Race Report by George Angelidis & Matthew Overton
Images by Jerry Chen
Broadcast by Ross “Tnadz” Smith
February 20, 2021 – It was truly a day for the partisans of the Rising Sun with Nissan getting a full return on the effort they put into attracting and staging Round 2 of the VWSC ‘21 Championship at their ‘home’ track.
A total of 30 cars and drivers arrived early in the week to complete testing and preparations for the weekend. It was clear that many teams had been hard at work during the break since Daytona, though not all were able to put past difficulties behind them, as the race was to show.
LMH-Pro Storm Rider Racing driver Ahmed Abdallah set the pace with his Nissan by grabbing pole ahead of LMH-Pro contender driver Marouane el Idrissi and his Triploski GorillAAAH Nissan. In the GTE field, it was the SMR Corkscrew Ford teammates Cameron Sansano and Vasilis Katerinakis on top in the Pro class while Josh Nessel took top honors in AM.
While Nissan had an excellent start, it was Ferraris that “stole” the win today. Brian Hall’s dominant race proved too much to contain and as a result, he scored his first career win in VWSC with 16 secs clear of second-place Norm Graf. Despite some great promise, the Nissans of Abdalla and el Idrissi fell down the finishing order – El Idrissi fading early on although Abdalla held 2nd until 5 mins before the end.
A breathtaking battle between Abdallah and Angelidis through the entire race was the opportunity needed by Graf to capitalize on what otherwise would have been a bad call by his crew on the final pit. Newly shod with fresh rubber he passed both with ease to claim 2nd ahead of Adballah, who was able to hold off Angelidis for 3rd.
Ahmed Abdalla leading the field early on in his Nissan GT-R LMH.
Abdallah, who benefitted from the set of new parts available from the Nissan factory and clearly outpacing his teammate, as a result, was downbeat despite his good showing, noting that: “we need to work on the car. All the engineers are working hard investigating the drop-off in pace into the race”.
The SRR team principal has revealed, “the drivers are undergoing further training on the upgraded brakes and tire wear and we expect all cars to be on the upgrades by Sebring”.
What ails Tripoloski Gorilla Nissans, however, is still leaving the team scratching their heads, with two of the fastest drivers on the grid finishing 5th and 6th – a result clearly not representative of their caliber. With James Foster’s first appearance providing a strong 7th place finish and at times battling with teammate Angelidis, Team Maranello Concessionaires were in high spirits and looking positive for the future.
It was a completely different story in LMH-Am where the seemingly “untouchable” Nissans of Snake Eyes Racing found their “snake hole” at Motegi. It was a 1-2-3 for Snake Eyes at home with Guillerme Bencke making a pass on Hutchison about mid-race for the lead that would eventually give him the first win in VWSC!
Ross Smith was under significant pressure and had an intense battle with Nissan pilot Steve Carman till the latter’s brakes failed and assured Snake Eyes of their podium sweep.
Wayne Hutchison (Snake Eyes Racing Nissan) trying to keep teammate Guilherme Bencke behind.
The Blue Flag McLaren’s were left scratching their heads at the lack of pace and the garage was deep in data analysis even before the end of the race. Their confidence is high though that they would use Sebring’s treacherous surface to their advantage as the “delicate” Nissans are expected to face problems.
From the start, two separate battles kicked off between teammates Sansano and Katerinakis of the SMR Corkscrew Fords and then CMS Pro driver Jon Uyan in his Ferrari and Colin Moore in the ByKolles Corvette C8. Intense battles featuring multiple position changes and dueling pit strategies made for top-notch racing.
What looked like a maiden victory for Katerinakis ahead of his teammate came apart suddenly with the “collapse” of the two Fords, raising serious concerns on the ability of the car to maintain pace through a complete race.
Cameron Sansano battling with teammate Vasilis Katerinakis early on for the lead.
First, Katerinakis would lose the rear end on the final chicane and while he saved the car, dropped to 3rd in the process. Sansano would then lose his car at T2 20 secs later although he was able to retain his class lead and take the win narrowly ahead of Uyan, both well ahead of Katerinakis.
Notable absent close to the podium of the GTE -Pro field was Jerry Chen, who struggled with the setup of his Porsche and finishing 5th and 26 secs behind Katerinakis 3rd place.
Approached for post-race interviews, Katerinakis “was unwilling to give any press interviews at the time” while his teammate could only remark ruefully “yeah, it’s tricky. We need to work on the car or else we will keep struggling at the end of the races”.
It was a rare Porsche and Aston Martin battle in GTE-Am with Matt Buice in the Aston Martin engaged in a race-long tilt with the Porsche-driving Josh Nessel. In a duel of pit strategies, “Maestro” Matt Buice took tires however, Nessel gambled successfully on worn rubber, taking the win by a margin of only 2s.
It was a disappointing result for Trash Panda Aston Martin as not only did the win elude them, but the second car driven by Mike Buice finished well back in 8th place having suffered problems during the race.
Jamie Zolecki in his Ferrari 488 GTE had a career race proving that he can fight and overtake cars, proving many doubters wrong about his competitiveness. In looking to challenge for a podium, he passed experienced drivers Tom Nasella and Dan Minges, but it was Stefan Kvistgaard that proved to be the ‘brakes’ on his charge. After the race, Zolecki was “not happy about some of the defensive moves, but I would go at it harder next time”.
In staving off the charging Zolecki, Kvistgaard took home a career-first podium in VWSC both personally and for his team Recab NG TMC Aston Martin.
Art by Jerry Chen depicting newcomer to the podium Stefan Kvistgaard holding Jamie Zolecki off.
His teammate Stian Gjorvad would run most of the race with him but a miscalculation by his crew on the starting fuel would force him to pit lane early and all but end his hopes for a good finish, his team gutted with the outcome.
As the teams packed up for the return to North America, the decidedly upbeat Ferrari, Nissan, and Aston Martin factory representatives were a study in contrast to McLaren and Ford, who’s dark faces and somber discussions with their supported teams reflected the difficulties that were on full display during the weekend.
Aerial view Twin Ring Motegi.
Sebring is the Next Stop
With Sebring looming on the horizon, presenting yet another unique challenge compared to either Daytona or Motegi, all the teams have their work cut out for them!