After a couple of tough weekends of finishing off the podium, the Mobil 1/SiriusXM Chevrolet Corvette Racing Team still hold a narrow lead in both driver and manufacturer points going into this weekend’s Michelin GT Challenge race at Virginia International Raceway (VIR).
The driver pairing of Jan Magnussen and Antonio Garcia have faltered a bit to the Ford GTs and Porsche 911s in what is looking like a substantial manufacturer battle coming into the final three rounds of the season.
Virginia International Raceway – the 3.27-mile, 17-turn southern Virginia circuit that has a knack for taking the breath away from the world’s best drivers has a mix of mid-speed and diabolical high-speed corners, significant elevation changes and of course, the famous Oak Tree Turn, despite that the mighty Oak fell in 2013.
According to Corvette Racing/Pratt & Miller crew chief Dan Binks, “We still came away from Road America with another point on the GT so we need to maintain consistency.”
The team seeks a bit more speed for VIR. “VIR is always a crash fest so the number 3 needs to stay clean and finish on the podium.” Binks, who had traditionally assembled “parts bin cars” for both Long Beach and VIR, is bringing out the best equipment in hopes of keeping, if not expanding Corvette’s Lead in the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship.
Binks is keen on their chances, “We have the speed and what would be ideal is to go into Petite with a 10 point lead. We wont be using the horn for VIR, but we hope to avoid getting caught up in crashes.”
A repeat of last year’s race would be ideal for the Garcia/Magnussen driver combination. They dominated the 2016 race by leading 84 of 90 laps, and Magnussen also led a 1-2 qualifying effort for the team with a GTLM track record lap of 1:41.557 (115.8 mph). Garcia (who set the fastest GT race lap in 2012) and Magnussen have won twice this year – tied for the most in class.
Jan Magnussen is anxious. “A repeat of last year at VIR would be fantastic. But it’s so close. We go into every race thinking we have a chance to win, but we also know that we can’t make any mistakes. All year, the whole field has been split by less than a second most times. So that means no mistakes and you have to be on it every time you are on track for every lap. I’m really looking forward to going back to VIR. It was a fantastic win last year and pole position. Even if we don’t win it, hopefully we can keep our lead in the championship and extend it a little bit.”
Garcia added, “VIR has always been good for us in terms of pace and how the Corvette behaves. We’ve been fast over the years there. The No. 4 car has won once, we’ve won another time in the No. 3 Corvette; pretty much every year we have been competitive. It definitely would help in the championship to have another good race there. We know it will be super-tight. It was last year with several cars. It’s never easy in this class or at that track. Hopefully our car is fast enough and good enough to repeat what we did last year.”
Oliver Gavin and Virginia native Tommy Milner, teammates in the No. 4 Mobil 1/SiriusXM Chevrolet Corvette C7.R are itching for another victory at VIR, as well. Their triumph in 2012 victory wrapped up the American Le Mans Series GT championship, and Gavin set the race’s fastest lap a year ago. He and Milner were race-winners earlier this year at Long Beach, and a second victory would help the defending GTLM champions salvage their season.
Binks looks at the mental game. “The number four guys need to get past the crashes and focus on the speed.” Olivier Gavin emphasized having an easy car to drive at VIR, “The key to getting right around VIR is having a car that changes direction well but is also stable at the rear. It also has to have good traction off the corner. There are a lot of slow- and medium-speed corners there with good flow. Last year, we seemed to make the Corvette and Michelin tire work there. We were very strong through toward the end of the race, and the sister car had a very good run to a win there last year. Hopefully that means we can get back there and have another good weekend. It’s a circuit that’s great fun and one we really enjoy driving.”
Milner loves the VIR circuit: “What’s special about VIR is how there are certainly areas that are broken up in certain ways but there is a really good rhythm to it. When you get each of those sections right, it’s an incredibly rewarding lap. But it can also be super frustrating when the car doesn’t really go well in a certain area.
The track has a great mix of everything… what the European guys in the series think of a classic American circuit. You have an increasing radius corner at Turn One, a bit of a decreasing radius in the last corner. You have some really fast, rhythmic high-speed sections at the Uphill Esses. The final left-hander at the Uphill Esses is incredibly fast and fun to drive. VIR is a track where if the car is good, it’s very fun. If it’s not the best, the track is super challenging.”
In the paddock at the Corvette Racing hauler, the work is all done with Sonic Tools, the official hand tool of IMSA. Sonic has a special relationship with the Corvette Racing team and now has provided the opportunity for the hobbyist/jobber to have the same tools and boxes in their own garages. A limited edition Corvette racing toolbox that can be purchased as a stand alone — or with a complete tool kit — is now available at the Sonic Tools online store.
The die-cut foam inserts are the key to keeping tools immediately in reach. Corvette Racing’s Crew Chief, Dan Binks raves about the Sonic tools die cut organization: “Sonic tools are great. It keeps us organized. You always know where a socket is — if it isn’t in the drawer, its on the bench. for a racing team the drawers make things much easier versus having a drawer full of wrenches.” The tool quality and performance is another great aspect, according to Binks, “The pliers are awesome, really good quality. All the tools do what they are supposed to do and perform very well.”
According to Sonic’s Marketing Manager, Justin Hokanson, “In IMSA, they are not required to use our tools, but we have partnerships with twenty of the teams. Corvette Racing is amongst our biggest relationships. There were other tool companies that wanted to license the Corvette and GM brands for their tools and boxes. We are fortunate that the guys in Corvette Racing really endorsed the use of our tools — which allowed us to get the deal over some other big name tool companies.”
The Michelin GT Challenge at VIR will broadcast on CBS Sports, Sunday September 24 at 3:00 pm EST.