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VIR Thursday Notebook

Sportscar365’s Thursday notebook from Michelin GT Challenge weekend at VIR…

Photo: Rick Dole/IMSA

***IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT Le Mans and GT Daytona class teams unloaded Thursday at Virginia International Raceway for the first GT-only race of the season. A total of 20 cars are on the entry list, down by only one car when compared to last year’s race.

***The Michelin GT Challenge will mark the first-ever IMSA-sanctioned weekend without fans, following limited spectator access at the Daytona and Sebring races in July and a larger turnout permitted in the most recent WeatherTech Championship race of the season at Road America three weeks ago.

***Now fully behind closed doors, it has resulted in an even more sealed off paddock, with only essential team and support personnel permitted. Media, who are again not allowed into the paddock, are situated in the South Timing Tower building on drivers’ right exiting Oak Tree Curve.

***While spectators are not allowed trackside, VIR has come up with a way for fans to still interact with some of the sport’s top stars. The track will be hosting “VIRtual meet and greet” sessions with GTLM drivers tomorrow via Zoom, starting at 11 a.m. ET (Porsche), 11:20 (BMW) and 11:40 (Corvette).

***The two-hour and 40-minute race will take place on Saturday (1:55 p.m. ET, Trackpass on NBC Sports Gold) instead of the originally scheduled Sunday in order to accommodate personnel needing to be at the Indianapolis 500. NBCSN will present tape-delayed coverage of the Michelin GT Challenge on Sunday at 10 a.m. ET.

***Both Meyer Shank Racing and Vasser Sullivan have entries competing at VIR and Indianapolis, with MSR team co-owner Mike Shank expected to be in Virginia through Saturday’s race and AVS co-owners Jimmy Vasser and James ‘Sulli’ Sullivan and driver Townsend Bell planning to be on-site for the race as well before returning to Indianapolis on Saturday evening.

***Vasser told Sportscar365 that IMSA’s change was “huge” for the AVS organization. “We’ve had to divide and conquer before, though,” he said. “Sulli was in Sebring and I was in Iowa, so we were prepared otherwise. But this is good. We’re really happy IMSA was able to have a little flexibility there and have everybody involved.”

***NBC Sports IndyCar Series commentator Bell, who is coming off his and Frankie Montecalvo’s first victory with the Lexus squad at Road America, said he will be “totally focused” with AVS until the checkered flag and then a “hopefully pretty straightforward” flight into Indianapolis on Saturday night.

“I love doing sports car and IndyCar on the same weekend because it’s stimulating,” Bell said. “The fact that we’re competitive in our Lexus this season and coming off some good results is the best of times right now.”

***Corvette Racing team manager Ben Johnson said he was “a bit surprised” by the Balance of Performance adjustment given to the Chevrolet Corvette C8.R, which is riding a three-race win streak into the weekend. The Corvette and Porsche 911 RSR-19 have both been given 20 kg of additional weight, while the BMW M8 GTE has lost 5 kgs.

***Per the car’s FIA homologation, Johnson said the mid-engined Corvette has five different locations where they can place ballast, with 10 kg of additional weight roughly translating to 1 to 1.5 tenth of a second per lap. 

***BMW Team RLL’s John Edwards believe the weight adjustments will help put the BMW’s stint pace back onto the “same level” as the Corvette and Porsche. “But you never know what tricks they have up their sleeve,” Edwards said of the competition.

***The BMW is utilizing a different tire compared to last year that Edwards said offers improved drivability and consistency.

***The BMW X5M Competition will serve as the official pace and safety car this weekend. The German manufacturer recently celebrated the 5 millionth vehicle produced at its Greer, S.C. plant. The facility is BMW Group’s largest global plant and employs more than 11,000 people who build BMW X3, X4, X5, X6 and X7 models for the U.S. market and the world.

***Connor De Phillippi, who visited the plant last week as part of a pre-VIR promotional tour, said the 617-horsepower SUV was “rather shocking” to drive around the 3.27-mile circuit. Click Here to watch a video of Connor’s adventures. 

***VIR was the site of the first global victory for the M8 GTE in 2018, with De Phillippi and Alexander Sims, who remains a BMW-contracted driver through the end of the year despite his switch to Mahindra Racing in the ABB FIA Formula E Championship.

***Sims will be part of BMW’s lineup for the Nürburgring 24, a race that both De Phillippi and Edwards are unable to contest this year due to it clashing with the Mid-Ohio IMSA event. Both American drivers told Sportscar365 they were “very sad” to hear that the clash was not able to be resolved, despite heavy pressure coming from the German manufacturers for IMSA to make a date change.

***Action Express Racing tested NASCAR’s seventh-generation stock car on the Daytona road course earlier this week. Both Felipe Nasr and Austin Cindric turned laps in the car, which was used to “explore any opportunities to adopt new technologies” according to NASCAR Senior VP of Innovation and Racing Development John Probst.

***A number of IMSA drivers either had direct or indirect involvement in last weekend’s NASCAR event at the Daytona road course, including Earl Bamber, who made his Xfinity Series debut in a Richard Childress Racing-run Chevrolet Camaro sponsored by KCMG. Bamber crashed out with nine laps to go after launching his car into the air over the curbing at the Bus Stop Chicane.

***Despite the disappointing end, the Kiwi said it was a “dream come true” experience and is open to additional NASCAR opportunities but said his focus remains with Porsche for the remainder of the WeatherTech Championship season.

***Other IMSA drivers to have taken part in the weekend included Andy Lally (5th place finish in Xfinity race), Jade Buford (16th, Xfinity), Brandon Gdovic (28th, Xfinity), Colin Braun (3rd, ARCA) and Parker Chase (10th, ARCA).

***Jordan Taylor, meanwhile, spent time in GM’s simulator to help Hendrick Motorsports drivers for the Cup Series race, per the request of Jeff Gordon. Hendrick’s Chase Elliott, who won the race, credited Taylor’s assistance in his post-race interview. 

***Taylor, who spent three hours with each of the drivers, along with an hour of driving himself, said it was “cool” to see how the NASCAR drivers worked on the same simulator that Corvette Racing utilizes. “It was definitely different to how we work at the simulator,” he said. “It was cool to be a part of it and see Chase dominate the whole day.”

John Dagys is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Sportscar365. Dagys spent eight years as a motorsports correspondent for and SPEED Channel and has contributed to numerous other motorsports publications worldwide. Contact John

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