Image: Auberlen Becomes IMSA’s All-Time Winningest Driver with GTD Triumph at VIR
At first, Antonio Garcia didn’t know what was causing the vibration that was buzzing through his car. He knew only that he had to make the car reach the finish line before the competitors bearing down on him.
“It took me a little bit (to know what was wrong), but the whole car was shaking a lot,” he said. “About 200 kph, the whole car was shaking a lot. It was coming from the rear.”
The issue was a broken rear diffuser, and Garcia carefully directed his rattling, wounded Corvette C8.R to the finish line Saturday for an unexpected victory in the Michelin GT Challenge at VIRginia International Raceway. It was the third win of the 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season for Garcia and co-driver Jordan Taylor.
Garcia took the lead unexpectedly when Nick Tandy was forced to pit with a cut left rear tire with 18 minutes left in the two-hour, 40-minute race, then held off a charge from Bruno Spengler and Tandy to score Corvette Racing’s fourth consecutive victory – the No. 3 teammates won on July 4 at Daytona and earlier this month at Road America, while teammates Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin won last month’s race at Sebring in the No. 4 C8.R – in the GT Le Mans (GTLM) class.
But nothing about this one was easy. For a moment after he took the lead, Garcia didn’t think he’d be able to maintain it.
“I thought it was terminal because it was vibrating really bad,” Garcia said. “But once I got used to it and knew it wasn’t interfering with the performance, I knew I could handle it. With the gap I could manage to the BMW. It was stressful not knowing what would happen if the rear diffuser would have fallen off, but the C8.R held on.”
Tandy had a sizable lead late in the race when the No. 911 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR-19 before his late, unscheduled pit stop. That gave the lead to Garcia’s No. 3 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C8.R he shared with Jordan Taylor. With the vibration causing him to back off, his lead over Spengler’s No. 25 BMW Team RLL BMW M8 GTE and Tandy’s No. 911 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR-19 began to evaporate.
As soon as Tandy drove to the pits, Garcia noticed the vibration.
“I saw him pull in the pits and I went by the front straight the whole thing started to shake a lot,” Garcia said. “So, the C8.R is also good with almost no rear diffuser or rear splitter. I’m very proud of that. Very proud that everything stayed in one piece even though it was very challenging to drive there at the end.”
From start to finish, the race threw unexpected challenges at drivers and teams. The No. 911 Porsche twice had flat tires. Just 22 minutes into the race, Fred Makowiecki experienced the first puncture, but pitted and regained the lead under caution just 13 minutes later.
Then, just when it looked as if Tandy would bring the No. 911 home to victory, he limped to the pits, then roared back to challenge Spengler for second place with a late charge that included the fastest lap of the race. In the end, Spengler, who teamed with Connor De Phillippi in the No. 25 BMW, held on for second, 3.521 seconds behind Garcia.
“For sure, it felt like an endurance race with all the issues people were having,” Taylor said. “Mistakes, going off the track, damage issues, tire issues. It was about minimizing mistakes. It’s not like an IMSA race to have that many issues. For us, we had the least amount of mistakes and that’s why we won.”
The victory allowed Taylor and Garcia to extend their WeatherTech Championship GTLM points lead to 19 – 165-146 – over the defending GTLM champions Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor, who finished fifth in class today in the No. 912 Porsche.
The WeatherTech Championship season resumes Sept. 4-6 with the Michelin Endurance Challenge Weekend at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta in Braselton, Georgia. The six-hour TireRack.com Grand Prix headlines the weekend on Saturday, Sept. 5.
Auberlen Becomes IMSA’s All-Time Winningest Driver with GTD Triumph at VIR
Bill Auberlen put the crowning touch on a legendary career Saturday, taking sole possession of the all-time lead in IMSA race wins. Finishing off the effort that teammate Robby Foley started in the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3, Auberlen took the checkered flag in the GT Daytona (GTD) class at the Michelin GT Challenge at VIR.
The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship win in the GT-only race at VIRginia International Raceway gave the 51-year-old Auberlen his 61st IMSA victory in a career that spans more than three decades. Auberlen had been tied with Scott Pruett at 60 wins.
“It’s amazing,” Auberlen said. “I said my best career win was Petit Le Mans last year (win No. 60); I think this one has to top it. … It is probably the best win of my career. To do it with Robby, Turner, BMW, everybody, I’m super happy.”
Foley put the No. 96 in position to win as the opening driver in the two-hour, 40-minute race. Starting second in class, he gunned past GTD Motul Pole Award winner Corey Fergus in the No. 76 Compass Racing McLaren 720S GT3 on the first lap and led the first hour. Foley remained near the front through varying pit strategies and was leading again when he turned over the No. 96 BMW to Auberlen with just under an hour remaining.
Once final pit stops cycled through, Auberlen led the final 53 minutes. He faced a strong challenge from the charging No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian Acura NSX GT3, until driver Mario Farnbacher made an ambitious dive for the lead heading into Turn 1 with 43 minutes remaining. Farnbacher locked his brakes and slid into the grass, as Auberlen scooted away unscathed.
“He had a very fast car; that Acura was super quick,” Auberlen observed of Farnbacher. “I knew he was going to make an attempt on that lap because he was the closest he had been. Luckily, he really shoved it in and overshot it. And I was prepared for it; that’s why I didn’t turn in as he was sailing by. It gave me a gap to second place and then second, third and fourth had to battle together, and then I could just put my head down and run my laps as hard as I could all the way to the end.”
Win No. 61 came 27 years after Auberlen’s first, earned at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin in July 1993. And while the closing minutes in Saturday’s record-setter weren’t pressure-packed from the outside, he admitted to big-time jitters as the laps wound down.
“This was the most nerve-racking hour of my life,” Auberlen said. “When I got to about 35 minutes, every little calculated mistake or whatever I was making, I would talk to myself: ‘Don’t blow this!’ This time it was all in my head, trying not to screw up, get this monkey off my back. Now we can put our head down for the season and try to win this championship.”
For his part, Foley was thrilled to be part of the historic day when he scored his third career IMSA win.
“It’s amazing to be a part of, just to have the opportunity to race with Bill and the guys at Turner,” Foley said. “(Team owner) Will (Turner) and his entire team have given me a great chance to kind of start my career at this level. It’s now my second full year in this.
“To have a guy like Bill as my teammate to lean on a little bit and just watch how he does things and performs and learn off him is just an amazing opportunity,” Foley added. “To be a very small part of his historic career is a humbling experience but also fun to be a part of.”
After his ill-fated attempt to take the lead, Farnbacher dropped to fourth place before making a frantic comeback to finish second with co-driver Matt McMurry. Farnbacher overtook Lawson Aschenbach in the No. 74 Riley Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT3 for third place with 11 minutes left on the clock.
Then, on the last lap while tangling with a pair of GT Le Mans (GTLM) class cars, Farnbacher was able to slip past Bryan Sellers in the No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 to salvage second place.
The No. 48, meanwhile, crossed the finish line third but was later moved to the rear of the field when post-race technical inspection revealed a fuel-capacity infraction. That elevated the No. 74 Mercedes to the final spot on the GTD podium.
The WeatherTech Championship season continues with the Michelin Endurance Challenge Weekend at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta from Sept. 4-6. All four WeatherTech Championship classes will be in action in the TireRack.com Grand Prix, the six-hour event on Saturday, Sept. 5., which also represents the second round of the 2020 IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup season.