Winter and Le Fay Victors in Suzuka, Champions for 2019

Chris Winter and Morgan Le Fay were crowned 2019 World Driver’s Champions after winning the GT Super Series season finale at the Suzuka Circuit.

Heading into Sunday’s season finale, the Solvalou pairing needed to finish in the top two positions to win the championship regardless of what either the Ravenwest pairing of Nathan McKane and Andrej Kremnicky, or the Gulf Racing pair of Matteo Rossi and Roland Davidson did themselves. To do this however, they would have to rally their way to the front after starting outside the points paying positions in eleventh overall. After Winter started to make good progress initially, moving up to eighth in the first ten minutes of racing, the American would clip the grass on the outside before turning into turn one and would spin onto the paved runoff. The spin would undo all of the progress he had made up to that point in the race, but start to claw back the places in part to a major battle for fourth that was being led by the Pagani of Anton Robishaud.

Another boon in the favor of Winter and Le Fay came from two major single car accidents before the first round of pit stops which gave him two free positions on track. Joey Alliot, and then Winter’s teammate Emma Pescatore both crashed out of the race after major spins into the barriers at 130R and Spoon Curve respectively. Alliot’s retirement was especially key as he was running second at the time, and was keeping up with then leader Rhys Davies in the CWG Team MacMillan Ford. The other main benefactor from Alliot’s retirement was Nathan McKane, who now moved into second overall, and was a position he would hold after the first round of pit stops. After the first round of pit stops the remaining Solvalou Lamborghini, now being driven by Morgan Le Fay, had moved into the top five but would not become champions with Andrej Kremnicky keeping Davies honest out in front.

Le Fay made quick work of the remaining Carson Speedworks Corvette, being driven by Oliver Jones, and started to work on bridging the gap to the leaders. And while Le Fay would start to put the pressure on Davies and Kremnicky, the gap between the top four would fluctuate as they each had to deal with lapped cars during the middle stint of the race. Le Fay would take control of the championship as the raced passed half way after she passed the Slovakian around the outside in the s-curves, before running wide into the sand at the degner curves and losing all the time she was making up on leader Rhys Davies and was relegated back to fourth overall. That fourth place would quickly become third again after Davies was forced to park his Ford GT from the lead of the race on the side of the road exiting the hairpin, after his car refused to go into gear upon corner exit. This left Kremnicky leading and Le Fay third; which meant as the second round of pit stops loomed, the championship was to go the way of the Ravenwest duo.

Kremnicky would pit from the lead on the second lap of the pit window, with Oliver Jones pitting from fourth the lap prior, having been passed by the Scuderia Italia driver Andrea Constantini for third a couple laps prior. McKane would take over driving duties from Kremnicky to close out the race, and put in an inspired run on fresh tires. Quickly navigating cars that had yet to pit, the Scot found himself with plenty of clean air to separate himself with the chasing cars behind once pit stops cycled through. He amassed a sixteen second gap over the rest of the top five, who found themselves in a battle with the yet to pit Globex Scorpio Corvette leading the way in second as the championship hanged in the balance for Winter and Le Fay. Leading those that had pit was James James Davies, taking over from Constantini, but he was struggling to pass Ernest Bruno for position which opened the door for Li Qi, Morgan Le Fay and GP Racing driver Fabian Rei to take advantage.

Both Qi and Le Fay would clear James James in quick succession in the s-curves, before Le Fay would power around the Chinese national around the outside at Dunlop, which then opened the door for Davies and Rei to pass Qi on the run to Degner. But in the midst of Qi losing two places, Morgan Le Fay had passed Bruno for what had become second place overall at the hairpin. This put Le Fay and Winter back out in front in the championship fight, but was now focused on quickly closing the gap to the leading McKane to close out the season with both the championship and the overall victory. Fabian Rei would keep pace with the surging Le Fay in third, but wasn’t close enough to attempt an overtake as the three had to navigated the lapped cars of Ito Shidehara and Ilja Dragunov. Dragunov would let the three by after some protest, which left the top three all to themselves with five minutes remaining.

