The Pirelli World Challenge Touring Car and GTS SprintX classes opened their 2018 seasons at Circuit Of The Americas on March 24–25, and the results made it clear that BMW would be a strong contender in both classes this year. Among the highlights for BMW were the GTS-Am class win for Aurora Strauss and Al Carter in the #36 ST Racing M4 GT4; fastest laps in both the Saturday and Sunday GTS SprintX races for Nick Wittmer in the #38 ST Racing M4 GT4 that he shared with team principal Samantha Tan; and podium finishes in both Touring Car races and one GTS SprintX race.
Just as it had in 2017, the BMW M235i Racing dominated the entry list in the Touring Car class again this year; there were eleven M235iRs on the eighteen-car TC grid at COTA. But the Nissan 370Z was the car to beat in the class; Vesko Kozarov drove the #3 Rearden Racing Z-car to overall wins in both the Saturday and Sunday TC races, with his Rearden teammate, Paul Terry, second on Saturday, and Brass Monkey Racing’s Tony Rivera second on Sunday.
Karl Wittmer rounded out the podium on Saturday in one of the four Classic BMW M235iRs on hand for the race, finishing just ahead of Rooster Hall Racing’s Johan Schwartz in M235iR #80. Schwartz is familiar to many BMW fans for his eight-hour, 232.5-mile Guinness long-distance world record for drifting, set in an M5 in December 2017.
On Sunday, Schwartz finished a very close third to Rivera, passing him for one turn in a wheel-to-wheel last-lap duel, but unable to make it stick. Classic BMW’s Matt Travis was fifth on Sunday, finishing ahead of Auto Technic Racing’s Robert Nimkoff in another M235iR.
While Touring Car runs 40-minute sprints, GTS SprintX runs one-hour enduros with a driver change. There are two classes: Pro/Am, with one professional and one amateur driver, and Am, with two amateurs at the controls. Race One on Saturday went to Pro/Am racers Scott Maxwell and Jade Buford in a Mustang GT4. Nick Wittmer, who took over the #38 ST Racing M4 GT4 from Samantha Tan on the mid-race pit stop, went on to finish sixth and set the fastest lap of the race. Mike Vess and Jason Hart in the #27 Classic BMW M4 GT4 finished eighth. Their car was one of four Classic BMW M4 GT4s in the race; in addition to their four M4 GT4s and four M235iRs, the Plano, Texas-based team supplied an M4 GTS pace car for the event.
Grid positions for GTS SprintX Race Two were set by fast times in lap one. As a result, Wittmer sat on the pole; Stevan McAleer was second in the #17 Classic BMW M4 GT4 that he shared with Justin Raphael. M4 GT4s were also third and fourth on the grid; the#27 Classic BMW car driven by Vess and Hart was third, and the #88 Stephen Cameron Racing car driven by Greg Liefooghe and Henry Schmitt was fourth.
Wittmer and McAleer led the pack, running nose-to-tail before their stops. Samantha Tan looked strong after she took over from Wittmer, holding off Raphael and the #14 Audi R8 LMS GT4 that Alex Welch had taken over from his co-driver and team principal James Sofronas. But eventually Welch found his way by.
Raphael followed to move up to second, while Tan held on to third in the Pro-Am class, and that was how the teams finished as the race ended under yellow. Meanwhile, Am-class racer Aurora Strauss, in the ST Racing M4 GT4 that she shared with Al Carter, moved up to fifth overall; she finished there, winning the Am class. She and Carter had finished second in the class in Race One.
Strauss, seventeen, has deferred her first year at Harvard in order to race; she was interviewed on Good Morning America on Friday. Tan’s co-driver, Nick Wittmer, once again set the fastest lap, putting an exclamation point on ST Racing’s strong weekend at COTA.
The TC and GTS SprintX classes run next at Virginia International Raceway on April 27–29.—Brian Morgan