CP Racing’s first outright win at the recent Hankook 24H PORTIMAO means the American team is now right behind standings leader Phoenix Racing heading into the next round of the 2022 season at Barcelona on 9-10-11 September.
Words – James Gent
Images – Petr Frýba
The fight for GT3 Teams’ honours in this year’s 24H SERIES European Championship looks set to go down to the wire at the Hankook 24H BARCELONA, following CP Racing’s first outright series win last time out in Portimão.
Amidst high mid-afternoon temperatures in the Algarve, CP Racing emerged victorious from an incredibly close fight with European standings leader Phoenix Racing at the recent Hankook 24H PORTIMAO, the #85 Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo leading the #18 Audi R8 LMS GT3 EVO II over the line by just 26.6 seconds after 24 full hours of racing.
Despite robust efforts from both SAINTéLOC Racing and WTM Racing in the early going, CP Racing and Phoenix Racing were the only outright leaders of the event, heading the field for 115 and 247 of the completed 718 laps respectively. Nevertheless, the 2022 Hankook 24H PORTIMAO remains one of the most intense fights for victory in the 24H SERIES in recent memory. The Phoenix Audi secured pole position over the WTM Ferrari by a microscopic 0.024s on the Friday, while the lead swapped hands between Phoenix Racing and CP Racing an astonishing 23 times. Indeed, with both teams on opposing pit stop strategies, the gap was already down to an incredibly tight 6.1 seconds at half-distance.
The German team also had to manage visibility issues (the Audi’s windshield started to ‘bubble’ in the high, mid-afternoon temperatures), a malfunctioning radio in the early going, and an unfortunate incident when Elia Erhart got his hand trapped in the Audi’s door during a pit stop, luckily without serious injury. CP Racing meanwhile had a near-miss with Red Camel-Jordans.nl four hours in, the Mercedes exiting the pitlane right into the path of the Porsche 992 GT3 Cup causing the latter to run wide at turn two.
Though a multi-time class winner since its introduction as ‘CP Racing’ ahead of the 2019 season, the 2022 Hankook 24H PORTIMAO marked the first overall GT race win for the American team in the 24H SERIES, bettering the outright runners-up spot the #85 Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo had previously secured in Sicily and Monza in 2020, Hungary in 2021, and earlier this year at Spa-Francorchamps.
Similarly, while American compatriots Charles Espenlaub, Joe Foster and team namesake Charles Putman have previously secured class wins in the 991 and A6-Am categories with PROsport Performance, in GT3-AM as CP Racing, and even the Overall GT Drivers’ championship in 2018, this marked the first time the American trio had stood on the overall top step of a 24H SERIES event since their series debuts with MRS-GT Racing in 2015.
CP Racing teammate Shane Lewis similarly secured his first outright win in Portimão, the former Daytona 24 Hours class winner driving the #85 Mercedes across the line to collect the chequered flag. Having made his 24H SERIES debut at the Hankook 24H DUBAI in 2012 and established himself as a series regular with CP Racing since 2019, it was fitting that Shane took his maiden outright win in his 60th 24H SERIES start.
“Big Win! Big Emotions!,” a jubilant Shane Lewis later posted on social media. “To win this race overall against some very serious drivers and teams…. Wow. I am so proud and so blessed to be a part of this team. I drove with everything I had… The team did an amazing job in what I am sure was the hottest 24-hour race I have ever done. More later but now time to celebrate! And by ‘celebrate,’ I mean lots of fluids, Ibuprofen and a pillow.”
The result now means that CP Racing lies at the top of the GT3 Teams’ standings in the Championship of the Continents, 12 points clear of Hankook 24H DUBAI winner MS7 by WRT. The American team is also comfortably ahead of nearest category rival Car Collection Motorsport in the GT3-AM Teams’ category in the European standings.
Moreover, the Portimão win means CP Racing is now just 14 points behind Spa-Francorchamps and Hockenheim winner Phoenix Racing in the GT3 Teams’ European standings heading into Barcelona. Like Dubai and Portimão before it, and in an effort to keep competition tight, points for this year’s Hankook 24H BARCELONA will be paid after 12 hours and again once the full 24-hour race distance has been completed. A new sporting regulation for 2022 that could have crucial championship implications should any of the GT frontrunners be unable to go the full race distance at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on 9-10-11 September.
In the GT3 Drivers’ standings, Elia Erhart, Pierre Kaffer and Michael Dopplmayr lead Charles Putman and Charles Espenlaub heading into Barcelona. Joe Foster meanwhile, having missed this year’s Hankook 12H SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, and Shane Lewis, who did not compete at either Mugello or Hockenheim, currently lie 4th and 5th in the drivers’ standings behind Phoenix Racing’s Swen Herberger.