Alvaro Parente won Sunday’s Pirelli World Challenge Round 5 race at the Replay XD Grand Prix of Long Beach presented by Cadillac, part of the 42nd Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach weekend. Martin Fuentes won in GTA.
Parente was awarded the win after a post-race technical infraction led to a 10-second penalty being assessed to provisional race winner Johnny O’Connell in the No. 3 Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS.V.R. O’Connell has been awarded second place with Patrick Long taking third in the No. 31 EFFORT Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R.
The race was held under sunny, 73-degree weather conditions. When the green flag flew, pole sitter Parente, in the No. 9 K-PAX Racing McLaren 650 GT3 drag raced door-to-door down the Shoreline Drive front straight with second-on-the-grid O’Connell. The two drivers went side by side through turn 1, with O’Connell’s machine grazing the tire wall on the outside of the turn. That allowed fourth-on-the-grid Long to move into second. Colin Thompson, who had started third, followed Long and slotted into third in his No. 13 K-PAX Racing McLaren 650 GT3. O’Connell made in through turn 1 in fourth.
Before the field could complete the first lap, James Sofronas, in the No. 14 GMG/Spyder/Mobil 1/Thermal Club GMG Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R came together with Austin Cindric, in the No. 6 K-PAX Racing McLaren 650 GT3. The contact left the No. 6 machine wounded along the Seaside Way back straight. Race Control issued a full-course yellow. The safety car picked up the field with Parente, Long, Thompson, O’Connell and Andrew Palmer, in the No. 87 Bentley Team Absolute Bentley Continental GT3 rounding out the top 5.
In GTA, Frankie Montecalvo, who started 2nd in class and 12 overall in his No. 66 Dime R&D Mercedes AMG SLS GT3 moved into the lead over polesitter Fuentes in his No. 07 Hublot/Under Armour Ferrari 458 Italia GT3. Fuentes had started 7th overall. The two drivers slotted into 12th and 13th overall when the yellow came out.
On the Lap 9 restart, Parente launched cleanly to lead the field down the long Shoreline Straight as Long moved to the outside looking for a way around the driver of the No. 9 machine. Parente made it through turn 1 in the lead, while O’Connell, who took an inside line on the restart was able to squeeze back into second exiting turn 1. On the completion of the lap, Parente, O’Connell, Long, and Palmer completed the top 4 as Thompson entered the pits with what appeared to be a cut tire. In GTA, Fuentes reclaimed the lead over Montecalvo on the restart.
On lap 11, Bryan Heitkotter, in the No. 05 Always Evolving/Replay XD Nissan Nismo GT3 GT-R made contact with the tire wall in turn 1. A full-course caution was issued to remove the damaged 05 machine. At the yellow, Fuentes sloted into 10th overall maintaining the lead in GTA, while Montecalvo had dropped back to 13th overall and second in class.
Of note, Michael Cooper, the GT Championship points leader coming into the race weekend, started from the back of the field after not posting a time during Saturday’s qualifying session due to an engine breathing issue with his No. 8 Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-V.R. Cooper was on a charge and moved into 11th overall when the second caution of the race was issued.
With 21 minutes remaining, the race restarted and with a tremendous launch O’Connell rocketed to the lead around Parente. Through turn 1, Parente slotted into second in front of Long in third. O’Connell was awarded both the Cadillac Move of the Race and the Motortrendondemand.com Clean Pass of the Race. In GTA, Fuentes remained in the lead over Montecalvo, 12th overall in the race. Cooper continued his charge moving into 8th.
By lap 15, O’Connell pushed his lead to an 0.822 second gap over Parente, and a 2.455 second gap over Long. By lap 18, Cooper, had moved into 6th and began a battle with JD Davison, in the No. 33 Nissan/GT Academy Nissan GT3 GTR. Through turn 10, Cooper passed Davison to move into 5th. Cooper then set his sights on Palmer for fourth position and by lap 20 had closed on the driver of the No. 87 machine. On lap 21, Cooper and Palmer went door-to-door down the Shoreline Drive straight, but Palmer was able to hold 4th through turn 1. Cooper though kept the pressure on and took the inside line exiting turn 8 to win the drag race down the Seaside Way back straight to take 4th.
