2016 IMSA Michelin GT Challenge at VIR - Race Report
Corvette wins after close battle with Ford GTby Michael Fira, on
Four and a half decades ago, the IMSA GT Championship started out as just that – a GT-based series where various Porsches, Chevrolets and others battled on Americas best road courses. Now, most of those road courses are gone, Riverside being just one example off the top of my head, but that spirit lives on in one of the rounds of today’s IMSA Weathertech Sportscar Championship.
I’m talking about the Michelin GT Challenge at VIRginia International Raceway.
Since its reopening in the early 1990s, VIR has proved to be a popular venue for both pro- and amateur-level race series as it retains some of that lost spirit of pure road racing, a spirit that was lost with the advancement in safety regulations that oftentimes regarded miles of asphalt run-off area as mandatory and the general flattening of the road surface. There’s nothing flat at VIR and, what is more, every mistake is penalized harshly with a trip through the grass that’s guaranteed to fill your splitter with the green stuff. This is why IMSA first visited VIR in 2012 and has, since 2014, hosted a GT-only round here.
This year, the VIR round was rocked by two unexpected announcements from Porsche-running GT-D teams, precisely the no. 22 Alex Job Racing/Weathertech Porsche and the no. 73 Park Place Motorsport cars, both dropping from the series with immediate effect citing BoP inequalities. This dropped the GT-D car count to only 12 for the third to last event on this year’s calendar and cleared the way for some discussions over why those teams really quit, given the respectable performance of the no. 23 Alex Job Racing Porsche that did not leave the series (it has taken a number of poles in 2016 and podiums).
Corvette dominated the proceedings all the way through practice and qualifying on the 3.27-mile-long track, the No. 3 snatching the pole position ahead of the sister No. 4 Magnussen’s blistering 1:41:557 was almost three tenths quicker than Joey Hand’s 1:41:817 that landed the No. 66 Ford on the second row of the grid. Risi’s Ferrari was fourth with the first time in the 1:42s, all nine of the GT-LM cars surpassing Nick Tandy’s benchmark lap time from 2015, a 1:42:532. Tandy himself turned a 1:42:276 to qualify seventh.
1:44:956 was Madison Snow’s unbeatable benchmark time in GT-D, a time that earned the Paul Miller Racing driver his first pole position. Matt Bell’s 1:45:247 was enough to get the Stevenson Motorsport Audi No. 9 on the front row of the class while Dream Racing’s Huracan and Stevenson’s other R8 made up the second row. Making up the top five was Corey Lewis’ Lamborghini which posted a 1:45:372.
Continue reading for the full story.
Chevrolet and Ford Battled for Victory Yet Again
The start of the Michelin GT Challenge at VIR was as clean as it gets, Jan Magnussen getting way ahead of Tommy Milner who was caught napping and lost a couple of positions. By turn two, Joey Hand was up into second and already pressuring the No. 3 Chevrolet. But the blue-white-and-red Chip Ganassi-entered Ford could not get by the Dane and the ex-Formula 1 driver led his whole stint of 28 laps before pitting to let his team-mate Antonio Garcia finish the job. The Spaniard led 56 laps and ended in victory lane, the only six laps that the No. 3 didn’t lead being due to the pit stop cycles.
Dirk Mueller talked post-race about the challenges posted by the track with its seamless series of fast bends, quoting traffic as the deciding factor. But these two were the sister cars of the title contenders, both the No. 4 Corvette and the No. 67 Ford having a rather lackluster day, especially if we’re talking about that of the Velocity Yellow Chevy which ended with a bang, literally, after Gavin went out with minutes to spare!
A couple of off-track excursions in Turn 10 slowed the progress of the No. 4 which ended the day in horrible fashion after Oliver Gavin backed the car into the tire wall as he was running in the top 5. The incident led to the first and only full-course yellow period and it helped the No. 67 Ford gain a spot. Westbrook then got up to fourth after Fisichella was pushed off the road at the restart by Earl Bamber’s Porsche, the No. 912 car ending the day on the podium. The Risi Competizione 488 GTE managed to get to the checkered flag seventh while a similarly eventful day was in the cards for the BMW Team Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. First, the No. 100 M6 GT-LM lost a wheel early on, the No. 25 being pegged back later on by some mechanical gremlins and an off-track moment
After the conclusion of the 90-lap race, the gap at the top of the GT-LM standings is only seven points in favor of Milner and Gavin as the IMSA circus moves on to Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.
