Virginia International Raceway reopened 20 years ago, in 2000, after extensive renovation.
This week’s Michelin GT Challenge will pay homage to the time before that renovation in an entirely inadvertent way.
The track lay dormant, without fans, for a period of more than 25 years from 1974 to 1998 before the renovation started.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Michelin GT Challenge will race at VIR without fans in 2020. Only essential competitors and workers will attend the picturesque venue located just north of the Virginia state line with North Carolina.
Previous Years of Fan Activity
Fans have played a big role throughout the four previous years of Michelin’s race entitlement partnership at VIR.
Michelin only could race in the GT Le Mans class through 2018. VIR became the place where Michelin could tell its story more broadly beyond the track, with a pure GT focus.
Through hot laps for fans, heavier activation, special Michelin Man trophies, The Torque Show and fans being so close to the podium, VIR has served as a great connection point for Michelin between the drivers and consumers.
VIR’s Patriot Course also showcased a wider range of Michelin’s product line and different vehicles.
Last year, fans had the opportunity for hot laps in any of a Lexus RC F, Porsche Panamera 4S, Ford Mustang Shelby GT350, BMW X3M or BMW X4M, many driven by Michelin test drivers (pictured above).
Four of those five cars were equipped with Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires, while the Mustang featured the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires.
It provided fans a unique experience to sample track activity at the circuit within the of the VIR race circuit.
Any hot laps run in 2020 at the Patriot Course would likely have included the newly launched Michelin Pilot Sport All Season 4 and Michelin CrossClimate 2 tires.
Fan Passion Fuels VIR, Drivers
The always positive VIR CEO Connie Nyholm remains enthusiastic even in this strange year.
“I wish we had 40,000 of our best friends here, too, but we can look forward to that in 2021,” Nyholm said. “Thank you all for your support in these difficult times.”
Last year’s pole-sitter, Laurens Vanthoor, of Porsche GT Team, also noted his excitement to return to the track even without fans.
“We’re super stoked to go back to VIR, but it’s a shame it’s without you guys, the fans,” said Vanthoor, who shares the No. 912 Porsche 911 RSR with Earl Bamber.
“It’ll be my first time at VIR. It’s a shame the fans can’t come, but they always make the race so special,” said Seb Priaulx, who races the No. 22 Multimatic Motorsports Ford Mustang GT4 in IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge.
The unusual schedule for this event has shifted the IMSA WeatherTech Championship Michelin GT Challenge to Saturday, while the IMSA Prototype Challenge and Michelin Pilot Challenge race on Sunday.
Michelin Man Returns
At least one motorsports fan will be back at VIR, in his official role.
The Michelin Man makes his first appearance at an IMSA race since the COVID-19 pandemic, after being in Berlin last week for the ABB FIA Formula E Championship races.
Several Michelin Man cutouts and Michelin Man inflatables will appear around the circuit to keep a watchful eye on the competitors around the 3.27-mile track.
Then after the checkered flag, the winners will be able to greet the Michelin Man in victory lane for the first time since the Daytona race weekend in January.
While it won’t be the same without a throng of fans in the podium area, it will at least reintroduce one degree of normalcy to a race weekend otherwise without it.