Corvette Racing wins again at VIR, PMR closes in on IMSA GTD title

Vasser Sullivan Racing and Corvette Racing looked pretty evenly matched on pace in GTD PRO, so it was pit stop strategy and execution on which the Michelin GT Challenge for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship ultimately turned to the favor of the No. 3 C8.R and delivered victory at VIRginia International Raceway to Jordan Taylor and Antonio Garcia. The boost to their championship hopes was small, however, as Ben Barnicoat and Jack Hawksworth finished second in the No. 14 Lexus RC F GT3 and carry a 144-point lead into the final two races.

GTD, on the other hand, was another flag-to-flag romp for Madison Snow and Bryan Sellers in the No. 1 Paul Miller Racing BMW M4 GT3, Snow taking a 12.187s victory over a fuel-saving Robby Foley in the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M4 GT3. In the process, the team set a record of five wins in GTD during a season, and all but clinched the Sprint Cup Championship, which would make them the first team to score back-to-back Sprint Cups.

“It’s amazing. It’s really wonderful,” said team owner Paul Miller. “I’ve just given everybody a hug on the team. It’s an unbelievable record. We’ve never won anything like that. We’ve never won more than one or two races in a season, so it’s crazy!”


Sellers and PMR even had the No. BMW in the overall lead after the first round of pit stops, but eventually the two leading GTD PRO cars would get back to the front, with Snow and Sellers finishing third overall.

In a race interrupted by only two cautions, and neither coming at a time when it would have any real effect on strategy, the first indication that maybe this wasn’t going to be a cruise for the polesitting No. 14 Lexus came after the first round of pit stops. Taylor took over the No. 3 C8.R from Garcia, dispatched Jules Gounon in the No. 79 WeatherTech Racing Mercedes AMG rather quickly and immediately started knocking out fast laps. While Barnicoat would eventually take the fast lap back, it was an indication that Taylor had the bit between his teeth and intended to close the GTD PRO points gap to the Vasser Sullivan team.

Taylor’s first attack came as Barnicoat saw an opening to get by overall leader Bryan Sellers in Oak Tree. The move slowed Sellers enough for Taylor to also scoot past, but it also left Barnicoat vulnerable due to a lower corner exit speed. Taylor got alongside, had the inside line for Turn 14, but Barnicoat held the braking just a bit later and maintained the lead.

“I didn’t have a ton of confidence going there,” Taylor explained. “I think a lap before I braked kind of late and had a bunch of ABS interaction and almost hit the back of him. That lap I was going to be offline, so I wasn’t 100 percent confident that I would make the corner had I braked when he did on the inside. And yeah, he kind of did the exact same thing to me the last year when I had a similar run, so I knew he was going to go deep. At that point in the race, I knew had we got track position, it who would have transformed the race for us, but I also didn’t want to throw it away.”

Taylor would have to wait for the second round of pit stops to take the point. Corvette Racing brought Taylor in first, with just under an hour to go. The undercut strategy was compounded by the No. 14 Lexus stalling as Barnicoat was leaving the pits. He got it going quickly, and emerged from the pits ahead of Taylor; but Taylor was at full speed, and passed Barnicoat easily going into Turn 1. Barnicoat slid wide on cold tires, giving Taylor more of a buffer. Barnicoat kept the gap around 2s to Taylor until the end, but could never really close and attack, finishing second by 2.068s. It was a nice comeback from what was almost a sure win in the previous race at Road America, ruined by a penalty for insufficient fueling time.

“Pretty much that whole race I was pushing, even on the first cycle, just to close the gap to the Lexus and to see if we could make them make a mistake,” explained Taylor. “So when the [second] yellow came out, I wasn’t sure what was going to happen – those guys restarted really strong. The guys made an amazing call to kind of shortfill, get us out front track position-wise and then it was just down to saving fuel, managing tires and maintaining the gap. I was counting down the laps from about 25 to go, so I was very happy to see that checkered flag.”

The earlier stop left Taylor needing to save fuel, and he was denied his requested post-victory burnout because the team didn’t believe he had a sufficient supply to roast the rear tires and still get back to the pits.

“It was amazing,” declared Taylor, whom his teammate compared to a Swiss watch. “That’s down to Corvette Racing, calling that strategy, getting us that track position. And then when they told me that fuel number, I was definitely worried. But the car was so good in fuel save mode, it actually helped me save the tires.”

The victory was the 115th for Corvette, 29th for Garcia and the 33rd for Taylor in IMSA competition as Taylor enters his final two races for the team. Next year he moves back to Wayne Taylor Racing with Andretti Autosport to drive the team’s second Acura ARX-06 GTP car with Louis Deletraz. For Garcia, who moved the Corvette into second during the first stint, consistency was key to victory.

