After coming tantalisingly close two weeks ago at Road America, the BMW M8 GTE is a first-time winner.
Co-drivers Alexander Sims and Connor De Phillippi delivered the new-for-2018 racing car’s first victory anywhere in the world in a strategic and robust performance aboard the #25 BMW Team RLL machine en route to the Michelin GT Challenge victory at VIRginia International Raceway.
The #25 duo combined to lead a race-high total of 32 laps of 88 circuits around the 3.27-mile road track that comprised the two-hour, 40-minute race. Sims led the final 31 laps and crossed the finish line 1.323 seconds ahead of Jan Magnussen to take the victory.
The VIR victory was a redemption of sorts for the #25 team after the Continental Tire Road Race Showcase when De Phillippi appeared on his way to victory only to be forced to pit lane for fuel with two laps to go.
Today, the team had to overcome a midrace incident in which Sims tangled with the GT Daytona (GTD) class car of David Heinemeier Hansson. Sims had to serve a drive-through penalty for being responsible for an incident.
“It’s fantastic,” Sims said. “The team’s done an awesome job. They’ve been working really hard all year. BMW and Rahal have done a mega job. It’s fantastic to get us this first win for the M8. Connor did a great job at the start of the race to get us up to third.
“He did a flawless stint, despite my mistake at the start of my first stint. I kind of held my hands up. That was my mistake. We deserved the drive through. We got back in the race after the safety car and had mega pace. I was really, really pleased.”
It was Sims’ fourth career WeatherTech Championship victory and the second for De Phillippi. Both drivers’ last victory came at Motul Petit Le Mans last season, Sims in the final race for the BMW M6 GTLM and De Phillippi with the Montaplast by Land-Motorsport Audi team in GTD. De Phillippi became a BMW factory driver before this season.
“It was down to the last pit stop,” De Phillippi said. “Obviously, after the contact, we had to rethink what we were going to try to do. We went with a more aggressive strategy, and we saw that if we stayed out longer we’d have a clear track and the others would be hitting the GTD traffic.
“The Michelin tires were hooked up and held up so well we didn’t have to put any on the last stop. Alex just drove the wheels off to it for the finish. This win feels amazing. I got one at the Nürburgring, and now to do one with my full-time team in this series, it’s really special to me and feels really great.”
After winning the Michelin GT Challenge each of the past two years, Jan Magnussen came up just shy of a three-peat in the #3 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R along with co-driver Antonio Garcia.
It was the team’s seventh podium result of the season and sixth consecutive and it vaulted them into the GTLM championship lead by four points, 269-265, over #67 Ford GT co-drivers Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe with three races to go.
John Edwards and Jesse Krohn made it two BMW M8s on the podium with a third-place run in the #24 BMW Team RLL entry. In addition to it being the first victory for the M8, it also was the first time two M8s finished on the podium in the same race.
Ford Chip Ganassi Racing saw its GTLM winning streak stopped at four in the Michelin GT Challenge. #66 Ford GT co-drivers Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller finished fourth, while the #67 entry of Briscoe and Westbrook was forced to retire early from the race with clutch problems.
Westbrook started the race from the pole position and led the first 28 laps before pitting to turn the car over to Briscoe, and the problem reared its ugly head shortly after that.
#912 Porsche co-drivers Earl Bamber, and Laurens Vanthoor came back from an opening lap incident with the #4 Corvette to finish fifth.