Turner Motorsport can’t seem to catch a break in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GTD lately. They were leading the championship after the Laguna Seca race in mid-September with drivers Bill Auberlen and Robby Foley, but had a disastrous outing at Long Beach when an ABS failure on their M6 GT3 led to a crash and a sixteenth place finish, while the two cars right behind them in the championship finished one-two. That single race dropped them to fourth in the championship standings.
The TMS team was looking to rebound at Virginia International Raceway (VIR) this past weekend and started off great, with Foley getting the pole in the GTD class. Most of the race went well too, with the #96 M6 GT3 at the front for most of the race, but as Bill Auberlen said, “It was a perfect two-hour and 30-minute race, the only problem was the race was two hours and 40 minutes.”
Auberlen was in position to win and get back into the championship hunt with five laps to go when the #3 Corvette of Antonio Garcia (in GTLM class) ran into the side of Auberlen in turn one, which spun both cars and resulted in a flat rear tire for the BMW. Auberlen brought the car into the pits and got back out but finished twelfth as the win went to the points-leading Pfaff Motorsport Porsche driven by Laurens Vanthoor.
It was a very disappointing end to a race that should have turned out much differently. “I was leading with five laps to go and with this win we are suddenly back in the championship,” said Auberlen after the race. “The Corvette driven by Garcia was making a pass on me in turn one and he lost it while I was giving him enough space and smashed into our side and deflated our right rear tire, as well as deflating hopes for victory and killing any hope for a GTD championship.” With one race left to go in the championship, the Petit Le Mans race at Road Atlanta in mid-November, the Pfaff Motorsport Porsche team is in control of the championship after getting their third straight win at VIR. The Turner team’s focus is now not on the championship but on closing out the final race of the M6 GT3 with a win.
Sunday’s Michelin Challenge race at VIR turned out better for TMS than the Saturday race. Dillon Machavern started the #95 M4 GT4 that he co-drives with Bill Auberlen on the pole in the GS class and held the lead until pitting to turn the car over to Auberlen. The pair looked to be in a great position to win the race until getting cycled back in the field with some bad timing on caution periods favored their competitors.
After the last round of pit stops to get enough fuel to finish the race, Auberlen ended up at the back of the GS field but put in a fantastic drive that was very exciting to watch as he reeled off one fast lap after another and worked his way into fourth by the end. The team then found out after the race that the Aston Martin that finished second was disqualified during a post-race technical inspection, so the #95 BMW was credited with a third-place finish. Fellow TMS drivers Robby Foley and Vin Barletta finished eleventh in the GS class at VIR in the #96 M4 GT4.
The Michelin Challenge race was won by Jan Heylen and Ryan Hardwick in their Wright Motorsport Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport, which now sits second in the championship just 30 points behind Auberlen and Machavern. All will be decided in the season finale at Road Atlanta in a few weeks. “The championship will come to whichever car crosses the finish line first,” said Porsche driver Ryan Hardwick. “We don’t need any cars in between us; we don’t need any other factors… that’s an awesome position to be in for us and them (speaking of Auberlen and Machavern) as well. We enjoy racing against them, and I think the feeling is mutual.”—David Haueter
[Photos courtesy David Haueter.]