IMSA Michelin GT Challenge at VIR - Race Report
Wins for Chevrolet and Lamborghiniby Michael Fira, on
Can it get more old school than a GT-only race at a track like VIR? Sunday’s tenth round of the IMSA Weathertech Sports Car Championship was a showcase of proper throwback racing, with enough panel-to-panel rubbing to please anyone as well as a host of surprise turnarounds and a finish that sets the championship up nicely for the last two races of 2017.
It was GTO vs GTU, or rather GT-LM vs GT-D this past weekend at the up-and-down twisty Virginia International Raceway where another GT-only round took place, just last year. The race marked the return of Risi Competizione which took a hiatus following their unfortunate race-ending and chassis-bending crash at Le Mans. Giuseppe Risi’s No. 62 488 GTE was quick out of the box, not something impossible to predict when Ferrari regulars Giancarlo Fisichella and Toni Vilander were the listed drivers.
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Ferrari wasn’t quick enough, in spite of Fisichella’s best efforts.
Ferrari wasn’t, however, quick enough, in spite of Fisichella’s best efforts, which only landed him the fourth best time. Just ahead were the two BMWs, both managing laps in the 1:40.4 region. Ford’s Joey Hand was, though, in a league of his own as he went 0.2 seconds quicker than the Beemers to take pole via a 1:40.211 in the No. 66 GT.
Corvette Racing’s pair of C7.Rs were fifth and sixth fastest respectively, with Oliver Gavin being the quicker of the two in the No. 4 car. After a string of great results, the Porsches ran properly lackluster in qualifying managing to fill the last row of the GT-LM grid. The No. 911 and No. 912 cars were almost half a second slower than the second Ford GT which was only seventh quickest. Proving that it wasn’t due to the drivers not trying hard enough, Dirk Werner even spun the No. 911 Porsche coming too hot into the Oak Tree turn.
Change Racing’s Jeroen Mul again shined aboard the No. 16 Huracan.
As he continued to map America’s road courses, Change Racing’s Jeroen Mul again shined aboard the No. 16 Huracan. Thanks to a 1:43.391, the Dutchman managed to seize the top spot in the dying seconds from under Jesse Krohn’s nose. The Turner BMW, which rounded the 2.54-mile-long track in 1:43.621, would go on to start from the front row anyway. Stevenson Motorsport was third quickest, barely a tenth behind Krohn’s best effort.
The No. 25 BMW had a great start and Alex Sims quickly disposed of Dirk Mueller rocketing into a lead of over six seconds.
The No. 25 BMW had a great start and Alex Sims quickly disposed of Dirk Mueller rocketing into a lead of over six seconds. Behind though, everyone was juggling for positions and there were many instances of cars trading paint on a track that doesn’t forgive you if you go outside of the grey stuff. While one BMW was making itself smaller for the guys behind, the other, No. 24, was going behind the wall with what proved to be terminal mechanical maladies.
Sims’ lead was enough to keep him (and second driver Bill Auberlen) out of harm’s way even through the two pit stops but their undoing was a puncture. It came with 12 minutes to go when Sims was back in the car and in the lead. It wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been, however, and they went on to finish fourth overall.
There was a hot battle brewing between Dirk Mueller in the No. 66 Ford and Tommy Milner in the No. 4 Corvette.
That’s because, further down the road, there was a hot battle brewing between Dirk Mueller in the No. 66 Ford and Tommy Milner in the No. 4 Corvette. The two ran neck and neck and Milner was even with two wheels off the tarmac at one point. It all came down to a Limerock-like incident as both drivers went off the road. Milner was leaning against Mueller, after the German didn’t give enough room to the American down the straight, and the two entered side-by-side the following bend.
Milner locked up and spun, pushing the Ford off the road in the process. This left the No. 3 Corvette with no immediate opposition and Antonio Garcia took over the lead. He and Jan Magnussen finished a good 12 seconds ahead of the No. 67 Ford which also benefited from the misfortune of its sister-car.
The victory did not look likely for Corvette Racing but it all came together as problems befell their rivals.
