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BMW team rolls to first win in Michelin GT Challenge upset at VIR

South Boston News
The start of yesterday’s IMSA feature race at VIR Sunday. (Keith Douglas photo) / August 20, 2018
The team of Connor DePhillipi and Alexander Sims stole the show at Virginia International Raceway Sunday, rolling to their first win.

The no. 25 GTLM entry pulled off a surprising finish, roaring to the top of the podium over the second place Corvette team that had become so familiar with VIR victory lane. And the recent hot streak for the Fords was slowed to a degree, with the no. 66 finishing fourth.

Corvette Racing’s Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia moved into the lead of the GT Le Mans Driver’s Championship for the first time this season Sunday's race.

Magnussen and Garcia placed second — their fourth runner-up finish in five races and seventh podium visit of the season. The defending GTLM champions provisionally lead the championship by four points with two races remaining.

The winners overcame a mid-race drive through penalty for aggressive racing, and they had some good fortune in taking the win.

The race featured several cautions and the action took unexpected twists.

“It was down to the last pit stop. Obviously, after the contact we had (the no. 14 spun and then smacked the heck out of another competitor at the 2:07 mark), we had to re-think what we were going to do," DePhillippi said.

“We went with a more aggressive strategy and we saw that if we stayed out longer we’d have a clear track. And the others would be hitting the GTD traffic. We went forward with that strategy and with that we gained, while they were struck in traffic, which was enough to keep us out front,” said DePhillippi.

“We were close the last race out (before running out of gas). It’s a new car and during the year we’ve had a couple of highlights with second places, but to get the first win is fantastic,” Sims said.

The Corvettes came up short, although past winners Magnussen and Garcia proved plenty competitive.

The fifth place finisher was Laurens Vanthoor, some 35 seconds off the pace at the end.

Ford driver Ryan Briscoe was trouble-struck from the outset, as the no. 67 went behind the wall just 52 minutes into the event, with clutch or transmission woes. It was the start of struggles all day for that team.

Meanwhile, Milner (the no. 4 Corvette) also found early trouble. At the start of the race, the wily veteran ran off turn 14 after touching the rear of the no. 912, slowed on course with a flat right rear tire.

The no. 4 later rallied to finish sixth overall.

Nick Tandy saw his chances evaporate after he stopped at 2:16 p.m, with smoke coming out of the back of the car.

Tandy saw a strong competitive effort evaporate.

GTLM NOTEBOOK: As expected, GTLM cars finished in the top three overall, with Sims and DePhillippi leading the way, 1.323 seconds ahead of one of the favorites, Magnussen and Garcia.

“I was just pushing as hard as I could trying to keep the gap to the car behind me. So he was never in real danger but I felt like I was in danger of losing second place, so I had to push. It was so tough, so hot in the car,” Magnussen said.

The top Ford Ganassi team proved to be the no. 66 entry of Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller. The top GTD team of D. Baumann and K. Marcelli took seventh overall, holding off Patrick Long and Christina Nielsen in a blistering final lap. Katherine Legge, fresh off her NASCAR Xfinity effort at Mid-Ohio, was ninth. She was the co-driver with M. Farnbacher.

“I think VIR is the most challenging track we drive all year. So, it’s definitely as good result here. And if you ask me, it’s the coolest trophy we get all year,” Neilsen said.

Ford Ganassi driver Richard Westbrook took the pole for the feature race at 101.8 mph. The team ultimately ran into all kinds of trouble and completed just 42 laps in 17th place, out of 18 cars in the field.

BURTON GETS LOOK AT LAMBORGHINI CARS: Jeb Burton spent Sunday’s race getting a firsthand look at the Lamborghini Trofeo series.

Burton and his dad, Ward, spent considerable time here viewing an IMSA weekend first hand.

ATLANTIC TO PACIFIC: The next stop for the WeatherTech series is Laguna Seca, Calif.

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