The IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge made its 10th stop at Virginia International Speedway (VIR) the weekend of August 23rd, 2014. The series’s last appearance at the 57-year-old road course was back in 2011. Since that time, the track’s 3.27-mile length has been repaved with additional curbing, making the track smoother, faster, and cleaner—as wider curbs allow racers to take the fastest line around the course while kicking up less dirt onto the racing surface.
Conspicuously absent was the track’s iconic oak tree (for which the event was named) at the inside of the track’s turn eleven. The 200-year-old oak fell in September 2013 after the soil supporting the massive tree was saturated and could no longer support it.
Tree or not, fans and racers gathered at the track located just north of the Virginia’s border with North Carolina, for another 2.5-hour race in North America’s premier street stock endurance racing championship.
The weekend started off with a test day on Wednesday, where teams and drivers could re-learn the track’s layout, and come to “grips” with the track’s faster, smoother surface. In the official practice sessions that began Thursday morning, Ian James and Billy Johnson ran the fastest lap in their No. 158 Mulitmatic Motorsports Mustang BOSS 302R. Championship points leaders Trent Hindman and John Edwards driving the No. 46 Fall-Line Motorsports BMW M3 were also quick in the sessions followed by the No. 14 Nissan 370Z of BJ Zacharias and Brad Jaeger.
Qualifying was held on Friday on a drying track. The ST-class qualifying session was “rained out” by the IMSA officials to avoid racers taking unnecessary risks in the rain to try and set a fast lap. However, the rain stopped during the ST session, and the track was sufficiently dry enough for IMSA to let the GS cars out to qualify. Nobody was surprised to see cars that have been ridiculously fast all season long, Camaro Z/28.Rs, at the top of the time qualifying sheet. The No. 01 CKS Autosport Camaro driven by Jordan Taylor took the pole position for Saturday’s race. Kurt Rezzetano was to start on the outside of row one in the No. 32 Phoenix American Motorsports Mustang BOSS 302R, with Lucas Bize starting 3rd in the No. 78 Racers Edge Motorsports Mustang BOSS 302R.
Weather for Saturday called for the same hot, humid conditions that prevailed during the week, with a chance of showers. Sprinkles fell on the cars and fans during the pre-race fan walk, though that was the extent of precipitation for the duration of the 2.5-hour event.
At the start of the race, Jordan Taylor (No. 01 CKS Autosport Camaro) held the lead for the opening laps, while Andy Lally (No 9 Stevenson Motorsports Camaro) charged up from 4th to 2nd in the first lap, overtaking Lucas Bize (No. 78 Racers Edge Motorsports Mustang BOSS 302) and Kurt Rezzetano (No. 32 Phoenix American Motorsports Mustang BOSS 302R). Lally then passed Taylor for the lead and held it until the first round of pit stops.
Meanwhile, the No. 13 Rum Bum Racing Porsche’s engine expired when driver Nick Longhi missed a shift on the third lap. It was the third retirement in three races for the defending championship team, all but dashing their hopes for a fourth straight championship.
The points leaders coming into VIR were struggling with an alternator failure on Trent Hindman’s No. 46 Fall-Line Motorsports BMW M3. Ironically, the failed alternator was a brand new part that team installed as a precaution on the No. 46 prior to the race when the alternator on the No. 48, its sister car, failed earlier in the weekend. The electrical problem meant the Fall-Line Motorsports team had to call the No. 46 to the pits to swap out batteries to keep the BMW running. As accounted by one of the Fall-Line mechanics, “When the battery drains, first we lose radio communication, then we lose ABS, and finally the engine starts to misfire.”
After everyone cycled through their pit stops, Chris Wilson (No. 07 Aston Martin) took the lead for the race’s last half-hour. He held off repeated charges from Robin Liddell, who took over driving duties of the No. 6 Stevenson Motorsports Camaro from Andrew Davis. Wilson took the checkered flag for his second win of the season after co-driver Max Riddle started the race from the 11th spot.
“Max handed me the car in perfect shape,” said Wilson. “I saw Robin coming, and I knew he was coming from the back. He raced me clean, and I knew he had more to lose than me because he’s in the points and we’re not. I took the inside line in every corner.”
Liddell finished second in as many races in No. 6 Stevenson Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R started by Andrew Davis to edge out a two-point lead in the standings with only two races remaining.
“Andrew did a heck of a job,” Liddell said. “We made the unusual call to keep Andrew in the car for a second stint. He was running without a cool suit on a hot day. I was behind the Aston for about the last half hour. I was attacking while trying to conserve fuel at the same time. I was hoping to get him at the end of the back straight, but I couldn’t get the drive off the corner. Kris did a fantastic job, well done.”
Despite having to make three pits stops to swap the battery, Trent Hindman and John Edwards in the No. 46 Fall-Line Motorsports BMW only went down one lap and finished 12th. While they salvaged some championship points it wasn’t enough to keep the lead.
Said Hindman after the race, “At least we got a decent finish. We’re definitely not out of it by any means. The Fall-Line team did a pretty incredible job to keep the car running. That shows just how determined they are and committed to winning the championship.”
Liddell commented, “Obviously, we like to race them fair and square, but they had some misfortune with the battery and alternator,” Liddell said. “I’m sure they will come back strong at the next event.”
The next race is at Circuit of the Americas just outside of Austin, Texas on September 19th.