DANVILLE, Va. – It was a chance for the production-based GT classes to shine, and they didn’t disappoint in Sunday’s Oak Tree Grand Prix at Virginia International Raceway.
For Round 10 of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, the Oak Tree Grand Prix – named for the massive oak that overlooked the south end of the 3.27-mile natural road course until it fell two years ago – the two Prototype classes had the weekend off, giving the spotlight to the GT Le Mans and GT Daytona cars.
The overall and GT Le Mans win went to the No. 911 Porsche North America 911 RSR, driven by Patrick Pilet and Nick Tandy, finishing 27.267 seconds ahead of second place, which was the No. 912 Porsche North America team car, driven by Joerg Bergmeister and Earl Bamber.
But while the No. 911 car had it relatively easy, dominating the race after starting from the pole position, the No. 912’s second-place finish was a squeaker, finishing just 0.575 seconds ahead of the third-place Risi Competizione Ferrari F458 Italia driven by Pierre Kaffer and Giancarlo Fisichella.
At the end, the Ferrari was the fastest car on the track, but Kaffer ran out of time to run down the No. 912 Porsche. Fourth and fifth were the two BMW Team RLL BMW Z4 GTEs. The two Chevrolet Corvette C7.Rs finished sixth and eighth, with the Team Falken Tire Porsche 911 RSR in seventh.
This was the third straight win for Tandy and Pilet. “The car was just amazing,” Pilet said. “I know it looked easy from the outside, but we had to manage tires and fuel. But we had no issues, no mistakes, nothing.”
“This was pretty awesome,” Tandy said. “The last chance I had to race for the win (overall) was at the 24 Hours of Le Mans,” which he won this year in a Porsche prototype. “It’s always great to win a race, but it’s something special to see the checkered flag drop on your car at the end of a long and grueling race.”
The win puts Pilet in the GT Le Mans season points lead. “I wish I could share it with my teammate,” he said, but Tandy missed two TUDOR Championship races while competing in Europe earlier this season.
In the GT Daytona class, Ferrari did prevail as the No. 63 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 458 Italia of Bill Sweedler and Indianapolis 500 veteran Townsend Bell dominated most of the race, and came home ahead of the charging No. 007 TRG-AMR Aston Martin V12 Vantage driven by Christina Nielsen in the first stint, and 2014 GT Le Mans champion Kuno Wittmer in the second.
Third was the No. 23 Team Seattle/Alex Job Porsche 911 GT America of Mario Farnbacher and Ian James.
“VIR is one of those tracks that I just love,” said Sweedler. “Frankly, it’s perfect for my driving style. This weekend, it was all about execution, and it was flawless.” It was the first win for Sweedler and Bell since the 2014 Rolex 24 at Daytona.
The race was incident-free, and this was the first TUDOR Championship race to run without a caution flag since Long Beach on April 16.
The most dramatic event came with 28 minutes to go when the No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Audi R8 LMS, the fastest qualifier in the GT Daytona class, locked the brakes and spun off the course with Christopher Haase behind the wheel. The car wasn’t damaged, but Haase had to make an unscheduled pit stop to allow the crew to sweep out the grass that was clogging the grilles.
That was a break for Christina Nielsen, driver of the No. 007 Aston Martin, who came into the race with a narrow points lead over Haase and von Moltke. Her points lead increased with the Audi’s fifth-place finish in class, compared to the Aston Martin’s second-place result.
Nielsen now has 232 points, with Sweedler and Bell moving to second place with 226 points each, and Haase and von Moltke dropping to third with 224 points. Nielsen is by herself in the points lead, as she has had two different co-drivers this season.
Nielsen and teammate Wittmer still don’t have a win this year, and this was Nielsen’s fourth second-place finish of the season. “We know that consistency is the key to winning a championship,” she said. “But I’m hungry for a win – I think we all are – but I’ll take the championship over a win.”
Next up for the TUDOR Championship: the Lone Star Le Mans, September 17-19 at Circuit of the Americas in Austin Texas, where all four TUDOR Championship classes will compete. It’s a doubleheader weekend, with the World Endurance Championship making its only U.S. appearance.
Steven Cole Smith – IMSA Wire Service