“Yesterday, we tried to do something different in qualifying, because everybody seemed to be so close,” he explained. “So that probably gave us some indication on how to set up for today and the car was pretty good. So I’m glad that during the first stint the car was where it needed to be. I was able to close to second. The Lexus was very, very strong today. So in a way we we kind of managed to stay in contention. We just had to be there and put pressure and at some point somebody will make a mistake, and it wasn’t us. Then Jordan worked really, really good for the rest of the race. Another great example of pure consistency and very, very well executed.”

Klaus Bachler and Patrick Pilet in the No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports was a distant third in GTD PRO. Their run was aided by a strategy that had the No. 9 topping off fuel during the second full-course caution, leading to a shorter second stop. But what really secured the podium for them was Bachler having a bit of contact with the No. 79 WeatherTech Racing Mercedes AMG driven by Jules Gounon a little past the halfway mark of the race. The Porsche suffered minor damage, but the Mercedes needed a long stop to get bodywork back in a position so that the car could continue.

Jake Galstad/Lumen

For Paul Miller Motorsports, the dream season continues. Snow put the No. 1 BMW on pole in yesterday’s qualifying, and never faced a serious challenge during the first stint. Sellers took over the car for the middle portion of the race, and because PMR was one of the first teams to pit and thus took less fuel, Sellers had the overall lead with PRO cars giving him a buffer behind. A slight bobble in Oak Tree let Barnicoat in the Lexus and Taylor in the Corvette get through, but the No. 1 never faced any real threat from another GTD car, either while Sellers was in the car or when Snow took it back over.

“If there was a secret, I definitely wouldn’t be trying to give it out,” said Snow of the team’s success this year. “But it’s really the team. We just worked really well together. We’re always trying to improve, we’re always helping each other out. But having grown as a co-driver really makes that possible. And Brian doesn’t get nearly enough credit for

how hard he works and how hard he brings the whole team together, but also car setup and strategy and everything else.”

But Snow was the driving force behind the victory today, countered Sellers.

“What [Madison] has stepped up and done this year has been has been unbelievable,” he said. “Like today, he, pardon my language, but he really saved my ass today. I didn’t feel well all weekend and I had to tell him last night, ‘Listen, if I don’t get better, I’m going to need you.’ You just have that trust in him all the time.”

The best opportunity for any team to stop the PMR juggernaut was Inception Racing. Frederik Schandorff was charging in the No. 70 McLaren 720S and had the car up to second. But during the final round of pit stops, a wheel nut rolled under the car and a mechanic reached under to retrieve it. Doing any work under the car during refueling is violation of IMSA rules, and the team was handed a drive-through penalty. Schandorff got the car back up to seventh, but a far cry from what might have been possible.

It was a BMW one-two on the GTD podium as Robby Foley and Patrick Gallagher finished second in the No. 96 Turner Motorsport M4 GT3. Gallagher was saving fuel during his first stint, and like PMR, Turner brought both the No. 96 and the No. 97 M4 of Bill Auberlen and Chandler Hull into the pits after only 50 minutes, 15 of which had been run under yellow. The shorter fill time helped propel the No. 96 from sixth to third, and eventually into second as Frankie Montecalvo in the No. 12 Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3 faded.

It was nearly a full BMW podium, until Philip Ellis pushed the No. 57 Winward Racing Mercedes AMG into third past Auberlen in the No. 97. The BMWs were clearly strong at VIR.

“I think it’s a combination of things,” said Sellers when asked why the BMWs were so good here. “The BMW was obviously fantastic today and Madison did a great job. You know, I think one of the things that fits it the most is the high-speed nature of the track. There are a lot of places where it’s small and tight and the cars struggles, but here at VIR, where it’s wide and sprawling, it really stretches its legs so we’re super happy to be a part of it.”

For third-place finisher Winward, it was a nice change for last year’s winners Ellis and Russell Ward. The team has had its struggles this season, so a podium was quite welcome.

The two caution periods were both caused by single-car crashes, the first coming only 10 minutes into the race when David Brule crashed the No. 92 Kellymoss with Riley Porsche 911 GT3 R in The Snake. The second occurred when Misha Goikhberg, attempting to get the No. 78 Forte Racing Powered by USRT Lamborghini Huracán back to the pits after a malfunctioning ABS system had sent him off course in Turn 1, lost the car under braking for Turn 14 and buried the Lamborghini in the tire wall. Neither driver was injured in their respective incidents.


Story originally appeared on Racer