Better late than never. Finally got this one into the magazine. Enjoy….
Victory Lane Magazine, May 2017, Vol. 32, No. 5 – Story and Photos by Terry Johnsen
Virginia International Raceway, August 26-28, 2016
The weekend of August 26-28 (2016) proved to be a sports car lovers dream, with a total of five top-notch series battling it out on the rolling hills of Virginia International Raceway (VIR). Along with the headlining IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship series, the weekend agenda featured the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge series, the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama series, the Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo Series, and The Battery Tender Global Mazda MX-5 Cup series. This was a showcase of the best sports car racing in North America.
Connie Nyholm (CEO/Owner of VIR) and the VIR staff provided the perfect venue, set in the beautiful and picturesque landscape of southern Virginia. This was the first event held at VIR on the newly laid track surface. The track and driving conditions met with rave reviews by the drivers and the teams.
IMSA Radio provided their unique blend of race reporting and commentary. Their coverage provides a running soundtrack for the fans that is unmatched in any form of motorsports. Their knowledge, expertise, and story-telling talents add so much to the fans race viewing experience. The weekend would seem incomplete without them.
In the main event, the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class was going for the overall win. Corvette Racing came into the weekend with a two-race winning streak, and with the #4 car of Oliver Gavin/Tommy Milner holding a small points lead in the championship. The GT Daytona (GTD) field was strong as well, but was down two Porsche entries due to a balance-of-performance (BOP) dispute. Regardless, the Michelin GT Challenge saw a field of 21 cars take the green flag on a beautiful, hot and sunny day.
Since the GT cars were going for the overall win, they were free to run unencumbered without concern of prototype traffic. It was very reminiscent of the early IMSA Camel GT days. This was setting up to be a classic showdown between Corvette and the Ford GTs… and oh by the way, Porsche, Ferrari, and BMW too.
Jan Magnussen in the #3 Corvette C7.R secured pole position. He and his teammate Antonio Garcia were vying for a third win in a row for Corvette Racing. The #4 sister car of Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner locked out the front row. The #66 Ford GT of Joey Hand and Dirk Muller started in third spot, while the #62 Ferrari 488 GTE of Toni Vilander and Giancarlo Fisichella rounded out the second row.
Magnussen and Garcia set a blistering pace throughout the race while the #66 Ford GT kept them within striking distance. Due to an unexpected heavy rain on Saturday, the grass was particularly slick and loose. Going offline meant heavy pickup of mud and grass, leading to an unscheduled visit to the pits to clear out the debris. Up and down the order, cars experienced this fate throughout the day. What made this trip to the pits more costly was that there were no full-course caution periods throughout the race. That is until there were five minutes to go in the two hour and forty minute endurance race, when Oliver Gavin went off track in his #4 Corvette. This caution period bunched up the field for one last dash to the checkered flag.
Antonio Garcia led the field back to the line for one last lap and was never headed. He and Jan Magussen took the win for Corvette Racing, securing a three-race winning streak in the process. The #66 Ford GT of Joey Hand and Dirk Muller took second spot on the podium for Ford Chip Ganassi Racing. A final lap trading of paint helped the #912 Porsche of Earl Bamber and Frederick Makowiecki secure third spot for Porsche North America. The incident with the #62 Ferrari took it off course momentarily, but enough to drop it down the order to finish in seventh spot. Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow finished ninth overall and first in the GTD class in their #48 Lamborghini Huracan GT3 for Paul Miller Racing.
The weekend slate of support series brought tons of non-stop action and entertainment for the fans. Marc Miller and Daniel Burkett won the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge race in their #33 Porsche Cayman. It was the first win for CJ Wilson Racing in the GS (Grand Sport) class. Ryan Eversley and Chad Gilsinger secured first position in the ST (Street Tuner) class in the #93 Honda Civic Si for the HART racing team. Shinya Michimi won both of the Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo series races for Prestige Performance. Jesse Lazare won both of the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama series races overall for the Kelly-Moss Road and Race team. He raced in the Platinum class. Sebastian Landy won both races in the Gold class, driving for the TPC Racing team. Finally, Dean Copeland piloted his Copeland Motorsports Mazda to win The Battery Tender Global Mazda MX-5 Cup series race on Saturday. Nathanial Sparks won the Sunday morning race for Sick Sideways Racing in a very close finish.
Did I mention the weekend was hot? It was very hot, humid, and sticky, and it even included a cloudburst of unexpected proportions on Saturday. Still, it was a sports car lovers dream. With the five series on display, there was something for everyone. The weather was hot and track action sizzled. This was indeed a showcase of the best sports car racing in North America.