Thoughts of Bumping and Grinding, Deflated Hopes and Near Misses
By Mark Robinson
ALTON, Va. – VIRginia International Raceway provided the perfect backdrop for thrills, spills and twists of fate throughout all four IMSA series that competed over the weekend. There were plenty of highlights, heartaches and what-ifs to go around.
Here are three takeaways from the weekend:
Three’s Company: Drivers are fond of saying it only takes two cars to make a good race. The GT Le Mans (GTLM) class did that one better with three entries in Saturday’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, and what a show they put on in the Michelin GT Challenge At VIR.
It was an all-out brawl between the two Corvette Racing C8.Rs and the WeatherTech Racing Porsche 911 RSR-19. Kevin Estre, in the No. 79 Porsche for the finish, was determined to take the car to the overall win. First, he bumped his way past former Porsche teammate Nick Tandy in the No. 4 Corvette. Then it was Antonio Garcia’s turn in the No. 3 Corvette to feel some bumper love. It was thrilling to watch.
But what goes around, comes around. Eventually, Tandy pounded past Estre for the lead. Soon after, the No. 79 skidded off course and out of contention. Tandy called it “karma” for Estre’s aggressive tactics.
That’s not to say Tandy didn’t enjoy it. Getting a third straight win with co-driver Tommy Milner helps soothe ill feelings.
“It was fun out there,” Tandy said. “I always enjoy a good fight. When you race people like Kevin, Antonio, Tommy and Jordan (Taylor), there’s always going to be a good fight. We enjoyed it, and we got the better of it.”
It Ain’t Over ‘til It’s Over: There’s a reason they race to the checkered flag. Evidence came in the GT Daytona (GTD) portion of the WeatherTech Championship race.
Bill Auberlen held a comfortable lead in the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3, nearly six seconds up on Laurens Vanthoor in the No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3R with just 12 minutes left on the two-hour, 40-minute clock. But when Garcia tried to lap Auberlen in Turn 1, the No. 3 Corvette partially spun and bumped into Auberlen’s BMW, forcing it to spin as well and leaving the all-time winningest driver with a flat tire.
What could have been a pivotal win for Auberlen and Robby Foley that launched them back into the championship hunt disintegrated into a 12th-place finish that essentially eliminates them from the title conversation.
When asked after the race what he thought when he saw the wounded BMW as he rolled past and into the lead, Vanthoor just gave a silent, befuddled look.
“I was, ‘Really?!” he said. “I was as surprised as anybody else.”
By collecting their fourth win of the season (including three in the last four races), Vanthoor and Zacharie Robichon take a 50-point lead over No. 1 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 drivers Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow to the season finale for all five WeatherTech Championship classes, the Motul Petit Le Mans next month. Ross Gunn, Roman De Angelis and the No. 23 Heart of Racing Team Aston Martin Vantage GT3 – 177 points from the lead – hold slim hopes for the GTD season championship as well after clinching the IMSA WeatherTech Sprint Cup title Saturday.
Sunday No Fun Day for McAleer: Spare some positive vibes today for Stevan McAleer, who appeared poised to win twice on Sunday at VIR, only to have both victories taken away in the waning minutes of the races.
McAleer was leading on the final lap of the IMSA Prototype Challenge three-hour event in the No. 43 Robillard Racing Duqueine D08 when he went wide around Oak Tree Curve. It “left the light on” for Rasmus Lindh in the Motel 6-sponsored Ligier JS P320 from Performance Tech Motorsports. The two cars made side-to-side contact a few times down the back straight and into Turn 14, with McAleer eventually going into the grass and out of contention. Lindh went on to win; McAleer finished sixth.
With little time to regroup, McAleer found himself in the middle of the lead pack in the climactic race of the weekend, the Virginia is for Racing Lovers Grand Prix in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge. On the final restart from a caution, McAleer was out front again – this time in the No. 23 Notlad Racing by RS1 Aston Martin Vantage GT4.
Jan Heylen hounded McAleer for several laps before eventually making a clean pass for the lead in the No. 16 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3R. McAleer held fast to place second at the checkered flag, but the No. 23 Aston Martin failed a postrace fuel capacity audit, again denying him of a trophy for his efforts. But oh, what might have been.