Alessandro Balzan, Manny Franco and Conquest Racing with Ferrari came in second place in Race 2 at Sonoma Raceway after a nail-biting 90-minute showdown in the highly competitive Fanatec GT World Challenge America Powered by AWS series.
This second place finish feels as good as a win, since not only was Ferrari celebrating the global debut of its 296 GT3 this weekend at Sonoma Raceway, but Conquest Racing was the team to rise to the occasion and deliver them their first podium with the brand new challenger.
Conquest Racing with Ferrari had a tough qualifying session on Saturday, where the team struggled to find their footing with the Balance of Performance (BOP) and other minor issues. Ultimately, Manny Franco set the 4th fastest lap time in the Pro Class ahead of Race 1, whilst Alessandro Balzan went 5th quickest in the second portion of the session to set the grid position for Race 2 on Sunday.
Between the qualifying session and Race 1, some adjustments were made to the BoP, which helped ease the hardships that the team had encountered thus far in the weekend. As Conquest Racing with Ferrari was still plagued with some gremlins that they needed to overcome, Franco and Balzan finished in 5th place in the Pro Class, claiming 9th place in the overall standings.
However, the #21 Corsa Horizon Ferrari 296 GT3 came alive in Race 2, with Alessandro Balzan at the helm of the car for the first portion of the race. He took the green flag from the 14th place on the grid, and initially dropped down at the start, but wasted no time making up ground and fearlessly passing competitors with stellar overtakes over the sweeping hills of Sonoma Raceway.
During his stint, Balzan was the fastest driver on the track at one point in the race. Thanks to an impressive pit stop strategy, the Italian driver came down pit lane in 5th position and handed over the reins of the Corsa Horizon Ferrari 296 GT3 to Manny Franco so he could set off and chase down the competition ahead.
Franco was fully focused on his task and knew he had only one job to do; put his foot down and bring home some hardware, which he did with courageous style and impressive flair. He carried the momentum from his teammate into his stint, constantly gaining ground and reducing the gap lap after lap.
In the last stage of the race, Manny Franco had a spirited fight with Ashton Harrison in the Racers Edge Motorsports machine for the lead in the Pro Class. Although it seemed like Franco had the better of her, she came out first in the final corner, narrowly edging out Franco to the checkered flag.
Franco not only finished Race 2 in second place, but he also won the eBoost Super Fuel Hard Charger Award for the most positions gained during the race.
“Big credit to Conquest Racing and Corsa Horizon, because we really turned the car’s performance around after yesterday,” said Alessandro Balzan after the second race. “We originally had some issues with the Balance of Performance, and the team did such an incredible job to make improvements. It felt like I was driving a completely different car. It felt much better and we were able to manage the tire degradation with more ease. I had a lot of fun during my stint and remained patient. The car continued to get better after every lap. It was a massive effort from the whole team and a lot of work has been put into making this Ferrari 296 GT3 a top contender. We are very proud to be able to get the Ferrari 296 GT3 on the podium for the first time ever. Manny did an excellent job during his stint, as always, and we’re all really happy.”
“It was very exciting,” added Manny Franco. “When racing in GT3, you have all these different cars around you and every car has different strengths. It was such a blast getting to battle closely with the other drivers this weekend, and today was fantastic for not only us, but for Ferrari, Conquest Racing and Corsa Horizon as well. I had a great time out there, we progressed and learned a lot, and it was such a pleasure.”
Conquest Racing With Ferrari will be back on track to defend their podium finish at NOLA Motorsports Park in the last week of April.