GT aces ready for VIR
GT aces ready for VIR
The drivers, teams and production based cars of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT Le Mans (GTLM) and GT Daytona (GTD) classes take center stage for the Michelin GT Challenge at VIR, the only GT exclusive race of the 2016 WeatherTech Championship.
Featuring the powerful factory teams from BMW Team RLL, Corvette Racing, Ford Chip Ganassi Racing and Porsche North America (2015 VIR winners) plus the factory linked Risi Competizione Ferrari (2013-2014 VIR winners), the GTLM class is regarded as one of the premier classes in international motorsport.
Meanwhile, the top Audi, BMW, Dodge Viper, Ferrari, Lamborghini and Porsche entries will battle out the 2 hour 40-minute race with Pro–Am driver combinations and GTD Championship leaders, Christina Nielsen and Alessandro Balzan from Scuderia Corsa Ferrari.
Victories at Le Mans
The prowess of the WeatherTech Championship GTLM teams was reinforced at the 2016 Le Mans 24 Hours race as IMSA teams swept the GTE-Pro class podium. The victory followed Corvette Racing’s 2015 win, its eighth at Le Mans.
Ford CGR’s Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller (joined by Sebastien Bourdais) took the win in Ford’s historic return to Le Mans. Risi Competizione Ferrari’s Giancarlo Fisichella and Toni Vilander (with Matteo Malucelli) finished second and the Ford CGR of Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook (with Scott Dixon) third.
On the GT Daytona (GTD) side, it was the U.S. based Scuderia Corsa, the 2015 WeatherTech Championship GTD title holders taking the GTE-Am win at Le Mans.
The Michelin GT Challenge marks the VIR debut for the stunning new Ford GTs. Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook have already scored three GTLM wins; Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Watkins Glen International and Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.
This isn’t the first VIR dance for the veteran Mueller.
“Back when they first announced that we would be racing at VIR, everyone wondered what to expect,” said Mueller.
“The first time at VIR, I was like, ‘oh man, that is a good track. It’s one of my favorites and they did a great job improving the runoffs and lining the track.
“I must confess that I like it even more without the Oak Tree. I couldn’t see the exit from the corner before.
“It is great to race for the overall win. We were testing here at VIR earlier this year to get ready for Le Mans. We should be well prepared.”
In contrast, this is the first VIR visit for Spain’s Alex Riberas of the Alex Job Racing Porsche GTD team. He knows the VIR circuit only by reputation and simulations.
In his first year racing in the U.S., Riberas has already taken the GTD class poles at Sebring International Raceway, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and most recently Road America.
“I heard you jump a lot and put wheels in the air so it will be a good place for Instagram,” laughs Riberas.
Sims vs. Reality
“Working on the simulators doesn’t show you the bumps,” said Riberas.
“I think sometimes people are over-dependent on the sims. It helps to learn the layout of the track, but you have to get a feel of the real track.
“Being a GT only race will mean less traffic, so we can drive more looking in front and less watching rearwards.
“It may also mean less chances of a yellow caution.”
One driver who already feels right at home at VIR is Corvette Racing’s Tommy Milner.
“VIR is my home track,” says Milner, who lives in Middleburg, Virginia. “It’s a lot of fun to race at VIR for the overall win.”
He and co-driver Oliver Gavin scored the victory here in 2012, a win that clinched that season’s respective championships for the drivers, the Corvette Racing team and Chevrolet.
Milner and Gavin arrive at VIR leading the 2016 WeatherTech Championship GTLM class with four wins; Daytona, Sebring, Lime Rock and Road America. The latter two victories are the 100th and 101st in the storied history of Corvette Racing.
With BMW and Ferrari both showing considerable pace, the 2016 Long Beach winning and defending VIR champion Porsche team, resurgent after a mid-season slump, and a title battle featuring a historic Corvette v. Ford championship shoot-out, the Michelin GT Challenge at VIR is now on center stage.
“VIR is a great track and the competition is so incredibly tight that it should be a great race,” said Milner.