Sunday’s Michelin GT Challenge at VIRginia International Raceway turned into a battle of Porsche teammates, won by Nick Tandy and Patrick Pilet in the No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR.
It was a day of atonement for Tandy, who went off at the Oak Tree corner near the end of Saturday’s qualifying session, resulting in a sixth-place start in the event reserved for competitors in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GTLM and GTD categories.
“It’s fun when you’re in front,” Tandy said. “The good thing at Porsche is they let us race — I think we’ve seen that throughout the year — and the team has done an amazing job through the year. To have such a bad Saturday and come back to win Sunday is awesome.”
Tandy charged to second coming out of Turn 1 at the start; then, headlights flashing, he ran down teammate Laurens Vanthoor in the No. 912 RSR.
It turned out to be more than a battle between Porsche drivers; their pit crews played a key role in the outcome.
The eight GTLM contenders pitted under caution 19 minutes into the race. Pilet took over for Tandy in the No. 911, and beat Vanthoor out of the pits to take the lead.
Tandy returned to the fray at the 1hr13m mark, and from that point he dueled No. 912 driver Earl Barber for the lead.
Bamber pitted from the lead for the final time with 37 minutes remaining. When he returned to the track, he was trailing Tandy, the two cars running 1-2 the rest of the way after Richard Westbrook made his final stop in the No. 67 Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT on the following lap.
A scary incident involving Katherine Legge in the No. 57 Meyer Shank Racing Caterpillar Acura NSX GT3 brought out the second and final caution with 20 minutes remaining (she was unhurt in the incident). Tandy got a great restart with 8m40s remaining, and held off his determined teammate to win by 0.737s at the checkered flag.
It was the sixth victory of the season for the Porsche GT Team — split evenly by the two cars — and ended Ford’s two-race winning streak. It was also the first 1-2 finish for the team since 2017. Bamber and Vanthoor had their 14-point lead reduced by three points with only two races remaining.
Corvette Racing had a strong performance but still came up short in a bid for its first victory of the season. Antonio Garcia finished third, 3.275s back in the No. 3, followed by No. 4 drivers Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin.
The Corvettes prevailed over the two Ganassi Ford GTs, though, in a fender-banging scrap that included a few off-course excursions. Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe took fifth in the No. 67, followed by Dirk Mueller and Joey Hand in the No. 66.
Jeroen Bleekemolen and Ben Keating won in GTD, the first podium finish of the season for the No. 33 Wynns Riley Motorsports AMG-Mercedes GT3.
“Today the team did a perfect strategy,” Bleekemolen said. “We took a little bit of a risk. We pulled in earlier (for our final pit stop), and it worked out; we got out in front. It was a nice fight. It was an awesome day — finally!”
Bleekemolen beat Mario Farnbacher to the checkered flag by 0.566s. Entering the race with a 26-point advantage, Farnbacher and Trent Hindman added 11 points to that advantage for the No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 with two races remaining. The pair also gained ground in the inaugural IMSA Sprint Cup with only the event at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca remaining.
Fast-closing Toni Vilander took third in the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa WeatherTech Ferrari 488 GT3 started by Cooper MacNeil, passing the pole-winning No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R of Scott Hargrove and Sprint Cup leader Zach Robichon with two laps remaining.
Robichon dominated the first hour of the race from the pole. Hargrove took over, but was passed for the lead in Turn 1 by AIM Vasser Sullivan driver Jack Hawksworth in the No. 14 Lexus RC F GT3. Hawksworth led six laps before losing power with just over an hour remaining, the problem proving to be terminal in the car started by Richard Heistand.
Hargrove regained the lead and paced the next eight circuits in the plaid Porsche, but Farnbacher passed for the lead with 50 minutes remaining. Bleekemolen caught Hargrove on the back straight on the next lap, and the purple AMG-Mercedes took the lead on the following circuit.
The race had only two cautions – one early; one late.
The initial slowdown came on Lap 11 to retrieve a tire carcass left by Robby Foley, when the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3 had contact with the No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3 of Corey Lewis. The incident cost BMW (which entered the race second in the points) three laps, resulting in an 11th place finish and effectively ending its title hopes.
The second caution came when Legge slammed the barrier in Turn 9, moving several sections of tires and destroying the front end of her Acura.
“We had a tire failure, and it was instant…at one of the fastest parts of the course,” car owner Mike Shank said.
Next up for the combined WeatherTech Championship classes will be the America’s Tire 250 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca on Sunday, Sept. 15, followed by the season-ending Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta on Saturday, Oct. 12.