It was another unpredictable, one-lap shootout for the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge on Saturday, but it took place this time at Virginia International Raceway during the Virginia Is For Racing Lovers Grand Prix.
With mixed weather conditions throughout the race and a series of full-course cautions in the final 30 minutes, the field took the green flag for one last sprint around the 3.27-mile circuit with just over two minutes remaining in the two-hour race.
Jesse Lazare in the No. 69 Motorsports In Action McLaren GT4 led the way and was trying to fend off a hard-charging Trent Hindman in the No. 7 Park Place Motorsports Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport, who had jumped from seventh to second in the final half-hour.
The two drove almost side-by-side into Turn 4, but Hindman inched the nose of his Porsche a bit too deep on the inside, making contact with Lazare’s McLaren and causing him to spin.
While the No. 7 Porsche went on to cross the finish line first, a post-race penalty was assessed for incident responsibility, and the win was awarded to second place, the No. 60 KohR Motorsports Ford Mustang GT4 of Kyle Marcelli and Nate Stacy.
“I was a bit surprised to see it go green, to be honest with you,” said Marcelli, who had an intense battle of his own with Lazare for the lead before the final caution. “I knew it was going to be high risk. You’re either going to come out a big winner or a big loser, so I was kind of in survival mode. I just wanted to bring it home and get a respectful result.
“At the end of the day, we crossed the line second. Sometimes you’ve just got to be there, that’s racing, they say. You’ve got to go to the end — until the checkered flag.”
The win is the first of the season for Marcelli and Stacy, and the duo’s second podium after a runner-up finish at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in July.
“It really came down to letting me know we were going to switch to rain tires and just kind of tough it out until we could get to a point where we could change and get to the pit stop,” added Stacy. “It was super tricky and one of those things where you have to tiptoe around and make the best of it.
“It was a crazy end of the race, but it couldn’t have gone any better; it was super awesome. Thanks to everyone at KohR and Ford Performance — it was great racing.”
After starting from the pole position following Friday’s canceled qualifying session due to weather, championship leaders Tyler McQuarrie and Jeff Westphal expanded their points lead with a second-place finish in the No. 39 Carbahn with Pelegrine Racing Audi R8 GT4. They now lead Fergus and Lazare by 24 points, 230-206.
Sneaking onto the podium in third place was the No. 80 BimmerWorld Racing BMW M4 GT4 of Ari Balogh and Mike Skeen. The pair started sixth on the final restart but moved up to give Skeen his best finish to date, while Balogh matched his own previous best.
Ask FAST MD Racing drivers Nick Galante and James Vance how their TCR-class season has gone, and it’s been a tale of “what ifs” — that is, until Saturday at VIRginia International Raceway.
This race had all the ingredients to be the same given the mixed weather conditions, but the team chose a bold strategy at the start — to race on slick tires in the on-and-off rain — while all but a handful of other teams made the switch to rain tires.
While the strategy paid off and the No. 23 Audi RS3 LMS was ultimately at the front at the end (featuring a daring and unexpected last-lap pass by Vance for the lead), it was both a physical and mental battle for the drivers.
“We’ve been fast all year, but little mistakes just kept popping up, and I think we just ran out of mistakes to make,” Galante said. “The first four laps, I thought we made a wrong (tire) choice; but then it slowly started to dry out and I started clicking off laps and started catching the leaders.”
Vance sat second behind Jonathan Morley in the No. 61 Roadshagger Racing Audi ahead of a final-lap sprint to the checkered flag. Vance ultimately made the move midway through the final lap to the inside of Morley who, with his co-driver Gavin Ernstone, was also seeking a first win in the series.
“At that point, I think my nerves were fried,” said Vance. “I thought, ‘Might as well go for it; we have a green-white checkered coming up.’”
The win was Galante’s ninth in the Pilot Challenge but the first for Vance and the rookie IMSA team, FAST MD Racing.
“It feels great,” said Vance of his first Pilot Challenge win. “The series does an amazing job putting these events on. Racing with FAST MD, Speed Syndicate and Racing to End Alzheimer’s has been an absolute pleasure this year and I’m glad we could bring this to them.
“But I feel like we earned this. We should’ve been here a few times this year. We’ve just had some bad luck and I think today, everything that could go right went right and the little things that could go wrong didn’t.”
Relegated to second place, Morley found himself in the middle of a three-wide battle between the No. 21 Bryan Herta Autosport Hyundai of Mason Filippi and the No. 54 JDC-Miller Motorsports Audi of Stephen Simpson. Contact between the three would force Morley off track and into the tire barrier. He finished eighth.
Filippi and co-driver Harry Gottsacker finished second – one race after their first win at Road America earlier this month – and closed the gap to just five points, 224-219, over teammates and championship leaders Michael Lewis and Mark Wilkins in the No. 98 Hyundai.
Simpson and Michael Johnson finished third for their second podium finish of the season.
The IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge heads west to WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in Salinas, California for its penultimate round of the 2019 season. The two-hour race will take place on Saturday, September 14 at 5:05 p.m. ET / 3:05 p.m. PT and can be streamed live on IMSA.tv with IMSA Radio commentary.
News and updates throughout the season can be found on IMSA.com or on social media using the hashtag #IMPC.