Its standing as a GT-only spherical of the IMSA SportsCar Championship implies that Virginia Worldwide Raceway doesn’t get the identical consideration as a few of the calendar’s conventional heavy hitters. However to drivers who’ve sampled its 3.270 miles of slender winding asphalt, the observe generally generally known as VIR is a extremely revered one which rewards dedication and accuracy.
Though he has by no means received at VIR, stalwart manufacturing facility Ferrari GT driver Toni Vilander places it amongst a trio of circuits together with Highway Atlanta and Watkins Glen that he holds within the highest of esteem, because it calls for “lots of dedication” to nail the lap.
“It’s a fantastic place to check, excellent place to race as properly,” is the Finn’s verdict on VIR, a circuit he final competed at in 2020 which he says “takes your breath away” as a result of the margin of error is so small: “Once we see and listen to it’s going to be in our racing calendar subsequent season, it’s like ‘thumbs up’.”
The Esses, an uphill sequence of corners from the exit of Flip 4b till a quick left-hander previous to a difficult double-apex proper on the high of the hill (the place there as soon as stood an oak tree after which the nook was named), locations an enormous premium on automotive placement and is, Vilander believes, on a par with the much more well-known Eau Rouge-Raidillon part at Spa.
“In some unspecified time in the future it is advisable to resolve both you do it [flat] or not,” says Vilander, who received the Bathurst 12 Hour in 2017 and has class wins at Le Mans (2012, 2014 GTE Professional) and Petit Le Mans (2016 GTLM) to his title. “It most likely received’t change the lap time radically, however at the very least you possibly can say on the bar that I did it flat! It takes confidence.
“It’s a observe that you’ve a really slender racing line and all these lengthy, lengthy areas of inexperienced grass so if you go off, you’ve a very long time to suppose earlier than you hit the obstacles.” And Vilander recollects that its problem caught him out early on in his very first go to to the observe.
Photograph by: Scott R LePage / Motorsport Images
The Esses part at VIR requires enormous dedication to hold velocity as much as the highest of the hill
“I didn’t have a superb begin again within the day,” the 43-year-old admits. “First laps with Risi [Competizione], I truly went off and I did injury the automotive. I felt like I used to be not on it, I simply took a flawed line a bit and I misplaced the grip. And I nonetheless bear in mind our gearbox [technician], he was like ‘Toni, actually, on lap six in apply?’”
From that early lesson, Vilander quickly understood that there have been “flawed methods” to go about discovering lap time at VIR. He principally cites the oak tree double proper the place drivers are punished for attempting to “drive the matter”.
“In case you have a tiny lock, entrance or rear, you’re within the obstacles,” he says. “I already memorised earlier than the race that this can be a place the place you possibly can lose the race.
“You would want to hold sufficient velocity from the entry that within the center you don’t must speed up and upset the stability of the automotive. You’re mainly getting into as quick as you possibly can and simply after the entry is all concerning the exit. Should you go 10, 20 metres earlier on throttle, you’ll be two to a few tenths down in the long run of the again straight.”
“Continually the prototype drivers are being suggested by their pitwall to be extra aggressive with GT automobiles and I feel the rationale to not race multi-class there’s simply the character of the observe. Two-wheels off and it’s a giant hit” Toni Vilander
Whereas Vilander reckons VIR was “a really appropriate observe” for the Ferrari 488’s mid-engined format, which was well-balanced and gave drivers loads of confidence at excessive velocity, Stability of Efficiency typically hampered its grunt on the lengthy again straight “so that you would want to search out different methods to search out high velocity”. Subsequently right-foot braker Vilander favoured a stiffer anti-rollbar/spring set-up for VIR, targeted on getting “actually good management of the entrance” to cut back understeer and would additionally “set-up the rear toe on the restrict that I’ve sufficient assist from the rear to have a superb velocity on the again straight”.
Monitor limits at VIR are outlined by the grass, and drivers are invited to trip the kerbs. Certainly, for the Esses Vilander says “there isn’t a choice” however to make use of the kerbs to pursue the perfect line and sustain momentum. “It’s essential have a superb management, however keep flat,” he says.
Nevertheless, as at all times, there’s a high-quality line to tread as utilizing an excessive amount of kerb can unsettle the automotive and pull drivers offline from which there’s little probability to get better.
“The final flip is the one which if you happen to trip the left-hand facet kerb an excessive amount of, it bounces the automotive up within the air, you lose the management of the front-axle and you’re off the observe,” relates the World Endurance Championship’s 2014 GT drivers’ title winner. “Once more, one other place the place within the race you can see drivers throwing away their race driving the kerb an excessive amount of.”
Photograph by: Richard Dole
The slender racing line makes VIR an unforgiving circuit, however in equal measure rewarding to get proper
Tough challenges are by no means distant at VIR. As Vilander explains, “the lap itself begins with very, very onerous braking”, making Flip 1 deceptively difficult in a GTLM automotive with out ABS. At crunch late restarts, that meant “you would want to do the very best braking of the weekend”.
The 2-time GT World Problem America champion first raced there in IMSA in 2016 and has notched 4 podiums between IMSA and GTWCA, with a greatest results of second within the latter sequence when it was generally known as Pirelli World Problem in 2018 alongside Miguel Molina aboard the R. Ferri Motorsport 488 GT3.
Aboard Risi’s GTE-spec 488 in IMSA, he and Giancarlo Fisichella ought to have been available to inherit victory in 2017 when Alexander Sims within the main BMW was compelled right into a late cease to switch a deflating tyre, however Fisichella had misplaced his spot on the head of the pursuing queue to a conflict with Jens Klingman’s GTD BMW.
The narrowness of the racing line explains why prototypes haven’t competed on the observe concurrently with GT automobiles since 2013 – the ultimate season of the American Le Mans Sequence previous to its merger with Grand-Am that resulted within the current day IMSA championship. Vilander believes it’s a clever ploy.
“Continually the prototype drivers are being suggested by their pitwall to be extra aggressive with GT automobiles and I feel the rationale to not race multi-class there’s simply the character of the observe,” he says. “Two-wheels off and it’s a giant hit.
“So if a prototype automotive would hit a GT automotive, we’ve got no choice. Our racing line is our restrict. You are taking us off the racing line, we don’t have any choice and time to react is definitely zero.”
Photograph by: Dan R. Boyd / Motorsport Images
Vilander reckons it is a clever transfer for IMSA to steer away from mixing prototypes and GT automobiles at VIR – which final occurred within the 2013 ALMS