Nick Tandy and Tommy Milner converted their pole position to a victory in the Michelin GT Challenge at VIR, but the win was anything but simple for the No. 4 Corvette duo, who had to endure racing’s version of a fistfight with the No. 79 WeatherTech Racing Porsche 911 RSR in the second half of the race.
Corvette had controlled the opening stints of the race with ease until a full-course yellow brought the No. 79 Porsche back into contention. Kevin Estre had taken over the No. 79 Porsche from Cooper MacNeil earlier in the race and the Porsche factory driver wasted no time in getting his elbows out as he beat on and banged doors with the No. 4 Corvette and the No. 3 Corvette C8.R en route to the lead.
Tandy would fight back, however, slipping to the inside of Estre at Oak Tree Corner. Neither Estre nor Tandy yielded an inch, but the No. 79 Porsche soon ran out of room and slid onto the dirt and grass on the exit of the corner. The No. 79 Porsche dropped back to third in GT Le Mans after the off-track excursion.
— #IMSA (@IMSA) October 9, 2021
Estre, now hungry to regain the time lost, made a costly error at Oak Tree Corner as the Frenchman carried too much speed into the double right-hander. The No. 79 Porsche slid into the tire barriers, effectively yielding the win to the No. 4 Corvette.
“Kevin is a good friend of mine, I respect him a lot, he’s a great driver but when you start smashing into cars in front of you when you’ve got no real room or right to just put your car where he did, it’s just — I think what happened is probably karma or whatnot,” Tandy said.
Despite the fact that there were only three cars in the class, this was one of the best GTLM battles of the season. MacNeil started the race in the No. 79 Porsche and brought the car into the pits almost immediately after meeting minimum drive time. The silver-ranked MacNeil had already fallen nearly 30 seconds behind the two Corvettes, though.
The WeatherTech Racing team needed a full-course yellow — which it got in the form of a single-car crash involving Mario Farnbacher in the No. 66 Gradient Racing Acura — to get back into the race.
A hard hit for Mario Farnbacher, who crashes into the tire barriers at @VIRNow.
— Motorsports on NBC (@MotorsportsNBC) October 9, 2021
When the caution period ended, the Kevin Estre Show began as the veteran GT racer navigated the Porsche through the Virginia hills with no shortage of door-banging and bumper-beating.
The No. 3 Corvette of Antonio Garcia and Jordan Taylor held on for second ahead of the WeatherTech Porsche, but contributed some drama of their own. With just 10 minutes remaining, Garcia made a mistake at Turn 1 and crashed into the No. 96 Turner Motorsports BMW M6 GT3 of Bill Auberlen and Robby Foley that was leading the GTD class. Garcia bounced off the curb on the inside of the track and spun into the right rear of the BMW. The contact caused a puncture for the Turner BMW, costing it the win.
Benefiting from this was the No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R of Laurens Vanthoor and Zacharie Robichon, who recovered from being disqualified for making changes to the car during the qualifying session, which dropped them to the back of the grid, to win the race in GTD.
“This is probably the one I’m happiest about so far because yesterday was just our mistake — we made a stupid mistake, but we win and we lose together,” Vanthoor said.
“Today, the guys, where that mistake happened, they made up for it like triple the time… it was just amazing what they did, and Zach, the overtakes he did in the start and how quickly you got by and got up to the front. Those two things are what gave us the race,” Vanthoor continued.
Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow in the No. 1 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3 placed second, while the No. 14 Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC-F GT3 of Jack Hawksworth and Aaron Telitz rounded out the podium.
In comparison to the GTLM dogfight, GTD was comparatively calmer — at least until the final moments. Up until that point, a few cars including the No. 9 Porsche and the No. 39 Carbahn Audi R8 LMS GT3 had loomed in the mirrors of the class-leading BMW but were unable to find room to take the lead away from Foley and Auberlen.
With this win, the No. 9 Pfaff Porsche extended its championship lead over the No. 1 Lamborghini and the Canadian team is now well-positioned to secure the championship at Petit Le Mans on Nov. 11-13.