What to Watch For: Michelin GT Challenge at VIR
Thursday, August 22, 2019

Two hours and 40 minutes of IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship action are on tap Sunday as the two GT classes take center stage in the Michelin GT Challenge at VIRginia International Raceway.

It is the second and final race featuring only the GT Le Mans (GTLM) and GT Daytona (GTD) classes, which have been the featured attraction here at VIR every year since 2014.

VIR is a place where we’ve seen close competition in the past. The finish of the first WeatherTech Championship GT-only race here in 2014 and the GRAND-AM race here in 2006 spring immediately to mind – and we could be in for another barnburner Sunday.

NBCSN has live television coverage beginning at 1:30 p.m. ET on Sunday. IMSA Radio will cover the action live trackside throughout the weekend on IMSA.com and RadioLeMans.com, with race coverage also airing on SiriusXM Radio.

For tickets, visit VIRNOW.com.

Here’s what to watch for this weekend:

VIR is Another Favorite Venue for WeatherTech Championship Drivers

It’s not hard to find a WeatherTech Championship driver with enthusiastic comments when the conversation shifts to VIRginia International Raceway. The 3.27-mile, 17-turn circuit offers elevation changes and a layout that is easy to love.

“VIR has a great combination of high-speed and low-speed sections, but also offers some great elevation change as well, making it extra technical,” said defending Michelin GT Challenge winner Connor De Phillippi, who will share the No. 25 BMW Team RLL M8 GTE with Tom Blomqvist in Sunday’s race. “Last year we proved to have a package capable of winning and I know we will have the same this year. Now we need to execute.” 

“VIRginia International Raceway is one of our favorite tracks in the season,” added No. 33 Riley Motorsports Team AMG driver Jeroen Bleekemolen, who also will get to experience some local short-track racing from the driver’s seat on Saturday night at nearby South Boston Speedway. “(Co-driver) Ben (Keating), the whole Riley Motorsports team and I all love this track. I can’t wait to go out there and fight for the win. Things are more spread out at VIR, and it makes for a great GT-only race. You can focus on your racing and don’t have to watch the mirrors all of the time.”

“Always great to get to VIR; it’s a special place on the calendar for a lot of reasons,” contributed Patrick Long, who shares the No. 73 Park Place Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R with Patrick Lindsey and won the GRAND-AM Daytona Prototype race here in 2006 with a thrilling last-lap pass by then-co-driver Mike Rockenfeller. “It’s technical, fast and there’s a lot of curb usage. It’s very key to have a car that trail brakes quite well. The pace of the race is usually high because of it being a GT-only battle. Track position will be important, and every lap will count.”

Championship Leaders Look to Protect Their Positions with Three Races to Go

The WeatherTech Championship points leaders in both the GTLM and GTD classes head into the weekend with reasonably comfortable margins.

In GTLM, the No. 912 Porsche GT Team 911 RSR duo of Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor currently sit 14 points ahead of teammates Patrick Pilet and Nick Tandy in the No. 911 entry. And with three races remaining on the schedule, the focus is clearly on the championship battle.

“We’re leading the manufacturers’ championship by a decent margin,” Vanthoor said. “Our team’s goal is to have at least one of our vehicles finish on the podium at every race. We still have three races on the calendar and let’s see if we can manage this. I like VIRginia International Raceway – it’s a typical American racetrack that doesn’t forgive mistakes.”

In the GTD WeatherTech Championship standings, it’s a more significant margin – 26 points – between leaders Trent Hindman and Mario Farnbacher in the No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 and the second-place pairing of Bill Auberlen and Robby Foley in the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3.

“There is quite a lot of confidence in what we have with the Acura NSX GT3 Evo heading to VIR,” said Hindman. “Mario and Katherine (Legge) were able to bring the No. 86 Acura home on the podium at last year’s event and finding ourselves on the podium once again is our goal. We are in a good championship position thanks to the efforts of (Team Owner) Mike (Shank), Mario and the entire MSR team and we have to be smart and do our best to protect that.”

Both the No. 912 and No. 86 teams certainly have the advantage, but it’d be a mistake to think either team cannot be overtaken. There’s still plenty in play.

Powell Set for WeatherTech Championship Debut in No. 57 Heinricher Racing with Meyer Shank Acura

British driver Alice Powell will make her IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship debut in this weekend’s Michelin GT Challenge at VIR, sharing the No. 57 Heinricher Racing with Meyer Shank Acura NSX GT3 with her countrywoman, Legge in the GT Daytona (GTD) class.

Powell has raced in Formula Renault, GP3 and Formula 3 in Europe. She finished third in the recently completed W Series this season which included a victory at Brands Hatch in the final race. Not only will this be Powell’s first WeatherTech Championship race, but it’s also just her second time racing sports cars.

“I am excited to be joining Heinricher Racing and Meyer Shank Racing for the next round of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship,” said Powell. “This is such a successful and well-respected team. I am looking forward to working with them and settling into driving the Acura NSX GT3. It will be my first time racing in the States and only the second endurance race of my career, so I am keen to experience VIR.”

No. 3 Corvette Racing Duo Back at VIR Looking to Revisit Victory Lane

No. 3 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R co-drivers Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen have great recent history at VIR.

They won consecutive races here in 2016 and 2017 and finished second last year. That 2017 victory was the most recent for Garcia and Magnussen, who has won the WeatherTech Championship GTLM title each of the past two years. They’re eager to get back to familiar territory this weekend

“VIR is one of our favorite tracks as a team,” Garcia said. “We’ve won quite a few times there and came up a little short last year. So, Corvette Racing likes the track, and Jan and I have had a lot of success.”

“VIR has been good to us,” Magnussen added. “We need it to be good for us again. We need a win for this season and the championship. There are some places where the result comes a little easier than at others, and for some reason, VIR is that for us.”