A One-Lap Michelin Pilot Challenge Shootout Features a Bump-and-Grind Battle for Victory
By John Oreovicz and Jeff Olson
ALTON, Va. – The last lap of the Virginia Is For Racing Lovers Grand Prix at VIRginia International Raceway packed in enough action to fill an entire two-hour IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race.
A late full-course caution produced a one-lap shootout that ended in glory for Robin Liddell and Frank DePew and Rebel Rock Racing in the Grand Sport (GS) class. Liddell emerged first after the three leading GS cars made contact exiting Turn 1 in the dash to the checkered flag to claim the win in the No. 71 Chevrolet Camaro GT4.R by 0.684 seconds over Robby Foley and Vin Barletta in the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M4 GT4.
Liddell took the final restart in third place behind Jeff Westphal in the No. 39 CarBahn with Peregrine Racing Porsche 718 GT4 RS Clubsport and Scott Andrews in the No. 27 Lone Star Racing Mercedes-AMG GT4. All three were on radically different fuel strategies, with Andrews in the best shape and Westphal running on fumes.
Westphal made a good restart, but struggled on older tires through the long, 180-degree first corner called Horse Shoe. Lidell, attempting a crossover move, appeared to bump Andrews into Westphal, causing the Mercedes to bounce back and forth between the Camaro and the Porsche. After multiple bumps, Westphal edged ahead while Andrews spun into the infield. IMSA officials reviewed the incident but took no action.
Westphal then ran out of fuel a few corners later, leaving Liddell – who was short on fuel and marginal on tires himself – to fend off Foley. Joey Hand and Jenson Altzman finished third, 1.315 seconds in arrears.
“It’s a nice feeling,” Liddell said after his 16th career Michelin Pilot Challenge race win. “It’s not great for a driver when you’re just saving gas and you get a result, but when you actually have to fight for it, it feels awesome.”
Lidell called the last-lap contact with Andrews “unfortunate.”
“I guess he got pinched by the Porsche, so he came back in front of me a little bit,” Liddell said. “He turned sideways. I lifted out of it. I tried to avoid turning him. But in the end, we made contact several times. And in the end, I had a race to run. So unfortunately, I’m afraid it ended badly for him.
“I’m sorry for him because I was quite happy to see him win the race – before it went yellow, on a different strategy,” he added. “But when it comes to a straight fight, I’m not going to take any prisoners.”
Foley and Barletta were delighted to finish second after Barletta spun into fairly substantial contact with a tire wall half an hour into the race. The Turner Motorsport crew taped up the rear end of the BMW, and Foley found it was surprisingly competitive as he moved back through the field.
“He was able to work his way back up and dig us out of that issue,” said Barletta. “We had some luck with the fuel; it took a lot of variables to put us on the podium in second.”
Saturday’s results made an already exciting battle for the GS class points lead even better. Barletta, Foley and the No. 96 BMW are now tied at the top with the No. 72 Murillo Racing Mercedes-AMG GT4, which finished ninth at VIR with drivers Christian Szymczak and Kenny Murillo.
Liddell, DePew and the No. 71 Chevrolet are third in the standings, 80 points back. Mercedes-AMG leads BMW by just 10 markers in the battle of manufacturers.
“What a race!” Foley exclaimed. “It was obviously very exciting at the end. The yellow at the end changed everything up. A great day for our team, trying to fight for the championship.”
Taylor, Miller drive No. 17 JDC-Miller Audi to victory in TCR
Mikey Taylor and Chris Miller got the victory in the Touring Car (TCR) class Saturday at VIR, but Robert Wickens and Harry Gottsacker maintained their grip on the championship.
Taylor held on through a one-lap shootout to claim the class victory in the No. 17 Unitronic/JDC-Miller MotorSports Audi RS3 LMS TCR he co-drives with Miller. Wickens held on to second in the No. 33 Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian Hyundai Elantra N TCR he shares with Gottsacker.
While trying to chase down the leader late in the race, Tim Lewis went off course in the esses from second place, telling his crew over the radio that something broke on the No. 5 KMW Motorsports with TMR Engineering Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce TCR. That resulted in a full-course caution with eight minutes remaining in the two-hour race, letting the field gather closer to Taylor.
The ensuing restart was a one-lap run to the finish over the 17-turn, 3.27-mile circuit. Taylor brought it home 6.974 seconds ahead of Wilkins, who finished 0.550 seconds ahead of BHA stablemate Mason Filippi in the No. 98 BHA Hyundai he co-drives with Mark Wilkins.
Before the late caution, Taylor was leading comfortably but was razor thin on fuel. When asked if he thought he could win had the yellow not come out, Taylor said he wasn’t quite sure.
“I think it would’ve been fine,” he said. “But at the same time, because of the yellow, these guys were pulled back up to us. It could’ve gone either way, really. We were just trying to maximize the package the car has. We don’t have enough fuel, really, to do a full stint. We kind of got lucky today.”
While Taylor and Miller closed on Wickens and Gottsacker in the championship standings, the No. 33 duo remains 50 points ahead with only two races – at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta – remaining on the 2023 schedule. Filippi, Wilkins and the No. 98 BHA Hyundai are 110 points from the leaders.
“We’re going to have to beat them in the next two races to beat them in the championship,” Miller said. “But we have a good car and the best team, so we’re looking forward to the rest of the season.”
The victory for the No. 17 did, however, push Audi into the TCR manufacturer points lead by just 10 over Hyundai, which is seeking its fourth straight crown.
The next Michelin Pilot Challenge race is four hours in length, on Saturday, Sept. 16 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The telecast of Saturday’s VIR race airs at 1 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 3 on CNBC.