WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – K-PAX Racing’s Andrea Caldarelli and Jordan Pepper scored the weekend sweep Sunday (Sept. 19) at Watkins Glen International. The duo led by as much as 30 seconds en route to their seventh win of the season.
While it looked pretty easy from outside of the car, inside, it was far from it. Pepper had to deal with significant issues late.
“I didn’t feel like something was right,” Pepper told Frontstretch in victory lane after the race. “There’s no point in risking it. We had a massive gap, so I just managed it perfectly to the finish.”
After getting out of the car on pit road, Pepper described a fairly serious vibration that he had experienced to Caldarelli. It also appeared that the tire had rotated on the wheel a significant amount.
By virtue of his pole lap on Saturday, Caldarelli started from the pole and led early. Wright Motorsports’ Jan Heylen gave chase in his Porsche.
The race was almost immediately curtailed when HTP Winward Motorsport’s Mikael Grenier broke a rotor on the first lap. He coasted his Mercedes down the hill and pulled off onto the short course straightway that links the entrance and exit of the Boot. SRO America officials considered this to be unsafe, so the safety car was brought out.
Once the green came back out, Heylen made another move for the lead on Caldarelli, but could not make it stick. The two drivers ultimately pulled away from the rest of the field.
Meanwhile, contact between Giovanni Venturini in the second K-PAX Lamborghini and Ian Lacy Racing’s Drew Staveley resulted in a small piece of bodywork flying off of Venturini’s car and landing in the pit out lane. Officials then chose to throw a caution to retrieve it shortly before the pit window opened.
The whole field was more or less bunched up when the pit window opened at the 40-minute mark. While most of the teams pitted pretty quickly, Heylen, Racers Edge Motorsports’ Jacob Abel and TR3 Racing’s Giacomo Altoe stayed out until the last possible moment before stopping.
When the stops were complete, Fred Poordad actually ended up jumping over Pepper and taking the overall lead. However, Pepper had been out on track for three laps by that point and his tires were up to temperature as well. It took barely half a lap before Pepper swept around the outside of Poordad in the Carousel to take the lead.
Once back in the lead, Pepper drove away from the rest of the field. He built up an eight-second lead over Poordad in only a couple of laps. Further back, Turner Motorsport’s Michael Dinan took second overall from Poordad, but ended up getting assessed a drive-through penalty for a pit stop infraction. That dropped Dinan back to eighth overall.
The driver on the move was Corey Lewis in the second K-PAX Racing Lamborghini. After the pit stops were complete, he was seventh overall behind a number of the Pro-Am teams. He was able to methodically move his way up the order, taking second overall from Poordad with 18 minutes to go.
Pepper expanded his lead over 30 seconds before the vibration became bad enough that he had to back off. Despite that, he held on for the weekend sweep.
Caldarelli and Pepper’s margin of victory was a mere 1.941 seconds over Lewis and Venturini. Dinan and Robby Foley recovered from their penalty to finish third.
In Pro-Am, Wright Motorsports led for nearly the entire race thanks to Heylen’s excellent form early on. However, Poordad began to drop back late.
Eventually, Poordad fell back to a group of three drivers fighting for position. These drivers were Compass Racing’s Michael Di Meo, Racers Edge Motorsports’ Taylor Hagler and TR3 Motorsports’ Martin Fuentes.
Di Meo was able to get past Fuentes for fourth overall (second in class), then set out to get Poordad. A couple of laps later, Poordad went wide exiting turn 10. That gave Di Meo all he needed to take the class lead.
From there, Di Meo pulled away to earn himself and Matt McMurry the Pro-Am victory. For Di Meo, it is his second career victory in only his sixth start.
“The [car] was amazing today,” Di Meo told Frontstretch in the garage. “When I first jumped in halfway through the race, the car just felt like it was on rails.”
The Compass Racing Acura NSX GT3 ended up third overall, 8.182 seconds ahead of Heylen and Poordad. Fuentes and Altoe were third, then Abel and Hagler.
Fanatec GT World Challenge America Powered by AWS teams will be back in action in two weeks at Sebring International Raceway for a makeup round to replace the cancelled races at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. Round 11 of the season is scheduled to start at 1:15 p.m. ET on Oct. 2.
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