Across the GTD Pro and GTD classes, there were competitors who made the most of the weekend to crown themselves as winners from an uplifting outcome from the VIR race, as others lost out to stronger results to difficulties they faced.
Labelling competitors as ‘losers’ draws criticism not at what they cannot achieve in the next race, but what valuable results they missed out on from the GT Challenge at VIR.
Winner – #3 Corvette Racing (GTD Pro): Antonio Garcia and Jordan Taylor
It may come as no surprise that the overall race victors are classified as a winner here, although there are rightfully entitled after their VIR performance.
The spotlight in GTD Pro was on the #14 Vasser Sullivan Lexus and the #79 WeatherTech Racing Mercedes-AMG, since they fought for the top spot in the final minutes in second free practice, and of course during qualifying.
Corvette Racing were opportunistic after it was clear from lights out that the #14, qualified and started by Jack Hawksworth, had a strong, unrivaled form of race pace.
Meanwhile the #79 started to fall back, building a larger gap to the Lexus, and later facing a major setback of their own.
Antonio Garcia kept within reach of the Lexus, showcasing great straightline pace by halfway through the race.
With the other two GTD Pros (#9 and #23) far back, it was up to them to ensure they would make no mistakes around the demanding complex, which caught the likes of David Brule in the #91 Kellymoss Porsche after the start.
It was until the final pit stop made by Ben Barnicoat when he briefly stalled after the stop was done, seemingly costing seconds at first, but emerged out of the pit lane with not enough speed to stop a charging Taylor on the start-finish straight.
The Lexus showed better pace in the final half hour of the race, but only on a fractional lap-by-lap basis, enough so that the Corvette opportunistically claimed the win, mistake-free.
Loser – #79 WeatherTech Racing (GTD Pro): Jules Gounon and Daniel Juncadella
Coming out the weekend, the #79 crew lost their third place in the championship standings to Pfaff Motorsports’ #9 Porsche 911 GT3.R, and it was down to one major setback in the race.
Mercedes-AMG works drivers Jules Gonon and Daniel Juncadella were favourites into the main session, having already pursued a comeback after their AMG GT3 EVO2 caught fire during the opening free practice session.
Their mechanics rebuilt the car and it continued its assertion not only for podium contention, but for the win.
Qualifying on the front row, Daniel Juncadella could not match the pace of the #14 Lexus.
Even after the caution was deployed for Brule’s accident, he fell back into the grasp of Corvette Racing, and even the #1 GTD pole-sitter Madison Snow.
It was misfortunate when with 1 hour and 26 minutes completed, they suffered rear-left bodywork damage as Gounon nursed the smoking Mercedes-AMG into the pits.
Contact from the #9 Pfaff Motorsport Porsche had forced the bodywork to rub against the tyre, marking no chance to score a podium, which was a realistic objective for them before this incident.
Credit must be given for their perseverance, losing two laps on everybody else with the repair job to finish last in GTD Pro, and the overall running order.
The #9 Porsche jumped into third in the standings on 2915 points to the #79’s 2886 points from finishing fifth, a preferable outcome to retiring and scoring none more than in qualifying (32).
Winner – #1 Paul Miller Racing (GTD): Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow
The BMW M4 GT3 was one of the strongest cars at the GT Challenge at VIR, especially in the hands of Madison Snow.
The American claimed GTD pole position, and he was fastest overall in the third sector with a 35.599 from the tail of the back-straight, and into the twisty sections of Turn 14-17.
He became the first repeat-GTD pole-sitter this year, and secured the maximum 35 points awarded for that feat.
Starting on the second row next to Garcia’s Corvette – and the fact two GTD Pros started further back than the trio at the front – meant Madison’s rivals were all behind him, rather than one starting nearside to him.
From hereon in, the #1 BMW made impressive progress not only to retain its lead and challenge the WeatherTech and Corvette at certain moments, still keeping his nearest GTD rivals at bay.
The momentum from Snow’s dominant opening stint was continued by Sellers when he took over, to the point that they were leading the overall race for 77 of the 81 laps in total.
By the end, they were victorious after being unchallenged, finishing third in the overall order, and concluding a maximum points haul with the 350 in the race too.
