Any other year, you’d see a pair of Porsche GT3-Rs in the hauler headed to Sebring in late February for the IGT Season Opener; but this year its a single car/single driver effort.
Rob Blake was forced to withdraw from the race due to recent overseas events that demand full time attention to his business. “This would be the last race on the schedule I’d ever want to miss; Home Track, Close to Home, Huge Field, Great Weather….it’s just bad luck all around.”
Juan Lopez-Santini will replace Blake in the #24 991 GT3-R for IGT Round 1 with 901 Shop supporting the entry for 2020.
Looking down the list of the 2020 IGT schedule, Blake has committed to Round 3 at Road America.
Last season was a year of “firsts” for Rob Blake and Juan Lopez-Santini, to include their 2018 International GT effort at Road America that resulted in a triple podium appearance. It was the #74 Porsche 997 GT3-R as the weapon of choice a year ago, but due to a scheduled maintenance cycle on the #74, both Blake and Lopez-Santini would wheel the #24 Orbit Racing Porsche 991 GT3-R for Road America 2019.
Leaving the humid, 90-degree Fort Lauderdale mid week would quickly be contrasted by a 40-degree overcast and rainy Elkhart Lake. Thursday’s Test Day was mostly a washout with only three of eight available sessions dry enough to start collecting data. On the bright side, the #24 was at the top of the time sheets for the day by six tenths of a second over the #58 Porsche 991 GT3-R of Mark Sandridge / Joe Varde.
Friday was Qualifying Day with a morning and afternoon opportunity to secure a good starting position for Sprint 1 on Saturday. Thankfully, the rain stayed away overnight and throughout Friday. Finally the track was absolutely dry. Blake was on track for Qualifying 1 and ended up P1 with a 1.5 second gap over the next fastest car of Sandridge.
Lopez-Santini would take the afternoon Qualifying 2 session in the afternoon and the team was confident he would log even quicker times than Q1, but an unfortunate electrical issue kept Lopez-Santini from getting a lap under full power. Fortunately, the Orbit Racing crew quickly resolved the issue….but the session had expired, and the #58 Porsche 991 GT3-R of Mark Sandridge / Joe Varde gained 6 tenths on Blake’s Q1 time, earning the #58 Pole Position Saturday morning. Making things even more interesting was the weather called for rain overnight and into Saturday.
Race Day brought with it a wet track, overcast skies, and 40 degree weather. A constant mist fell that seemed like it could turn to snow at any moment…but it wasn’t raining.
Sprint Race 1 had a clean start, with Blake being conservative on the start and not pressing Sandridge through T1. The rest of the field behind followed suit and maintained the starting order. Out of T3 Blake and Sandridge are virtually connected forcing Sandridge to take a defensive line braking into T5. The running order is unchanged through The Kink, but Blake has closed any gap present between the front running GT3-Rs as they run through Canada Corner.
Powering out of T14, Blake and Sandridge are nose to tail and its an ideal draft setup scenario for Blake as they head onto the front straight. Blake pulls out to get along side Sandridge before Start/Finish and its a drag race at this point. The pass attempt sticks with Blake taking P1 into T1. Pass for the lead video.
The rest of the race was incident free with Blake taking the checkered flag 5.7 seconds ahead of Sandridge.
Lopez-Santini would be in the #24 for Sprint Race 2, and inherited pole position due to Blake having the fast lap of Sprint Race 1. Lopez-Santini took command early and piloted the Porsche 991 GT3-R flawlessly despite T11/12 being in less than optimal shape. An incident during the race preceding IGT Sprint Race 2 resulted in heavy amounts of oil dry being laid down, requiring everyone to drive off line. The race concluded with Lopez-Santini having a 3.8 second gap on the #58 car.
An interesting note about the #58 Porsche 991 GT3-R owned by Mark Sandridge is not only its history with Wright Motorsports last season, but the car’s starring role in the soon to be released movie The Art of Racing In The Rain.
SEBRING, FLORIDA – Summer like temperatures across all four days of International GT Sebring Round 1 were an unexpected and sharp contrast from a year ago as a 35 car field took on the bumps of Sebring.
In Q1 and Q2 Juan Lopez-Santini topped the time charts in the #74 Porsche 997 GT3-R. Rob Blake landed P3 for the Sprint Race Grid on Saturday morning, placing the #24 Porsche 991 GT3-R right behind Lopez-Santini at the race start. P2 was secured by the #76 Audi R8 Ultra driven by Alex Welch.