Rei started to fade on worn tires, as had McKane who was feeling the pressure from the Solvalou driver in the closing moments of the race. Le Fay was close enough for an overtake to win the race on the final lap of the race, and made no mistake with a textbook move under braking for the Hitachi Chicane. There was nothing that McKane could do, the World Driver’s Championship was wrapped up with a last lap pass for the win with Chris Winter becoming back-to-back champion with Le Fay taking her first championship in the series. Seven markers would be the final difference between Winter and Le Fay in first, and McKane and Kremnicky in second. While McKane and Kremnicky weren’t able to secure the World Driver’s Championship, their second place result, and the eighth place result from Matteo Rossi and Roland Davidson after recovering from an unscheduled pit stop, was more than enough to secure the Manufacture’s Trophy for Aston Martin.

Fabian Rei and Ryota Wong rounded out the overall podium, in what was Lister’s last race as a factory entry in the GT Super Series after being with the series since its inception in 2016. It was also a double points finish for GP Racing, whose future in the series remains under doubt, with their team car finishing tenth overall after starting the race nineteenth. Li Qi and Oliver Jones finished fourth overall in the sole remaining Carson Corvette, holding off the James James Davies and Andrea Constantini Ferrari after the four way battle for second settled down after Ernest Bruno pitted. Fourteen seconds behind the battle for fourth was the remaining MacMillan Ford driven by Darren Older Jr. and Markus Jacobson in sixth overall, doing enough to hold onto tenth in the World Driver’s Championship over James James Davies.

While the World Driver’s Championship hanged in the balance for the duration of the race, in contrast the Independent’s Trophy wrapped up quietly in Sunday’s race. To overhaul the championship leaders Melanie Bourne and Marie Alberta Luisa, Peter Oliver and David Simmons had to score eight more points than the Boutsen Ginion pairing. The Oliver Lamborghini duo simply did not have the pace to make up for Bourne and Luisa having their third non-points scoring race of the season. Bourne would run into the barriers on the exit of Spoon Curve after tripping over the wounded Scuderia Italia Ferrari of Evgeny Restov, resulting in a pit stop for repairs. Even with a relatively clean run in contrast, Oliver and Simmons were stuck in the midfield battle and couldn’t break through to reach the pointy end of the field. Bourne and Luisa finished twenty-second overall, thirteenth in class but still did enough over the whole championship to be Independent’s Trophy champions for 2019.

Ahead of Oliver and Simmons, winning in the Independent’s Trophy was the Tsuchigami no Kyojin Saleen of Shota Sakai and Meling Huang. After overhauling the class poll sitting Czechmate Ferrari of Phil McCracken early in the race, the Pacific Endurance Series regulars did not look back for the duration of the race. They were the only Independent’s Trophy team in the top ten overall, finishing in a quiet seventh overall after clearing through the midfield pack early. Harrison Wilkinson and Carlton Cho finished second in class in their LKM Lamborghini. The nine points they scored allowed them to overhaul James Douglas and Joel Melrose for fourth in the Independent’s Trophy, also due in part to Joel Melrose spinning out of the race at 130R in the middle stint of the race.

Race Results – After 59 Laps

101MWinter/Le FaySolvalou2:02:32.922
314MRei/WongGerald Pereria+1.456
528MJJ.Davies/ConstantiniScuderia Italia+10.310
643MOlder Jr./JacobsonMacMillan+24.709
1015MTravesen/SparksGerald Pereria+54.138
13007IMagnus/GieszlerFalken Tire+1:40.650
14555IA+V Reyna-SanchezTom Douglas+1:42.183
1630IJenkins/BrunoGlobex Scorpio+1:51.328
1716ISeron/DragunovWestside+1 Lap
184IDiaz/ShideharaBoutsen Ginion+1 Lap
1941ISetou/JafferBest In The World+1 Lap
2005IScott/TokugawaAoi+1 Lap
2132IAxelsen/PedersenRMR+1 Lap
223IBourne/LuisaBoutsen Ginion+1 Lap
2313IYaname/KozarWinton+1 Lap
2434IMass/RamirezOran+1 Lap
2755IDouglas/MelroseTom DouglasSpun off
2827MRestov/Van WalwijkScuderia ItaliaSuspension

Fastest Lap – Car 40 (MacMillan Ford – R.Davies/Kazama) – 1:58.256

Infinite Improbability Drive of the Race – Fabian Rei and Ryota Wong: The swansong for the Factory Listers couldn’t have gone better.

Reject of The Race – Melanie Bourne and Marie Alberta Luisa: They did everything in their power to throw away the championship, but somehow still walked away with it.