Lambo Takes the Checkered Flag in GTD Class
If in GT-LM the No. 66 Ford acted like the shadow of the No. 3, nobody could respond to Madison Snow’s monster pace in the Paul Miller Racing Huracan which simply drove away from everyone
If in GT-LM the No. 66 Ford acted like the shadow of the No. 3, nobody could respond to Madison Snow’s monster pace in the Paul Miller Racing Huracan which simply drove away from everyone. The two-hour and 40-minute race was dominated from lights to flag by the No. 48 Lamborghini which was never headed, bar for some five laps during its two pit stops. The job was finished off by Bryan Sellers who managed to keep first place after the restart, defending against the No. 9 Audi of Lawson Aschenbach. The winning margin was just under 1.5 seconds. Third across the line was the No. 44 Magnus Racing Audi of John Potter and Andy Lally, but the championship runner-ups were later excluded after the car failed the post-race technical inspection due to a minimum ride height infraction, the car sitting too low.
This elevated Robin Liddell and Andrew Davis to a podium position, this being the first double podium finish for Stevenson Motorsport. Despite the exclusion, Magnus Racing still has some title hopes alive as Christina Nielsen and Alessandro Balzan finished seventh in the Scuderia Corsa Ferrari. The sole Porsche of Riberas and Farnbacher (an almost all-Pro line-up) finished fourth as Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen came home sixth after Keating spun the No. 33 Viper in the second hour of the race. The only retirement was that of the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3 of Curtis and Klingmann which went behind the wall early on.
|1||1||3||GTLM||Garcia/Magnussen||Corvette Racing||Chevrolet Corvette C7.R||90|
|2||2||66||GTLM||Hand/Mueller||Ford Chip Ganassi Racing||Ford GT||90|
|3||3||912||GTLM||Bamber/Makowiecki||Porsche North America||Porsche 911 RSR||90|
|4||4||67||GTLM||Briscoe/Westbrook||Ford Chip Ganassi Racing||Ford GT||90|
|5||5||25||GTLM||Auberlen/Werner||BMW Team RLL||BMW M6 GTLM||90|
|6||6||911||GTLM||Pilet/Tandy||Porsche North America||Porsche 911 RSR||90|
|7||7||62||GTLM||Fisichella/Vilander||Risi Competizione||Ferrari 488 GTE||90|
|8||8||100||GTLM||Edwards/Luhr||BMW Team RLL||BMW M6 GTLM||89|
|9||1||48||GTD||Sellers/Snow||Paul Miller Racing||Lamborghini Huracan GT3||88|
|10||2||9||GTD||Aschenbach/Bell||Stevenson Motorsports||Audi R8 LMS GT3||88|
|11||3||6||GTD||Liddell/Davis||Stevenson Motorsports||Audi R8 LMS GT3||88|
|12||4||23||GTD||Farnbacher/Riberas||Team Seattle/Alex Job Racing||Porsche 911 GT3 R||88|
|13||5||16||GTD||Lewis/Pumpelly||Change Racing||Lamborghini Huracan GT3||87|
|14||6||33||GTD||Keating/Bleekemolen||Riley Motorsports||Dodge Viper GT3-R||87|
|15||7||63||GTD||Nielsen/Balzan||Scuderia Corsa||Ferrari 488 GT3||87|
|16||8||97||GTD||Marsal/Palttala||Turner Motorsport||BMW M6 GT3||87|
|17||9||4||GTLM||Gavin/Milner||Corvette Racing||Chevrolet Corvette C7.R||86|
|18||9||80||GTD||Knox/Skeen||Lone Star Racing||Dodge Viper GT3-R||84|
|19||10||27||GTD||Sbirrazzuoli/Persiani||Dream Racing Motorsport||Lamborghini Huracan GT3||75|
|20||11||96||GTD||Curtis/Klingmann||Turner Motorsport||BMW M6 GT3||25|
For more detailed information, such as total times, gaps, average speed, and track records, check out the results sheet here.
September 17th is the day that marks the return of all four of the IMSA Weathertech Sportscar Championship classes on track at the Circuit of the Americas for the Lone Star Le Mans weekend. This will be the second-to-last round of the season leading up to the season-ending Petit Le Mans in October.