Saturday morning’s Sprint Race was incident free and the top 3 finished just as they qualified. Lopez-Santini, Welch and Blake quickly separated from the rest of the field and maintained a fairly uniform gap between each other until Lopez-Santini stretched his lead a bit more halfway through the race. Blake gained momentum late in the race, closing the gap between his 991-R and the P2 Audi to 0.87 seconds with one lap to go until a mistake in T5 cost some time and any chance to challenge Welch was gone.
“After the first few laps (Alex) and I were pretty much maintaining the same gap so I had to try something different to knock it down…and it worked. My crew was telling me the spread between us each lap so I was digging to make it close at least at the end. The last lap I knew I had to get a really good launch out of T5 but I pushed too hard (Blake laughing)…I’m pretty sure Alex looked in his rear view and saw me drifting thru T5 and that was it. No catching him after that, but boy it was fun having Alex and his R8 here.”
Juan Lopez-Santini enjoyed a comfortable 6 second gap and cruised to victory overall, and in class, proving the 997 GT3-R is still a very competitive platform.
The grid for Sprint 2 changed due to the lap times from Sprint 1. Blake edged Welch by a tenth putting the #24 P2 at the Start. Blake’s co driver for the event, Elliott Skeer, is no stranger to motorsport competition and was slated to run the second race solo for additional seat time and not scored in the official results. Skeer is the 2015 Porsche GT3 Cup IMSA Champion who was supported by Wright Motorsports.
Official scoring for Sprint 2 put Lopez-Santini P1 again, followed by Welch, Mark Greenberg in the #421 Porsche 991.2 Cup, Tom Pank piloting the #42 Porshce 997.2 Cup and Matt Joffee in his newly acquired #99 Porsche 991 GT3 Cup MR making up the Top 5.
Sunday’s Endurance Race started bright and early. Blake and Skeer had a risky pit strategy to employ, influenced by the lack of incidents for the previous races.
When the Green flag waved things got interesting very quickly as Blake glued himself to the bumper of Lopez-Santini through T1 moving him to P2, while the co driver of the #99 Porsche 991 GT3-Cup MR Lonnie Pechnik made a signature move on the outside thru T1 to quickly pick up three positions with Welch next in line.
For the opening 2-3 laps, Lopez-Santini, Blake, Pechnik , and Welch were virtually connected nose to tail. The leaders then began to separate as Lopez-Santini, Pechnik and Welch found their groove and Blake ducked in the pits early to get one of the two required 5 minute pit stops out of the way.
The field shuffled as a FCY on Lap 8 occurred and the #24 of Blake/Skeer found themselves being able to complete both required 5 minute pit stops in the first 16 minutes of the race. Full of fuel and Skeer now at the wheel, sights were on the overall win.
Skeer worked through traffic at a blazing clip; setting the fastest time of the weekend at 2:02.1 ET. It was only on the last lap that an Audi LMP1 was able to pass Skeer and take the overall race win. A gap of only 2.8 secs separated the Porsche and Audi, but the effort secured an overall P1 for Blake/Skeer in the IGT race.
Lopez-Santini would finish P2, followed by Matt Joffe / Lonnie Pechnik in P3 to round out the Top 3 of the International GT Sebring Enduro.
“Growing up in the mid 2000’s and watching Audi R8s, Astons…and to actually be on track with them…this is unreal. This is some of the most fun I’ve ever had in racing,” Skeer remarked as he and Blake accepted the first place Enduro trophy on the Podium.
As the #74 Porsche 997 GT3-R heads into a maintenance cycle, Blake and Lopez-Santini will rejoin in a single car entry for the #24 991 GT3-R at IGT Round 3 / Road America May 16-19, 2019.
2015 IMSA Porsche GT3 Cup Champion Elliott Skeer is set to make the trip from his home in Carlsbad, CA to Sebring International Raceway to pilot the #24 Porsche 991 GT3-R with Rob Blake on March 3rd for Round 1 of International GT.
Skeer will co drive the 90 minute race on Sunday March 3rd at 8AM EST. Testing/Practice for the event begins Thursday February 28th with Qualifying Friday March 1st.
International GT is home to the Ferrari/Porsche Racing Series where participants compete for the Maranello Cup Championship on the Ferrari side, and the Porsche Mission Foods GT3 Cup Trophy on the Porsche side. The two marques compete on track at the same time.
International GT will also hold two Sprint races on March 2nd at 10AM and 2PM. Each of the three races are for Championship points.
Live timing and scoring can be found on Race Monitor, with possible live streaming from inside the #24 Porsche 991 GT3-R and the #74 Porsche 997 GT3-R driven by Juan Lopez-Santini on both race days.
