Michelin GT Challenge at VIR Preview
Michelin GT Challenge at VIR Preview
Combine powerful factory-backed GT class race teams from premier car makers, a fast, high commitment circuit, the pressure of championship title fights and the smell of breakfast cooking around the campgrounds and you have the recipe for this Sunday’s Michelin GT Challenge at VIR.
Michelin technical partner teams from BMW, Chevrolet Corvette, Ford and Porsche will be in their glory in one of just two races each IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season to feature the production based GT Le Mans (GTLM) and independent GT Daytona (GTD) class teams from Acura, Audi, BMW, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Lexus, Mercedes-AMG and Porsche.
An Ideal Setting
“Virginia International Raceway (VIR) is an ideal setting for GT-only battle. The circuit has a lot of character. It is fast, technically difficult and great test of a team and the driver’s ability to make their car perform at a very high level with total confidence and commitment through the variety of corners and elevation changes,” said Ken Payne, technical director, motorsport. Michelin North America.
“The temperatures are typically fairly hot and the challenge for our Michelin engineers is to help our GTLM partner teams find the right balance between the mechanical grip level from the tires and suspension settings and the aerodynamic grip from the wings and underbody of the car. The key is to optimize the aero package for straight-line speed without abusing the tires by sliding the car lap after lap.”
“The technical demands of VIR are so distinct that Michelin frequently uses VIR to test some of our future tires for production vehicles.”
Virginia’s Own Tommy Milner
Corvette Racing’s Tommy Milner, a native Virginian, now in his eighth season with the Corvette factory team and Michelin, understands the combination of ingredients that makes VIR special.
“We look forward to this race so much,” said Milner who clinched his first IMSA series championship with co-driver Oliver Gavin with a win here in 2012.
“First of all, it’s a lot of fun to be GT (classes) only, to be the top class, and to race for the overall win at the Michelin GT Challenge. To get that attention is pretty fun. It’s (VIR) such a fun race track for us to drive.”
With the weekend forecasts for an ambient temperature well above 90 degrees and corresponding track temperatures that are warmer, Milner, now a two-time IMSA series champion (2012, 2016) and Le Mans 24 Hour race winner (2011, 2015) knows what awaits.
“It’s a tough one because it’s so hot and humid,” he said.
But for all the challenges presented by the circuit and the competition, it is the fans that make VIR special for Milner.
“There are great fans, people and camping throughout the grounds. It’s got a little bit of a festival feel. Wake up early, smell the breakfast cooking – there’s a real atmosphere to it.”
Just two races (Monterey and Road Atlanta) remain in the 2018 WeatherTech Championship after VIR, and the battle between the Ford GTs of Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook (three wins) and the Ford Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller (two) and Corvette Racing’s relentlessly consistent defending series champions Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen remains incredibly tight.
Although winless, Garcia and Magnussen have posted six podium finishes in the first eight WeatherTech Championship GTLM races. The duo seeks its third consecutive win at VIR, and enters just four points adrift of Ford CGR’s Briscoe and Mueller (241-237). Ford’s Hand and Mueller are just five points back at 232 with Milner and Gavin fourth at 227 points.
The Porsche GT Team (two wins) has placed both cars in victory lane in 2018, while BMW Team RLL’s has won poles, set fastest race laps and led for long stretches, most recently at Road America, but is still looking for the inaugural win for the BMW M8 GTE.
The two-hour 40-minute Michelin GT Challenge at VIR starts Sunday, August 19 at 1:00pm ET on FS1, and switches to FS2 at 2:00pm.