Andy Soucek, driving the #9 K-Pax Racing Bentley Continental GT3 he shares with Alvaro Parente, took the win in Race One of the Blancpain GT World Challenge America double-header at VIRginia International Raceway, the Spanish driver crossing the line 3.246 seconds ahead of the #24 Alegra Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R of Wolf Henzler and, driving the second stint, Marco Holzer.
Completing the overall podium was the #61 R. Ferri Motorsports Ferrari F488 GT3 of Miguel Molina and Toni Vilander.
Victory in the Pro-Am class went to the #80 Racers Edge Motorsports Acura NSX driven by Martin Barkey and Kyle Marcelli, ahead of the #5 Gradient Racing Acura of Till Bechtolsheimer and Ryan Eversley.
The Am class victory went to Martin Fuentes and Caeser Bacarella in the #7 Squadra Corsa Ferrari F488 GT3.
Alvaro Parente, at the wheel of the #9 K-Pax Racing Bentley Continental GT3 led the field away from pole position but was soon under pressure from Patrick Long in the #58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R.
Bad luck befell the Pro-Am class pole sitter Anthony Imperato, driving the #91 Wright Motorsports Porsche, as the American amateur driver slowed early in the opening seconds and parked the car before the lap was completed.
Daniel Morad showed early pace, the #22 Alegra Motorsports Porsche driver passing Miguel Molina in the #61 R. Ferri Motorsport Ferrari F488 GT3 for fourth place in the opening laps.
After nine laps, Parente was starting to pull out a small gap to Long and was nearly a second ahead. After putting the pressure on Miguel Molina for the pass in the opening minutes, Daniel Morad, driving the #22 Alegra Motorsports entry, was holding station in fourth place, just two seconds behind Rodrigo Baptista in the #3 K-Pax Bentley.
Morad had an issue with a cut tyre after 11 laps and had to call into the pits, rejoining the race in 12th place overall and sixth in the Pro category.
There was drama with 66 minutes remaining when Rodrigo Baptista in the #3 K-Pax Bentley went off into the tyre barrier, causing significant to then front left corner of the new-generation Continental GT3. The race was neutralised first with a Full Course Yellow and then to a safety car to allow for safe recovery.
K-Pax Racing was unsure as to the reason for the off, Programme manager Darren Law commenting that the team had not heard back from Parente.
“We don’t know for sure. He went off – we can see that on the video – but we don’t know if he was too wide, went in too deep – we don’t know. Hopefully we can get it back but we’re done at least for this race today.”
Baptista later confirmed that he had run slightly wide at Oak Tree and run onto the grass, causing oversteer from which he could not recover.
Racing resumed with 56 minutes remaining with Daniel Morad in the #22 Porsche being given a drive-through penalty for passing before the Safety Car had pulled off the circuit.
The driver changes cycled through without incident with the exception of the #61 R. Ferri Motorsport Ferrari that lost 11 seconds in the hand-over to Toni Vilander.
With the pit window closed, the #9 Bentley, now with Andy Soucek behind the wheel, held a 1.805 second lead over the #58 Porsche now driven by Scott Hargrove.
In the Pro-Am class the lead had passed to the #80 Racers Edge Motorsports Acura NSX GT3 driven by Kyle Marcelli with Ryan Eversley in the #5 Gradient Racing Acura nearly 3.5 seconds behind.
With 20 minutes remaining Hargrove was pressuring Soucek and was less than a second behind the leader and lapping .34 seconds a lap quicker than the #9 K-Pax driver. Disaster, however, was to strike the #58 Wright Motorsports driver when he ran wide at Oak Tree and slid into the barrier. With Scott Hargrove struggling to find reverse, the race was neutralised for the second time behind the Safety Car to allow for safe recovery of the #58 car.
The race resumed green-flag running with a little over three minutes remaining. Soucek in the #9 car held off Brian Holzer in the #24 Alegra Motorsports Porsche but Kyle Marcelli in the #Racers Edge Motorsports Acura found a way past Toni Vilander for third. Vilander fought back, however, and regained third position with seconds remaining.
At the chequered flag Soucek held on for the lead with now-second placed Brian Holzer in the #24 car 3.236 seconds behind.
For Andy Soucek, the victory had been a long time coming.
“It took one year and a few races to come,” said Soucek in the pit lane. “Last year we were unfortunate. If you remember here, Alvaro was pushed off and we damaged the chassis so we didn’t participate. The fact that I could get in the car, do my stint and get to the final lap in P1 wasn’t easy. To stay ahead of Hargrove wasn’t easy. I think he had a bit more pace than us. He was pushing me quite hard and giving me a difficult time and I just tried not to make any mistakes and finally the one who did the mistake was himself.”
The lights go out for Race Two and Round Four of the 2019 Blancpain GT World Challenge America at 13:15 local time on Sunday April 28.