The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship (IWSC) traveled to beautiful Virginia International Raceway (VIR) for the penultimate round of the championship, in a GT-only race that featured GTD Pro and GTD class cars. All Paul Miller Racing had to do to win the IWSC Sprint Cup championship was start the race, but they did much better than just that by finishing on the podium in the GTD class.
Most of the drivers in the IWSC and Michelin Pilot Challenge series will tell you that they love VIR. The track offers just about everything, from slow to fast corners, to long straights and elevation changes. “It’s one of my favorite tracks in the country,” said BMW Team RLL driver John Edwards. “It’s a really cool place with great flow and high commitment. It’s difficult to nail a lap as a driver because you have to be on it through the fine technical stuff, but then you also have to have big commitment through the high-speed esses. In a GT car, we can just barely do it flat and you really have to get the line perfect to make it through there.”
In qualifying, Connor De Phillippi put the #25 BMW Team RLL M4 GT3 in fourth in GTD Pro, around eight-tenths off the pole time of the #23 Aston Martin Vantage GT3. In GTD, Madison Snow qualified third in the #1 Paul Miller Racing M4 GT3, while Robby Foley followed in seventh in the #96 Turner Motorsport car. The top seven cars in GTD were within a half-second of each other.
Once the race got under way, De Phillippi dropped to fifth in GTD Pro within twelve minutes and started to fall back, but then caught back up with the top four later in the race. “I began to struggle with the balance, but it seemed to improve as the laps progressed,” said De Phillippi. “John got in and had a great first stint, so things were looking good. We seemed to lose the balance again, so the day did not end as well as it began.” The team also had a long pit stop due to a bad wheel nut that took away any chance of a podium. That’s pretty much the way the season has gone for BMW Team RLL. The GTD Pro class was won by the #9 Pfaff Motorsport Porsche, which was the team’s fifth win of the year.
In GTD, the Paul Miller Racing and Turner Motorsport cars held station from where they started until the first (and only) caution period. Turner elected to pit before everyone else and had Robby Foley do a double-stint. This would have likely paid off as a strategy move if the race had gone without a caution, but there was a caution with around 75 minutes left in the race. This allowed some teams to stretch out their fuel mileage and take shorter pit stops when they did have to stop for fuel, which many did late in the race. Bryan Sellers was one of those who had to stop for fuel after leading several laps, but he worked his way back up to third by passing the Wright Motorsport Porsche to put the car in third at the end. “On a day where you feel like you hit everything right and you should have maybe won, but you don’t, that’s always tough,” said Sellers. “At the same time though, you have to look at the big picture. We got a podium. We got the Sprint Cup championship for ourselves and for BMW M Motorsport. And we had a good race!” Turner Motorsport finished in seventh in GTD, with the win going to the #57 Winward Racing Mercedes.
Turner Motorsport had a similar situation with strategy in the Michelin Pilot Challenge race. Dillon Machavern moved the #95 M4 GT4 into second in the opening laps, but there was a caution shortly after he pitted to turn the car over to Bill Auberlen. Auberlen was in the lead late in the race, but had to pit for fuel with just thirteen minutes left, which dropped the #95 back to fifth. Robby Foley put in a great drive in the #96 M4 GT4 to finish fourth, after co-driver Vin Barletta was knocked off track earlier in the race.
The #43 Stephen Cameron Racing M4 GT4 driven by Greg Liefooghe and Sean Quinlan also had a stronger race than the eighth-place finish suggests, as Liefooghe was running in second late in the race before being hit and spun by Ford Mustang driver Billy Johnson, which led to a penalty for Johnson. The GS class race was won by former BMW Motorsport driver (and fan favorite) Joey Hand, who was co-driving the PF Racing Ford Mustang GT4 with James Pesek.
The IWSC and Michelin Pilot Challenge finales will take place at Road Atlanta on September 28th – October 1st. —David Haueter
[Photos by LAT IMAGES]