#3 Corvette, BMW Take GTLM, GTD Wins at Wet Charlotte ROVAL

Not even treacherous conditions nor the pressure of a late restart could keep the No. 3 Corvette Racing Corvette C8.R from continuing its stellar season and winning ways in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

Antonio Garcia powered into the lead with 24 minutes to go Saturday night in the MOTUL 100% Synthetic Grand Prix and rolled on to the fifth win of 2020 for the No. 3 Corvette. The victory under rainy, slick conditions at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL was the fourth in the past five GT Le Mans (GTLM) races for Garcia and co-driver Jordan Taylor, helping them move closer to clinching the class championship.

Garcia crossed the finish line 1.474 seconds ahead of John Edwards in the No. 25 BMW Team RLL BMW M8 GTE at the conclusion of the 100-minute race, in IMSA’s return to the Charlotte road course after a 20-year absence but its first event on the 2.32-mile, 10-turn ROVAL layout that includes chicanes on both oval straights.

“That’s a perfect, magnificent car out there,” Garcia said of the mid-engine Corvette C8.R that debuted in competition this year, “and I’m glad to be driving for the best team out there – and winning.”

BMW Team RLL claimed a pair of GTLM podium positions with the No. 24 driven by Bruno Spengler and Connor De Phillippi finishing third.

Garcia replaced Taylor in the No. 3 Corvette on an early pit stop during a full-course caution and drove the final 80 minutes without a break. He bided his time for almost an hour before completing the winning pass on Edwards where the track exits the tight infield section onto the first turn of the high-banked oval.

“As soon as I saw that they were struggling a little bit on tires … I just went for it,” Garcia said. “I don’t know if it was a risky move or not. I wanted to win the race and as soon as I saw the opportunity, I went for it. And then as soon as I passed, just head down and tried to open a gap, and it worked.”

The Spaniard insisted it was anything but smooth sailing as he hounded Edwards before making the deciding pass, while also holding De Phillippi at bay in the No. 25 BMW.

“It was super, super stressful,” Garcia said. “Even if it felt like I was just following, I was hanging (it) out and I almost crashed like everybody, I believe, like four or five times. … Once we got into the pace and into the rhythm, the track improved, for sure. But also at the end, with (older) tires and it started to rain again, so it was very, very tricky again. And being in the wet and in the dark, it’s very difficult to spot where the standing water is.”

Taylor earned career win No. 26 with his 20-minute stint. The American was delighted that he and Garcia expanded their championship lead unofficially to 24 points over No. 4 Corvette teammates Milner and Oliver Gavin with three races remaining.

GTD

It didn’t look easy to start with, but for the second half of Saturday night’s MOTUL 100% Synthetic Grand Prix on a rainy Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL, the No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3 and driver Bill Auberlen were in control of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT Daytona (GTD) race.

Auberlen’s co-driver, Robby Foley, started the race from second on the class grid, but the No. 96 fell victim to the treacherous conditions on the opening lap, when Foley tangled on the frontstretch chicane with the spinning GT Le Mans (GTLM)-class BMW driven by Bruno Spengler. It dropped Foley to second-to-last in the running order, but the No. 96 was plenty fast and he began carving his way forward throughout his stint before turning the car over to Auberlen just over 30 minutes into the 100-minute race.

“I think at the beginning it was sort of about keeping it out of the wall, which was easier said than done at the time,” Foley said. “When we started, it was raining really, really hard. There was a lot of standing water, which our cars don’t love so much because when the water gets sort of packed up, the car hydroplanes and you sort of lose control.

“So, I came through NASCAR Turn 4 (of the Charlotte oval), a couple cars did it before me, I managed to hit a puddle and just lost control immediately. Basically, the start was just about trying to sort of maintain pace and not making any mistakes, which I ultimately did. After that I sort of just settled in, tried to pick off one or two cars when I could.”

By the time the pit-stop sequence was completed, Auberlen was up to third in the GTD class and closing fast. He made his way around Patrick Long’s No. 16 Porsche and into second place with an hour remaining in the race. With just over 45 minutes left, Auberlen sped past Mario Farnbacher’s No. 86 Acura on an oval portion of the ROVAL to take the lead.

Once he took over the top spot, Auberlen checked out, building an advantage of nearly 20 seconds. But it’s never easy in rainy conditions, and the race’s third and final full-course caution period when Tommy Milner’s No. 4 GTLM Corvette crashed on the frontstretch eliminated Auberlen’s lead.

“It was pretty much a flawless race until the very end, a yellow comes out,” Auberlen said. “And I just couldn’t believe it. It’s like your heart falls. We knew we had a good car, and I knew the guy behind me was Pat Long. I’ve raced against him for many years. And he is not afraid to put a tire on your car to get to the front. I’ve had him do it many times. I was hoping he was going to be fairly nice.”

The race was restarted with six minutes to go. Long made one attempt in Turn 1 just after the green flag flew, but Auberlen kept him at bay and crossed the finish line 1.497 seconds ahead. It was the second WeatherTech Championship win of the season for Auberlen and Foley – the duo also won August’s Michelin GT Challenge at VIR – and was Auberlen’s 62nd IMSA win, adding to his all-time record total.

Long and co-driver Ryan Hardwick finished a season-best second in the No. 16 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R. It was their third consecutive podium finish after back-to-back third-place outings.

The performance also moved Hardwick and Long into a tie for second in the WeatherTech Championship GTD standings with Aaron Telitz – and just four points behind the leading No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian Acura duo of Farnbacher and Matt McMurry (200-196).

Ian James – who along with Auberlen were the only drivers to compete in IMSA’s last Charlotte Motor Speedway appearance back in 2000 – combined with WeatherTech Championship rookie Roman De Angelis to score a season-best third-place result in the No. 23 Heart Of Racing Team Aston Martin Vantage GT3.