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VIR notebook

SoVaNow.com / August 31, 2017
Virginia International Raceway welcomed repeat winners to top honors on the podium Sunday afternoon.

The 2017 IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Michelin GT winners are Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia. The defending winners had a stout performance a year ago and showed on Sunday they continue to have a master road course strategy for Corvette Racing.

The top tier GT-Le Mans teams took the top eight spots in the 25-team VIR field Sunday. The Ford Chip Ganassi Racing entry of Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook took second, followed by the Risi Competizione team of Ferrari pilots Giancarolo Fisichella and Toni Vilander.

Jeroen Mul and Corey Lewis prevailed in the GT-Daytona class, ninth overall.

Some notable finishers elsewhere in the field: The Scuderia Corsa Ferrari teams of C. Nielsen and A. Balzan finished 12th overall, fourth in class (GTD). The 3GT Race team of J. Hawksworth and Scott Pruett finished 22nd, 13th in class after Pruett took a ride on the wild side to hit a tire barrier. Andy Lally and Katherine Legge finished 24th overall, 15th in class (GTD).

The GTLM winners and overall champions averaged 116.091 mph in winning by 12.031 over the second place Ganassi team.

One of the inspirational storylines of the weekend came with the third place GTD finishers, who were 11th overall.

Mercedes-AMG took the lead in the GTD manufacturer championship point standings on the strength of a third-place finish by Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports and co-drivers Jeroen Bleekemolen and Trent Hindman in Sunday’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Challenge Michelin Grand Prix at VIR.

Calling on team strategy and great driving to beat primary title rival Ferrari to the finish line for the second race in a row, the third-place finish by the No. 33 Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Mercedes-AMG GT3 was the best race result for Mercedes-AMG Motorsport Customer Racing team since Bleekemolen and co-driver Ben Keating drove the same car to victory at Circuit of The Americas (COTA) in May.

Full-season teammates, Keating and Bleekemolen were scheduled to co-drive the No. 33 as usual this weekend at VIR but the Texas-based Keating left the track after Friday practice to return home ahead of Hurricane Harvey.

The team called on Hindman, a former IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge champion, to fill-in for Keating, a move which set in motion the No. 33’s ultimately successful strategy for the two-hour and 40-minute race.

For the first time this season, Bleekemolen qualified the No. 33 on Saturday and was the starting driver in Sunday’s race.

He quickly jumped from fourth on the grid to second on the opening race lap and stayed in the runner-up spot for nearly the full first hour of the race.

Hindman took over at the 55-minute mark and turned in an impressive performance in what was the 21-year-old’s first time competing in a GT3-specification race car. He held third-place throughout his run before - in another strategy twist - handing the No. 33 back to Bleekemolen to close out the final hour of the race.

While two driver changes are rarely seen in IMSA WeatherTech Championship sprint races, the move worked perfectly for Mercedes-AMG Team Riley. The No. 33 didn’t quite have the pace to close on the top-two leaders, but Bleekemolen held third-place to the checkered flag for the podium result. Coming into the VIR race trailing by a single point, Mercedes-AMG now leads Ferrari in the IMSA GTD manufacturer championship standings by one point, 293 - 292, with two races remaining on the 2017 schedule.

Bleekemolen also closed to within 13 points of the class-leading Ferrari team and drivers, 282-269, atop the GTD championship standings with the third-place result.

Two other Mercedes-AMG customer teams also competed in Sunday’s Michelin GT Challenge.

Dan Knox and Mike Skeen overcame a pair of pit-lane penalties and a broken wheel to finish 11th.

The No. 75 Mercedes-AMG GT3 team endured a tough day that ended far too early. Starting driver Kenny Habul had difficulty steering and pulled into the pits only a few laps after the race start. The No. 75 was retired after completing only six laps with a power-steering system issue, taking away any chance Habul’s teammate Tristan Vautier had to drive.



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