The last endurance race of the season in North America took place this past weekend at the famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with the Intercontinental GT Challenge 8-Hour. That race also served as the finale for the Fanatec GT World Challenge America championship (GTWC), and it was a very successful outing for the BMW teams.
BimmerWorld Racing has had a great year in GTWC in the Pro-Am class, with drivers Bill Auberlen and Chandler Hull finishing on the podium in eight of the previous twelve races, but they were still looking for a win coming into the finale at Indy. They added Richard Heistand as a third driver for the 8-Hour, who has a lot of experience in different cars and has proven to be very quick.
Turner Motorsport has also had success in GTWC in 2022 in the Pro class with drivers Robby Foley and Michael Dinan, with five podiums in the previous eleven races (they didn’t compete in the second race at Sebring), including a win at Watkins Glen. This has been especially impressive since Dinan is not a pro driver, but he’s proven to be a quick study. Turner added works driver John Edwards as a third driver for the Indy race.
ST Racing was also entered as the lone entry in the Silver Cup class with drivers Samantha Tan, Nick Wittmer, and Harry Gottsacker. The team did not do a full season in GTWC, but have raced in select races here as well as in the 24H series that’s held around the world. They gave BMW the first win with the new M4 GT3 at the 24H series Mugello race back in March, but had a real damper put on their GTWC plans this year when the car was heavily damaged in an accident at VIR early in the season.
The Indy 8-Hour race was held on Saturday under sunny skies and cool temperatures, and it turned out to be a thrilling race, with great battles on the track and minimal caution periods. All three of the BMW teams had good scraps going with other cars and sometimes each other.
Some of the best racing of the entire day happened in the last hour in the dark, as Bill Auberlen drove the last stint in the BimmerWorld M4 GT3 and had a real duel going with the Mercedes of Dominick Baumann. Auberlen showed his experience in holding off the Mercedes for over thirty minutes as Baumann searched for a way to get by, and he held on to get the class win and finish sixth overall. “This is as good as we could have done,” said Auberlen after the race. “Thank you to BimmerWorld for everything they have done, and to James Clay and my guys. This victory is unbelievable, that was more stress than I could handle! [Baumann] was right behind me and this M4 GT3 ran flawlessly all day long and the crew was perfect. That’s what it takes to win at this place.” The performance by BimmerWorld was especially impressive considering they were involved in an accident earlier in the weekend and had to replace the steering rack, and then had to start from the rear of the field after being penalized for the accident.
The Turner Motorsport team also had a strong race in the Pro class, and Robby Foley put in a strong last stint to keep distance between himself and the #33 Mercedes. Foley held on to finish third in class behind the winning #77 Mercedes and the #71 Ferrari. “The last stint was hard work,” said Foley. “We were basically trying to keep the #33 behind. They are a great team with three great drivers, so it was not an easy task. It’s a great day for BMW and Turner Motorsport. I am proud to give these guys a big podium after a long and hard season. Great way to end the season and we will take the momentum into 2023.” The overall and Pro class win went to the #77 Mercedes, which was followed by the #71 Ferrari in second by less than a second at the checkered flag.
ST Racing proved to be very competitive throughout the event and in the race. They finished tenth overall and won the Silver Cup class, as the only entry in that class. “Really proud of our Indy 8-Hour effort,” said Harry Gottsacker on social media after the race. “We ran in and near the top five all day against some of the best GT teams in the world. We came to learn and prepare, and we accomplished that.”
The GT World Challenge America series will open its 2023 season at NOLA Motorsports Park in New Orleans in late February, and they will be back at Indy for the 8-Hour race again in early October. It’s a great event that allows fans to get up close to the cars and drivers, and of course there’s the history of the placed itself. There’s even time to visit the museum during the race, to see many of the cars that have won the Indy 500 over the last 100-plus years. —David Haueter
[Photos by David Haueter]