By John Oreovicz
ALTON, Va. – Joey Hand led barely half a lap Saturday at VIRginia International Raceway in the Virginia Is for Racing Lovers Grand Prix. But it was, as the old saying goes, the only lap that mattered.
A winner of 18 IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship races through his distinguished career, Hand co-drove the No. 40 PF Racing Ford Mustang GT4 with James Pesek to his first IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge, crossing the finish line 0.125 seconds ahead of Billy Johnson in the No. 59 KohR Motorsport Mustang.
Sheena Monk and Kyle Marcelli (No. 877 JG Wentworth Racing Mustang) originally finished third, but advanced to second place when the No. 59 KohR Mustang failed postrace technical inspection for not meeting the maximum fuel capacity. The No. 59 was moved to the rear of the class in the results, which promoted the No. 64 Team TGM Porsche 718 GT4 RS Clubsport shared by Owen Trinkler and Ted Giovanis to third place.
Hand took the lead on the 57th and final lap of the two-hour contest when the No. 21 Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT GT4 driven by Scott Andrews ran out of fuel halfway around VIR’s 3.27-mile, 17-turn layout.
But the experienced sports car veteran couldn’t relax over the final couple miles because he was dealing with braking issues as Johnson piled on heavy pressure.
“The brake pedal was on the floor into Turn 1 and at the end of the back stretch, so I could only do moves in the infield,” he added. “We were running in about 10th, and I was making slow progress, but after the last restart, I was able to start getting aggressive.
“I’m not going to lie, I’m pretty surprised,” Hand exclaimed. “But I said before the race that I don’t ever leave home to not try to win. We just hung on. We did kind of won on fuel mileage because some others ran out, but I’m pretty excited.”
For much of the race, it appeared IMSA’s all-time most successful driver, Bill Auberlen, would claim his 20th Michelin Pilot Challenge win. But Auberlen and teammate Dillon Machavern (No. 95 Turner Motorsport BMW M4 GT4) paid the price for being one of the earliest entries to pit for a driver change, necessitating a stop for a splash of fuel with 13 minutes remaining.
Auberlen appeared to benefit from a full-course caution that flew when the No. 7 Volt Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT4 of championship leaders Alan Brynjolfsson and Trent Hindman stopped on course. They later resumed to finish 18th in class.
Eric Foss, their closest pursuer in the points chase, was also forced to make a late fuel stop and was not able to significantly capitalize on the Volt team’s misfortune. A 12th-place provisional finish for Foss and co-driver Jeff Mosing cut Foss’ deficit from 220 to 160 points behind Brynjolfsson and Hindman with one race remaining in the 2022 campaign.
Hagler, Lewis Expand TCR Lead with First Win of Season
Taylor Hagler and Michael Lewis have led the Touring Car (TCR) standings most of the year in their bid to repeat as class champions. The item missing thus far in 2022 was a race win, but they rectified that Saturday.
Lewis used a bump-and-run pass on Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian teammate Parker Chase to grab the lead with just over a half hour left at VIR and went on to win in the No. 1 BHA Hyundai Elantra N TCR. Fellow BHA driver Tyler Maxson finished 2.169 seconds behind in the No. 77 BHA Elantra he shared with Mason Filippi.
The victory – the second for Hagler and Lewis as co-drivers – extended their unofficial TCR lead to 100 points over Roy Block and Tim Lewis, who finished fourth Saturday in the No. 5 KMW Motorsports with TMR Engineering Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce TCR. Only the Fox Factory 120 on Sept. 30 at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta remains.
The No. 1 Hyundai started seventh and Lewis took over for Hagler in fourth place halfway through the two-hour race. He methodically moved forward from there. He chased down Chase for the lead and the two bumped several times before Lewis pulled ahead going into Turn 15.
“I went for it one time and it wasn’t my lane, so I backed out,” Lewis said. “The second time, I’m like, ‘I have the position, I’m going to brake really late and control the corner.’ That’s basically what happened. He kind of bounced off me but I expected that. It’s just hard racing and we’re all going for the win.”
Despite sustaining light damage to the rear of his car, Lewis held teammates Chase and Maxson at bay – even through the final restart for the last two laps – to earn his seventh Michelin Pilot Challenge triumph.
“The yellow came out and I tried to do the best restart I could with all the pickup on (the tires),” Lewis explained. “I thought I didn’t do a good job and I looked in my mirror and I had gapped them huge, so I did a better job than I thought.”
Hagler was pleased with her opening stint following a disappointing qualifying effort Friday.
“Coming from almost the back of the pack, not a very good qualifying, moved it up to fifth and I gave Michael a good car in a good position,” she said. “It set him up for the win and that’s massive. Especially going into Atlanta, it extends our lead by a decent amount of points and adds that little bit of cushion.”