In 2018, Juan Lopez-Santini and Rob Blake teamed up for a single car effort running the #74 Porsche 997 GT3-R with International GT. In 2019, things get a little more interesting as the team adds the #24 Porsche 991 GT3-R to make this season a two car team – and ultimately competing against each other!
The 991 GT3-R was acquired in December 2018 from Pfaff Motorsports; the home of 2018 PWC Sprint Champ Scott Hargrove. We are very thankful to have a machine with such a Pedigree, driven by not only Scott Hargrove, but Wolf Henzler as well.
Juan will be piloting the 997 and Rob will take on the 991. As both a teammate and Rob’s coach in 2018, Juan will now become a moving target for Rob’s development.
With only one test day to get comfortable with the 991R before the IGT Season opener, the team took both cars to Sebring on January 25th and gained valuable information on Rob’s new car, while also dialing in the 997 for Juan….who is expected to excel at his home track on March 2nd / 3rd. The combined efforts of Orbit Racing and 901 Shop made for a successful outing and we look forward to racing in just a few weeks.
Looks like we had some rain overnight as we are greeted by a wet track at sunrise. Our first Sprint Race isn’t until 11:30AM so we are hoping things dry up. Still chilly here at 59 degrees with completely overcast skies.
OK…looks like we are set to roll to grid. Things have dried out mostly and the word is the track is good to go / no issues at all for Sprint 1.
UPDATE 11:27 / Rob is on grid set in pole position #74 Porsche GT3-R, sharing the front row with Boden #46 in the GT3 Cup. Row 2 is a pair of IGT regulars Tom Pank in his #42 GT3 Cup and Steve Hill in the Norwood Auto Italia #33 F458C. Row 3 is another GT3 Cup #44 driven by Kezman and another familiar Ferrari #43, also from Norwood Auto Italia, driven by Barry Fromberg.
UPDATE 11:34 / Cars are rolling and about half way thru the pace lap a we expect a green flag to drop in about 90 seconds.
UPDATE 11:36 / We have a green flag. It looked like Rob may have spun the tires on the start as Boden and Hill immediately launched ahead. Rob is P3 thru T1. Hill leads.
UPDATE 11:39 / One lap complete after a clean start from the entire field, and track position has not changed for anyone. Boden is applying the pressure to Hill. Rob is less than a second behind Boden.
UPDATE 11:41 / Boden gets by Hill braking into T8 . Top 3 Boden, Hill and Rob coming thru Canada Corner in a pretty tight group.
UPDATE 11:43 / P1 thru P3 come by Start/Finish all within a second. Lap 2 complete.
UPDATE 11:44 / Boden, Hill, Rob down into T5 literally nose to tail.
UPDATE 11:44 / Boden is strong in the T6 section on thru the Kink and makes a gap.
UPDATE 11:45 / Rob is very close to Hill as they come out of T14. He’s catching a draft as they come up the hill to S/F. Now pulls out for a pass. Wow… both Hill and Rob brake very deep going into T1. Hill wasn’t going to give the position up easily, but Rob gets by and gains P2. That looked like a game of “chicken” to me!
UPDATE 11:47 / Rob is trying to catch the #46 GT3 Cup now and gets within 0.5sec out of T5, but Boden is strong from here thru Canada.
UPDATE 11:48 / Rob has closed the gap Boden created thru the Carousel as they come into T14. Its still Boden, Rob, Hill Top 3.
UPDATE 11:51 / Things are unchanged as P1, P2 come into T14 again. P3 Hill has fallen back some.
UPDATE 11:51 / Correction, Rob pulls out for a pass coming out of T14 onto the front straight…it sticks. Now, P2 Boden is stuck to Rob’s rear bumper as they run thru T1.
UPDATE 11:53 / Rob maintains the lead for now by 4.1 secs. Running order has shaken up a bit behind the leaders. Its now Kezman, Hill, Pank making up the Top 5.
UPDATE 11:55 / A mistake in T6 at the top of the hill shrinks Rob’s gap to 2 seconds now.
UPDATE 11:56 / White flag is out, one lap left. Lead is still just over 2 secs. The rest of the running order is unchanged.
UPDATE 11:59 / Rob takes the checker with a 2.2 sec gap, followed by Boden, Kezman, Hill, and Pank. Closest in class car is the #81 991 GT3-R finishing P7.
[Sprint Race 2 Live Blog]
*Sprint Race 2 was broadcast at the track by Road America – see video at the bottom of this page.