Loser – #78 Forte Racing Powered by USRT: Misha Goikhberg and Loris Spinelli
After an encouraging qualifying performance for the only Lamborghini Huracan GT3 EVO2 in the field, reliability woes hit the team and their chances of podium finish were thrown following a crash.
Loris Spinelli qualified third in GTD, with a 1:45.416 lap time. Behind him at the race start was Mike Sheen in the #32 Team Korthoff Motorsports Mercedes-AMG.
At lights out, the GTD field made for intense fighting at the start, with the #1 pulling away.
Sheen started poorly, falling back to fifth whilst the #27 Heart of Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT3 driven by Roman De Angelis, climbed from ninth to fourth.
This meant Spinelli had time to extract the pace from his Lamborghini, amidst drivers battling behind.
All was smooth until their first pit stop after 46 minutes of racing, when the car ground to a halt just before the pitlane. Whilst he got going, the podium place fell away with this time-costing instance.
The #27 had not adhered to the minimum refuelling time, due to a faulty sensor, which did not eliminate podium all chances for the #78.
However, a sinister moment occurred when the #78’s engine and electronics, which includes the power steering, cut out on the approach to Turn 1, a second instance thus far.
Shortly after, with just over an hour of the race completed, Goikhberg experienced the same again into Turn 14, resulting in a crash into the tyre barrier, triggering the second caution of the race.
Their race ended due to reliability woes, a tragedy for the team after qualifying third.
Winner – #80 AO Racing: PJ Hyett and Seb Priaulx
All five Porsches struggled during free practice and qualifying in attempting to match their rival’s pace.
It was the #80 ‘Roxy’ Porsche 911 GT3.R which made a quietly attained comeback after finishing 10 places higher than where they started.
One of the key pointers to finishing the race successfully was to not attract any penalties as that would simply damage a driver’s hopes, especially in the new-for-2023 992 package.
Kellymoss’ David Brule ended his race after just nine minutes of running, the sole Porsche to retire.
With others being penalised for pit stop infringements, the #80 kept out of harm’s attention.
Priaulx was quicker than Hyett who drove the opening stint, and set the third fastest time of all 5 Porsches in the race, a 1:45.896.
A quiet and undramatic race took place for them to conduct the climb from 16th at the start, on fresh rubber like their surrounding rivals, to finish sixth.
Loser – #70 Inception Racing: Brendan Iribe and Frederik Schandorff
So far this season, the pair have proved themselves as a strong driver line-up. Schandorff, the professional whose latest title win resides in GT World Challenge Open last year, sets a benchmark for Iribe to learn from, and it has been clear in recent times that has come to fruition.
As a result, it may be harsh to score them as a ‘loser’ from the race, since it was mostly positive for them. Nevertheless, it was simply one moment which hindered them, and the performance that followed suggested they could have finished so much higher up the field.
Iribe qualified their McLaren 720S GT3 EVO2 seventh in GTD, but started 12th after the team were one of several to change to fresh rubber, rather than start on the qualifying tyres as per the regulations.
Iribe made a good showing during his opening stint, with the midfield racing closely and intensely in front of him.
Schandorff went further in his performances, climbing up through the order. He fought with the #97 Turner Motorsport BMW, after running side-by-side with one another. Soon enough, he was into second place after passing Robby Foley’s #96 BMW.
This strong foundation of work fell at the final pit stop when the #70 was awarded a drive-through penalty for work being done during refuelling, prohibited in the rules.
Specifically, a wheel nut from the gun of a mechanic went loose and fell underneath the car, who went to grab it just as the car finished its refuelling process.
This did not prevent Schandorff from still climbing up the field yet again, with an imposing drive.
They finished seventh, which was where they qualified, although much more could have come from their form at VIR.
Before the weekend, they sat third in the standings on 2262 points, and exit the weekend on 2536, narrowly losing their third place to the #12 Vasser Sullivan outfit’s 2553 points.
Perhaps this form can carry to Indianapolis, to carry out a redeeming result without an avoidable pit stop infringement.
Let us know your ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ from the IMSA GT Challenge at VIR!