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VIRginia International Raceway Friday Notebook

Garcia Gets VIR Three-peat Effort Off to Solid Start by Leading Friday Practice at VIR

Antonio Garcia was at it again on Friday at VIRginia International Raceway.

After winning the Michelin GT Challenge each of the past two years with No. 3 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R co-driver Jan Magnussen, Garcia posted the fastest time in Friday practice for the two-hour, 40-minute race on Sunday. Garcia’s best time – which came in the second of the day’s two IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice sessions – was 1 minute, 41.743 seconds (115.702 mph).

However, while Garcia was pleased with the team’s effort and the lap time, he was reluctant to place too much stock in the early pace.

"I don’t know," Garcia said. "We saw that already last year where we were fastest in P2 and everybody went super-fast on last practice and qualifying, so I don’t think that means a lot. For sure, I think it’s a quick lap, definitely, but yeah, as we saw last year, people went super-fast around here.

"We are definitely on different programs. We’ll see. I don’t know. I just know what our plan is, but we’ll see what the others are. We’ll just focus on both qualifying and the race and let’s see where we are."

Garcia’s lap was more than half a second faster than current GT Le Mans (GTLM) class points co-leader Ryan Briscoe, who turned in a 1:42.262 (115.115 mph) in the No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT he shares with Richard Westbrook.

The No. 67 duo, which won two weeks ago at Road America, is looking to extend Ford Chip Ganassi Racing’s WeatherTech Championship win streak to five consecutive races this weekend. Briscoe and Westbrook own two of those victories with a win at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park three races ago in addition to the Road America win.

The other two Ganassi wins came from Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller in the No. 66 Ford GT at Watkins Glen and Lime Rock Park. Mueller was fourth quickest in Friday practice, one spot behind Tommy Milner in the No. 4 Corvette.

Bleekemolen Tops GTD Time Charts

On Friday practice a year ago at VIR, Jeroen Bleekemolen learned that his regular co-driver Ben Keating, was leaving the track immediately to return to his native Texas with Hurricane Harvey bearing down on his home and automotive dealerships. Trent Hindman stepped in to drive for Keating in the race and the duo finished third in the GT Daytona (GTD) class.

This year was seemingly far less stressful for Keating, Bleekemolen and everybody involved with Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports. It showed on the time charts as Bleekemolen turned a best lap of 1:44.865 (112.258 mph) in the No. 33 Mercedes-AMG GT3 to lead the opening day of practice for the Michelin GT Challenge in the GTD class.

"I am happy with our Mercedes-AMG GT3," Bleekemolen said. "Again, like the last couple of weekends, we have not had to make too many changes because the car has been great from the beginning. No dramas, the Mercedes-AMG GT3 is running really well, and I think we have a really good chance to do well.

"I think we can get a good result, but this is American racing where anything can happen, and anyone can win with strategy and yellows and stuff like that. Just looking at the pure speed we have, however, we should have a good shot at it. Last year we had a good car and finished third, but this year we have more power. Last year we just lost out so much on the straightaways, but that’s gone now, so with that we can really fight."

Robby Foley was second quickest in GTD practice with a best lap of 1:44.866 (112.257 mph) in the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3, while Patrick Long was third at 1:45.046 (112.064 mph) in the No. 58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R.

For the second time in three races, the GTD points leading No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 co-driven by Madison Snow and Bryan Sellers missed much of the first practice session and all of the second due to a mechanical issue. The team was completing an engine change on Friday evening and planned to be back on course for practice again Saturday morning.

It should be noted that when this happened to the team last month at Lime Rock Park, the No. 48 went on to score a dominating victory in the Northeast Grand Prix.

Robichon Stays Hot, Leads IMSA Prototype Challenge, Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA Practice

There may not be a driver at VIR on more of a roll than Zach Robichon. The 26-year-old Canadian enters the weekend having consecutively swept the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama weekend at Road America two weeks ago and Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada at Trois-Rivieres, Quebec last weekend.

Robichon kept his name atop the charts Friday setting both the fastest Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA lap of the day in the No. 19 Moorespeed Porsche 911 GT3 Cup machine, and surprisingly the day’s best lap in the morning session of the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda in an entirely different No. 4 ANSA Motorsports Ligier JS P3 prototype.

Robichon will look to keep his winning streak alive Saturday with the GT3 Cup Challenge USA race going green at 11:20 a.m. ET, followed by the IMSA Prototype Challenge by Mazda race at 5:55 p.m. ET. Both races can be seen live on IMSA.tv.

