Virginia International Raceway returns to its heritage of IMSA GT racing with this weekend’s Oak Tree Grand Prix. The two-hour, 45-minute race on Sunday at 4 p.m. will be televised live and showcase the GT Le Mans (GTLM) and GT Daytona (GTD) classes of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship.
VIR hosted the debut event for the IMSA GT Series in 1971, and returned the following year with the IMSA Camel GT Series. Hall of Famers Hurley Haywood and Peter Gregg won both events in Porsches.
Fittingly, VIR will host the first standalone race for GT classes in the TUDOR Championship, the result of the merger between the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón (which raced at VIR from 2012-13) and the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series (which competed at the circuit from 2002-2011).
Recognized as the world’s premier GT class, GTLM typically features 10 factory-backed sports cars from Porsche, Ferrari, Corvette, Dodge Viper SRT and BMW practicing and qualifying within one-tenth of a second. GTD features Ferrari, Porsche, Aston Martin, BMW, Audi and Dodge Viper SRT.
The weekend also includes two 45-minute races for the TUDOR Championship Prototype Challenge (PC) class, set for 5:15 p.m. on Saturday and 10:45 a.m. on Sunday. The sprints will include the IMSA Cooper Tires Prototype Lites powered by Mazda, and will recognize the top finishers from both individual segments in addition to overall winners.
GTLM drivers have a bit of added incentive. In addition to chasing a class victory in the highly competitive class, they will also be racing for an overall triumph for the first time this season.
“It will be quite a new feeling to race for overall victory at VIR this weekend, but of course it’s something we are all looking forward to,” said Giancarlo Fisichella, GTLM winner at the most recent race at Road America in the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari F458 Italia. We don’t get this opportunity very often. It’s still going to be very competitive in GTLM and there are 19 GTD cars which could help us, or not.”
Bill Auberlen took an overall victory at VIR in a six-hour Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge race in 2007, in addition to taking three Rolex Series GT class victories at the circuit.
“It’s great to be able to race for the overall win,” Auberlen said. “I’m always motivated, but running as the lead class means there will be a little less traffic and a little more glory. When you win this race, all eyes are on you. It’s real exciting, and it’s great to be able to do it at VIR. It’s one of the most fun tracks we race on, and I love going there.”
While Bryan Sellers is looking forward to going for the overall victory, the driver of the No. 17 Team Falken Tire Porsche 911 RSR feels winning the class is an incentive in itself.
“In today’s racing all the classes have so much competition that a win for us is just as valuable as an overall win,” Sellers said. “It will be different to race as the fastest class and to see how that affects strategy and how the race plays out. When you are racing for the overall victory it changes how you must ‘race’ the race. It will be fun to see only a GT race and to see how it is received by the fans.”
Corvette Racing won the GT class in the inaugural ALMS race at VIR in 2012, with Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner winning in the No. 4 Corvette C6.R. The pair return this weekend in the new No. 4 Corvette C7.R. While still seeking their first victory of 2014, teammates Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen rolled off four straight triumphs earlier this year in the No. 3 Corvette C7.R.
“The track itself is different from anywhere else we go,” Magnussen said. “It’s very interesting and very old school. To me, it’s incredible driving there and a very huge challenge. It’s a technical race track and super quick. The Corvette does well there because the car performs well with good mechanical grip and with aero.”