Gearing up here in Elkhart Lake for Sprint Race 2 where Juan Lopez- Sanitni will be the designated pilot of the #74 Porsche 997 GT3-R, starting from pole. Weather has cleared somewhat but the good news is rain shouldn’t be an issue at all.
The grid is staged and a beautiful long line of Porsche GT3 Cup and Ferrari F458 Challenge Cars are waiting for the pace car to stage and get this race going.
UPDATE 4:28 / The field is out on the pace lap…we are about 45 seconds away from the green flag for Race 2.
UPDATE 4:30 / Green flag and a clean start. Boden puts an inside pass on Juan into T3, but Juan tucks under and takes the spot right back. Classic over and under.
UPDATE 4:31 / Boden passes Juan under braking into T8. Hill, Kezman close behind. The entire field is really tight as they come thru The Kink with Hill glued to the back of Juan’s bumper.
UPDATE 4:35 / No changes other than everyone is starting to spread out a little behind the Top 3, Boden in the GT3 Cup, Juan, then Hill in the Ferrari 458C. Good racing up front. Boden is very good in the back half of the track and it’s clear he has a lot of time here.
UPDATE 4:43 / Juan takes P1 again on the front straight, but Boden is right on his bumper coming thru T1 and isn’t going to let the position go easily.
UPDATE 4:48 / Looks like Juan hit the “go” button as he has significantly gapped Boden and Hill at this point. Juan’s fast lap so far is within a few hundredths of Rob’s fast lap in Race 1.
UPDATE 4:51 / Hill has taken P2 from Boden. Juan has checked out – running by himself. One thing we have noticed is that the much larger tires of the GT3-R seem to take much longer to heat up than the Cups or F458C. All the other cars in the field seem to have MUCH more grip than us early in the race.
UPDATE 4:54 / Juan is now 15.6 seconds ahead of P2 Hill. P3 is now Tom Pank. P4 Boden. We aren’t sure if something happened to Boden as he clearly has skill and experience at Road America.
UPDATE 4:59 / Race complete. Not much to report from Lap 4 onward as Juan had no other cars around him. P2 goes to Steve Hill / Norwood Auto Italia #33 F458C, P3 the Ultra Performance / GT3 Cup #42 driven by Tom Pank, P4 to Mark Boden #46 / Fall Line Motorsports GT3 Cup, and P5 to Juan Gonzalez in the Mission Foods 991 Gt3-R. Enduro tomorrow!
There were two qualifying sessions today. The first at 11:30 AM and the second at 4:00 PM.
Rob drove the first session and is on pole by only a few tenths over Mark Boden of Fall Line Motorsports in a 991 GT3 Cup. The second session Juan went out and its like De Ja Vu…. the track was littered with oil from the session before and running was a complete waste of time other than scrubbing in the slicks for Sunday’s Endurance race. The exact same thing happened at Sebring back in March.
We’ve always heard this was a great track, and Road America has not disappointed. Today is test day prior to tomorrow’s Qualifying session and races on Saturday and Sunday. The weather is beautiful and Juan and Rob are coming along nicely in their first laps in Elkhart Lake, WI. It’s good to see the other competitors and we look forward to an exciting weekend. So far, the forecast looks like it will cooperate! We need to go find some brats and be like the locals. Juan and Rob have a best lap time competition going among themselves…its a tight race so far.
First impressions of the track are: Elevation changes! Huge hills!!! It’s an absolutely beautiful setting for a racetrack. We are already talking about coming back and we’ve only been here a few hours.
It’s a chilly Saturday morning at Sebring and Rob is on grid just about to roll out for the pace lap of Sprint Race 1. A little drama about 15 mins ago; After Rob was strapped in the car and ready to start up we found the battery was- dead! We will investigate what happened after the race but he literally made it to grid with a minute or two to spare, and the portable jumper box is still connected to insure we roll out.
UPDATE 10:03 / Rob just rolled out for the pace lap; pole position. No battery issues at all now.
UPDATE 10:07 / The green flag has dropped and Rob didn’t get the best start for some reason. Heading down to Turn 7 now on the opening lap, Rob is in P5 behind three GT3 Cup Cars and the leading Ferrari F458C driven by Steve Hill of Norwood Auto Italia.
UPDATE 10:13 / It seems Rob has settled in. His lap times on lap 4 and 5 are the quickest to date and he has gained back one position braking into Turn 7 overtaking Tom Pank’s Ultra Performance GT3 Cup Car. Edit: He is now in P3 as he was able to pass another GT3 Cup driven by Roberto Bengoa from Orbit Racing thru Turn 9. Two positions regained now from the start.
