The No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 with co-drivers Madison Snow and Bryan Sellers heads into Sunday’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Michelin GT Challenge at VIRginia International Raceway with one goal.
They want to successfully defend their 2016 GT Daytona (GTD) class victory in the two-hour, 40-minute race, which will be televised live on FS1 at 1:30 p.m. ET Sunday in addition to live IMSA Radio coverage on IMSA.com and SiriusXM Radio.
“You can be honest and say we have a mountain to climb ahead of us, and it’s probably an Everest-sized mountain,” said Sellers, referring the team’s current eighth-place position in the GTD point standings, 47 points behind leaders Alessandro Balzan and Christina Nielsen. “So, the championship is certainly out of our grasp and even at this moment, the top three is out of our grasp.
“What that allows us to do is focus on one thing and one thing only and that is to win races. Not that that’s not always the goal, because it is, but your ability to take risks increases in this position. I don’t just mean that from a driving perspective. I mean that from a setup perspective and from a strategy perspective. You’re able to do things that maybe you wouldn’t do before, because the risk for reward isn’t there, but now it is.”
That should be cause for some concern among the other GTD competitors, especially when you consider how strong the Paul Miller Racing team was in last year’s race at VIR.
“We were able to lead every session throughout the weekend, able to win the race, kind of, flag-to-flag,” Sellers recalls. “It was just one of those textbook weekends that you wish you could have more of. It fit the car very well.”
The good news for the No. 48 team is they’ve got the same race car this year and the track hasn’t changed. It’s the same 3.27-mile, 17-turn layout it has been for decades, much to the delight of the drivers.
“This has to be my favorite track of the year that we go to,” Snow said. “Last year’s win really boosts the emotions I have going into this track, but also adds some extra pressure to win again. However, that extra pressure is something that, for me, is only viewed by our team and it’s only there because we know how well we can perform at this track and we want to do it again.
“VIR is a great track to race on as it is just wide enough to allow for some really good passing, without leaving too much room everywhere. My favorite part about the track is the strict track boundaries it has. As a driver, you are either on the track, or ‘mowing the grass’.
“However, it doesn’t mean you have to damage your car for going off the track, just lose track position and some time as usually it requires entering the pits to wipe the grass off the front grill. With a track like this it really makes the drivers push hard, knowing they have the room and forgiveness if they make a mistake.”
It also helps that the track seems to fit right inside the wheelhouse for the Lamborghini Huracán GT3 with its 10-cylinder engine mounted in the middle of the race car.
“It seems to suit the Lambo fairly well,” Sellers said. “A lot of times, our strengths tend to be in long straightaways or in areas that we need to be compliant over curbing and over bumps. I think there are definitely some sections at VIR of long straightaways, but also some sections where it’s very important to be able to ride certain curbs without upsetting the car and being able to use those to benefit you. Those were our strengths last year.”
However, the 2017 GTD field is as tough or tougher than it’s ever been, with eight different manufacturers competing on a full-time basis, five of which having won races so far this season. If Sellers, Snow and the No. 48 team win, that would run the manufacturer win count up to six.
“The difficulty in GTD comes in the depth of the field,” said Sellers. “It’s certainly no different than any other class that we have, other than the car count is high. If you look through the ranks and you look at the P (Prototype) cars [which are not racing at VIR this weekend], you see that they have three or four cars that can win on a given weekend. GTLM (GT Le Mans) has 6, 7, 8 cars that can win on a given weekend, but then you drop to GTD and you see we have 12, 14 different cars that can win on a given weekend, so the numbers game increases significantly. Along with that, your margin of error decreases.
“You have to really hit on all the boxes. There have been races that have been won or lost this year because one car stopped literally two laps too late into their pit window and got jumped on track by another car that was able to stop one or two laps earlier. So when you’re talking about those kinds of margins and the depth of the competition, it makes it difficult to win. These last races won’t be any different.”
Practice for the WeatherTech Championship Michelin GT Challenge gets under way Friday, Aug. 25, with the first of two, hour-long practice sessions starting at 11:45 a.m. ET. Friday’s second session starts at 4:10 p.m. ET.
Saturday, Aug. 26 opens with another WeatherTech Championship practice from 8:45 to 9:45 a.m. ET, followed by qualifying from 12:20 to 1 p.m. ET. Saturday’s schedule also includes the two-hour Biscuitville Grand Prix for the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge beginning at 2:10 p.m. ET.
The Michelin GT Challenge takes the green flag at 1:35 p.m. ET on Sunday, Aug. 27. The weekend schedule also includes a pair of races for the IMSA-sanctioned Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama, as well as a doubleheader for Lamborghini Super Trofeo.
WeatherTech Championship qualifying and all of the weekend’s races will be streamed live on IMSA.com with IMSA Radio commentary. Ticket and other event information for the Michelin GT Challenge weekend is available now at VIRnow.com.