For the second and final time in the 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season, the series’ two GT classes – GT Le Mans (GTLM) and GT Daytona (GTD) – will be in the spotlight throughout the two-hour, 40-minute Michelin GT Challenge at VIRginia International Raceway on Sunday, Aug. 27.
The race will be televised live on FS1 beginning at 1:30 p.m. ET, with live audio coverage of all sessions available through IMSA Radio on IMSA.com and RadioLeMans.com. The IMSA Radio live race broadcast of the Michelin GT Challenge also can be heard on SiriusXM Radio.
The entry list released today includes 25 world-class race cars, including nine GTLM machines and 16 GTD entries. And for the first time since the Advance Auto Parts Sportscar Showdown at Circuit of The Americas on May 6, the entry list includes the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE to be co-driven by Giancarlo Fisichella and Toni Vilander.
Fisichella and the No. 62 team are previous Michelin GT Challenge winners, taking the 2014 victory with the previous-generation 458 race car, when Fisichella’s then-co-driver, Pierre Kaffer, passed Wolf Henzler’s No. 17 Team Falken Tire Porsche on the final lap. The No. 62 is the lone Ferrari in the GTLM class.
Ferrari is one of three different GTLM manufacturers to have claimed victory in the past three WeatherTech Championship events at VIR, where GTLM is the overall winner in the GT-only race. Porsche won in 2015 with Nick Tandy and Patrick Pilet sharing the No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR, while Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen put Chevrolet in victory circle in 2016 aboard the No. 3 Corvette Racing Corvette C7.R.
This year, Garcia and Magnussen head to VIR not only looking to successfully defend their 2016 victory, but also to protect their current GTLM points lead. They’ll be joined, as always, on the two-car Corvette Racing team by No. 4 C7.R co-drivers Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin, the reigning WeatherTech Championship GTLM champions.
Speaking of GTLM champions, Pilet’s 2015 victory at VIR played a key role in helping him take the season crown that year. This season, he’s joined in the new-for-2017 No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR by Dirk Werner, with whom he co-drove to victory in the first GT-only race of the WeatherTech Championship season, the Northeast Grand Prix at Lime Rock Park last month.
Both the No. 911 and the No. 912 Porsche 911 RSRs – the first 911 in history to feature an engine position in front of the rear axle – are fielded by the Porsche GT Team, which is based just a few hours away from VIR in Rock Hill, South Carolina. The team’s No. 912 is co-driven by Laurens Vanthoor and Gianmaria Bruni.
The team that perhaps is carrying the most momentum to the Michelin GT Challenge is Ford Chip Ganassi Racing, which won the most recent WeatherTech Championship round – the Continental Tire Road Race Showcase at Road America on Aug. 6. No. 66 Ford GT co-drivers Dirk Mueller and Joey Hand did the honors on that day, just as they did earlier this season in winning the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
Mueller and Hand are currently second in the GTLM championship standings, eight points in arrears of Magnussen and Garcia. In fourth place, co-driving the No. 67 Ford GT, are Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe, who won three times in 2016 but are still looking for their first victory this season.
The same can’t be said for No. 25 BMW Team RLL co-drivers Bill Auberlen and Alexander Sims. They’ve already won twice this season in their BMW M6 GTLM and are right in the championship hunt as well, just one point behind Mueller and Hand in third. The BMW Team RLL lineup is completed by John Edwards – who hails from nearby Charlotte, North Carolina – and German racer Martin Tomczyk.
The GTD class, meanwhile, features eight different manufacturers – five of which that have already won races this season and a sixth holding a substantial lead in the GTD championship standings. The GTD points leaders heading to VIR are defending champions Christina Nielsen and Alessandro Balzan in the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GT3.
Nielsen and Balzan’s lead of 15 points has been built on consistency throughout the season. They haven’t won yet this year, but they had a midseason run of six consecutive podium results and it’s only a matter of time before they return to the top step.
