DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – What’s the saying? A bad day doing (fill in the blank) is better than a good day at work? Well, that certainly holds true for VIRginia International Raceway.
To wit, a bad day at VIR is better than a good day at work (or many other places). That being the case, consider that a great day in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship at VIR is downright hard to beat. Case in point was Sunday’s Michelin GT Challenge at VIR, which saw fierce and unpredictable battles from top to bottom in the GT Daytona (GTD) and GTD PRO classes. With few exceptions, they were not resolved until the final run from the Hog Pen turn to the checkered flag.
Speaking of Which…
There is more than one way to watch a motor race in person. One is to focus on the sheer sensory thrill ride of a race featuring 18 of the fastest GT cars on the planet, enjoying the sights, sounds and – occasionally – smells of Acuras, Aston Martins, BMWs, Corvettes, Lamborghinis, Lexuses (Lexi?), Mercedes-AMGs and Porsches racing fender-to-fender around the track. In this case, the 17-turn, 3.27-mile VIR. For those who choose this method, it’s just a case of watching the racing for sheer enjoyment without closely following the running and/or what fuel/tire strategies are in play.
Another approach is to enjoy the sensual pleasures while closely monitoring the PA system, listening to IMSA Radio or even going “old school” and keeping a lap chart. That way, you’ll know appearances can be deceiving; that the car or cars seemingly enjoying comfortable leads may – in fact – be playing a different game than the cars behind; that when everything shakes out in the end, some cars that appeared destined for victory are, in fact, destined to finish down the order if their fuel, tire and pit stop strategies don’t work out.
To each their own, of course, and there’s nothing wrong with enjoying racing from either perspective. But anyone not paying close attention to the strategies involved in the waning moments of the Michelin GT Challenge would have been quite surprised by the ultimate outcome, as car after car gave up potential podium finishes in order to hit pit lane for a splash of fuel to make it to the end of the race.
Speaking of strategies, there were plenty in play in the closing stages of Sunday’s race. In particular, the No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R and the No. 27 Heart of Racing Team Aston Martin Vantage GT3 played their fuel strategies to virtual perfection. Pfaff Motorsports made the final stop for fuel and tires with about 50 minutes left in the race, forcing Mathieu Jaminet to balance on a knife’s edge for the run to the checkered flag, going fast enough to catch and pass the GTD PRO-leading No. 23 Heart of Racing Aston Martin of Alex Riberas as well as its sister Heart of Racing entry, the No. 27 GTD driven by Maxime Martin, for the overall lead.
All the while, Jaminet kept an eye on a closing Antonio Garcia in the No. 3 Corvette Racing C8.R GTD. Jaminet got the balance of aggression and fuel economy just right, taking the checkered flag from Garcia by 0.823 seconds before running dry on the cooldown lap.
Martin wasn’t quite as successful in his own aggression/fuel economy balancing act. Nevertheless, he somehow managed to coax 40 laps out of a single tank of fuel in the No. 27 Aston Martin, many of which were in the overall lead of the race. But with one hand tied behind his back, figuratively speaking, he was literally powerless to resist the advances of Jaminet, Garcia and GTD winner Philip Ellis in the No. 57 Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 and finished a worthy runner-up in class.
GTD PRO All but Over; GTD? Not so much.
Their fifth win of the campaign effectively clinched the inaugural GTD PRO team, driver and manufacturer championships for Pfaff Motorsports, Jaminet, co-driver Matt Campbell and Porsche, respectively. All the plaid No. 9 Porsche needs do to claim the trifecta is take the green flag in the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta on Oct. 1.
On the other hand, the corresponding GTD championships are very much up for grabs. The No. 27 Heart of Racing Aston Martin and driver Roman DeAngelis have edged ahead of the erstwhile class-leading No. 32 Team Korthoff Motorsports Mercedes and Stevan McAleer, with the No. 16 Wright Motorsport Porsche 911 GT3 R of Ryan Hardwick and Jan Heylen in the third spot and the No. 57 Winward Racing Mercedes with Ellis and Russell Ward just 140 points out of the lead.
Just about anything can happen in 10 hours of racing at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta, but with two consecutive wins (and an excruciatingly close near miss at Lime Rock Park) to their credit, it would be rash to discount Winward Racing’s chances. It all adds up to a heck of a 2022 finale.