BMW racers put on strong performances in the SRO event at Virginia International Raceway on July 9–12, scoring two overall wins and a number of class wins.
The event, the first for the series since early March at the Circuit of the Americas, was a triple-header for the GT4 and Touring Car classes, with each group running a race beyond the usual two per weekend to make up for events canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Bill Auberlen and James Walker took two overall and class wins in the #82 BimmerWorld M4 GT4, running in the Pro-Am class in the GT4 SprintX series. Walker started the first race on Saturday, handing off to Auberlen from second in class soon after the pit stop window opened 35 minutes into the one-hour race. Auberlen ran first in class, moving up to second overall, well behind overall and Silver class leader Harry Gottsacker in the #28 ST Racing M4 GT4 that he shared with Nick Wittmer. Gottsacker was among a number of racers who ran out of gas on the final lap of the race, run in 90-degree-plus weather under green flag conditions. He stopped on the start-finish straight; Auberlen blew by to score an overall win. Gottsacker was able to restart to get the car across the finish line. He was seventh overall, but was still first in the Silver class. His teammates Samantha Tan and Jon Miller in the #38 M4 GT4 finished second in Silver, while Toby Grahovec and Chandler Hull finished third in class in the #26 Classic BMW M4 GT4. The 2019 class champions Sean Quinlan and Greg Liefooghe in the #19 Stephen Cameron M4 GT4 finished second overall and second in Pro-Am.
Auberlen in the BimmerWorld car had a scare at the start of Saturday’s race as he was hit and sent off course just after the green flag was thrown. But the start was waved off as the pack was out of shape, so Auberlen was able to return to the front row for a restart. He immediately began to build a substantial margin over the rest of the pack before handing off to Walker. Walker maintained his distance from the rest of the pack, winning overall with a margin of over nine seconds. Liefooghe and Quinlan in the only other M4 GT4 in the Pro-Am class did not start the race. In the Silver Class, Miller took the lead in the #38 M4 GT4, running ahead of Grahovec and Gottsacker. After pit stops the order in Silver was Tan, in for Miller, Wittmer, in for Gottsacker, and Hull, in for Grahovec. Wittmer took over the class lead, but a drive-through penalty for a pit stop violation dropped him down the order. Hull passed Tan with about ten minutes remaining, and Tim Barber, in the CCR Team TFB M4 GT4 that he shared with Cole Ciraulo found his way by Tan for second. In the end, the Silver class win went to Hull/Grahovec, with Barber/Ciraulo second and Miller/Tan third. Wittmer recovered from the penalty to finish fourth in class.
Auberlen and Walker appeared to be headed for a third Pro-Am win until Walker was hit and sent off course just after the track returned to green from an early caution period. When Auberlen took over he moved up through the pack, challenging Jason Hart for the win late in the race. Unfortunately, the Porsche racer’s margin was too large, and Auberlen had to settle for second overall with a gap of just over a second behind the winner. Liefooghe and Quinlan in the #19 M4 GT4, back in the hunt with Quinlan starting from the back of the pack, moved up to finish third in Pro-Am and fourth overall at the end. Tan and Miller finished fifth overall and second in the Silver class; the class winners, Jarett Andretti and Colin Mullan in a McLaren, finished third overall. Barber and Ciraulo were third in class, with Wittmer and Gottsacker finishing fourth after another drive-through for a pit stop infraction.
Defending Touring Car Champion Johan Schwartz, running an M240iR for Hard Motorsports with his old team, Rooster Hall Racing (out of the series this season), resumed his winning ways, taking Touring Car class wins in the first two 40-minute sprints. Toby Grahovec, the 2016 champion in the class, won race three on Sunday in the #26 Classic BMW M240iR. The battles at the front of the pack were close. In the first race, Grahovec led until Schwartz made a pass just before the halfway point. Clay in the #36 BimmerWorld M240iR used the moment to get by Grahovec for second place. On the final lap, Grahovec regained the position, finishing second behind Schwartz and ahead of Clay, with Chandler Hull, the 2019 rookie of the year in the class, fourth in the #94 BimmerWorld car. In the Touring Car A class, Mark Pombo and Tomas Mejia in the #61 and #60 JCS Minis diced for the lead, with Mejia winning at the end.
In race two on Saturday, the finishing order was Schwartz/Clay/Grahovec; Hull, running second at the time, crashed out of the race with twelve minutes remaining, bringing out a yellow flag. Green flag racing did not resume; the race ended under yellow. The TCA win went to Pombo, with Tyler Gonzales second in a Hyundai Veloster, and Mejia third.
Schwartz started third in Sunday’s race, moving into the lead on the first lap, with Grahovec, Hull, and Clay following him. Grahovec took the lead from Schwartz with eighteen minutes remaining. Four minutes later a caution flag came out; the Sunday race, like Saturday’s contest, would end under yellow. Grahovec won ahead of Schwartz and Clay. The TCA win went to Gonzales, with Mejia second and Pombo third.
Stephen Cameron Racing ran a single M4 GT4 in the GT4 sprint series. Sean Quinlan piloted the car in the first two sprints, finishing third in the Am class on Friday and seventh on Saturday. Michael Dinan won the class both days in an Aston Martin Vantage GT4. Greg Liefooghe drove the car on Sunday, finishing third overall and third in the Pro class. Michael Cooper won the race in a McLaren.—Brian Morgan
[Photo of BimmerWorld #82 courtesy Halston Pitman/BimmerWorld, photo of Classic BMW #26 M240iR courtesy Classic BMW, and photo of #19 Stephen Cameron M4 GT4 courtesy BMW Motorsport.]