UPDATE 10:15 / Rob is closing quickly on the P2 991 GT3 Cup driven by Joe Varde. The field is passing thru T1 now with P1 Steve Hill well ahead in the Norwood Auto Italia F458C by 5.6 seconds.
UPDATE 10:17 / A pass attempt seemed to be made coming thru T17 on Varde but we aren’t sure why it didn’t stick. Rob in P3, Varde P2, and Hill running by himself out font in P1.
UPDATE 10:17 / Rob Passes Varde for P2 coming out of T5.
UPDATE 10:19 / Rob is 4.2 seconds behind P1 Hill.
UPDATE 10:21 / The gap between Hill and Rob is now under 2 seconds.
UPDATE 10:21 / A lot of the gap has been eliminated. Rob is now right behind Hill as they Exit T7… Still on Hill’s bumper thru T10… Exiting T13 there must be less than a foot between Rob and the back of Hill’s Ferrari approaching Bishops Bend.
UPDATE 10:22 / Rob seems to gets a good run off T16…
UPDATE 10:23 / In a drag race down the back straight, Rob goes inside Hill going into T17. It sticks! Rob is back to P1.
UPDATE 10:24 / Rob just turned two consecutive 2:06.8 laps in pursuit of Hill.
UPDATE 10:28 / P2 Hill is 2.7 seconds back. Rob is hitting some lap traffic now. White flag is out.
UPDATE 10:31 / Race over. Rob takes P1, followed by P2 Hill, P3 Varde, P4 Pank and P5 Bengoa for the Top 5.
All systems, including the battery, are go for Sprint Race 2. Rob retains Pole Position after his P1 finish in Race 1. The #74 Porsche GT3-R will retain pole for tomorrow’s endurance race where Rob will be joined by Juan Lopez-Santini sharing the driving duties. Crew is rolling out to grid now for the countdown to the pace lap.
UPDATE 2:02 / Pace lap is underway. Rob is sharing the front row with Steve Hill in the Norwood Auto Italia F458C. Right behind Rob is Joe Varde in the 991 GT3 Cup #25, who shares row two with Tom Pank also in a GT3 Cup #42.
UPDATE 2:06 / The green flag has dropped and again Rob didn’t get an optimal start. It looks like Steve Hill’s F458C and Tom Pank’s GT3 Cup are out in front, Rob P3.
UPDATE 2:07 / Rob is going to work and makes a move into T17, inside Pank, still on lap 1.
UPDATE 2:10 / The pass was made on Pank / P2 was gained but the race is now under RED FLAG condition as Steve Hill, Rob Blake, and Joe Varde come to a stop at T16 and await instructions. It is reported a car went hard into the tire wall in Turn 17 on the first lap.
UPDATE 2:21 / The race has been called. There is a mess in Turn 17 that will require too much clean-up time to resume the race. Race Director Ken Fengler declares it a non-race; no points, no podium. Our day has unfortunately ended early.
Qualifying Session is complete. Rob qualified the car for the two Sprint races tomorrow and earned pole position, but catching traffic at critical points of the lap didn’t add up to the best lap time. The session was also ended 15 mins. early due to an incident in Turn 17. Race times should be much quicker and Rob reports the car feels very good overall. Juan will use qualifying session #2 to scrub in a set of stickers to be used for Sunday’s 90 Minute Enduro Race.
Tomorrow We Race! Sprint Race 1 starts at 10:05AM with Rob at the wheel.
UPDATE: Juan’s Qualifying session was cut short due to a significant oil spill on track in T7. Juan was still able to scrub in the new Pirelli slicks for Sunday’s Enduro.
March 1st has crept up quickly…the first practice day of the International GT Round 1 Races at Sebring International Raceway is underway. After making some subtle setup adjustments to the GT3-R, both Juan and Rob agree the car feels more responsive and some, but not all, of the under steer they encountered back in February is gone. Rob prefers to drive a car with a little push, while Juan’s driving style is more suited to a car with a little over steer…so the crew was trying to find the right balance for both. Not an easy task.
Very little of the test day was spent actually driving when you compare it to the time going over data. Numbers don’t lie, and MOTEC doesn’t either. Interestingly, Juan was quicker on the front half of the track, and Rob was quicker on the back half of the track. What began as a joke of fusing Rob and Juan together became the ultimate goal in terms of lap times because if they could; the lap ET would be very really close to what the reported capability of the car was at Sebring….and far quicker than the GT3 Cup cars lap time both were used to. Qualifying is tomorrow, and the competition is stiff with some excellent drivers in the field.