went from bad to worse for Rooster Hall Racing as Brown was involved in two spins later in the race.
As Clay moved into the class lead, he could almost taste the championship victory lingering in the distance. He crossed the finish line to score the team’s seventh win of the season, and in doing so he clinched the Am class championship as well. Juan Martinez secured a second-place finish with the No. 83 RS1 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS Clubsport, and Alex Filsinger (No. 53 Auto Technic Racing BMW M4 GT4) finished closely behind to scoop up the final podium position.
“It’s been a great, successful year,” said Clay. “We’ve had fun every single weekend. It certainly helps to win, but it’s just been a wonderful year overall. We still have three more races to go, it’s not over yet!”
Postins chimed in, “to have this level of success has been above and beyond our expectations. I can’t thank the BimmerWorld team enough. It’s been a dream come true.”
Race two starts at 11:10 AM ET on Sunday.