They currently lead Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen, who have won twice in GTD this year, by a count of 254-239. Keating and Bleekemolen will share the same No. 33 Riley Motorsports-Team AMG Mercedes-AMG GT3 that they co-drove to victories in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh From Florida and the Advance Auto Parts Sportscar Showdown earlier this year.
The Sebring victory was the first for Mercedes-AMG in WeatherTech Championship competition. The manufacturer has three chances of adding another victory at VIR, with Kenny Habul and Tristan Vautier sharing the No. 75 SunEnergy1 Racing Mercedes and Dan Knox and Mike Skeen co-driving the No. 80 Lone Star Racing entry.
Andy Lally, Katherine Legge and the Michael Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian team also had the honor of delivering a manufacturer’s first victory when Legge and Lally co-drove the No. 93 Acura NSX GT3 to the win in June’s Chevrolet Sports Car Classic at Detroit’s Belle Isle. Legge and Lally also won the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen and will be joined on the two-car team – as they have been throughout the season – by Ozz Negri and Jeff Segal in the No. 86 NSX.
Porsche has won twice in GTD this season, including a victory by the No. 28 Alegra Motorsports team in the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona. Canadian driver Daniel Morad will be joined by American Porsche factory driver Patrick Long in the team’s Porsche 911 GT3 R, while Lime Rock winners Joerg Bergmeister and Patrick Lindsey are teamed in the No. 73 Park Place Motorsports entry.
Cooper MacNeil and Gunnar Jeannette – who won April’s BUBBA burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach in a Mercedes – again will share the No. 50 WeatherTech Porsche 911 GT3 R in the Michelin GT Challenge. The Porsche lineup is further strengthened by Colin Braun and Jon Bennett in the No. 54 CORE autosport 911 GT3 R.
Another local favorite – North Carolina-based Stevenson Motorsports – will field the lone Audi in the field, the No. 57 R8 LMS GT3 for co-drivers Andrew Davis and Lawson Aschenbach. The No. 57 team won the Mobil 1 SportsCar Grand Prix at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park last month.
And BMW became the fifth different manufacturer to win this season when Jesse Krohn and Jens Klingmann won the Continental Tire Road Race Showcase at Road America earlier this month. The same pair will go for a second consecutive win at VIR in the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3.
Lamborghini earned its first WeatherTech Championship victory last year with co-drivers Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow in the No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3. They return looking to defend their title and will be joined in representing the Italian manufacturer by another North Carolina-based team in Change Racing. Corey Lewis and Road America TOTAL Pole Award winner Jeroen Mul will share the team’s No. 16 Huracán.
The first-year Lexus RC F GT3 program has been a contender for the GTD victory at various times during the WeatherTech Championship season and likely will be again at VIR with its pair of entries fielded by 3GT Racing. Sharing the No. 14 Lexus will be Sage Karam and Robert Alon, with Jack Hawksworth and the winningest driver in IMSA history, Scott Pruett, teaming up in the No. 15 machine. Pruett and Alon switched cars and co-drivers prior to the last round at Road America.
Practice for the WeatherTech Championship Michelin GT Challenge gets under way Friday, Aug. 25, with the first of two, hour-long practice sessions starting at 11:45 a.m. ET. Friday’s second session starts at 4:10 p.m. ET.
Saturday, Aug. 26 opens with another WeatherTech Championship practice from 8:45 to 9:45 a.m. ET, followed by qualifying from 12:20 to 1 p.m. ET. Saturday’s schedule also includes the two-hour Biscuitville Grand Prix for the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge beginning at 2:10 p.m. ET.
The Michelin GT Challenge takes the green flag at 1:35 p.m. ET on Sunday, Aug. 27. The weekend schedule also includes a pair of races for the IMSA-sanctioned Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama, as well as a doubleheader for Lamborghini Super Trofeo.
WeatherTech Championship qualifying and all of the weekend’s races will be streamed live on IMSA.com with IMSA Radio commentary. Ticket and other event information for the Michelin GT Challenge weekend is available now at VIRnow.com.