Samantha Tan Racing has secured its first Pro-Am victory of the GT World Challenge America season at Road America in an impressive weekend that started with 2nd in-class in race one.
After working diligently to find an optimum setup during qualifying, ST Racing ended an impressive fightback in race one to secure 2nd in Pro-Am, the team’s third consecutive runner-up spots in-class. Buoyed by the demonstrative pace of the #38 BMW M4 GT3, ST Racing improved yet further by taking its first class win of the season the following afternoon.
The results mean ST Racing has moved up to 4th in this year’s Pro-Am Teams’ standings, just 10 points behind the championship top three.
Back for his second weekend with Samantha Tan Racing, BMW factory driver Neil Verhagen repeated the pace he showed last time out at the Virginia International Raceway to post the fifth fastest time during Q2 – a near-sequential 2m 03.456s! – for 7th on race two’s overall starting grid. Teammate, and team namesake, Samantha Tan was similarly up to speed in the BMW from the get-go, banking the 6th fastest Pro-Am time in Q1.
On Saturday, Samantha was on the offensive quickly in race one, the BMW M Motorsport ambassador gaining three places to move up to 8th overall before the mandatory mid-race pit stop. With fresh rubber fitted for the final 45 minutes, 22-year-old Neil Verhagen drove a superb stint to move up to 2nd in-class and 4th at the chequered flag, just half a second shy of the overall podium. Neil’s impressive run also included the fastest overall race lap – a 2m 04.090s – and a brave pass for position around the outside of turn seven.
On the Sunday, Neil’s form continued as he meticulously moved up from 7th overall to 4th during his opening stint. Pit stops dutifully completed by the highly-experienced ST Racing mechanics, Samantha then made similarly impressive progress as the young Canadian first moved up to 3rd overall – 2nd in Pro-Am – and began chasing the class leader. At points, Samantha’s laptimes were up to two seconds quicker than that of the overall leader, and the #38 BMW ended up falling just two-hundredths short of claiming a second consecutive fastest overall lap of the weekend.
A heavy collision between the overall leader, Crowdstrike by Riley, and TR3 Racing ended up turning the race on its head going into the final 30 minutes (fortunately neither driver was injured during the incident). Now 2nd overall when the track went back to green, an attempted pass against the now-leading Bimmerworld ended up pushing Samantha offline at turn one, dirtying her tyres and losing her ground in the process. Though back down to 5th overall, Samantha was still running 2nd in Pro-Am when the leader lost drive on the following lap, promoting Samantha Tan Racing into the class lead. One further lap later, contact between two of the top five combatants left one in the gravel and one served a drive-through penalty, post-race. Just like that, Samantha Tan Racing was back on the overall podium.
Back up to speed, Samantha thereafter went on to secure ST Racing its first Pro-Am class victory of the 2023 GTWC America season, a worthy – and hard-earned – result for every member of the ST Racing team. The win is also the latest for Samantha Tan Racing at Road America, following similar triumphs in the GT4 America Series in 2021 and 2020.
Samantha Tan, driver / team co-owner: “It was a phenomenal weekend at Road America — we finally won!! After three consecutive P2s with Neil, we got to stand on the top step of the podium on Sunday after finishing P3 overall and P1 in class. Although we were sorting out setup gremlins all the way up until qualifying, the team put together a rocket ship and we slowly clawed our way up the field in both races. The pit stops this weekend were flawless and helped us gain time and positions. I can’t thank my entire team enough; it was truly an amazing team effort this weekend. I am ecstatic to bring home my first GTWC win, let’s keep the momentum going!”
Kenneth Tan, team principal: “Road America is one of the toughest tracks in the calendar but we love to race here. Samantha and I have a lot of memories at this track since we first came here back in 2013. Sam was only 15 years old then when she drove the track for a few sessions over two days. She was even prevented from doing one of the sessions due to a controversial age issue. I myself cooked the whole brake system in my car as this track is very punishing on brakes. Since then, it’s been one of those tracks that just keeps challenging you and makes you want to conquer it. Well, we finally did today and I am so proud of her and the team for finally getting it done. I specially want to thank her co-driver, Neil Verhagen, who parachuted into the team and quickly melded very well to work together with the team. It’s been a very long and difficult road getting here and I’m just relieved to see all that hard work, from her and the crew and everyone involved, finally getting that convincing win. I am confident that there is more to come as everyone in the team continue to get better together. I am just so proud of everyone and enjoying the moment but I can’t wait to see more of what we are capable of at Sebring.”
Neil Verhagen, driver: “Wow what a weekend! I’m so proud of everyone in Samantha Tan Racing, I definitely didn’t expect two podiums with one being a win after the start of practice on Thursday! But it just goes to show how hard we fought for it over the weekend improving at every chance we could. I would like to give a special thanks to all the mechanics that worked so hard over the whole weekend making changes to the car. Rafa my engineer and Samantha for two awesome drives! And to everyone else that was a part of this team effort! I think this first win will give us confidence going into the last two rounds to continue to keep pushing for more!”
Jon Miller, team manager: “This win has been coming. The momentum we have as a team is palpable. This race week in particular, we took some extra steps with the car that came out of a productive test that we did here. The new pavement threw some unexpected variables at us and our crew put in some long nights to get the car where our drivers wanted it. Having BMW factory driver Neil Verhagen alongside Sam for the past two events has kept us building on the potential that showed immediately in pre-season testing at Sonoma. We’re looking forward to Sebring and Indy with a full push to score maximum points and our next win.”
With two highly successful weekends now behind it, ST Racing hopes to carry this momentum into the next round of the GTWC America at the legendary Sebring International Raceway on 22-23-24 September. The following weekend, supported once again by Rinaldi Racing, ST Racing will take on the fifth round of the GTWC Europe Endurance Cup at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya with its new Ferrari 296 GT3.