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(Photo: Phil Allaway)

Corvette Racing Benefits from BMW Cut Tires to Win at VIR

For the vast majority of Sunday’s Michelin GT Challenge at VIR, BMW Team RLL’s No. 25 of Bill Auberlen and Alexander Sims dominated the proceedings.  However, a cut tire with 13 minutes to go allowed Corvette Racing’s Antonio Garcia through to the lead.  Garcia held on to take his and co-driver Jan Magnussen‘s third victory of 2017.

Despite the last-minute ascension to the top of the podium, it appeared to be business as usual for Garcia.

“It was another long day at the office, but it was a good one,” Garcia said after the race.  “Definitely good to have competitive pace and remain up front. That was something we weren’t used to in the last races. We had a really really tough middle stint where Ferrari and Ford were strong, but I was able to keep up with them. I didn’t know how much fuel they were saving, so I didn’t know what pace we were doing. Again, I think the key was stopping one or two laps longer than the Ferrari and the Ford because I had really clear laps from those two, in the low 42s that made me so close to the Ferrari and especially to be ahead of the Ford coming out of the pits.”

Magnussen was more excited about the victory.

“Definitely good to have competitive pace and remain up front. That was something we weren’t used to in the last races. We had a really really tough middle stint where Ferrari and Ford were strong, but I was able to keep up with them. I didn’t know how much fuel they were saving, so I didn’t know what pace we were doing. Again, I think the key was stopping one or two laps longer than the Ferrari and the Ford because I had really clear laps from those two, in the low 42s that made me so close to the Ferrari and especially to be ahead of the Ford coming out of the pits.”

The BMW dominance started early.  Joey Hand won the pole on Saturday, but his advantage in the race lasted about three turns.  Sims charged to the outside of Hand in turn 1.  Hand was able to hold his ground, but Sims was able to get the position on Hand and make the pass.

Once in the lead, Sims slowly but steadily pulled from the rest of the pack.  Within a half-hour, Sims’ lead was over eight seconds over Hand.

Despite a cut tire when Auberlen was in the car, the lead continued to increase.  Behind the No. 25 BMW, a fuel strategy competition was underway.  Going the furthest on fuel put Garcia up to second overall late in the race.  That allowed Garcia to capitalize on the No. 25’s second tire failure and claim victory.

Just before Sims was forced to make his final stop for just the left front tire, the battle for third overall between Dirk Müller and Tommy Milner ended in tears.  After Müller forced Milner into the grass, Milner spun and took Müller off-course with him.

Garcia’s margin was 12.031 seconds over Ford Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 67 Ford GT for Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook.  Risi Competizione’s Giancarlo Fisichella and Toni Vilander finished third.  Auberlen and Sims finished fourth, helped in part by the late collision between Müller and Milner.  Müller and Hand ended up fifth.

In GT Daytona, Change Racing managed to pull off an incredibly rare complete weekend sweep.  Jeroen Mul was fastest in all three practice sessions, won the pole and the race.

Mul started to drive away from the rest of the GT Daytona pack as soon as the green flew.  An excellent start actually allowed Mul to get past Laurens Vanthoor in the GTLM class No. 912 Porsche.  Vanthoor was able to get back by Mul a lap or two later, but Mul was on his way.

Much like with Sims in GTLM, Mul was able to pull away from the GT Daytona field a little bit each lap.  That resulted in a lead of over 15 seconds prior to the first round of stops.

Behind Mul was Riley Motorsports’ Jeroen Bleekemolen and Turner Motorsport’s Jesse Krohn.  These two teams were the only ones that could match Change Racing’s pace.  Bleekemolen got out of the No. 33 Mercedes in favor of substitute co-driver Trent Hindman at the first stop.

While Hindman was quick in his own right, he didn’t have the pace of Mul, Corey Lewis, Krohn, or Krohn’s co-driver Jens Klingmann.  Krohn was able to get past Hindman during the stops and quickly drove away.

Behind the leaders, it was a very tough day for Michael Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian’s Acuras.  Neither car saw the finish for different reasons.  Katherine Legge ended up in an early battle for position with 3GT Racing’s Sage Karam.  Karam appeared to nearly run Legge off the road when she had a run on him, then Legge moved to the right on Karam.  Eventually, Karam kept the spot, then brake checked Legge.

Legge was naturally forced to pit due to the hood flying up on her Acura.  She did resume briefly, but pulled in for the day shortly afterwards.  Karam received a stop and 60 second hold for “unjustifiable risk” and eventually finished seventh in class.

A war of words broke out between Karam and Legge’s teammate Andy Lally on Twitter after the race.

Karam eventually offered to talk to Lally in private to discuss the situation.  This never happened.  There was a second meeting that was proposed as well.

Karam apparently sent another tweet (since deleted) that Lally did not like.  That provoked this response from Lally:

This situation could possibly simmer for the remainder for the remainder of the season.  Stay tuned.

The No. 86 Acura was running mid-pack in class when Oswaldo Negri Jr. was hit by the No. 3 Corvette of Magnussen.  Negri spun the Acura and hit the tire barrier in turn 3.  Negri was able to pull away and made it back to the pits for full service.   Co-driver Jeff Segal reported additional issues with the car after the stop that led to retirement.

The team By the halfway point, only Krohn within 30 seconds of Mul.  Lewis didn’t quite have Mul’s pace, but he was quicker than everyone else.

Klingmann was able to run Lewis down in the closing laps to set up a battle for the win.  However, Klingmann could not quite prevent the weekend sweep.

Afterwards, Mul was ecstatic.

“For this weekend the stars aligned perfectly, it was a complete home run,” Mul said in the post-race press conference.  “The car was a absolute dream, it handled this course beautifully. The first part of the race for me the start was a little tricky with the GTD and GTLM field staring all together but I managed to stay ahead, stay in the lead, and as soon as the entire GTLM field cleared me I was able to get into a solid rhythm and pull away form the rest of the GTD field.”

Bleekemolen and Hindman finished third, officially a lap down to the leaders.  That was only because Garcia was between Klingmann and Hindman at the finish.  At the beginning of the final lap, Hindman was 53.4 seconds behind Klingmann.  Scuderia Corsa’s Alessandro Balzan and Christina Nielsen finished fourth, while Paul Miller Racing’s Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow were fifth.

Provisional Results of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Michelin GT Challenge at VIR

IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship teams are off for the next three weeks before they return to action at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.  The Prototype, GT Le Mans and GT Daytona classes will compete in the America’s Tire 250 on Sep. 24.

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About Phil Allaway

Phil Allaway
Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor. Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as Tony Stewart's Arctic Cat All Star Circuit of Champions.

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One comment

  1. Avatar

    Corvette benefitted most from Imsa’s BOP largesse to them and their stinginess to Ford for this race. This series is just a game of pick a champ, and that champ usually is Generous Motors.