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LALLY: VIR Debrief

Andy Lally files his latest Sportscar365 column following VIR…

Photo: John Dagys

Photo: John Dagys

Returning to Virginia International Raceway is always an interesting visit, as it’s one of the more unique tracks that we visit all year. I’ve had a number of memories here, ranging from taking a pretty crazy victory in 2010, to the first time I ever barrel rolled a prototype back in 2002.

The track is a lot of fun to drive. The elevation changes mean you have to be very careful with how you hit the curbs, how you position your car’s front end, and the rhythm required for it is unlike anything else.

Even though the track and facility was rebuilt several years ago, it still holds a lot of the feel that it began with in the 1950s, yet Kerrigan [Smith, track operations director] and the whole gang at VIR are one of the best at producing a safe venue for us all to feel comfortable at.

This weekend in particular was significant because it was IMSA’s first GT-only race. I absolutely LOVE the fact that the series tried this, and it was a unique opportunity to try something different.

My teammate John Potter said something very similar, but I’m a big fan of two-class racing. I don’t think we’ll see this happen any time soon, but the racing is so much better for the fans, for sponsors, and for the television audience when there’s only two classes to talk about and follow.

I understand why we have the system we do now, but I would love to see our series move to one Prototype class and one GT class.

Practice for us was actually pretty good. We did some testing a few weeks ago, and set a new direction that we explored at Road America and VIR and both John and I are getting happier with the balance of the car. I still think there are some balance-of-performance discrepancies with some of the other cars, but among Porsche entrants we’re in the mix.

In qualifying, I really wanted to get these guys a good result. We put most of our attention with the car in finding a good pace for the race, so when it comes to qualifying we typically only make a few minor adjustments, but I was hoping to really get the most out of it.

Our pace was OK, but on new tires and just trying to get one good lap I couldn’t quite the balance I wanted, and our lap time was only good enough for seventh. We knew we were better than that though.

John did a great job in his stint. He just barely had enough fuel to make his minimum drive time, and when a caution at the one-hour mark came out we actually had to perform what’s called an “emergency stop” to get him enough fuel to come in when the pits were officially open for us.

There was a lot of confusion in how this all worked out, and somehow in the process I had to perform a stop-and-go penalty as the field went green, which meant I began my stint 18 seconds behind everyone else.

I did my best to gain ground on everyone and move up the field, and as the stint wore on the car was actually pretty good.

Our final stop came with an hour and ten minutes to go, and unfortunately it was just out of our fuel window. What this meant was, if we were to go without another stop, there were two strategies we could adopt: 1. Save A LOT of fuel to make it to the end by going whicked slow, or 2. Push and hope for a yellow.

We opted to go with the first approach, which was painful for me. I instantly turned to a fuel map that barely used any gas, and I was doing everything I could to conserve. Unfortunately, all of the competitors around me did the opposite. The guys in front of me bolted off, and the guys behind me were able to fight hard and get around.

This is the part of being a driver that’s tough. You want to race everyone around you, because you look like an idiot driving so slowly. However, the professional in you has to do what you’re told by the team strategists, and you simply run around doing slow lap after slow lap.

Based on the pace of everyone in front of us, I don’t see how they could have made it to the end. Luckily for them, a yellow came out with just a few minutes to go, so now they could all make it to the end. This ended up biting us, as we lost a lot of track position saving fuel, and when we went green again for the last couple of laps I was able to make one pass for sixth but that’s all I was able to manage.

It’s too bad, as without that yellow we might have had a podium and a boost in points, but regardless the team still made good progress. The next race at Circuit of The Americas should be an interesting one. We almost won there last year and hopefully we can end the season strong.

Andy Lally (@AndyLally) is a three-time GRAND-AM champion and former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Rookie-of-the-Year, currently driving for Magnus Racing in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship.

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