Pit Stops, Corvette and Paul Miller Racing Is GTD PRO-Ready
By David Phillips
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The second and final GT-only event of the 2023 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season is in the books. In keeping with the ultra-competitive nature of both the Grand Touring Daytona (GTD) and Grand Touring Daytona Pro (GTD PRO) fields, the results from Sunday’s Michelin GT Challenge at VIRginia International Raceway bore scant resemblance to those of the first GT-only event of the season – the FCP Euro Northeast Grand Prix presented by Liqui Moly held in July at Lime Rock Park.
Where Lime Rock saw one team (Heart of Racing Team) and one marque (Aston Martin Vantage GT3) finish first in both GTD and GTD PRO, VIR produced two very different winners in Corvette Racing’s No. 3 Corvette C8.R GTD (GTD PRO) and the No. 1 Paul Miller Racing BMW M4 GT3 (GTD). That the two events produced markedly different results should come as no big surprise given how dissimilar the 1.474-mile Lime Rock circuit is from the 3.27-mile VIR. Some other thoughts …
Races Are Won and Lost in the Pits
While nobody could possibly know what the outcomes of the GTD and GTD PRO races might have been otherwise, there’s no doubting pit stops had a profound impact on the finishing order in both classes.
In GTD PRO, Corvette rolled the proverbial dice on an “undercut” in the final round of stops, opting to pit Jordan Taylor and the No. 3 ‘Vette from a close second place behind the No. 14 Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3 before Vasser Sullivan called Ben Barnicoat in for his final pit stop. Taylor thus had the advantage of a full lap on fresh, grippy Michelin tires while Barnicoat spent that same lap running well-used Michelins before pitting for fresh rubber (and fuel). Under pressure to get out of the pits ahead of Taylor, Barnicoat stalled the Lexus as he was about to launch from his pit stall. By the time he restarted, trundled down pit lane at the mandated maximum speed of 60 kph and regained the track, Barnicoat was just ahead of Taylor – but powerless to prevent the Corvette from easily sweeping past for the lead into Turn 1.
Although Taylor subsequently eked out a useful gap to Barnicoat, there’s no telling whether that owed more to the Corvette’s ultimate pace or Vasser Sullivan’s “big-picture” decision to stay within striking distance should Taylor or the Corvette falter, secure in the knowledge that finishing second did very minor damage to the No. 14 Lexus’ GTD PRO championship lead which is now 144 points over the No. 3 Corvette.
Meanwhile, in GTD, the No. 70 McLaren 720S GT3 EVO of Inception Racing was poised to garner its third podium finish in the past four races and possibly grab the first WeatherTech Championship win for the team and manufacturer. Having set the pace in the prerace warm-up, the McLaren was up to third place behind the No. 1 Paul Miller Racing BMW and fastest class qualifier Madison Snow when Frederik Schandorff made his final pit stop and resumed in third place – only to be penalized for working on the car while refueling. The resulting drive-through penalty dropped the Inception entry down the order, and while Schandorff tigered his way back to a seventh-place finish, he and the Inception team likely departed VIR knowing they left a potential podium finish on the table.
The World’s Largest Corvette Corral?
With all due respect to the many other marques whose faithful (dare we say fanatical?) fans pack the various car corrals throughout the WeatherTech Championship season, it may be time to christen VIRginia International Raceway the “Corvette Corral.” Certainly, there’s an abundance of Stingrays at just about any event at VIR, but the most conspicuous ‘Vettes are typically found in victory lane. That was the case on Sunday as Taylor and Garcia piloted the No. 3 Corvette to their second win of the 2023 campaign. More to the point, it marked the third win in the past four years at VIR for Corvette and the second time Taylor and Garcia have paired up to win the GT-only event there.
GTD PRO Ready?
Paul Miller Racing scored its fifth GTD win of the season on Sunday despite veteran driver Bryan Sellers not feeling well all week. Snow and Sellers added VIR to their personal haul of 2023 trophies from Sebring, Long Beach, Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and Road America.
With a 375-point lead in the class championship standings, barring some unforeseen disaster in the final two events at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta, they will capture the GTD team and drivers’ championships, while being largely responsible for BMW taking the manufacturer title (BMW currently leads Aston Martin by 344 points). It would be a fitting swansong to the GTD class for the team that has announced its intent to move to GTD PRO in 2024.
Apropos of nothing, but an interesting thought experiment nevertheless, wonder how PMR, Snow and Sellers would have fared had they been running GTD PRO this season? Of course, it’s akin to asking how many angels dance on the head of pin, given that the team’s strategic decisions over the course of the season were based on beating their GTD opponents with little or no thought to the GTD PRO competitors.
Still, it’s worth noting that Snow, Sellers and the No. 1 Paul Miller BMW have finished on the mythical GTD/GTD PRO podium four times this season. At least according to my rickety arithmetic (awarding GTD PRO points to PMR based on those garnered by the GTD PRO entry that finished behind them in each event) PMR would have in excess of 2,600 points; not a serious threat to GTD PRO-leading Vasser Sullivan but in the thick of the battle for a top three in the championship, and ample evidence they will be a force to reckoned with in GTD PRO next year.
But, lest we lose focus on the current season, there are two races and a bevy of class, driver, team and manufacturer championships yet to be determined. The first of those races comes up fast when all five classes – Grand Touring Prototype (GTP), Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2), Le Mans Prototype 3 (LMP3), GTD PRO and GTD – will tackle the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course in the TireRack.com Battle on the Bricks, Sept. 15-17.