By Mark Robinson
Not even treacherous conditions nor the pressure of a late restart could keep the No. 3 Corvette Racing Corvette C8.R from continuing its stellar season and winning ways in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
Antonio Garcia powered into the lead with 24 minutes to go Saturday night in the MOTUL 100% Synthetic Grand Prix and rolled on to the fifth win of 2020 for the No. 3 Corvette. The victory under rainy, slick conditions at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL was the fourth in the past five GT Le Mans (GTLM) races for Garcia and co-driver Jordan Taylor, helping them move closer to clinching the class championship.
Garcia crossed the finish line 1.474 seconds ahead of John Edwards in the No. 25 BMW Team RLL BMW M8 GTE at the conclusion of the 100-minute race, in IMSA’s return to the Charlotte road course after a 20-year absence but its first event on the 2.32-mile, 10-turn ROVAL layout that includes chicanes on both oval straights.
"That’s a perfect, magnificent car out there," Garcia said of the mid-engine Corvette C8.R that debuted in competition this year, "and I’m glad to be driving for the best team out there – and winning."
BMW Team RLL claimed a pair of GTLM podium positions with the No. 24 driven by Bruno Spengler and Connor De Phillippi finishing third.
The No. 4 Corvette placed fourth in class despite Tommy Milner spinning and crashing into the pit lane attenuator with 12 minutes left on the clock. With light rain falling, it set up the final dramatic restart. But Garcia got the jump on Edwards at the wave of the green flag and pulled comfortably away to earn his 22nd career IMSA victory.
The WeatherTech Championship race for the two GT classes started an hour late – under the lights at 9:05 p.m. ET – after the NASCAR Xfinity Series race that preceded ran long after being red-flagged for heavy rain and pooling water on track. Taylor started the WeatherTech Championship event on pole but was passed for the lead soon after by Jesse Krohn, who willed the No. 24 BMW from fourth to first in the opening four laps under the most difficult conditions.
Garcia replaced Taylor in the No. 3 Corvette on an early pit stop during a full-course caution and drove the final 80 minutes without a break. He bided his time for almost an hour before completing the winning pass on Edwards where the track exits the tight infield section onto the first turn of the high-banked oval.
"As soon as I saw that they were struggling a little bit on tires … I just went for it," Garcia said. "I don’t know if it was a risky move or not. I wanted to win the race and as soon as I saw the opportunity, I went for it. And then as soon as I passed, just head down and tried to open a gap, and it worked."
The Spaniard insisted it was anything but smooth sailing as he hounded Edwards before making the deciding pass, while also holding De Phillippi at bay in the No. 25 BMW.
"It was super, super stressful," Garcia said. "Even if it felt like I was just following, I was hanging (it) out and I almost crashed like everybody, I believe, like four or five times. … Once we got into the pace and into the rhythm, the track improved, for sure. But also at the end, with (older) tires and it started to rain again, so it was very, very tricky again. And being in the wet and in the dark, it’s very difficult to spot where the standing water is."
Taylor earned career win No. 26 with his 20-minute stint. The American was delighted that he and Garcia expanded their championship lead unofficially to 24 points over No. 4 Corvette teammates Milner and Oliver Gavin with three races remaining.
"Really awesome to maximize the points here when we didn’t expect it," Taylor said, "so we can kind of go into the next three races and race for the win as well. Just another great day for Corvette Racing with the fifth win for us in the C8.R and sixth for the team."
On the flip side, the disastrous season for the Porsche GT Team continued Saturday. The Nos. 911 and 912 Porsche 911 RSR-19s each sustained damage after sliding into barriers in separate incidents within 10 minutes of the race’s start. Both cars retired after completing a combined total of 12 laps. Coming off a 2019 season that saw Porsche claim the GTLM driver, team and manufacturer titles, the German marque is winless in 2020.
All four WeatherTech Championship classes – GTLM, GT Daytona, Daytona Prototype international and Le Mans Prototype 2 – return to action in the week ahead at the 23rd annual Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta. The 10-hour endurance race airs live in combination on NBCSN and TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold beginning at 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday, Oct. 17.