The SRO GT World Challenge America and GT America championships competed at Virginia International Raceway (VIR) this past weekend, and BMW teams came away with one pole and four podium finishes between the two races.

One of the BMW entry changes for VIR was that John Edwards was no longer driving with Samantha Tan in the #38 ST Racing M4 GT3 that competes in the Pro-Am class. Edwards and his wife have a baby coming in August, so Edwards has decided to dial back on some of his racing duties, though he will be a third driver in the #95 Turner Motorsport car in the IMSA race at Watkins Glen this coming weekend. Replacing Edwards for VIR was American factory driver Neil Verhagen, who has done almost all of his racing with BMW in Europe so far.

Another change was the addition of the #96 Turner Motorsport M4 GT3 in the Pro-Am class with Robby Foley and Vin Barletta behind the wheel. Barletta also drove the car on his own in the one-driver GT America races. The Turner entry was their first GT World Challenge/GT America events of this season and was Barletta’s first pro race in a GT3 car, though he has raced an M6 GT3 in other series. The BimmerWorld duo of Chandler Hull and Bill Auberlen is a regular in the series and had their #94 M4 GT3 on the entry in the Pro class, and they were looking for a strong weekend after the car was wrecked in the last rounds at Circuit of the Americas.

The highlight in the two rounds of qualifying was the pole position for Robby Foley in the #96 Turner car, which was around four-tenths quicker than anyone else. Other strong qualifying performances were put in by Chandler Hull for race one, where he started third overall, and Neil Verhagen qualifying fifth overall for race two. Unlike most of the other drivers in the series, Verhagen had not raced at VIR in years and had not raced an M4 GT3 there before last weekend.

In race one at VIR, Chandler Hull put in a strong drive in the BimmerWorld car to move up to second overall behind handing over to Bill Auberlen, who got into first place when leader Daniel Morad had a slide in his Mercedes and went off-track. It was Auberlen’s turn just a couple of laps later when he had a slide going through the downhill turn onto the front straight, which let Morad past. Auberlen and Hull finished second overall and in the Pro class behind Morad and Kenton Koch in their Mercedes.

ST Racing also had a strong race, with Neil Verhagen and Samantha Tan finishing fifth overall and second in Pro-Am behind the Mercedes of Colin Braun and George Kurz. The #96 Turner car finished thirteenth after Barletta had a couple of off-track excursions. After starting from ninth in race two, Bill Auberlen put in a strong drive in the BimmerWorld car to move up to second place in the Pro class, but the team then had to serve a penalty for a pit lane speed violation which dropped them down to tenth overall and fifth in the Pro class.

Chandler Hull (far right) and Bill Auberlen (second from right) celebrate their second place finish in race one.

Neil Verhagen put in a great drive to start the race in the ST Racing car, setting the fastest lap of the race and making several passes to get up to third overall before handling off to Tan, who also put in a strong drive and was pressuring overall leader George Kurz in his Mercedes for several laps. They ultimately finished second overall and second in the Pro-Am class. Robby Foley also put in a great drive from pole in his stint, leading the race until pit stops, where they lost some time and ultimately finished tenth overall and fifth in Pro-Am.

Samantha Tan and Neil Verhagen were a strong pairing at VIR, with two second place finishes.

Vin Barletta had better success in the GT America races, as he finished a strong fourth overall in race one, but was moved up to third when winner Memo Gidley was disqualified after it was found that his Mercedes didn’t have a homologated catalytic converter. Barletta then finished eighth in race two.

The GT World Challenge and GT America series have a bit of a break, as the next race weekend isn’t until August 18th-20th at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, followed by the final two events at Sebring (September 22nd-24th) and Indianapolis (October 5th-7th). Turner Motorsport may enter more races with their M4 GT3, though that has yet to be decided. It’s also uncertain at this point who will race with Samantha Tan at Road America and Sebring, though John Edwards is expected to be back for the Indy finale. Verhagen would be a great choice, but he’s also busy racing for BMW in Europe. —David Haueter

[Photos courtesy SRO]



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