Corvette Racing’s Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia arrive at VIR atop the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship GTLM standings. If that sounds familiar, they were in virtually the same position entering VIR last year. It is what happens next that they hope will be quite different.
Things happen fast in racing. You can ask Magnussen.
At 9:28 a.m., with just two minutes remaining in the Saturday morning practice session, another car dropped oil on the racing line in turn 2.
Porsche’s Richard Lietz was the first to encounter the oil on the track and spun hard into the turn 2 wall. Trailing close behind, Magnussen also hit the oil, spun and slid sideways into the stopped Porsche.
Lietz suffered a fractured upper left arm. Magnussen had a concussion. And just that fast his 2014 TUDOR Championship title hopes had ended. Jordan Taylor, a Prototype champion and third driver with Corvette Racing at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in recent years stepped in for Magnussen at VIR.
“It was tough going from leading the championship to missing the race,” said Magnussen.
“They have a new rule this year that would have helped me to get my points for that race in that situation, but that doesn’t matter. It happens. You move on.”
He returned to competition at the next race at Circuit of The Americas, but the Corvette Racing team was already struggling with the mid-season adjustment of performance to even the field, and had lost its momentum.
After reeling off four consecutive victories in the first half of the season, the Garcia/Magnussen No. 3 Corvette finished the season with 6-7-9-8 place class finishes in the final four races.
“It was tough going from winning races to running last,” said Magnussen. “It makes it tough on the drivers and the whole team and everyone’s spirits.”
But that was last year.
The 2015 TUDOR Championship has already produced its own moments of great joy and drama for Magnussen, Garcia and Corvette Racing.
Magnussen and Garcia, joined by Ryan Briscoe, opened the 2015 TUDOR Championship season with victories at the Rolex 24 At Daytona and the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.
And then came another reminder of how quickly things can happen.
During qualifying at the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans, an errant stone became stuck in the throttle linkage of Magnussen’s Corvette sending him heavily into the wall and then across the track at the famed Porsche Curves.
While thankfully Magnussen escaped uninjured, his car was very heavily damaged.
The extensive repairs required the car to be withdrawn and shipped back to the team’s headquarters in Michigan. Then, in a storybook race for Corvette Racing, teammates Oliver Gavin, Tommy Milner and Jordan Taylor took the remaining Corvette to the GTE-Pro class victory at Le Mans.
Returning stateside and running a car borrowed from the European-based Larbre Competition team, Magnussen and Garcia finished fourth at Watkins Glen and third at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park before finishing fourth in their rebuilt car at Road America.
In a sport that measures success in thousandths of a second, a year is a long time. Magnussen has no hesitation about returning to VIR in hopes of securing another championship with Garcia as they did in 2013.
“I love the track. It’s a great layout with beautiful scenery,” said Magnussen.
With just two TUDOR Championship races remaining after VIR, the championship will almost certainly go to the final laps of the season.
“The key to winning championships is to make the most out of every situation,” said Magnussen.
“Every point in the championship is important. You have to push all the time. The points are extremely close and Porsche seems to have the edge at the moment.”
Indeed Magnussen and Garcia lead BMW’s Bill Auberlen and Dirk Werner by a mere four points with Porsche’s Patrick Pilet only one point further back.
The season has seen major ebbs and flows with Corvette Racing taking the first two class wins of 2015, while the factory led BMW Team RLL captured the next two at Long Beach and Monterey.
The Falken Porsche cleverly played a longshot fuel strategy into a victory at Watkins Glen and the powerful Porsche North America factory team has dominated the two most recent events.
With stunning, highly engineered cars beautifully prepared and driven at extraordinarily high levels, the GTLM class is recognized as one of the world’s most competitive classes.
Yet, for all of the research, data, testing, development and simulations, things like a patch of oil and a stone in the linkage are still the wild cards that can change everything.
For Magnussen and Garcia and the Corvette Nation, a win at VIR would rebalance the scales.