Ferrari claimed California 8 Hours victory at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca early on Sunday morning, Australian time, thanks to a commanding performance from HubAuto Corsa trio Nick Foster, Miguel Molina and Tim Slade.
The Taiwanese squad, which was making only its second-ever appearance as an Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli entrant, beat Mercedes-AMG Team GruppeM Racing’s Raffaele Marciello, Maxi Buhk and Maxi Goetz by 12.5s, while Romain Dumas, Sven Muller and Mathieu Jaminet’s Park Place Motorsports Porsche completed the podium.
The result sees Mercedes-AMG increase is Manufacturers’ Championship lead to 19 points over Porsche, while Marciello, Buhk and Goetz now also top the Drivers’ standings.
Further back, PF Racing’s Ford Mustang shared by Jade Buford, Chad McCumbee and James Pesek scored a comfortable GT4 class victory over Daren Jorgensen, Brett Strom and Jonathan Miller’s BMW.
A caution-less race without any Safety Car interventions also contributed towards Intercontinental GT Challenge setting a new distance record for Laguna Seca. The 731.82 miles completed over eight hours is the most in the iconic circuit’s 62-year history.
And it was the team that completed those miles to whom the day undoubtedly belonged thanks to a near-flawless performance from HubAuto Corsa and its drivers.
Molina started fourth but was up to second by the time the first round of pitstops began on the hour mark after the Spaniard passed pole-sitter Mario Farnbacher’s Honda and Mikkel Jensen’s BMW. A slow pitstop for the erstwhile leading Nissan then gifted Slade first place, which the Australian and his compatriot Foster converted into a 14s lead over the following two hours.
Behind, Porsche’s Wright Motorsports and Park Place Motorsports-run 911 GT3 Rs emerged as the Ferrari’s most serious threat. And it was the latter, initially driven by Jaminet, that inherited the lead when a wheel gun issue cost HubAuto time during their third pitstop.
The sister Wright Motorsports’ Porsche remained a threat until half-distance when a broken gearshift component side-lined Bathurst winners Matt Campbell, Dirk Werner and Dennis Olsen. Instead, it was GruppeM Racing’s #999 Mercedes-AMG that began to creep into contention after starting 10th.
BMW’s alternative strategy often saw Team Schnitzer and Walkenhorst Motorsport’s M6s at the top of the order. However, the net leaders remained Park Place and HubAuto, who switched positions during the fifth round of pitstops just as the race ticked into its sixth hour. Foster’s subsequent stint, in which he built a 17s lead over Dumas, would prove decisive.
Indeed, the Porsche dropped back into the clutches of Buhk’s Mercedes-AMG, which duly took second at the next round of stops and never relinquished it.
Behind, Audi didn’t have the pace to run with the top order but stayed out of trouble to finish fourth courtesy of Team WRT’s Dries Vanthoor, Christopher Haase and Frederic Vervisch. The second, Land Motorsport-entered R8 LMS GT3 Evo finished seventh after a sickness bug ended Markus Winkelhock’s involvement mid-race.
Incidentally, it was Martin Tomczyk colliding with Winkelhock at the Corkscrew that earned Schnitzer a drive-through penalty which resigned its M6 to fifth at the finish. That was one place ahead of GruppeM’s second Mercedes-AMG, which also served an early drive-through penalty for passing under a yellow flag.
Walkenhorst and KCMG (Nissan) completed the points-paying positions in ninth and 10th.
Elsewhere, Honda’s promising Intercontinental GT Challenge debut started from pole but ended with a lengthy pitstop to repair front suspension damage. The #35 Nissan, which led the opening hour and set fastest lap in Alex Buncombe’s hands, was also delayed mid-race by underfloor damage.
Equally, Bentley’s day never really got going after an electrical issue effectively ended its #107 Continental GT3’s race early. #108 enjoyed a largely trouble-free run to 11th.
The world’s only global GT3 championship reconvenes for its European round, the Total 24 Hours, on July 25-28.
Nick Foster, #27 HubAuto Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3: “This is about as good as it gets, really. It’s HubAuto’s first time here, so it’s a massive credit to our engineering group and team for slowly chipping away through the week and putting together what they needed to do. Right from the word ‘go’ we focused on the race car and with that came a bit of qualifying performance – I think that’s what really set us up for the day as we were quite good in the cool conditions compared to everyone else. I think that really set up the race for us in terms of performance. Miguel was able to do a really good job early, and when everybody else started to switch their tyres on through the race, we had that gap. And if it wasn’t for our pitlane dramas, we’d have been even further ahead. It’s a real credit to our engineering group who managed to strategize a way for us to get a bit of an overcut that got us back in front.”