BMW Racers Win In World Challenge Season-Opener

Johan Schwartz in the #80 Rooster Hall Racing M235iR won the first of two Touring Car America races in the Blancpain GT World Challenge season opener at Circuit of the Americas, and the duo of Harry Gottsacker and Jon Miller in the #28 ST Racing M4 GT4 scored two wins in the GT4 West Series. In addition to these wins, several other BMW racers put in strong performances on a cold and damp weekend at COTA.

BMWs participated in six races at COTA and MINIs ran in two races. The weekend began with the first of two 40-minute sprint races for the Touring Car class in the TC America series. Rooster Hall’s Johan Schwartz took the lead from Hyundai Genesis racer Jeff Ricca in the first turn and held on for the win, holding off both Ricca and Toby Grahovec in the #26 Classic BMW M240i Racing. Grahovec finished second. Fourteen of the seventeen cars in the pack were BMW M235iRs or M240iRs. The TC class ran its second sprint on a damp track on Sunday morning; Schwartz was hit early in the race as many racers spun. But over the course of the race he charged through the pack to the front. BimmerWorld M240iR racers Cameron Evans and Chandler Hull elected to start on wet weather tires. They moved to the front of the pack, with Evans building a substantial lead. But as the track dried Evans was caught and passed at mid-race. Grahovec, Ricca, and Schwartz, who had fought his way back through the pack, took the top three spots. Grahovec led for a time, and then Schwartz regained the lead. Ricca made a move on Schwartz in the first turn of the last lap; Ricca went by as the two cars touched and Schwartz went off momentarily. He recovered to finish third. Grahovec challenged Ricca for the lead, but had to settle for second at the end.

The series ran two additional TC America sprints for the TCR and TCA classes. Two JCW MINIs ran in TCA. Nick Wittmer in a Subaru BRZ had the edge in the class, winning on both Saturday and Sunday. Mark Pombo in the #59 MINI was a close second in both races. The second MINI, driven by Nate Norenberg, finished seventh in race one and fifth in race two.

The M4 GT4s ran in the Pirelli GT4 SprintX Series, where there were two 60-minute races with a driver change. There were six classes in the race, including both Pro-Am and Am classes for cars competing in the entire national GT4 series, the GT4 West series, and the GT4 East series. (For more information on the classes in the series, click here). The BMWs did not have the pace of the Porsche 718 Caymans that dominated the races, but they came out at or near the top in several classes. In race one the best BMW finisher was the tenth-place Classic BMW M4 GT4 driven by Justin Raphael and Steven McAleer; they finished fourth in the GT4 East Pro-Am class. Just behind them were Greg Liefooghe and Sean Quinlan in a Stephen Cameron Racing M4 GT4, finishing fourth in the GT4 Pro-Am class. Next to cross the line was the #28 ST Racing M4 GT4 piloted by Jon Miller and Harry Gottsacker; they won the GT4 West Pro-Am class. Miller and Gottsacker were the best BMW finishers in the second race; they were a strong fourth overall, winning GT4 West Pro-Am again. The next best BMW finisher in the second race was the #3 Epic Motorsports M4 GT4 driven by Randy Mueller and James Clay. They finished second in the GT4 East Am class. The overall winners in race one were Nolasport Porsche Cayman racers Jason Hart and Matt Travis. Trent Hindman and Alan Brynjolfsson won the second race in a Park Place Motorsports Cayman.

The #28 ST Racing M4 GT4 won GT4 West Pro-Am in both races at COTA (Harry Gottsacker Racing photo)

Henry Schmitt and Greg Liefooghe ran an M6 GT3 in both 90-minute Blancpain GT World Challenge America enduros. They finished seventh in the Pro-Am class and twelfth overall in race one and were taken out by another car on Schmitt’s stint late in race two. Rodrigo Baptista and Maxime Soulet won race one in a Bentley Continental GT3, and Miguel Molina and Toni Vilander won race two in a Ferrari 488 GT3.

Two World Challenge classes, TCR and the GT4 Sprint Series, run next weekend on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida, then GT4 West runs on the Intercontinental GT Challenge 8 Hours at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca on March 28-30. More information about the series and the schedule are available on the World Challenge website, where the races are also streamed live.—Brian Morgan

[Images via Harry Gottsacker Racing, Rooster Hall Racing.]

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