* Four drivers in contention for Drivers’ crown
* Habul vs. Pappas for Bronze Drivers’ title
* 16 GT3, 14 GT4 and GTC machines, 3 TCR cars at the start
The 2018 Intercontinental GT Challenge will have its final round at the Laguna Seca Raceway California 8 Hours. The longest race on the Monterey peninsula will not only see the contenders in the only global GT3 championship vie for the 2018 trophies, there will also be plenty of GT4 and TCR cars fighting for class honours. In total no fewer than 33 cars will be on the grid on the morning of Sunday October 28th.
GT3: 2018 Intercontinental GT Challenge decider
After competing in the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour, the Total 24 Hours of Spa and the inaugural Suzuka 10 Hours, the second edition of the Laguna Seca Raceway California 8 Hours will be the deciding round for the 2018 Intercontinental GT Challenge.
In the fight for the Manufacturers’ Title, two manufacturers still have a shot at the crown. After their perfect score in the Suzuka 10 Hours, Mercedes-AMG leads the standings with 104 points, nine more than their only remaining competitor Audi. With 43 points (25 for the winner, 18 for the second-placed car) up for grabs, anything is still possible.
Mercedes-AMG will nominate four cars in Laguna Seca, entered by Strakka Racing and Sun Energy1 Racing. Audi will try to close the gap with three R8 LMS and is represented by two cars from Audi Sport Team WRT and one from Audi Sport Team Land, all trying to repeat last year's win for the manufacturer with the four rings, which could bring a third consecutive Intercontinental GT Challenge title as well.
The duel between Mercedes-AMG and Audi is also reflected in the quest for the Drivers’ title. Raffaele Marciello and Tristan Vautier lead the overall drivers’ standings, with a 15-point advantage over Maro Engel. To maximise their chances for the drivers’ crown, Mercedes-AMG decided to split up Marciello and Vautier for the season finale: the Italian shares the #43 Strakka Racing machine with Maxi Götz and Lewis Williamson, while Vautier drives the #175 Mercedes-AMG Team Sun Energy 1 Racing GT3 with German drivers Maxi Buhk and Maro Engel. For the latter, this means that he is effectively eliminated from the title fight.
The only two contenders for the Mercedes-AMG duo are reigining Intercontinental GT Challenge champion Markus Winkelhock and his countryman Christopher Haase. The German duo has raced together for the first three rounds of the season – scoring maximum points in Spa – but to maximise their chances they will now also compete on two separate cars: Winkelhock will share the #19 Audi Sport Team WRT R8 with Robin Frijns and Dries Vanthoor (both winners in Bathurst), while Haase is at the wheel of the #29 Audi Sport Team Land R8 with Christopher Mies and Kelvin van der Linde. The latter shared last year’s Laguna Seca winning car with Markus Winkelhock.
Porsche, third in the manufacturer’s standings with 51 points, brings two 911 GT3 R to Laguna Seca, entered by American squads Wright Motorsport and Black Swan Racing. The former will have three factory drivers at the wheel, while Black Swan Racing team owner Tim Pappas will not only try to score points for Porsche, but also have a shot at the inaugural Bronze Drivers’ title of the Intercontinental GT Challenge. To claim the crown Pappas will have to close a 20-point gap towards Kenny Habul, competing in the #75 Sun Energy 1 Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3. Habul scored maximum points in Bathurst and Suzuka and added a second place in Spa to his tally.
The fourth of the Intercontinental GT Challenge manufacturers, Bentley, brings three Continental GT3 cars to Laguna Seca for the first time: two in the hands of British Bentley Team M-Sport and one for American squad K-Pax Racing, recently crowned Pirelli World Challenge GT Sprint team champion.
But those are not the only GT3 machines at the start in California. Vital Speed Motorsports brings its spectacular Ferrari 488 GT3 and there will be a Lamborghini Huracan GT3 as well, entered by American team PPM. The latter will compete in the GT3 Pro-Am category, together with at least three Mercedes-AMG, one of which is entered by American squad DXDT.
That makes a grand total of 16 GT3 cars, and six manufacturers, for the second edition of the Laguna Seca Raceway California 8 Hours.
GT4 and GTC: 14 cars and nine manufacturers
The inaugural edition of the Californian endurance race showed that the fight for the GT4 category honours could be as exciting as the fight at the front. With the ever increasing popularity of the category, more and more teams see an opportunity to conquer a prestigious win on the Laguna Seca track.
