Philip Ellis said he went “all in” for the GTD victory in Sunday’s Michelin GT Challenge at Virginia International Raceway following a strategic call by Winward Racing in the closing stages of the race.
Ellis and co-driver Russell Ward claimed their second consecutive IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship class win after overcoming a pit stop for fuel with eight minutes to go.
The Swiss driver held the overall lead of the GT-only contest before dashing into the pits for a splash that saw him rejoin behind the No. 27 The Heart of Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT3 of Maxime Martin, who was attempting to stretch his mileage to the finish.
While Martin successfully completed a 1 hour and 14-minute closing stint, the Aston Martin factory driver was forced to surrender the class lead to Ellis with two minutes to go, which put the No. 57 Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo back out in front.
“Right at the safety car we knew we couldn’t [make it to the end],” said Ellis. “So until we decided to actually pit; it was just to save as much as we can and lose as little time as we can to the front guys.
“We weren’t actually sure how much they were going to push or save fuel. Maybe they were going to push the entire stint and build a big enough gap to push.
“We weren’t quite sure, especially behind Maxime and Bill [Auberlen]. At some point we decided we were losing too much time so we had to get by.
“Luckily they were so conservative on fuel that we got by pretty quickly and then I tried to close the gap as much I could.
“Once I saw they were pitting in front of us, I had a couple of laps in clean air and that was just all in.”
Ellis bounced back from a slow first pit stop and running over an advertising sign, which led to the race’s only full course caution with 1 hour and 20 minutes to go due to debris.
“I think the most time we lost probably was because of an air bottle,” he said. “I don’t actually know what happened on the pit stop. If they couldn’t get the wheels on or off.
“One [air] gun actually failed. That’s how we lost so much time in the first pit stop.
“That’s what actually threw us back. Russell did a great job on the opening stint. I think we would have been out in P1 again. But it’s unfortunate on what happened.
“I [then] had a little off with Maxime as well. Luckily nothing damaged the car so we still had a good car at the end.”
The win marked the duo’s second WeatherTech Championship of the season and fourth in a row when counting the two Fanatec GT World Challenge America powered by AWS races they were victorious in last weekend at Road America.
Ellis and Ward narrowly missed out on victory in the other IMSA GT-only round Lime Rock Park due to a faulty fuel pump, while they finished first on the road in the Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen prior to a drive-time infraction.
“We all performed incredible this race,” said Ward. “It honestly came down to good strategy from Tony our engineer. Being able to adapt quickly and make decisions where… This is how you win races.
“Hats off to the guys. Everything was executed well.
“The pace has always been there [all season]. If you go back and watch the beginning of the year we’ve always been there. We just needed a little bit of luck to win these races.
“Obviously it’s better to be lucky than it is to be good. Today we were both.”