The victory did not look likely for Corvette Racing but it all came together as problems befell their rivals in the caution-free two-hours-and-45-minutes race. Besides the BMWs hitting trouble, the No. 62 Ferrari was also slowed down by a number of off-track excursions including a frustrating one late in the running.
Fisichella was running second when he came up to lap the No. 96 BMW of Jesse Krohn. The two made contact going into Turn 3 and the Ferrari made a trip through the grass and lost ground. It did, however, rebound to finish third. The Porsches were also a non-factor, struggling all race and one of them (that of Laurens Vanthoor and Gianmaria Bruni) even lagging behind the leading GT-D runner early in the race.
The victory puts Magnussen and Garcia (239 p.) eight points clear ahead of Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller (231 p.) who, in turn, are just a point ahead of Auberlen and Sims (230 p.). Briscoe and Westbrook are fourth in the standings with 225 points gathered thus far.
Top 5 GTLM Results
|1||3||Magnussen/Garcia||Corvette Racing||Chevrolet Corvette C7.R||93|
|2||67||Briscoe/Westbrook||Ford Chip Ganassi Racing||Ford GT||93|
|3||62||Fisichella/Vilander||Risi Competizione||Ferrari 488 GTE||93|
|4||25||Auberlen/Sims||BMW Team RLL||BMW M6 GTLM||93|
|5||66||Mueller/Hand||Ford Chip Ganassi Racing||Ford GT||93|
Mul managed to keep everyone at bay at the start and then pulled a gap over the opposition.
It was much closer than 12 seconds down in GT-D. Granted, Change Racing, who were at their home event, pretty much dominated the race. Jeroen Mul did the first two stints while team-mate Corey Lewis finished the job off. Mul managed to keep everyone at bay at the start and then pulled a gap over the opposition. The plan worked to perfection and Lewis was loaded into the car with a 10-second gap to second-placed Jens Klingmann.
The BMW works driver did his thing and slowly but surely reeled Corey in. It was quite a job given that he had to cut that gap in 50 minutes. Although the two ran nose-to-tail in the closing stages, Lewis got the better of Klingmann to cross the finish line a second clear off the German. It was the first win for this team as well as for its driver, while Lamborghini also won at VIR in 2016.
Mercedes-Benz returned to the podium after a frustrating dry spell.
Mercedes-Benz returned to the podium after a frustrating dry spell thanks to the No. 33 Riley AMG GT GT3 of Trent Hindman and Jeroen Bleekemolen. The Dutchman ran at times right behind the other Jeroen in the field, but had to settle for third alongside Ben Keating’s sub. Fourth went the way of Alessandro Balzan and Christina Nielsen who edge ever closer to a second title on the trot following yet another clean performance in a class otherwise marred by small incidents. One of those had the No. 48 Lamborghini of Paul Miller Racing in center stage as Bryce Miller had to relinquish a better finishing position due to a puncture.
Michael Shank Racing also had an awful weekend, the second in a row where both of his cars had to retire.
Michael Shank Racing also had an awful weekend, the second in a row where both of his cars had to retire. Before that, though, the No. 93 of Katherine Legge was involved in an unorthodox fight with the two 3GT Racing Lexuses, Sage Karam being given a hefty penalty for blocking and brake-checking the Acura driver. Those two RCFs would also fill the list of retirements.
With two races left, the next being September’s Continental Tyre Monterey Grand Prix, Nielsen and Balzan rely on a 15-point advantage (254 p.) over Jeroen Bleekemolen and Ben Keating (239 p.). Lawson Aschenbach and Andrew Davis are third (225 p.) while Andy Lally and Katherine Legge’s chances have been ruined by the recent couple of retirements (221 p.) and they stand fourth in their class.
Top 5 GTD Results
|1||16||Mul/Lewis||Change Racing||Lamborghini Huracan GT3||91|
|2||96||Klingmann/Krohn||Turner Motorsport||BMW M6 GT3||91|
|3||33||Hindman/Bleekemolen||Riley - Team AMG||Mercedes-AMG GT3||90|
|4||63||Nielsen/Balzan||Scuderia Corsa||Ferrari 488 GT3||90|
|5||48||Sellers/Snow||Paul Miller Racing||Lamborghini Huracan GT3||90|
Check out the full results from VIR here.