Corvette Racing took its fourth consecutive IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT Le Mans victory the hard way in Saturday’s Michelin GT Challenge at Virginia International Raceway, while in the GT Daytona class, Bill Auberlen triumphed in to become the sanctioning body’s leading all-time winner.
“We were the ones that survived he race with minimal issues, while everyone else either went off the track or had tire issues,” said Jordan Taylor. “I think it’s just a staple of Corvette Racing of never giving up.”
Teammate in the No. 3 car Antonio Garcia took the lead with 18 minutes remaining when a tire issue ended a solid run for the No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR-19 of Fred Makowiecki and Nick Tandy. Although 10 seconds ahead of the No. 25 Team RLL BMW M8 GTE driven by Bruno Spengler, Garcia was nonetheless worried in the final run to the checkered flag by a flapping diffuser. The underbody piece held on, though, giving Garcia/Taylor the victory by 3.521s seconds.
“I thought it was terminal at first, but I found I was able to drive it,” Garcia said. “Right when the Porsche (had) problems and I saw him pull in the pits, the whole thing started to shake a lot (on the front straightaway). So the C8.R is also good with almost no diffuser. I’m very proud of that – very proud that everything stayed in one piece even though it was very challenging to drive at the end.”
Spengler held on for second in the BMW started by Connor De Phillippi, while Tandy took third, another .679s back, after briefly holding second on the final lap.
Porsche led all but two of the opening 73 laps. The pole-winning No. 911 Porsche cut a tire 10 laps into the event, handing the lead to the No. 912 Porsche of Laurens Vanthoor and Earl Bamber. The No. 911 needed only 11 laps to regain the point, though, thanks to a quick pit stop under caution, while the No. 912 eventually lost several laps to replace broken rear bodywork.
From that point, the No. 911 seemed to be on cruise control until another tire issue sent Tandy to the pits for another quick stop. The Porsche caught Spengler on the final lap for second, but the determined BMW pilot managed to regain the position.
The No. 4 Corvette of Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner also lost time after a spin, resulting in a fourth-place finish, 70s back.
Three cautions in the opening hour led to unusual strategy that saw many of the teams in both classes keep their starting drivers into the car for more than half of the event. One of the cautions fell just before the 45-minute minimum time window, while the pits remained closed during the final “quickie” caution – keeping the starting drivers at the wheel.
With the final 1h 40m run without caution, teams were forced to make their driver changes under the green flag.
In GTD, Bill Auberlen and Robby Foley led all but 12 laps, giving the No. 96 Turner Motorsports Liqui-Moly BMW M6 GT3 its first victory of the season. That was career victory No. 61 for Auberlen, breaking a tie with Scott Pruett for honors as the leading all-time winner in major North American sports car racing.
Taking over for race-leader Foley with less than an hour remaining, Auberlen faced determined challenges from Mario Farnbacher in the No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3; Bryan Sellers in the No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini; and Lawson Aschenbach in the No. 74 Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3.
Farnbacher made a brave move in Turn 1 with 45m remaining, attempting to out-brake the late-braking Auberlen. That send the Acura spinning into the grass, although Farnbacher was able to continue and eventually took second on the final lap.
Farnbacher’s misfortune gave Auberlen a slight gap, and the veteran BMW driver was able to gradually build his advantage, taking the checkered flag 7.511s ahead of Farnbacher in the Acura started by Matt McMurry, closely followed by Sellers and Aschenbach.
“That was the most nerve-wracking hour of my life,” Auberlen admitted. “When I got to about 35 minutes, I was talking to myself: ‘Don’t blow this.’ Normally I just drive blind and let ‘er rip, but this time it was all in my head, trying not to screw up.”
Farnbacher’s car owner had no regrets for his driver’s spin.
“We’re not here to collect trophies,” Mike Shank said. “We’re here to win the race. I want him to keep pushing.”
AIM Vasser Sullivan placed fourth with Jack Hawksworth and Aaron Telitz in the No. 14 Lexus RC F GT3, ending the team’s three-race winning streak.
Following post-race technical inspection, the No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini of Snow and Sellers was moved to the back of the GTD field for a fuel-capacity issue.
UP NEXT: All four IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship classes will be in action at Road Atlanta for six hours of racing on Sunday, August 6. This is the rescheduled Sahlen’s Six Hours of Watkins Glen. It’s Round 6 of the WeatherTech Championship, and Round 2 of the IMSA Endurance Cup.