The pressure was on at the Michelin GT Challenge at VIR, as the GT-only field headed out on the challenging 3.27-mile circuit for the third to last race of the 2017 season. But rather than crack under pressure, Corvette Racing’s Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia used that pressure to their advantage.
The defending VIR race champions, and 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT Le Mans (GTLM) points leaders, moved up from their sixth place starting position and used pace, fuel efficiency and a late race push to claim the race victory and extend their lead in the championship.
Keeping the pressure on
Stuck behind the No. 66 Chip Ganassi Racing’s Ford GT of Dirk Mueller, their closest rival in the championship, through the middle stage of the race, Garcia was able to extend his stint before pitting and used those two clear laps to leapfrog the Ford for third position with 52 minutes remaining aboard his Corvette C7.R.
Garcia then began chasing down the second place Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE of Giancarlo Fisichella. Both were reeling in the race leading BMW of Alexander Sims and Bill Auberlen, which led long stretches of the two hour 40-minute race, but a rare off by Fisichella moved Garcia to second place.
“The BMW had pitted earlier than we did and we weren’t sure that they could make it on fuel. I kept the pressure on so that they couldn’t cruise,” said Garcia.
The BMW fell to fourth position at the finish after a late pit stop with 12 minutes remaining. The No. 67 Ford GT of Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook completed the podium.
The Michelin factor
“Our Michelin teams took advantage of all three of our available tire options as they made their choices, or in some cases mixed and matched their tires to optimize the performance of their respective cars,” said Chris Baker, director of motorsport, Michelin North America.
“Seeing cars from four different manufacturers turn race laps significantly quicker than last year’s pole time and all within a narrow range is exiting for the teams, fans and our engineers.”
Fast and close
Led by Fisichella in the No, 62 Risi Ferrari and Garcia’s Corvette, the best race lap times for Ferrari, Corvette, Ford and BMW all bettered the 2016 VIR pole time and fell within an incredibly tight 0.303 second range on a 1-minute 41-second (101 seconds) race lap.
Michelin extends and expands VIR relationship
Prior to the race, track president and CEO Connie Nyholm and Michelin North America motorsport marketing manager Sarah Robinson announced that Michelin will return as title sponsor of the 2018 Michelin GT Challenge at VIR, as well as become the Official Tire of VIRginia International Raceway in 2018.
“The combination of the challenging VIR circuit, great staff and enthusiastic fans have made The Michelin GT Challenge at VIR one of the favorite events for everyone involved,” said Robinson.
The series heads next to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, California for the penultimate stop of the 2017 WeatherTech Championship season on Sunday, September 24.