In this edition of our WeatherTech SportsCar Championship (WTSC) round table we visit the Virginia International Raceway (VIR), site of a GT showdown. We spoke to Madison Snow, driver of the No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3, and Mike Skeen, driver of the No. 80 Lone Star Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3. Here’s what they had to say:
Q: What challenges does a track like VIR present?
Snow: VIR is my favorite track, it's hard to not have a lot of high feelings and emotions for the track after a win last year. The track itself doesn't really present any specific challenges. It can be difficult to pass, but that's how it is for most of the tracks we visit. The entire race was green last year, so sometimes that can make it more difficult to pass or make up any lost ground.
Skeen: The layout at VIR is an excellent track that makes you feel like you're really driving somewhere when you're going around. It feels like someone just meandered through some fields on a tractor to plan the layout. The result is a great combination of technical corners and flowing, high-speed sections with over 130 feet of elevation change. There is plenty of runoff area for the drivers to work with, but all of that beautiful grass proved to be an issue last year for many people that went off course and then had to pit to clean out the grill to avoid overheating. There are also many curbs that we have to use to improve lap times, but they can cause problems if taken too aggressively when the air pressures in our Continental tires are too low.
Q: What is the tire strategy for a track like VIR?
Snow: It's very hard to predict the tire strategy before we have been on track as the tire wear is unknown. However, last year we were able to set some of our fastest laps at the end of the stint because we had so little degredation through a stint and the low fuel at the end allowed for some really quick laps. We always change all four tires in the pit stops due to the time it takes to fuel up, the time to change tires is 'free', however the low degredation really allows for some fun and hard racing at the end of a stint.
Skeen: In 2016, the race at VIR had many long, green flag runs without major issues to cause full course yellows. The lack of gravel traps means cars can usually rejoin under their own power. This makes it very important to work on consistency over the course of a fuel stint to get the best performance out of our Continental tires at the end of the race.
Q: What is your most memorable moment from VIR?
Snow: I would have to say last year with Paul Miller Racing and Bryan (Sellers, co-driver) was my most memorable moment, as that was my second time to that track so I don't have a lot of moments to choose from. Last year we pulled off a clean sweep all weekend and came home with the race win. We had the car set up perfectly every session so we were able to be the pace everyone was chasing all weekend. We are going for that same result this year! But I am afraid it will be much more difficult to do again.
Skeen: One of my favorite memories from VIR was from one of my first pro races in 2008 driving in what was then KONI Challenge, now the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge. I drove for Freedom Autosport in one of their Mazda MX-5s when the race was a six-hour event that ran into dusk. We had a very quick car, and I had some great battles inside the top-five against guys like Randy Pobst, Tom Long, and others. I look forward to having some other great battles this year in the GTD class!
Q: What can fans expect to see at this year’s VIR race?
Snow: Fans can see the No. 48 car winning the race! One of my favorite parts about the track is how beautiful the scenery is right on the side of the track and everywhere in that area. It's also a really good track for fans to see all the drivers and the action in the pits.
Skeen: “Like in recent years, fans will have the opportunity to see a GT-only battle, which is an unusual treat. The prototypes typically steal a lot of the glory, but some of the closest racing always happens among the GT cars. Having the track to ourselves can change strategies and will certainly highlight those battles throughout the duration of the race. There are some excellent, long straights at VIR that offer good passing opportunities, and there are some great vantage points for the fans that will be there to watch in person.