The SRO GT World Challenge America (GTWCA) and GT America championships held their opening rounds at Sonoma Raceway in northern California and BMW teams scored five podiums between the four races, led by ST Racing in the GT World Challenge America Pro and Pro-Am classes.

BMW has been racing at Sonoma Raceway for decades, back to when it was called Sears Point in the 1990’s and BMW Team PTG was dominating with their E36 M3s. Bill Auberlen was driving for BMW then and he was back to the track this year with ST Racing in the #28 M4 GT3 that he’s sharing with Varun Choksey in the Pro class. ST Racing also has an entry in the Pro-Am class for Samantha Tan and Neil Verhagen with the #38 M4 GT3 (shown above), and Turner Motorsport had the #29 M4 GT3 entered for Robby Foley and Justin Rothberg.

Sonoma Raceway was repaved over the offseason, but it needed more work after the test sessions that were held there a few days before the race, as the track surface started to come apart in several areas. Teams were forced to sit out on Thursday and Friday as the track was repaired, with track activities starting again on Saturday, which was also race day. It made for a lot of uncertainty, as teams had very limited track time to decide on a setup and drivers that were unfamiliar with the track had a much shorter time to get acquainted.

Sonoma Raceway is one of the most picturesque tracks in North America.

In GTWCA race one, there was a great battle between the #38 ST Racing BMW and the #29 Turner Motorsport BMW, with Neil Verhagen fighting his way past Robby Foley to finish fourth overall and second in the very competitive Pro-Am class behind the class-winning #4 Mercedes-AMG GT3. Foley and Rothberg finished right behind the #38 in third in Pro-Am and fifth-place overall. Bill Auberlen and Varun Choksey also put in strong drives to finish second in the Pro class behind the #120 Wright Motorsports Porsche 992 GT3 R. There are only three cars in the Pro class, but it was impressive that Auberlen and Choksey finished third overall out of twelve cars.

Bill Auberlen and Varun Choksey finished third overall and second in Pro in race one.

In race two, Neil Verhagen and Samantha Tan both put in another strong performance in the #38 ST Racing BMW to finish second in Pro-Am and third overall, finishing once again behind the #4 Mercedes-AMG. Auberlen and Choksey finished second in the Pro class and fifth overall, with the #120 Porsche once again getting the overall win and Pro class victory. Turner Motorsport drivers Robby Foley and Justin Rothberg finished fourth in Pro-Am and eighth overall, as Rothberg was passed late in the race by a Mercedes-AMG that nearly went off the track to get around him, but race control didn’t make the Mercedes driver give the position back.

Robby Foley and Justin Rothberg finished on the Pro-Am podium in third in race one.

There were also two GT America races held at Sonoma. GT America features the same GT3-spec cars as GTWCA, along with GT4-spec cars from the GT4 America series in sprint races with single drivers. Justin Rothberg is racing in that series in a Turner Motorsport M4 GT3 in addition to GTWCA and had a rough go of it at Sonoma. He was knocked off track by two different cars in each race, with the offending drivers given a penalty in both races. He finished sixth in both races. Nick Shanny is another BMW entrant in GT America in a Carrus Callus Raceteam M4 GT4 and finished last in the GT4 class in both races.

Carrus Callus Raceteam will compete in both GT America and GT4 America this year with an M4 GT4.

Despite not having the overall entries that the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship has, GT World Challenge America should provide some great racing this year with the competition between ST Racing and Turner Motorsport in the Pro-Am class, along with other stellar entries in that class. It should also be interesting to see how Varun Choksey and Justin Rothberg adapt to the M4 GT3, as it’s the first year that either of them has raced a GT3-spec car. They were both impressive in their Sonoma debuts considering how little track time they had with the track pavement issues.

Next up for GTWCA is races three and four of the season at Sebring on May 5th-7th. The GT America series will race at Long Beach on April 19th-21st on the same weekend as IMSA.

—David Haueter

[Photos courtesy SRO]




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