On Sunday afternoon, the sun was back out and the brand-new pavement was baking at Virginia International Raceway. 21 cars took the green flag for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s Michelin GT Challenge at VIR, but one team was in control from the drop of the green flag.
Corvette Racing swept the front row in Saturday’s qualifying and Jan Magnussen led early on. Ford Chip Ganassi Racing‘s Joey Hand was able to get past Tommy Milner on the first lap and get into second. From there, the two leaders ran off to try to settle things amongst themselves.
Hand’s teammate Richard Westbrook started in the back, courtesy of a tire change prior to the race. In a hurry to get through the GT-Daytona class, Westbrook ran in the back of the BMW M6 GT3 driven by Bret Curtis. Curtis spun and hit the barrier exiting the final turn on the first lap. No penalty was assessed here.
While Hand had enough pace early on to hassle Magnussen, he could never get in position to attempt a pass. Magnussen held onto the advantage until he made his first pit stop 50 minutes in. At that time, Antonio Garcia got into the No. 3.
Once stops were completed, Garcia re-assumed the lead with Hand’s co-driver Dirk Müller continuing to give chase. Behind the leaders, a number of contenders were running into trouble. Both Porsche North America Porsche 911 RSR’s went off and covered their grilles with grass. The No. 911 of Patrick Pilet was forced to make an extra stop to clean the grille. Earl Bamber stopped his No. 912 on-track to shake the grass off his grille following his excursion in turn 3. That worked well enough to not force a stop.
The race came to a head with six minutes to go when Oliver Gavin spun the No. 4 Corvette hard into the tires at turn 16 after clipping a curb. The crash brought out the race’s lone full course caution and closed up the pack.
On the restart, Garcia was able to get away and take the overall victory with ease. Behind Garcia, there were some fireworks. Porsche North America’s Bamber dove to the inside of Risi Competizione‘s Giancarlo Fisichella in turn 1 for third. Contact was made and Fisichella’s Ferrari spun while Bamber continued on.
Fisichella was not happy with Bamber and had contact with him on the cool-down lap. This was accompanied by gestures and what Bamber described in a post-race interview with FOX Sports as a series of comments that were inappropriate for television and out of line.
For Corvette Racing, there were no fireworks. Just paydirt. However, it was not easy.
“It was a very hard race,” Garcia said afterwards. “My team got me a three- to-four second gap and then it was a classic green/white/checkered. Not even green then white, it was like white and checkered. It was an amazing race and the Corvette was brilliant. So I just need to thank the whole Corvette team and Chevy. Corvette Racing did a fantastic job today. It really paid off to be out testing on Monday and Tuesday (at Road Atlanta). I have to say, because the car was fantastic.”
Ford Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 66 for Hand and Müller was second, followed by the No. 912 Porsche of Bamber and Frédéric Makowiecki in third. Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe‘s No. 67 was fourth, while BMW Team RLL‘s No. 25 for Bill Auberlen and Dirk Werner was fifth.
In GT-Daytona, Paul Miller Racing‘s Lamborghini dominated the proceedings. Madison Snow won the class pole on Saturday and made it a goal to open up a big lead early. Why? Last week’s Balance of Performance changes saw the Lamborghini teams saddled with a 1.5 mm smaller restrictor on the refueling nozzle. As a result, pit stops would be roughly seven seconds longer than normal.
Snow was able to pull out to a eight-plus second lead in the first segment of the race prior to the first round of stops. Behind Snow was Matt Bell in the No. 9 Audi for Stevenson Motorsports. While Bell couldn’t quite keep up with Snow, he was more than quick enough to distance himself from the rest of the field.
Much like the GT Le Mans class, there were a number of off-course excursions. Dream Racing’s Cedric Sbirrazzuoli spun out of fourth in class early on in turn 17. Later on, Ben Keating spun his Viper GT3-R and backed into the tires in turn 5. Points leader Christina Nielsen flew off the road at turn 10 and filled her grille with grass. Luckily, that incident occurred during stops.
The pushing continued after the first round of stops as Snow continued to drive away from the field. By the time Snow finally handed over to Sellers, the lead was up to 25 seconds. That allowed Sellers to not necessarily have to push as much. That allowed Stevenson Motorsports’ Lawson Aschenbach to make some gains, but not enough to be significant. What really cut into the lead was when Sellers got off the road with 45 minutes to go in turn 5.
A surprising team on Sunday was Lone Star Racing‘s No. 80 Dodge Viper GT3-R. Using the local knowledge of lead driver Mike Skeen, the team moved up into the top 5 late in the race before big contact in turn 4 with Alex Job Racing-Team Seattle’s Alex Riberas damaged the left front of the car. Skeen would finish ninth in class, four laps down to the winners, but made their presence known.
Despite the late yellow, the combination of Snow and Sellers could not be overcome as the duo took Lamborghini’s maiden WeatherTech SportsCar Championship victory for the Huracan.
Afterwards, Sellers deflected credit for the win to Snow. Snow stressed the importance of pushing the car early on in the race.
“We were pretty strong all weekend,” Snow stated after the race. “The pressure (to perform) kept getting more and more as the weekend went on. [When] the race came, I pushed as hard as I could for the first couple of laps trying to get a good gap to take pressure off of me with clean air. On the first stop they asked me if I wanted to stay in the car and I told them I felt great in the car so I stayed it. I was pushing as hard as I could to get a good gap for the next stint.”
Stevenson Motorsports’ No. 9 for Bell and Aschenbach was second, while the No. 44 of Andy Lally and John Potter came across the line in third. While this would have been a great day in the points for Magnus Racing, it all came unraveled in the “room of doom.” The No. 44 was found to be in violation of ride-height regulations post-race. As a result, Magnus Racing was excluded.
Magnus Racing’s exclusion elevated the No. 6 Audi of Andrew Davis and Robin Liddell from Stevenson Motorsports to third in class. Alex Job Racing-Team Seattle’s Mario Farnbacher and Riberas were fourth, while Change Racing‘s Corey Lewis and Spencer Pumpelly were fifth.
The next IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship event sees all four classes take on the 3.4-mile Circuit of the Americas on Sep. 17 for the Lone Star Le Mans. Coverage can be seen live on FOX Sports 2.