Five Takeaways: Michelin GT Challenge at VIR
Wednesday, August 28, 2019

That was quite a weekend at VIRginia International Raceway.

Wall-to-wall racing with five IMSA-sanctioned series on track throughout the weekend, loyal VIR race fans coming out in droves and excitement aplenty made this another unforgettable Michelin GT Challenge at VIR.

Ten IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship races are in the rearview mirror, and there are only two to go, but the championship pictures are coming into focus, as we see in this week’s five takeaways.

Porsche Teammates Prepare for GTLM Championship Battle
It’s looking like the battle for the 2019 WeatherTech Championship GTLM title will come down to a fight between Porsche GT Team teammates. In one corner, you’ve got the current leaders, Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor in the No. 912 Porsche 911 RSR. In the other, it’s the No. 911 duo of Nick Tandy and Patrick Pilet.

Through nine rounds of what will be an 11-round fight, the No. 912 squad holds an 11-point advantage, 280-269, over the No. 911 team. Bamber and Vanthoor have three wins this season and seven podium results, while Tandy and Pilet picked up their third win of the year at VIR in a 1-2 sweep for the Porsche GT Team.

Pilet already knows what it feels like to win a WeatherTech Championship GTLM title, which he did back in 2015. But he’d like to share that experience with Tandy – who was his co-driver for most of the races in that championship season, but not all of them.

“The year I won the championship without Nick was OK, because he got to win Le Mans,” Pilet said. “But a championship is something he is still missing and deserved. It’s quite simple, until the end, we will give everything.”

They certainly gave everything on Sunday, as Tandy leapfrogged from sixth on the starting grid to second in the first turn of the race. From there, it was a strategic battle.

“We got jumped at the first pit stop, which put us a little bit behind,” Bamber said. “And then in my stint, we got caught with some bad traffic, Nick closed too much, and he had a fuel advantage, so then he jumped us at the last stop.

“That was the way it went, so now we push on. It’s good for Porsche, basically securing the manufacturer’s championship. We need to start the races now, so that’s a positive. Yeah, it’s awesome to have a 1-2 for Porsche as well, and now we’re off to Laguna.”

Farnbacher, Hindman Take Big Step Toward GTD Title with Runner-Up Finish in No. 86 Acura
Five podium results this season – which have come in the last six races – have No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 co-drivers Trent Hindman and Mario Farnbacher on the doorstep of wrapping up the WeatherTech Championship GT Daytona (GTD) title as early the next race at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

Farnbacher and Hindman combined to finish second in Sunday’s Michelin GT Challenge at VIR, enabling them to extend their lead in the WeatherTech Championship GTD standings to 37 points, 241-204, over No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R driver Zacharie Robichon. They’ll clinch the title at WeatherTech Raceway if they leave with a points lead of 35 points or more.

“Our goal was to score points and be in front of our contenders, and we did it,” said Farnbacher after Sunday’s race. “We did everything we could to do this. It was a tough start into the weekend. We were a little bit lost with the setup, but we worked to the top again. We’re pretty happy with the result.”

The Shoe’s On the Other Foot in WeatherTech Sprint Cup Battle as Robichon Leads
While Farnbacher and Hindman have a comfortable lead in the 10-race WeatherTech Championship GTD race ahead of Robichon, they’re looking up at the Canadian in the WeatherTech Sprint Cup standings heading into the season finale for that seven-race competition.

Robichon is one point ahead of Hindman and Farnbacher in the driver standings, 175-174, for the inaugural WeatherTech Sprint Cup title. The first-year driver has a top-five result in each of the past five Sprint Cup races, including back-to-back victories at Lime Rock Park and Road America. He co-drove to a fourth-place result Sunday with Scott Hargrove.

“We should be happy with fourth place this weekend,” Robichon said. “If you look at where we started the weekend, I think fourth was something we would have been happy with, and the team executed all the way through to give us the best possible chance.”

While Robichon leads the Sprint Cup driver standings, the No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing squad leads the team standings by 14 points over the No. 14 AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3 team with co-drivers Richard Heistand and Jack Hawksworth. The No. 9 Pfaff team sat out the Sprint Cup-only Chevrolet Sports Car Classic in Detroit, while Robichon stood-in for Patrick Lindsey at that race in the No. 73 Park Place Motorsports Porsche alongside Patrick Long. Park Place is third in the Sprint Cup standings, two points behind the No. 14 Lexus team.
Magnussen, Garcia Continue VIR Podium Streak
No. 3 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R co-drivers Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia are among many drivers who consider themselves big fans of VIR and its challenging, 3.27-mile, 17-turn layout. And there’s a good reason for it.

Their third-place run on Sunday was the duo’s fourth straight podium result at VIR. The run began with a victory in 2016, followed by another win in 2017 and a second-place result last year.

“It’s a great track, obviously,” Magnussen said. “The car likes this place. It’s also down to the work that the crew does and the pit stops that we make. I think it’s the whole thing.

“I think everybody from Corvette Racing loves coming here to VIR. It’s a fantastic place, run fantastically. Every time we come here, we feel so welcome. It’s almost like a home track. We’re happy to be back on the podium, but that’s not really what we came for.”

What they came for was the elusive 100th IMSA victory for Corvette Racing.

MacNeil, Vilander Return to GTD Podium in No. 63 WeatherTech Ferrari
The GTD class is the most populous of the four in the WeatherTech Championship. There were 13 cars in Sunday’s field and achieving a podium result in the class is quite an accomplishment.

Scuderia Corsa co-drivers Cooper MacNeil and Toni Vilander celebrated on the podium for the third time this season after Sunday’s race with a third-place performance in the No. 63 WeatherTech Ferrari 488 GT3. All-the-more impressive was the fact the team charged from 10th on the GTD class starting grid to do it.

“Anytime you get on the podium in this championship, especially in GTD, it’s pretty special,” MacNeil said. “A big thanks to WeatherTech and the Scuderia Corsa guys for persevering all weekend. We had a decent car rolling off the truck, but then the rain came and we struggled a little bit there.

“Then, we had the wrong tires on the car for qualifying, which was a shame, because we could have qualified pretty well. But anyway, I put my head down and drove a decent opening stint. I was able to move up a few spots, and then Toni was driving the wheels off the thing and doing everything he could. We ended up third, and it’s a great result for us this weekend. I’m looking forward to essentially another home race of mine at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.”