MONTEREY, Calif. — Kelvin Van Der Linde, Markus Winkelhock and Pierre Kaffer won the inaugural edition of the Mazda Raceway California 8 Hours Sunday at the wheel of the No. 44 Audi Sport Team Magnus R8.
The outcome of the third round of the 2017 Intercontinental GT Challenge was decided less than 20 minutes from the end when Van Der Linde passed Christopher Mies for the lead. The No. 29 Audi Sport Team Land R8 eventually finished a mere 2.488 seconds down on the leader, with the No. 9 K-PAX Racing McLaren crossing the line in third. The Pro-Am winners’ trophy went to the No. 54 Black Swan Racing Porsche, a car that finished in fifth overall.
GT4 honors went to another Porsche, the No. 26 Rearden Racing Cayman. That means that the GT3, GT3 Pro-Am and GT4 categories were all won by American teams.
Sunny conditions greeted the teams for the start of the inaugural edition of the Mazda Raceway California 8 Hours, the longest-ever professional race at the Laguna Seca circuit. Polesitter Christopher Mies held on to the lead at the start and together with his team-mates Christopher Haase and Connor De Phillippi, managed to give the No. 29 Audi Sport Team Land R8 a lead of over half a minute at the halfway mark.
A couple of safety car interventions in the fifth hour of the race saw that advantage melt like snow in the Californian sun and two other Audis – No. 44 Audi Sport Team Magnus R8 and the No. 11 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT R8 – were on tail of the No. 29 car for the next three hours, running away from the other cars in the field.
The final pit stops set the wheels in motion for a thrilling finale. The crews of the No. 11 and the No. 29 cars opted not to respect the imposed pit stop delta time, both incurring a drive through penalty for that infraction. But even with that penalty they both ran away from the No. 44 Audi Sport Team Magnus R8, which had stuck to the rules.
In the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT car Robin Frijns had taken the lead after the final pitstop, but the Dutchman lost that position again after taking the drive through one lap before Christopher Mies in the Audi Sport Team Land machine. Frijns tried to recover that lead when both cars had to lap a backmarker, but that led to contact in turn 10, with both Audis ending up in the gravel trap. Frijns lost a couple of laps in the process, Mies could continue, but because of the following safety car intervention, his advantage over Kelvin Van Der Linde in the No. 44 Audi Sport Team Magnus R8 was reduced to a couple of tenths of a second.
The 21-year-old from South Africa was determined to take away the lead from Mies, who was clearly struggling with the slightly damaged No. 29 car. Some 20 minutes before the end of the race, Van Der Linde passed Mies on the outside of turn five and even though Mies did his utmost to keep up with the Audi Sport Team Magnus car, he eventually had to settle for second.
Kelvin Van Der Linde shared the winning car with Pierre Kaffer and Markus Winkelhock; for the latter it was his second consecutive win in the Intercontinental GT Challenge. Winkelhock therefore has claimed the lead of the driver standings, taking over from his Spa co-winner Christopher Haase.
And what about the competition? After the problems for the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT R8 the No. 9 K-PAX Racing McLaren proved to be the best of the rest, finishing some 43 seconds behind the leader. The K-PAX Racing machine proved to be the only car that managed to finish on the lead lap. In fourth and one lap down was the sole surviving Acura (the other NSX fell by the wayside with cooling problems). American squad RealTime Racing gave the car a convincing debut in an SRO series, showing off the potential of the car.
Porsche fans left the Mazda Raceway with mixed emotions: the No. 58 Porsche Motorsport North America by Wright Motorsport 911 had to retire after problems with the fuel rig, but fifth was then taken by the immensely popular No. 54 Black Swan Racing Porsche, which also finished first in the Pro-Am Class. Jeroen Bleekemolen, Tim Pappas and David Calvert-Jones did not set a foot wrong and beat the Pro-Am competition with four laps in hand.
Both MARC Cars Mazda – running in the invitational class – ended the race inside the top-10, proving the reliability of the Australian-built machines. The burgundy-liveried cars finished just ahead of the winner in GT4, the No. 26 Rearden Racing Porsche of American trio Jeff Kearl, Jeff Westphal and Sean McAlister. They inherited the lead after the leading No. 3 TRG Aston Martin was hit with brake problems two hours from the end.