The Fanatec GT World Challenge series opened its 2023 season this past weekend, with two rounds of racing at the twisty Sonoma Raceway in Northern California. There are two BMW teams that have committed to the full season, with ST Racing entered in the Pro-Am class with Samantha Tan paired with works driver John Edwards in the #38 M4 GT3, and the BimmerWorld duo of Bill Auberlen and Chandler Hull competing in the Pro class with the #94 M4 GT3. There are only five entries at this point in the Pro class, compared to twelve in Pro-Am.
With both classes using the same spec GT3 cars and many top-tier pro drivers in the “pro” seat in the Pro-Am entries, the two classes tend to be intermixed when it comes to lap times. For instance, BimmerWorld was the fastest Pro entry in two of the practice sessions but were not quite as fast as a few of the Pro-Am entries. In qualifying for race one, Chandler Hull put the #94 car into second in the Pro class in a session that was shortened by a red flag, while Samantha Tan put the #38 car into fifth in Pro-Am.
There are two sessions of qualifying in GT World Challenge, with one driver qualifying for race one and the other qualifying for race two. In the second session of qualifying, John Edwards put the #38 M4 GT3 on pole in Pro-Am–his first pole in the series. Bill Auberlen qualified the #94 BimmerWorld car in second in the Pro class. Edwards lap of 1:35.237 was around a second quicker than Auberlen’s lap of 1:36.195.
In race one, the RS1 Porsche 911 GT3 R of Steven McAleer and Eric Filgueiras was the leader of the Pro class field, as Filgueiras built an eight-second lead over Chandler Hull in the BimmerWorld car before handing off to McAleer. The Porsche duo went on to win, with Auberlen and Hull taking second in the Pro class. Fun fact: Eric Filgueiras was one of the instructors when I went through the M2 Racing School at Monticello Motor Club, which was featured in a Roundel story. In the Pro-Am class, Samantha Tan lost several positions on the opening lap and was running in seventh when she handed the car over to Edwards. The ST Racing pair finished eleventh in Pro-Am, after experiencing an issue with the car.
After starting from pole in race two, John Edwards was passed by Colin Braun and Daniel Morad on the opening lap but held on to third in the Pro class before handing the car over to Tan. Tan had a great battle going on with Charlie Luck in a Porsche for fourth place, and ended up a respectable fifth in Pro-Am. The Pro-Am victory went to the #04 Crowdstrike by Riley Mercedes-AMG of Colin Braun and George Kurtz. Auberlen was running in second in the Pro class before pit stops, but the car ended up in fifth in class (out of five cars) after a slow pit stop, and Chandler Hull was not able to recover. The Pro class race was won by Ashton Harrison and Mario Farnbacher in the #92 Racers Edge Acura NSX GT3, after Harrison made a dramatic last corner pass on Manny Franco in a Ferrari.
In other GT World Challenge news, Samantha Tan of ST Racing was announced as a Brand Ambassador for BMW M Motorsport and will be representing BMW at events in North America and Europe while also competing in her #38 M4 GT3 with John Edwards. “I simply do not have the words to describe how excited I am and how much this means to me,” said Tan. “As a lifelong fan of BMW, becoming an official brand ambassador for BMW M Motorsport is an absolute dream come true. To now have the opportunity to represent BMW, share my passion, and connect with BMW enthusiasts all over the world is incredible. I cannot wait to see where this extraordinary journey takes me.”
Next up for the GT World Challenge are rounds three and four at NOLA Motorsports Park in Louisiana on the weekend of April 28th-30th. —David Haueter
[Photos courtesy SRO, BMW]