The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship (IWSC) traveled to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio for the fifth round of the championship and it was a great weekend for BMW, as M4 GT3s finished one-two in the GTD class, with Turner Motorsport getting their first win with the M4 GT3 with drivers Bill Auberlen and Robby Foley, followed by the Paul Miller M4 GT3 with drivers Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow in second. The win was Auberlen’s 65th in IMSA competition, which extended his record as the winningest driver in IMSA history.
The M4 GT3s were fast all weekend at Mid-Ohio, which is an undulating natural road course spread out over 2.258 miles with thirteen turns. In qualifying, Robby Foley and Madison Snow traded fastest laps, with Snow ultimately getting the GTD pole with a 1:20.525 lap on a damp but drying track. Foley ended up fourth with a 1:21.012, as he started to run out of grip by the time the track dried more at the end of the session. “It wasn’t until the last two or three laps that the Keyhole (the sweeping right-hander that leads onto the long back stretch) was consistent from lap to lap,” said Snow. “Having a spotter there and another watching the end of the straightaway really helped, because they could watch the other cars and report where they were braking. Still, when the Keyhole was slippery it was hard to trust that you could carry your braking deep into turn three.”
The race was held under sunny skies with warm 80° temperatures, and the M4 GT3s immediately showed they would be contenders. The #32 Mercedes of Stevan McAleer initially took the lead with the chaos of the start, but Snow caught up to him after a few laps and took the lead. Both M4 GT3s led the race at times and often ran one-two, with some great battles among the BMW drivers for the lead.
With the race winding down, Bill Auberlen was in the lead in the #96 car with Bryan Sellers in second in the #1, but with just a few laps to go, the #70 McLaren driven by Jordan Pepper got by both BMWs to initially take the win. It was a surprise to everyone, including the announcers, as they were certain the McLaren would have to stop for fuel to make it to the end. The post-race inspection revealed the McLaren was under minimum weight and was disqualified, which handed the win to Auberlen and Foley in the Turner Motorsport M4 GT3, with Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow in second in the Paul Miller Racing BMW. The GTD PRO class, which includes the #25 BMW M Team RLL M4 GT3, did not compete at Mid-Ohio.
It was the first win for Turner Motorsport with the new M4 GT3 and the second for Paul Miller Racing, who won at Long Beach. The BMWs were also running low on fuel at the end of the race (which had only one full course caution period) and worked together to get to the end. “Bryan Sellers and I made an agreement on the radio – our teams were talking – that we were going to work together to save as much fuel as we could and leave it to about a lap and a half at the end,” said Auberlen. “That’s how much fuel we would have that we could race at least one lap to try to defend. The McLaren caught us too early, so we had to just let him by, and we thought for sure he wasn’t going to make it, no way. Turns out he’s underweight, and we barely finished with fuel.” The Turner M4 GT3 led a class high 40 of the races 110 laps.
Sellers was also very happy with the second-place finish, in the first year that the team has raced a BMW after several years with Lamborghini. “Today was a very strong day for us,” he said. “Our BMW showed a ton of pace all weekend and the relationship between BMW and Paul Miller Racing continues to get stronger. A win and today’s podium in only our fourth race with the BMW M4 GT3 is something we can all be very proud of.”
The BMW M4 GT4s didn’t fare as well in the Michelin Pilot Challenge race, with a best finish of eighth for Robby Foley and Vin Barletta in the #96 Turner Motorsport M4 GT4. Greg Liefooghe and Sean Quinlan finished eleventh in the #43 Stephen Cameron Racing car, while Bill Auberlen and Dillon Machavern were classified 21st in class after running out of fuel on the last lap in the #95 Turner car. The poor result was a killer for Auberlen and Machavern after finishing twentieth in the last race at Laguna Seca with a flat tire while running in second. The pair were hoping to be contenders for the championship after finishing in the runner-up spot last season.
The next round for the IWSC is at Belle Isle in Detroit on the weekend of June 3rd-4th. Both the IWSC and the Michelin Pilot Challenge series will then race at Watkins Glen on June 23rd-26th. —David Haueter
[Photos by David Haueter]