In GTA, Fuentes maintained his lead in class moving up to 9th overall in the race. On lap 23, Montecalvo was issued a drive through penalty for contact with Peter Cunningham, in the No. 42 Acura/HPD/RealTime Racing Acura TLX-GT. Tim Pappas, in the No. 54 Papent.com Black Swan Racing Dodge Viper GT3-R moved into second in GTA.
On lap 26, Race Control issued a debris/fluid on track flag for turns 9 and 10. Soon after, Cooper’s ATS-V.R slid into the tire wall through turn 9 and the No. 8 car came into the pits for a mechanical issue ending his charge.
At the checkered, O’Connell crossed the line ahead of Parente by 1.138 seconds, with Long in third, 8.012 seconds behind Parente. Fuentes finished first in GTA and 8th overall with, Pappas second, and 11th overall. Newport, California’s Brent Holden, in the No. 44 GMG Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 finished third in class and 13th overall. The post-race technical infraction reversed first and second places in GT. Results are final. For Parente it’s his first career Pirelli World Challenge win. Fuentes continued his dominating season with his 5th consecutive GTA race win.
Of note, Davison was awarded the Optima Battery Best Start award for gaining seven positions. The VP Racing Fuels Hard Charger Award went to Holden for gaining seven positions overall during the race.
“I have mixed emotions about winning the race this way,” said Parente. “I would have liked to have won the race on the track. We had a near perfect weekend with winning the pole position and racing for the win. It’s too bad that Johnny (O’Connell) was penalized because we had a great race today. But I am happy to win at a famed track like Long Beach in my first appearance. I’m happy for the K-PAX team and McLaren and I look forward to racing next week at Barber (Motorsports Park).”
“Of all the laps that I did today that first run into Turn 1 was the toughest,” said O’Connell. “I arrived at my braking point later than Parente and timed everything perfect while allowing him racing room. He went in deep and couldn’t get his car to turn and we had contact with the tires that allowed two cars to get by. There was not a lot of grip out there today. On the restarts I had a strong car and with my experience here I was able to get into the lead. Once there it was a matter of focus and hitting my marks. It is great to be able to showcase the athleticism of the AST-V around the streets of Long Beach. In post-race tech I understand they found we had a few boost spikes that were not to their liking. These occurred when we were in traction control situations, so not a speed advantage at all. But rules are rules. A second place finish does not take away from the accomplishment of Cadillac Racing today. I am proud of the team.”
“It feels good to get my championship back on track,” said Long.”We had a very high and low to start of the season. We had a victory at COTA and then got run over in the second race. Then we had a destroyed race car and we had to turn it over in two days with two mechanics. EFFORT Racing did an unbelievable job to get the race back on the track at St. Pete. Long Beach is always difficult. But I think the fastest driver won and the second fastest driver finished second. So it was good to follow them across the line. It was a clean race at the front and again a battle of restarts. We are evolving as a championship and the respect is growing amongst the drivers. Good day for Porsche and I’m elated that I’m back in the championship fight in the points (2nd). This guy to my right (O’Connell) has been tough to beat the last four years but we are planning to give him a run for the title this year.”
“Long Beach is always tricky but it was a good race for us,” said Fuentes. “We were fighting with some of the GT guys and we were always racing even if they aren’t in our class. We were trying to stay out of trouble as we have a race next weekend at Barber. The restarts were pretty challenging today. Scuderia Corsa gave my a great car as usual. I pulled out of some trouble today with a win. At the start of the race, I think something happened to me because I fell asleep at the green flag. I lost too many position and Frankie (Monteclavo) and couple of Bentleys were in front of me. At the second restart, I think Frankie fell asleep on the one. In turn two, we were side-by-side and I had just enough room slide through. I made it through the gap between Frankie and the wall. It was a pretty good pass.”