Jordan Taylor and Antonio Garcia of the #3 Corvette Racing GTD Pro secured the race win at Virginia International Raceway following a thrilling ninth round of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
Drama and fierce fights were prominent motives of excitement during the 2-hour and 40-minute sprint race around the 3.27 mile venue, with 19 GT3 cars in total.
Mastering qualifying got them the full 35 points given, but the race demanded more from the pair as they knew the #79 WeatherTech Racing Mercedes-AMG could pressure them throughout, with the #3 Corvette Racing ready to capitalise on any mistakes their rivals made starting third.
GTD was a tale of two stories after a strong qualifying from the series-leading #1 Paul Miller Racing BMW M4 GT3, and their rivals starting behind, whilst all Porsches struggled with their qualifying efforts in this season’s new 992 GT3.R.
Six teams elected to change from their qualifying tyres to fresh slick rubber, starting towards the back of the field and were not penalised due to the fact their bronze-rated drivers took qualifying duties.
The start took place in dry, hot and humid conditions, and Hawksworth led the race confidently ahead of Juncadella.
Behind, the #32 Team Korthoff Motorsports Mercedes-AMG had a tough start in the hands of Mike Skeen, running on the edge of the tight circuit whilst fending off a charging Roman De Angelis in the #27 Heart of Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT3, who went from ninth to fourth in GTD.
Madison Snow held the GTD lead, and Loris Spinelli jumped into third in his #78 Forte Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3 EVO2, although Garcia made his way past Juncadella for second place.
After just nine minutes of green flag racing, a full-course-yellow (FCY) was deployed after David Brule suffered a heavy impact into the right-side tyre barriers at Turn 5 in his #92 Kellymoss Porsche 911 GT3.R.
The track returned to green flag racing after just over 15 minutes of FCY, and Hawksworth continued to build up his lead again as the fastest driver on track.
GTD leader Madison Snow asserted unrivaled pace in GTD in his BMW M4 GT3, with Juncadella under pressure in the battle for fourth overall, although Snow’s attention was ultimately on the #12 Vasser Sullivan Lexus of Aaron Leitz behind him, whose uttermost aim was to make it a double-class win for the Vasser Sullivan outfit.
Snow eventually made it past Juncadella, and stretched his gap with a Mercedes-AMG in front of his nearest rival.
Loris Spinelli had a moment where he stopped temporarily before the pit lane entry, but continued.
The pit stops ensued across the field in groups, with the #27 Heart of Racing losing out after they failed to adhere to the minimum pit stop time, resulting in a drive-through penalty.
Unfortunately at just over an hour of racing done, the #78 Forte Racing Lamborghini, which experienced problems regarding the engine and electronics cutting out, eventually succumbed to its ongoing dilemma as Misha Goikhberg went straight on at Turn 14 into the tyre barrier.
A second FCY was deployed to repair the barrier as Brian Sellers’ commanding overall lead was put on pause.
The first raindrops began to fall during the FCY, but didn’t prompt pit stops as the bright sunshine kept things dry.
Green flag racing returned with 1-hour and 22-minutes remaining, Ben Barnicoat in the #14 Lexus took back the lead from the #1, but was heavily threatened by an opportunistic Jordan Taylor in the #3, saved with Barnicoat’s late braking manoeuvre.
Misfortune fell for Jules Gounon (who entered the race third in the GTD Pro championship standings) when he suffered damage to the left rear bodywork and had to pit to repair it, resulting in two laps lost.
Elsewhere, Frederik Schandorff showcased an uplifting performance in the #70 McLaren after he passed Robby Foley in the #96 Turner Motorsport for second in GTD.
With an hour remaining, pit stops took place with several thrilling duels as there were a couple of notable winners and losers.
One was the #97 of Auberlen who took second place back from the #70, who then faced a drive through penalty for working on the car during the refuelling phase as a wheel nut went loose onto the ground, and a mechanic retrieved it.
Barnicoat in the #14 conducted a smooth pit stop, but stalled his Lexus RC F GT3 just after completing it, which meant after pit exit, the #3 Corvette of Taylor charged his way to a narrow lead on the start-finish straight.
AO Racing’s Seb Priaulx quietly climbed to sixth place in their pink ‘Roxy’ Porsche amidst the midfield fighting.
With 46 minutes to go and no scheduled pit stops expected, Schandorff made a charging pass on the #27 Aston Martin of Marco Sorensen for 10th in GTD, later making a move on Katherine Legge in the #66 Gradient Racing Acura NSX GT3, followed by a pass on the straight on Trent Hindman in the #77 Wright Motorsports Porsche.
In second and third in GTD in the final 40 minutes, Turner Motorsport targeted a strong result for a double-podium finish, a full podium sweep for the BMW manufacturer.
Towards the end of the race, the battle for the win was between the #3 Corvette and the #14 Lexus. Taylor held the lead, but Barnicoat slowly but surely narrowed the gap.
With the Vasser Sullivan driver slowly getting closer, the GTD lead was held comfortably by the driver who got the #1 BMW on pole, Madison Snow, with a gap of almost eight seconds to his nearest competitor.
Schandorff continued his strong display in the McLaren by chasing down Kay van Berlo’s #91 Kellmoss Porsche which had a brief moment when it stopped, thus falling back into the McLaren’s grasp, and was marvellously forced to defend P7 in GTD.
With under two minutes to go, the attention was on the #70 McLaren’s straight-line speed which enabled it to win out over the #91 Porsche for seventh place.
After 81 laps completed, Jordan Taylor and his teammate Antonio Garcia took the overall victory at the Virginia International Raceway, as the Lexus of Barnicoat could not close the gap in time for the checkered flag.
The second-placed #14 Vasser Sullivan Lexus of Ben Barnicoat and Jack Hawksworth was followed by the GTD #1 Paul Miller Racing BMW of Madison Snow and Bryan Sellers, which finished third overall.
In fourth was the #96 Turner Motorsport BMW of Robby Foley and Patrick Gallagher, with fifth overall – and third in GTD – going to the highest-finishing Mercedes-AMG of Philip Ellis and his #57 Winward Racing teammate Russell Ward.
The next round of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship will be the Battle on the Bricks at Indianapolis, featuring all five classes on 17 September.
See here for the full classification of results from the GT Challenge at VIR.