Foley Takes GTD Pole, No. 9 Porsche’s Penalty Condenses Class Points Battle
By Mark Robinson
ALTON, Va. – How closely matched are the Corvette Racing entries at VIRginia International Raceway? How about three-thousandths of a second.
That was the margin in GT Le Mans (GTLM) qualifying Friday for the Michelin GT Challenge At VIR. Tommy Milner sped the No. 4 Corvette Racing C8.R around the 3.27-mile, 17-turn road course in 1 minute, 40.263 seconds (117.410 mph) with a minute remaining in the 15-minute session to claim his third career IMSA pole. Jordan Taylor was just 0.003 seconds slower in the No. 3 Corvette but saw his personal streak of five consecutive poles this season end as well as a six-race pole run for Taylor and co-driver Antonio Garcia.
“It’s relieving in some sense,” Milner said of breaking the No. 3’s streak. “Obviously, the race is the most important part of the weekend, but it’s good to get these little victories like qualifying. It doesn’t mean anything, but it means something, for sure. Happy with our Corvette, the balance has been really good all weekend so far. Happy to kind of put it all together in qualifying and get a pole.”
Milner and co-driver Nick Tandy are on a streak of their own, winning both races last month in California. Milner would love nothing more than to make it three straight – especially at what the Virginia native considers his home track.
“I’ve never felt like I’ve had to race so hard in my life than race my teammates this year,” he said. “They’ve been super, super fast and competitive. It’s taken us a little bit to get to their level in some sense and get these wins.
“I live in northern Virginia and only four hours away from here. It’s a track where I’ve raced for many, many years and I’ve had success in the past. It’s one of your classic, all-time great sports car tracks in the world. It has some of the best people who run this racetrack as well, so it’s always a pleasure to be here. … I’m excited to put on a good show tomorrow for the fans.”
Foley, No. 96 BMW Claim GTD Pole as Points Race Tightens
The GT Daytona (GTD) championship picture grew murkier than ever following Friday’s two qualifying segments for the class.
Robby Foley captured the Motul Pole Award in the grid qualifying session with a lap of 1:43.809 (113.400 mph) in the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3. It was Foley’s fourth career pole and the first since he and co-driver Bill Auberlen earned the top starting position for the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona by winning the Motul Pole Award 100 qualifying race at Daytona International Speedway.
“It was a great effort by the whole team to get us back out after the second practice,” Foley said. “We had a little water leak that we obviously had to address quickly. We didn’t have a lot of laps this morning, but – luckily – we know the M6 well around here. The balance was good, and I was able to put together a good lap for pole.”
While Foley was sizzling, Zacharie Robichon was sliding in the championship-leading No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3R. After an off-course excursion into the VIR grass, Robichon qualified seventh. But that effort was negated when the No. 9 crew was penalized for touching the car between the grid qualifying session and the GTD points qualifying segment that followed.
The No. 9 was moved to the rear of the 15-car GTD grid for Saturday’s race. The change in points allowed the Plaid Porsche’s nearest challengers to move precariously close to the GTD lead.
Ross Gunn topped the points-paying session in the No. 23 Heart of Racing Team Aston Martin Vantage GT3 with a best lap of 1:43.356 (113.897 mph). Teammate Alex Riberas initially was right behind in the No. 27 Aston Martin but was moved to the back of the order when post-qualifying technical inspection revealed the car’s rear wing set back was out of tolerance to the car’s homologation.
As a result, Jack Hawksworth moved up to second in the No. 14 Vasser Sullivan Racing Lexus RC F GT3 (1:43.700). Bryan Sellers moved up to third in the No. 1 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3, and Auberlen wound up fourth in the No. 96 Turner BMW.
The No. 16 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R also was penalized in post-qualifying tech due to a ride height infraction, moving it to the rear of the class grid as well.
The net outcome? Robichon, Laurens Vanthoor and the No. 9 Porsche team saw their lead sliced to 20 points over Sellers, Madison Snow and the No. 1 Lamborghini; to 87 over Gunn, Roman De Angelis and the No. 23 Aston Martin; and to 140 over Foley, Auberlen and the No. 96 BMW.
Foley knows how quickly things can change. He and Auberlen plummeted from first to fourth in the standings following a 16th-place finish two weeks ago at the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.
“All we can do is control our own destiny until the end,” Foley said. “Control what we can control and that’s by getting poles and getting wins, and the rest will play itself out.
“But it’s obviously a great way to start. Especially at VIR, it’s a GT-only weekend. It’s a fast pace and we don’t have to deal with so much traffic. … It’s just going to be about qualifying laps the whole time. We seem to have a good car for that. We hope it’s going to be dry. We’ve never really driven the M6 here in the wet but we’ll be ready for that.”
Saturday’s race airs live at noon ET on NBC and IMSA Radio.
Friday VIR Notebook:
Heylen Heads Michelin Pilot Challenge Practice
Jan Heylen sent a reminder that he’s still a threat for the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge championship, setting the best overall and Grand Sport (GS) class lap in Friday’s opening practice at VIRginia International Raceway.
Heylen laid down a lap of 1 minute, 52.819 seconds (104.343 mph) in the No. 16 Wright Motorsports Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport to take honors for the day on the 3.27-mile road course. Heylen sits third in GS points heading into Sunday’s Virginia Is for Racing Lovers Grand Prix, 80 points in arrears of No. 95 Turner Motorsport BMW M4 GT4 co-drivers Bill Auberlen and Dillon Machavern.
Robin Liddell was second quick in practice at 1:53.147 (104.041 mph) in the No. 71 Rebel Rock Racing Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R. Auberlen ranked fourth in the No. 95 BMW.
A second Michelin Pilot Challenge practice starts at 8:45 a.m. ET Saturday. Qualifying is scheduled for 8 a.m. Sunday, with the two-hour race later that day at 2:10 p.m. The race will air live on TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold and IMSA Radio.
Prototype Challenge Returns to Action following Lengthy Break
IMSA Prototype Challenge cars returned to action following a three-month break with practice Friday at VIR ahead of Sunday’s three-hour race. Garett Grist was fastest of the 15 cars that participated in the session, with a lap of 1:40.698 (116.903 mph) in the No. 33 Jr III Racing Ligier JS P320.
A second practice starts at 10 a.m. Saturday, with qualifying at 4:35 p.m. The race airs live at 8:45 a.m. Sunday on TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold and IMSA Radio.
Points Leader Sets Pace in Porsche Carrera Cup Practice
Points leader Seb Priaulx was fastest in both of Friday’s practices for the Porsche Carrera Cup North America Presented by the Cayman Islands. Priaulx turned his best lap in the first session, 1:46.407 (110.631 mph), in the No. 15 Kelly-Moss Road and Race Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car, type 992.
Riley Dickinson (No. 53 Team Hardpoint Porsche) was second on the day, just 0.079 seconds behind Priaulx. Priaulx has a 42-point lead over Kelly-Moss teammate Kay van Berlo heading into the weekend. Qualifying is at 8 a.m. Saturday, with Race 1 starting at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.