Conquest Racing had a busy round at Road America as they fielded a double entry in the Pirelli GT4 America championship. It was a successful weekend overall for the #34 JMF Motorsports | Farrow Mercedes-AMG GT4 of Jesse Webb and Michai Stephens, as the duo claimed the overall and Silver Class win in Race 1. Custódio Toledo also made his return in the #35 Zuri Mercedes-AMG GT4 alongside new co-driver Cédric Sbirrazzuoli.
It was a near-perfect race for the Conquest Racing outfit as Webb had clinched pole position in the first qualifying session earlier Saturday morning. A caution came out during the second qualifying session when it was Michai Stephens’ turn to qualify, preventing the drivers from setting a lap time. The grid order was therefore determined based on lap times from the second practice session on Friday, which meant the #34 Mercedes-AMG was relegated to the back-end of the field for Race 2 as they ran into some issues in the second practice session.
Right from the start of Race 1, Webb pulled a significant gap to his competitors and maintained his lead over the rest of the field. Webb drove a very strong opening stint before coming down pit lane to hand off the car to Stephens with 32 minutes remaining in the race.
Once the pit stop cycle was completed, Stephens had emerged on track in second place. However, a full course caution brought the field closer together. Once the race went green again, Stephens was able to complete an overtake heading into Turn 1 to reclaim the lead. He went on to cross the finish line and clinch the victory, in addition to Webb claiming the Crowdstrike Fastest Lap Award.
“We closed out the evening on an incredible high,” exclaimed Michai Stephens after the race. “This is a testament to the team’s never-give-up attitude and all the hard work and dedication that goes into making a result like this possible.”
“It was a fantastic race, and it was great to be in the front from the get-go,” added Jesse Webb. “I was able to stay in the lead for my entire stint, which I was extremely happy with. The cautions kept it tight at times, and I knew the drivers behind were going to raise a challenge and make it hard for me. They stayed in my mirrors, but I was able to hand over the car to Michai and he did a beautiful job. He had to make a fantastic pass for the lead and crossed the line first overall. What a race!”
The duo were faced with additional challenges for Race 2, as Stephens lined up 30th on the grid for the start. He wasted no time beginning to make up ground, navigating his way through the field before Webb took over to close out the race. A couple of lengthy full course cautions made it difficult for the pairing to fully recover and fight in the pointier end of the field, but they gained more positions than any other team on the grid, finishing the event eighth overall and fifth in the Silver class.
“It was a good race, we made up 22 positions, which is obviously quite the feat,” said Webb. “We did the best we could do after managing a few hiccups along the way. It is what it is, we’ll be ready for the next one. We know that Sebring is a track where our car is stronger, and we thrive in cornering so we’ll be well suited for this track. I am looking forward to the next round and maximizing our points there.”
“Although this track continues to be challenging for the JMF Motorsports and Conquest group, this is a product of many things that are outside of our control,” explained Stephens. “However, it doesn’t accurately represent the value and intensity that this team has brought to every race weekend. We just try to put our best foot forward every weekend, regardless of the challenges that are ahead of us. This weekend certainly challenged us emotionally, physically and spiritually but we will be there for the next round and continue to fight all the way through to the end.”
It was a difficult weekend for the #35 Zuri Mercedes-AMG GT4 as well, with Custódio Toledo and Cédric Sbirrazzuoli contending with obstacles in both races. An incident in a practice session on Friday resulted in some performance issues that the team were attempting to work through over the course of the event, in addition to some incidents throughout the races that added further damage and penalties.
“We came into this weekend with some big expectations because we had a good test day here with good performances and good pace,” Custódio Toledo elaborated. “Unfortunately, I crashed the car in the kink, and that resulted in the car having a handling issue, which further snowballed into having performance difficulties throughout the weekend. However, I know that we are going to come back stronger in Sebring. We have a good car, we will work hard to find and resolve the little issues that we had and be prepared to start fresh for the next round.”
“It was a hard weekend,” Cédric agreed. “We were involved in some on-track incidents and we were a bit unlucky with the issue we had with the car on Friday. Unfortunately our qualifying was compromised, so we started towards the back of the grid for both races. It was hard to fight in the middle of the pack, but we kept the car in one piece, which is the most important thing as we move on to Sebring. Hopefully we will have a better weekend there!”
The team will return for the next round at Sebring International Raceway, taking place from September 22nd to 24th, 2023.