A big thank you to Dan Crowe for applying his skills to our #24 Porsche 991 GT3-R project… and executing to perfection. Check out the DRAWONCE Automotive Artwork lineup at www.DRAWONCE.com or stay up to date on his latest projects by giving him a follow on Instagram / @drawonce. Porsche Racing fans won’t be disappointed.
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.
Pictures below credit: Patrick Dempsey.
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.
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.