A Tale of Two Races at Virginia International Raceway
Second and fourth place finishes in the Pro-Am class at Round 2 of the SRO Blancpain GT World Challenge America at Virginia International Raceway were scant reward for the efforts of the whole Gradient Racing squad last weekend.
Saturday’s Race 1 proved to be the weekend’s high spot as Till Bechtolsheimer started on the front row, having missed pole position by a scant .006 seconds. This came as little surprise to the Englishman’s team as he had been fastest overall in Friday’s final practice session, held in on wet but drying track.
With such a tiny margin separating the Unit Nutrition Acura NSX GT3 Evo from the pole sitting Porsche, Bechtolsheimer expected an all out battle for the class lead. Within a lap the game plan fundamentally changed as Imperato’s Porsche came to halt with a tire issue, handing a comfortable lead to Manhattan-based Englishman. Within four laps his lead had stretched to over seven seconds and by the Lap 12 it had further ballooned to 15.16 seconds.
All of Bechtolsheimer’s great work would be soon wiped out as a stopped Bentley at the Oak Tree turn brought out the first Full Course Yellow of the race. The race restarted on Lap 16 with 56 minutes remaining. Once again, Bechtolsheimer pulled away and within three laps he had a lead of almost seven seconds over the Pro-Am field.
On Lap 21, Till pitted and handed to the car over to Ryan Eversley who rejoined just ahead of the Racers Edge Acura of Kyle Marcelli. Marcelli had pitted earlier and his Pirelli tires were already up to temperature and he used this advantage to get by Eversley as the cars began lap 22. Over the next 18 laps, Eversley kept pressure on the leading Acura while keeping Colin Braun’s AMG GT3 at arm's length. Another Full Course Caution period on Lap 40 bunched up the field and gave some hope to the Atlanta native, Eversley. The race went back to green with two laps remaining and despite his best efforts, second place, just .353 behind the Pro-Am winner, was the best he could achieve.
“My heart sank a little bit when the full course yellow came out as we had built up about a fifteen second lead and that would have been enough for the win,” explained a frustrated Bechtolsheimer. “In hindsight, we benefited from a full course yellow last time out at CoTA so it’s a push, I suppose.” As usual, the Englishman was full of praise for his team mate. “Ryan did a phenomenal job to keep us there based on the issues we had with the car. So ultimately, I’m thrilled with the end result.”
For Eversley, playing the long game for Pro-Am title was foremost in his mind, particularly at the final restart. “The late yellow gave us an outside shot at the win but my goal on the last restart was to stay clean which is what I did, some others didn’t and it definitely cost them a shot at the podium. I’m really happy that Till destroyed the field at the start, he did a great job and that yellow totally hosed him.”
Eversley took the Green Flag for race 2 and was able to keep in touch with the leading Pro-Am cars until his pit-stop on Lap 23. A slow stop left Bechtolsheimer more than twenty second off the podium, but the British driver once again showed he was the class of the Bronze drivers in the Division and a fourth place finish was scant reward for his speed and effort in the second half of the race.
“It was a lonely race and a tough one as it was very hot and physically tough,” explained Bechtolsheimer. “I was being told that I was gaining on the cars in front but that can be disheartening when you can’t see them. You can’t see yourself physically closing on them and you know that the clock is ticking by and, ultimately, without a yellow, it was going to be tough to catch the Top 3 guys.”
With five events and ten races to go, Bechtolsheimer knows that consistency will be key. “It was a decent haul of points, it keeps us in the mix for the Championship and overall it wasn’t a bad weekend.”
Gradient Racing and its drivers sit P2 in the Pro-Am Championship standings as we now look towards Rounds 5 and 6 of the 2019 Blancpain GT World Challenge America at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park from May 17-19.