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.