It was a busy but successful weekend at Sebring International Raceway for Conquest Racing. The team were fielding double entries for the triple header event in the penultimate round of the Pirelli GT4 America championship. Michai Stephens and Jesse Webb took home the overall and Silver Class win in their #34 JMF Motorsports | Farrow Mercedes-AMG GT4 in Race 2 on Sunday following two additional Top 5 finishes in the races prior. Custódio Toledo and Cédric Sbirrazzuoli also secured top results in the #35 Zuri Mercedes-AMG GT4 and challenged for podiums in the PRO-AM Class throughout the weekend.
Friday evening’s NOLA Makeup Race was a bittersweet one for the #34 duo, as they finished just 0.008 seconds off the podium after a hard-fought battle that ended in a four-way sprint to the line. Despite finishing just shy of the podium, they showed great promise of what was on the horizon.
Saturday morning’s Qualifying session went extremely well for the Silver pairing, as Jesse Webb went on to clinch pole position ahead of Race 1, and Michai Stephens secured a second-row start for Race 2. From the moment the green flag waved, Webb demonstrated that his mighty Mercedes had the pace to fight for the top spot, but a series of yellow flags prevented him from being able to build up a gap between himself and the rest of the field. As Webb passed the reins over to Stephens for the remaining half of the race, they had dropped to second position, but further full course cautions emerged, and the race restarts disrupted their podium run in a matter of a couple of laps, with Stephens unable to make a final charge as the race ended under yellows, crossing the finish line in fourth.
The duo were determined to change the outcome for the final event of the weekend, and set off on their mission as the race ran green from start to finish. Stephens handled the opening stint, maneuvering through out-of-class traffic and perfectly placing the #34 car within striking distance so the team could execute a bold undercut strategy once the pit window opened. As Webb got behind the wheel, the gap to the frontrunners ahead had drastically decreased, and he was soon involved in a three-way fight for the lead.
The young Canadian drove aggressively and assertively, pulling off two consecutive overtakes to move up into the lead with just under 20 minutes remaining in the race. From there, he also had to focus on fuel saving, adding an extra challenge as he had to be on the defensive instead of pulling away. Nevertheless, he kept his composure and powered his way to the finish line to wrap up the weekend with a victory.
“This was such a thrilling race with battles all the way to the finish,” said Jesse Webb. “It was a real nail-biter, and to be able to take home the win was a perfect way to end the weekend. The first two races fell a little short of what we were aiming for, but we regrouped, focused on our strengths and pulled it all together on Sunday. I’d like to say a big thank you to the Conquest Racing and JMF Motorsports team for all their hard work and support they have put into giving us a great car and amazing program.”
“This is yet another great weekend to remember,” echoed Michai Stephens. “This result is a product of every single individual on this team. We have the privilege of driving the Mercedes-AMG platform, and we are extremely grateful that we had the opportunity to show what we’re capable of. After a challenging start to the weekend, we knew our time was coming. Thank you to John Farrow and Eric Bachelart once again.”
The #35 Zuri Mercedes-AMG GT4 saw strong results as well, with three Top 10 finishes throughout the weekend, and Custódio Toledo and Cédric Sbirrazzuoli were knocking on the door of a podium finish in Race Two. They saw continuous improvements throughout their time in Sebring, with a ninth place finish in the NOLA Makeup Race on Friday evening, followed up by a fifth place finish in Race 1 on Saturday.
Race 2 was a poignant moment in their weekend, as Cédric had completed an excellent opening stint, making up ground and gaining a few positions through the field before handing over the car to Custódio. Toledo had been applying pressure and saw an opportunity to strike in the last 10 minutes of the race, and went on to complete an overtake in the final laps to promote himself up into third place. However, the Mercedes-AMG GT4 was hit from behind by another competitor on the final lap of the race, and the contact dropped them down to seventh in class once they took the checkered flag.
“This weekend was all about figuring out how to maximize the performance of the car,” Custódio Toledo explained. “We had good pace overall and proved that we could challenge for podium results. It was unfortunate that we lost out on a Top 3 finish, especially on the very last lap after all the hard work we put in, but overall it was a great effort from Cédric and the team.”
“I was focused on delivering clean stints all weekend,” added Cédric Sbirrazzuoli. “In the final race there was some minor contact that made my time in the car a little tricky, but I wanted to make the best out of it and stay out of trouble while moving up the field before giving the car to Custódio. Unfortunately the race did not end the way we wanted, but we’ll be fighting hard at Indianapolis to get on the podium.”
The team will return for the final round of the season at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, taking place from October 6th to 8th, 2023.