Jordan Pepper looked set to repeat his Bathurst win for Bentley at the inaugural Indianapolis 8-Hour at the weekend only to have his hopes dashed when his car was tagged by a GT4 runner, causing substantial damage to the rear-right corner of the Continental GT3. He was initially able to continue, only for the car to snap out of control on the straight before sliding to a halt.
This left the running open to BMW to score its maiden Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli victory in dominant fashion with a one-two finish.
The German manufacturer was expertly represented by the Walkenhorst Motorsport squad, which delivered a faultless showing amid changeable weather conditions at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Nicky Catsburg, Connor De Phillippi and Augusto Farfus were equally polished at the wheel of their M6 GT3, with each driver displaying speed and composure to secure a commanding victory over the sister machine of David Pittard, Martin Tomczyk and Nick Yelloly.
The winning BMW started the race from pole position, but this was anything but a lights-to-flag story. The field rolled across the yard of bricks to take the start just as heavy rain swept the Speedway, soaking the 3,8 km circuit and posing an immediate strategic challenge.
Both Walkenhorst BMWs were among those to stop for wet-compound Pirelli tyres, dropping them into the pack, while the slick-shod K-PAX Racing Bentley led in the hands of Jordan Pepper. The South African demonstrated supreme car control in increasingly challenging conditions before ultimately calling in for wets.
Over the following hour the lead changed hands several times, with the Squadra Corse Ferrari, Team Honda Racing Acura and SunEnergy 1 Racing Mercedes-AMG all enjoying turns at the head of the order. The combination of rain and on-track incidents also ensured that the Safety Car was out front during the opening hour, but as the skies cleared above the circuit a lengthy period of green flag racing ensued.
Pepper hit the front once again around the two-hour mark and was able to stretch his legs, pulling clear of Farfus and Yelloly in the chasing BMWs.
But the Bentley charge ended when Pepper was tagged and with the Bentley out of contention the BMWs were in control, but this did not prevent an entertaining spell of racing. The leading M6 GT3s went wheel-to-wheel on a number of occasions, with Yelloly in particularly combative mood as he shot past De Phillippi shortly before the three-hour mark. It remained this way for almost an hour before De Phillippi restored his crew’s advantage by passing Pittard.
The only serious challenge to the Walkenhorst cars came from the factory Acura. Though clearly among the quickest cars on-track, the NSX GT3 was pegged back by a number of issues during the opening stages.
The squad finally caught a break during the sixth hour when a safety car period allowed Dane Cameron to regain a lap, after which the American kept pace with the BMWs and brought the contest to life once more.
This challenge effectively ended when the Acura could not pull away from its penultimate stop, while the BMWs simultaneously made routine visits to pit road. The extended delay cost the factory NSX a lap and put paid to its Indy ambitions with two hours remaining.
With their only major rival falling by the wayside the final quarter of the race was comfortable for the Walkenhorst BMWs. Catsburg took the wheel of the leading car and settled into a metronomic rhythm, pulling more than half a minute clear by the chequered flag. With the second car following him home in the hands of Yelloly, BMW scored Intercontinental’s first one-two finish since Audi dominated at Laguna Seca in 2018.
The factory Acura completed the podium after a sterling drive from Cameron, Mario Farnbacher and Renger van der Zande. They finished two laps clear of the Audi Sport Team Hardpoint WRT crew of Mirko Bortolotti, Markus Winkelhock and Spencer Pumpelly, whose eventful race included penalties, a puncture, and several close-fought battles.
The DXDT Racing Mercedes-AMG was sixth and first among the Pro-Am runners thanks to an accomplished run from George Kurtz, Ben Keating and Colin Braun. The Wright Motorsports Porsche was next, followed by the Racers Edge Motorsport NSX, #1 Squadra Corse Ferrari and Sun Energy 1 Mercedes-AMG.
The overall top-10 was completed by the GT4 class winner. This ended with another BMW one-two as the Bimmerworld machine of Bill Auberlen, Chandler Hull and James Clay led home the ST Racing crew. The winning squad started the race from ninth among the GT4 runners but prevailed in a race that saw several strong contenders for victory. The GMG Racing Porsche finished third after a back-and-forth battle with the ST BMW during the closing stages.
Further back, the Bentley recovered to 17th overall and 10th among the GT3 entrants. This ensured the trio of Pepper, Jules Gounon and Maxime Soulet scored a single point and therefore maintain their championship advantage following victory in February’s Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour. They hold the slenderest of leads, with the Walkenhorst BMW crew just one point in arrears and several others within striking distance.
Indeed, the battle for the Drivers’ and Manufacturers’ titles are wide open ahead of the blue riband Total 24 Hours of Spa. Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli continues with the twice-around-the-clock Belgian contest on 22-25 October.