"This is one of those tracks that everybody loves," Robichon said. "I have talked to a lot of people that have said VIR is their favorite track, a bit like Road America, and right off the bat you can understand why. It has a lot of really cool places, it doesn’t have quite the same speed, not as many fast corners like we have at Road America, so the driving is a little bit different."

Scott Andrews was the fastest of the day in the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda’s LMP3 class with a blistering lap of 1:42.734 (114.586 mph) in the closing minutes of the afternoon session in the No. 51 K2R Motorsports Ligier JS P3.

Topping the day’s MPC charts was Kyle Masson in the No. 11 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02 with a lap of 1:47.032 in the morning session. Kyle’s co-driver and father Dr. Robert Masson enters the weekend one point out of the class lead in the standings with two races remaining.

Imperato Quickest in Friday Afternoon Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama Practice

For the first time since Practice #2 at Road America, a driver other than Zach Robichon topped the time charts on Friday afternoon at VIR. That driver was Anthony Imperato in the No. 91 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car who turned in a best lap of 1 minute, 49.400 seconds (107.604 mph).

Imperato’s time was slightly more than a tenth of a second over Robichon, who was second in the session.

"It went great," Imperato said. "I really have to give it to the team this weekend for a great car. We felt strong in practice and we feel confident going into the race and qualifying tomorrow. It’s a nice way to end the day and have some momentum for the morning."

While Imperato was quickest in the afternoon, Robichon was quickest on the day with a lap of 1:47.887 (109.113 mph) in the No. 19 Moorespeed Porsche set in the morning practice session. Nevertheless, Imperato is looking forward to racing at VIR.

"I love it, but to be honest, I haven’t had the best runs here in the past," Imperato said. "We had a little off today in practice before we put in the quick lap. It’s an awesome place, a great track, great facility. We’re happy to be here."

GT3 Cup Challenge USA qualifying kicks off the Saturday schedule at VIR beginning at 8 a.m. ET. Saturday’s first 45-minute race of the VIR doubleheader weekend starts at 11:20 a.m. ET and will be streamed live on IMSA.tv.

Also on Saturday, tape delayed television coverage of the recent GT3 Cup Challenge USA weekend at Watkins Glen International will be shown via the Sinclair Broadcast Group. Check your local listings for times and channels in your area.

Points Leaders Top Charts In Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America

However, the duo, who has won four of the first six rounds, is not resting on their laurels as they are looking for overall wins and feel this weekend at VIRginia International Raceway might be the place to do that.

"We have been working on the car a lot more than we normally do," said Perez. "Unfortunately, we did not have a great last couple of races at Road America. Luck just didn’t go our way, but we have decided to come back stronger than ever. We are here this weekend trying to get the most points we can and go for the overall win."

The team suffered some back luck in Round 4 at Road America earlier this month when they were unable to finish the race before winning their class in the Round 5 race.

Perez knows that being the fastest in practice helps with confidence but there are other things in play when trying to be on the top spot of the podium following a race.

"It (being the fastest in practice) gives us more confidence but as we saw at Road America sometimes we can be the quickest guys out there in practice and things can change," he said. "We are not going to give up, we are going to keep working on the car and keep pushing ourselves because I’ll be darned if Road America happens again."

In the PRO Class, Trent Hindman in the No. 1 Wayne Taylor Racing, Lamborghini Paramus had the fastest lap at 1:44.426 (112.730 mph) in the morning while Edoardo Piscopo in the No. 50 US RaceTronics, Lamborghini Beverly Hills took the honors in the afternoon with a time of 1:45.130 (111.975 mph).

Ryan Hardwick in the No. 2 Dream Racing Motorsports, Lamborghini Atlanta turned the fastest lap in the morning in the AM Class with a time of 1:46.022 (111.033 mph) and Brian Thienes (No. 17 US RaceTronics, Lamborghini Beverly Hills posted a time of 1:46.344 (110.707 mph) in the afternoon.

Sheena Monk (No. 7 Wayne Taylor Racing, Lamborghini Paramus) headed The LB Cup Class with a lap of 1:48.230 (108.768 mph) in Friday’s first session while the No. 21 Dream Racing Motorsport, Lamborghini Atlanta entry driven by Justin Price was first in the second session with a time of 1:48.916 (108.082 mph)

The weekend’s schedule has the Lamborghini Super Trofeo Evo’s out on the circuit for qualifying Saturday at 9:55 a.m. before racing at 4:45 p.m. EDT. Sunday’s race begins at 10:25 a.m. EDT. Both 2018 Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America series races can be streamed on IMSA.TV and squadracorse.lamborghini.com/super-trofeo/north-america.