Mike Skeen made a late-race pass with his No. 80 Lone Star Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 sports car to take the lead on his way to winning Sunday’s Pirelli World Challenge GT SprintX Round 4 60-minute race at VIRginia International Raceway as part of the PWC Grand Prix of Virginia presented by Audi Sport.
Skeen, a former track record holder, took over from teammate Scott Heckert on lap 16 and chased down the GT overall leading duo of Maxime Soulet of Belgium and Rodrigo Baptista of Brazil in the No. 3 K-PAX Racing Bentley Continental GT3 with three laps remaining in the 34-lap feature at the 3.27-mile, 17-turn road circuit.
Baptista, the Am driver who won overall in Saturday’s Round 3 GT SprintX race with Soulet, turned in another sensational drive in a wheel-to-wheel battle with Skeen, but the 21-year-old Brazilian slid off the track in turn three with three laps remain and finished fifth overall. The No. 3 Bentley still won the Pro-Am class Sunday at VIR.
Taking second Sunday at VIR in the GT SprintX Round 4 contest was two-time GT Sprint winner Scott Hargrove and veteran Wolf Henzler in the No. 96 Pfaff Motorsports/Castrol Porsche 911 GT3 R with third on the podium to Michael Christensen and Spencer Pumpelly in the No. 24 Alegra Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R.
Completing the top five in the GT SprintX event were Daniel Morad and Fabian Schiller in the No. 2 CRP Racing/DeVilbiss Mercedes-AMG GT3, which led early in the 34-lap race, and the Baptista/Soulet pairing in the No. 3 K-PAX Racing Bentley Continental GT3.
“We knew we had a fast car yesterday,” said Skeen. “We were very disappointed to not be able to take advantage of that and get the most out of it. Coming into today and starting a little bit further back in 5th place, we knew we had a little bit more work to do to get up front. Scott did an awesome job on the start and made up some time. The Lone Star pit crew did an awesome pit stop that was perfectly timed, so we made up some more time there.
“For me, it was just trying to hunt down the Bentley that was way out front. We kept eating away at the gap and we got a little bit of help from traffic which really closed it up. I was right on his bumper for a couple of laps. That car has more straight-line speed, so we knew it was going to be tough to pass. I had to find a unique area to make it work, so I followed him and watched for a couple of laps. I noticed that out of turn three might be a good place where I was getting pretty good runs, and there’s a good brake zone going into Turn 4. So, once the time came down to the end, it was do-or-die in order to make it work. Later in the lap, he went a little off track on his own so that took the pressure off.”
“I had a similar idea to what I did at COTA, which was to send it around the outside to get through there,” said Heckert. “I was surprised that the No. 61 car left a pretty big gap and they all slowed down soon into the braking zone. So I just floated it in there and then left everyone out of there. So, I picked up a couple of spots there. I think I was chipping away at the leaders, and the team had an awesome pit stop.
“The last time I came here I was in a NASCAR stock car and we only ran the North course, so to be able to run the full course is wildly different, especially in a real race car, this was definitely sweet after all the teams prepared for it.”
“We left the pit box right when we were supposed to and make the minimum pit time right at pit exit, assuming you’re on the pit speed limiter on the pit lane,” said Hargrove. “What the Ferrari did was leave early from the pit box, so they got in front of us and then basically stopped in the pit lane to make the minimum time. Of course, you’re not allowed to pass in the pit lane, so I was forced to sit behind them and basically come to a stop. The series officiated it properly and he let me back by and they still ended up being too quick in pit lane. So they got a drive-through. Coming into this race if you would have told us that we would end up P2 after starting P9 we would have said that you’re crazy. Leave it to Wolf – he was phenomenal at COTA coming from the back and just as phenomenal today. And of course, (Michael) Christensen was keeping me honest. It was an intense race from the cockpit and I was ecstatic when I crossed the line finishing in second.”
“I was on the outside but I was planning to move to the inside for turn one, but there was no space for me,” said Henzler. “I had to stay on the outside. Ultimately, that turned out to be the better choice, so I could make up some positions. There was a small mistake at the Oak Tree in turn 12, so I could pass him. But one or two laps later, I had the same problem there and went wide and they got the position back. They took off so I tried to secure our position, keep the gap from the cars behind me, and then give Scott (Hargrove) a good car to finish the race.
Positions six through ten in Sunday’s GT SprintX event were Alec Udell and Corey Lewis in the No. 41 LOCI/HKG Racing/GMG Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R, Long Beach GTA class winner Yuki Harata and Alessandro Bressan in the No. 55 Dream Racing Motorsport Lamborghini Huracan GT3 (second in Pro-Am), COTA GT SprintX Pro-Pro class winners Toni Vilander and Miguel Molina in the No. 61 R. Ferri Motorsport Ferrari 488 GT3, Wei Lu and Jeff Segal in the TR3 Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 (third in Pro-Am) and Parker Chase and Ryan Dalziel in the No. 19 TruSpeed Motorsports Audi R8 LMS.
Winning the GT SprintX Am division Sunday was the No. 07 Squadra Corse Garage Italia Ferrari 488 GT3 team with Martin Fuentes and Caesar Bacarella.
“It’s great to have two wins in Pro-Am this weekend,” said Baptista. “The team did a great job on the pit stop, and the car was perfect. Compared to the Mercedes and Ferrari, we were much faster in the straightaways. We lost a little in the corners but gained a lot in the straightaways.
“It was a little frustrating with three laps to go when I had the lead because Skeen was faster. I tried to block him in the first sector, but then he drove the car inside and there was nothing I could do. After that, I just missed the braking point, kept going straight and lost three positions. But, it’s good to know I could still finish the race winning Pro-Am.”
“The tire pressure was also very low at the start, so I needed to wait until I got into a good pace and rhythm to advance,” said Soulet. “I could catch up to the Mercedes, but I couldn’t pass him without taking any risks. The pit stop was brilliant and we got the lead exiting the pits. I’m new here in the U.S. and I’m still learning all of the tracks because I’ve never driven them. But, I’m really enjoying myself. I can be a teacher to Rodrigo, which is quite nice. I enjoy that role. I know how to cheer him on and cheer him up. He’s doing a brilliant job so far, and we’re looking forward to our next race together.”
Rounds 5 and 6 of the Pirelli World Challenge GT SprintX series are scheduled for May 25-26 at Lime Rock Park in Lakeville, Connecticut.