No. 57 Mercedes Collects GTD Pole, then Mows VIR Grass
By John Oreovicz & Jeff Olson
IMSA Wire Service
ALTON, Va. – Ross Gunn, who set the track record at VIRginia International Raceway for the GT Daytona (GTD) class of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in 2021, was a pacesetter for the second year in a row.
This year, his effort was rewarded with the Motul Pole Award in the GTD PRO class for the Michelin GT Challenge at VIR.
Gunn ran a lap timed at 1 minute, 43.953 seconds (113.243 mph) Saturday in the No. 23 Heart of Racing Aston Martin he shares with Roman De Angelis. That was a whopping 0.714 seconds faster than Antonio Garcia could manage in the No. 3 Corvette Racing Corvette C8.R GTD (1:44.667/112.470 mph).
Last year, Gunn clocked a 1:43.356 (113.897 mph) flyer during his portion of qualifying at VIR when he and De Angelis were competing in GTD. But the now-discontinued qualifying format dictated that the entry started fourth, based on the time set during De Angelis’ segment.
While Gunn has prior IMSA poles on his record, he was not the driver who qualified for position on that day. Making his first “real” pole even more satisfying, the race at VIR is a GT-class only event, meaning he will start at the front of the entire 18-car field on the 3.27-mile, 17-turn road course.
“Having a clear track will be pretty nice and it’s going to be a cool experience,” Gunn commented. “Our car suits this track in terms of its strengths, so I’m very pleased to get the first pole of the season for us.
“But we have a long race ahead of us (two hours, 40 minutes), and this is a very small part of the job. We know we’ve got some quick cars behind us, so we need to make sure they stay behind.”
Qualifying was staged in hot, humid conditions, with a peak ambient temperature of 91 degrees and track temperatures exceeding 110. That contributed to several drivers spinning or running off course, including Garcia and GTD PRO championship leader Matt Campbell (No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R).
Campbell, who shares the Pfaff Porsche with Mathieu Jaminet, qualified third with a lap of 1:44.719 (112.414 mph).
“Conditions are very slippery this weekend,” said Gunn. “The track temperature is super high, and that really overheats the tires and makes everything more tricky. That’s why you saw so many drivers running off track.
“Luckily, I had a really clean run and managed to keep it in one piece and put the lap together. I’m super happy.”
Grass-Filled Grille or Not, Ward Takes GTD Pole in No. 57 Mercedes
Russell Ward brought his car back to the pits with the No. 1 starting position in GTD. He also brought it back with a grille full of grass.
Ward recorded the fastest lap among 13 GTD drivers shortly before he went off course and collected some clippings on the nose of the No. 57 Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3.
“They’ve got a little bit of cleaning to do,” Ward joked. “That was not on the quickest lap, that was on the in lap. Man, it feels awesome.”
Ward will start sixth overall in Sunday’s race after his lap of 1:45.010 (112.103 mph) in the car he co-drives with Philip Ellis.
“I love this place,” Ward said. “This is the place I got my first pole in 2021 with the Mercedes-AMG GT4 (in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge). Now, it’s the first time here in the GT3 and we got the same results. It’s just an awesome job by the crew.”
Aidan Read recorded the second-fastest lap in class – 1:45.077 (112.031 mph) – in the No. 51 Rick Ware Racing Acura NSX GT3 he shares with Ryan Eversley. Madison Snow was third in the No. 1 Paul Miller Racing BMW M4 GT3 he co-drives with Bryan Sellers.
The Motul Pole Award was Ward’s second of the season. He also claimed the GTD pole at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in May.
“It just feels good … to be back here after Laguna,” Ward said. “Hopefully, there is a little bit of redemption in there for us. It’s only halfway. We start the race on the front, which is a good starting position. I’m loving it.”
Ward and Ellis go in search of their second consecutive GTD victory on Sunday after picking up their first win of the season at Road America earlier this month.
“It’s a really strong momentum right now,” Ward said. “The crew is in good spirits and the car is just fast. We prep all day when the car’s not here and just come here with a perfect race car every time. That’s the key. The races are won at the shop, and we’ve got the best crew around.”
The challengers for the GTD championship will start farther back in the 18-car field. Mike Skeen, who co-drives the No. 32 Team Korthoff Motorsports Mercedes-AMG GT4 with points leader Stevan McAleer, had the fifth-fastest lap. Ryan Hardwick, who shares the No. 16 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3R with Jan Heylen, was 11th in GTD.
McAleer leads Hardwick and Heylen by 36 points with two races remaining this season.
Flag-to-flag coverage of the Michelin GT Challenge at VIR will be broadcast on CNBC starting at 2 p.m. ET Sunday. IMSA Radio also has complete coverage.