Thirteen GT4 cars will be at the start this year, representing eight manufacturers: Aston Martin, Audi, BMW, Ford, Ginetta, Mercedes-AMG, Panoz and Porsche squads – all American based – will be part of the show.
Leading the impressive list of GT4 entrants ready to battle on the legendary circuit on the Monterey Peninsula is the 2018 GTS Overall, GTS SprintX and GTS Sprint title-winning team, GMG Racing, and their Audi R8 LMS GT4 has GTS champion James Sofronas as one of the drivers. Utah-based Rearden Racing has entered two Audi R8 LMS GT4 machines for the event as well.
Another championship effort, Ian Lacy Racing, will field GTS Am class titleholder Drew Staveley as well as Ian Lacy and Frank Gannett in the #12 Ian Lacy Racing Ginetta G55 GT4. Staveley was impressive in the GTS division with an overall win at Lime Rock Park earlier this year.
The most victorious GTS machine in the 2018 Pirelli World Challenge series this year is also entered for the California 8 Hours with the popular #50 Team Panoz Racing Panoz Avezzano GT4 to be driven by race winners Ian James, Preston Calvert and Matt Keegan. The Panoz team will be racing in a tribute to their late team owner Don Panoz, who passed away last month.
The PF Racing team recorded three PWC GTS race wins in 2018 in the squad’s Ford Mustang GT4 and a solid trio of racers is coming to WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca with Jade Buford, Scott Maxwell and James Pesek in the #10 PF Racing Ford Mustang GT4.
The BMW contingent will be well-represented in the California 8 Hours led by the Northern California-based team of Stephen Cameron Racing and their #88 BMW M4 GT4 as well as the RHC Jorgensen-Strom Racing entry with #113 BMW M4 GT4. The latter also competed in the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour, finishing fourth in class.
One team to watch in the GT4 action will be another Northern California-based squad, Murillo Racing, with its powerful #34 Mercedes-AMG GT4 sports car and driver Matthew Fassnacht, a former PWC TCA series champion, and veteran Christian Szymczak.
Porsche will be represented by the TRG squad, fielding two Cayman Clubsport. The #7 car sees PWC GTS SprintX regulars Derek DeBoer, Sean Gibbons joined by GT3-driver Spencer Pumpelly, while on the #67 Tom Dyer (former Realtime GT3 driver) will join Pirelli Trophy West racers Chris Bellomo and Robert Orcutt.
The always-popular Aston Martin marque has a strong driver lineup for the California 8 Hours with veterans Charlie Putnam, Charles Espenlaub and Eric Lux in the #09 Automatic Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT4.
The US RaceTronics team brings its Lamborghini Super Trofeo, the only GT Cup car at the start, to add some more spice to the GT battle. One of the drivers of the #6 Huracan will be 15-year-old Steven Aghakhani, the youngest driver of the field.
TCR: Audi vs. Hyundai
Also keep an eye out on the three TCR cars on the grid. The category sees one Audi RS3 LMS, entered by Canada-based team M1GT Racing, a squad that has raced in the Pirelli World Challenge for several seasons in the GT, GT4, and Touring Car categories.
The two Hyundai i30-N are both entered by Bryan Herta Autosport. The former IndyCar driver and current IndyCar team owner teams up with his son Colton Herta, who just signed to race in IndyCar next season. They team up with PWC GTS competitor George Kurtz, while the second entry will feature PWC TCR regulars Mark Wilkins and Michael Lewis, along with Mason Filippi.
Action for the Laguna Seca Raceway California 8 Hours starts on Thursday October 25th, with three test sessions. Friday October 26th sees the Free Practice and Pre-Qualifying sessions (both 90 minutes long), while Qualifying gets underway on Saturday October 27th, at 10.35am local time. Each driver of each car will get fifteen minutes to set a fast lap time, after which the average of the three lap times will be taken into account to establish the qualifying result. The fastest 15 cars will determine the sharp end of the starting grid at 2.40pm.
On Sunday October 28th at 9.15am the second running of the Laguna Seca Raceway California 8 Hours will get underway and eight hours later the overall and class winners will receive their coveted California 8 Hours trophies.
2018 Laguna Seca Raceway California 8 Hours Intercontinental GT Challenge Provisional Entry List
2018 Laguna Seca Raceway California 8 Hours Provisional Entry List