It’s the Third Win in the Last Four Races for Robichon and Vanthoor; De Angelis and Gunn Clinch the IMSA WeatherTech Sprint Cup
By Mark Robinson
ALTON, Va. – Pfaff Motorsports has risen to every challenge of late to take the GT Daytona (GTD) championship lead in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. Zacharie Robichon and Laurens Vanthoor may have overcome the biggest obstacle of all Saturday to win the Michelin GT Challenge At VIR.
Relegated to 13th starting position following a penalty for the Pfaff crew touching the car between qualifying sessions a day prior, Robichon and Vanthoor plowed through the field to move the No. 9 Porsche 911 GT3 R into contention for the GTD win at VIRginia International Raceway. They capitalized when the leading No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW was involved in a late-race incident, allowing Vanthoor to scoot past and win by 2.755 seconds over the No. 1 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 shared by Madison Snow and Bryan Sellers.
“I still don’t believe it,” Vanthoor admitted in victory lane. “This is one I’m probably happiest about because yesterday was just our mistake. A stupid mistake, but we win and lose together.
“Today, the guys made up for it with triple the (effort) because what got us in front was the pit stops – amazing what they did. And Zach, the overtakes (he completed) at the start and how quickly he got by and got up to the front, that’s probably those two things that gave us the race. … I’m sorry what happened to (the BMW). We were catching them, and I would’ve liked to see a battle at the end, but it went the way it went.”
Robichon was a rocket on the opening stint, guiding the No. 9 to fifth place before the first round of pit stops. The Pfaff crew worked magic in pit lane, getting Vanthoor out in third on the first stop and into the GTD lead on the second stop. A fuel-only trip for the No. 96 BMW on the third and last stop with 20 minutes left in the two-hour, 40-minute race put Bill Auberlen back in front. But not for long.
With 11 minutes to go, Auberlen and No. 3 Corvette driver Antonio Garcia made contact in Turn 1. Auberlen’s BMW suffered a punctured right-rear tire and he had to limp the No. 96 around the entire 3.27-mile track to pit for a new tire, eventually finishing 12th. A surprised Vanthoor happily accepted the gift and kept Sellers at a distance to the checkered flag.
Vanthoor and Robichon have won three of the last four GTD races and finished second in the other. Prior to that torrid stretch, they sat fourth in the standings, 161 points from the lead. They now are on top, 50 points ahead of Sellers, Snow and the No. 1 Lamborghini. Only the Motul Petit Le Mans, the 2021 season finale at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta on Nov. 13, remains to determine the champion.
“It’s when you’re down that a championship team steps up and shows why they deserve to be fighting for the championship,” said Robichon. “I think we all showed that today. We showed resilience. We got kicked down yesterday but we fought back.”
Rounding out the podium was the No. 14 Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3, thanks to the daring last-lap pass Jack Hawksworth made on Patrick Long in the No. 16 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3R.
De Angelis, Gunn and No. 23 Heart of Racing Team Aston Martin Secure IMSA WeatherTech Sprint Cup
Saturday also marked the finale for the 2021 IMSA WeatherTech Sprint Cup, consisting of the eight non-endurance events on the GTD schedule. Roman De Angelis and Ross Gunn, with a race finish of fifth in the No. 23 Heart of Racing Team Aston Martin Vantage GT3, wrapped up the Sprint Cup title by 20 points over Sellers, Snow and the No. 1 Lamborghini.
“Couldn’t be prouder of everyone at the Heart of Racing Team, everyone back at Seattle, a new dealer supporting us as well,” De Angelis said. “Aston Martin Racing has obviously given us a pretty decent driver with Ross, and a really good car to fight with. I’m really happy for them, but I’d also like to thank (team principal) Ian James. If it wasn’t for him, I don’t know if I’d be in a car. I’m just really proud of everyone and just at a loss for words.”
The No. 23 drivers never finished worse than sixth in any Sprint Cup race this season, winning at the Chevrolet Sports Car Classic in Detroit and the Northeast Grand Prix at Lime Rock Park.
“It’s obviously a massive honor to be in this championship in the first place, but to be with a such a great bunch of people and a great team and have such a successful year, it’s been an amazing ride, amazing journey,” Gunn said. “And (De Angelis) has done a phenomenal job; he’s a star of the future and he’s going to go a long, long way. … Our aim this weekend was to clinch this (Sprint Cup) title, and we’ve done that. I am very proud of everybody.”
The third-place race finish by the No. 1 allowed Lamborghini to overtake Aston Martin by 10 points for the Sprint Cup manufacturer title.