ALTON, Va. – How close was the 15-minute qualifying session for Sunday’s Michelin GT Challenge at Virginia Int’l Raceway?
Try 0.078 seconds between first and second and 0.156 seconds between first and third.
WeatherTech Championship GT Le Mans points leader Laurens Vanthoor picked up his second IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship pole, driving the No. 912 Porsche GT Team 911 RSR to the best lap of one minute, 40.630 seconds (116.982 mph). Vanthoor did that lap with just over two minutes remaining in the session and brought the car into the pits instead of taking the checkered flag on the racetrack.
That’s when Jan Magnussen sped by in the No. 3 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R with a lap of 1:40.708 (116.892 mph), just barely missing Vanthoor’s pole time. A few seconds later, here came Ryan Briscoe in the No. 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT with a lap of 1:40.786 (116.801 mph) also just missing the pole.
Was Vanthoor concerned that he pitted early?
“I was, but my engineer wasn’t,” Vanthoor laughed. “I made a mistake in Corner 1, and he directly saw I was down, but I made it up a little bit afterward. The time was going to be close to where I was and I knew I could maybe improve, but he was confident that I should box. We’re starting on these tires tomorrow and it’s going to be a long race and a long first stint, probably, so he opted that it was enough and wanted to save the tires. So, I trusted him and luckily he was right.”
Vanthoor’s previous pole also came in a GT-only WeatherTech Championship race, at Lime Rock Park earlier this year for the Northeast Grand Prix. He and co-driver Earl Bamber go into Sunday’s race leading the GTLM championship standings by 14 points, 248-234, over their teammates, Nick Tandy and Patrick Pilet in the No. 911 Porsche.
“It’s our second pole and we’re leading the championship with three races to go,” Vanthoor said. “We have a bit of a points lead, but that can go away quickly. We need to maximize every weekend and be safe and get on the podium. Starting from the pole is the best way to defend.”
Magnussen and his No. 3 co-driver, Antonio Garcia, who won back-to-back races here at VIR in 2016 and 2017, are looking for their first WeatherTech Championship GTLM win since then. Briscoe and his No. 67 co-driver, Richard Westbrook, have won the last two GTLM races – at Lime Rock and Road America – and look for their third straight on Sunday.
Joey Hand qualified fourth in the No. 66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT at 1:40.956 (116.604 mph) and Oliver Gavin completed the top five with a lap of 1:41.578 (115.890 mph) in the No. 4 Corvette Racing C7.R.
Zacharie Robichon proved that every lap counts during his IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship qualifying performance in the GT Daytona division.
Driving the No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R, Robichon earned the GT Daytona class Motul Pole Award on the final lap of the 15-minute session. His time of one minute, 45.826 seconds (111.238 mph) bumped Frankie Montecalvo from the top spot by just .324 seconds, which Montecalvo posted only one lap prior.
Tomorrow will be the second time Robichon leads the WeatherTech Championship GT Daytona class to green this season. He was awarded the top spot at the Detroit Grand Prix in June following a disqualification of the initial pole winner.
“I mean credit goes out to the team on this one,” said Robichon, who will be co-driving with Scott Hargrove in Sunday’s Michelin GT Challenge. “They made the right call. They got the timing right. I think we got the extra lap on everybody else. I was just a tenth behind before that, but I think because of that last lap we were able to put it in. It was a little bit exciting.”
Robichon and the Pfaff Motorsports team are currently riding a winning streak. They scored back-to-back victories at Lime Rock Park last month and Road America three weeks ago. Robichon and Hargrove will be seeking their first victory as co-drivers, with Robichon winning alongside Dennis Olsen at Lime Rock and with Matt Campbell at Road America.
“It was a new team at the beginning of the year, and we’ve been able to come together as a team,” said Robichon. “We’ve been working together now as a crew at this level, and everybody knows their task, everybody is executing perfectly. The potential has been there all along, but we’ve finally been able to start hitting our stride.”
Montecalvo’s time in the No. 12 AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3, ultimately held on for the outside front row starting spot. His teammate Richard Heistand in the No. 14 Lexus will start third.
A pair of Acura NSX GT3s swept the fourth and fifth positions, with Trent Hindman in the No. 86 Acura for Meyer Shank Racing posting the fourth quick time and Alice Powell, in her IMSA debut, earning the fifth spot in the No. 57 Heinricher Racing with Meyer Shank Racing Acura.