The Sprint Cup Title Will Be Decided, and Important Season Points Will Be Earned
By Mark Robinson
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – It will be a race within a race within a race for GT Daytona class (GTD) competitors in Saturday’s Michelin GT Challenge At VIR.
The two-hour, 40-minute test of man, woman and machine at VIRginia International Raceway has multiple implications in addition to the race results themselves. The event serves as the final leg of the IMSA WeatherTech Sprint Cup consisting of the eight non-endurance races for the class. It is also the ninth of 10 races counting toward the season-long championship for GTD drivers, teams and manufacturers.
Best of all, it’s anyone’s guess who will drive away with any of the titles.
In Sprint Cup, Ross Gunn, Roman De Angelis and the No. 23 Heart of Racing Team Aston Martin Vantage GT3 enter the weekend with a 74-point advantage on Madison Snow, Bryan Sellers and the No. 1 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3. With 15 GTD entries, the potential swing in the race is 190 points (350 for winning, down to 160 for 15th place) – not to mention another 19 points that could be picked up in Motul Pole Award qualifying (35 points for the pole, 16 for the 15th-fastest qualifier).
Sprint Cup competition is even tighter among the eight manufacturers competing this week. Aston Martin is just 23 points up on Lexus, 25 ahead of Lamborghini and 95 better than Porsche.
The overall WeatherTech Championship GTD battle is just as muddled, even with two races left. The Motul Petit Le Mans closes the season Nov. 13 at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.
Zacharie Robichon and Laurens Vanthoor have stormed to the top of the season points behind two wins, a second and a fourth in the last four races co-driving the No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3R. They lead Snow and Sellers by 32 points, Gunn and De Angelis by 104 and Bill Auberlen and Robby Foley by 150, but don’t plan to do anything different now that they are the hunted instead of the hunter.
“I don’t think our approach will change at all,” Vanthoor said. “It is so close in points that every single point matters. We have been doing well lately. The danger is to start thinking differently. We just need to do our job like we normally do, and we will be fine. VIR is a track that I like so I am looking forward to that.”
Auberlen and Foley, who finished 16th two weeks ago in the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach to slip from first to fourth in the GTD championship points standings, can take solace in the fact that they won last year’s VIR race in the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3. The duo made it a weekend sweep by also coming home first in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race.
“I can’t help but smile when I think of VIR,” team owner Will Turner said. “Last season’s races were pretty special. We won everything that weekend and it was especially pleasing to be the BMW team that drove Bill to his record-setting 61st IMSA (top-level series) victory. Our GT Daytona race at Long Beach was miserable so we’ll be looking for some VIR magic again.”
Porsche leads Lamborghini by 49 points in GTD manufacturer season points, with Aston Martin 130 out of first and BMW 145 back.
WeatherTech Championship practices (8 a.m. and 11:55 a.m. ET) and qualifying (4:35 p.m., livestream on IMSA.com/TVLive) take place Friday at VIR. The race airs live on NBC at noon Saturday, with the green flag expected to wave at 12:10 p.m.