VIR

Earl Bamber in the No. 912 Porsche fends off a challenge from another competitor as he speeds out of a corner during last year’s Michelin GT Challenge at VIRginia International Raceway. Bamber and teammate Laurens Vanthoor finished fifth in last year’s race. The pair lead the GTLM championship point standings heading into this weekend’s Michelin GT Challenge at VIR.

Time is beginning to run out in the championship chases in the IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship series, and GT Le Mans category leader Earl Bamber says Sunday’s Michelin GT Challenge at Alton’s VIRginia International Raceway will be a big race for him and teammate Laurens Vanthoor.

The co-drivers of the No. 912 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR enter Sunday’s two-hour-and-40-minute Michelin GT Challenge which gets the green flag at 1:35 p.m. holding a 14-point lead over teammates Nick Tandy and Patrick Pilet who pilot the No. 911 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR.

Bamber and Vanthoor also have to concern themselves with Ford Chip Ganassi Racing drivers Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook in the No. 67 Ford GT and Corvette Racing drivers Antonia Garcia and Jan Magnussen who occupy third place and fourth place in the standings respectively, and they also have a shot at the championship.

“Now that there are only three races left in the championship, we’ve got to keep boxing on,” Bamber said.

“The pressure is on, but I think it is a great time to try to step it up one more level and bring something more to the race.”

Bamber says he and Vanthoor would like nothing better than to win Sunday’s Michelin GT Challenge. The real target, however, is finish the race in front of the No. 911 sister car and the Ford and Corvette that remain in the hunt for the championship.

“The two cars we’ve got to beat are the 911, which is our sister car, and the 67 and the 3,” Bamber pointed out.

“To be honest, I don’t care if we finish fourth. It doesn’t matter too much as long as we’re in front of those three other cars.”

The New Zealand native is optimistic about his team’s chances to do that this weekend. VIR, Bamber says, is a good track for him and his team.

“We expect to be very strong,” Bamber remarked.

“Last year was a little special for us, because we were quick leading up to qualifying, and qualifying was in the wet, and we qualified at the back and got hit on the first lap by the Corvette (co-driven by Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin). We spent the rest of the race trying to play catch-up.

“We know the car is quick,” Bamber pointed out.

“Our teammates in our sister car were leading the race until they had an engine failure. They were definitely in contention to be on the podium or have an out right win there.”

This season has been a very good one for Bamber and Vanthoor with three victories in the books. The pair head into Sunday’s race at VIR coming off of a third-place finish in the series’ most recent event at Road America.

“We had a tough season last year,” Bamber said of his team’s fifth-place finish in the series standings.

“I think through those tough events we came together even stronger. We have a lot of tools at hand that we learned from last year that are now benefitting us a lot during the races. We have a new engineering crew, and this is really working well with Laurens and myself. We are all around the same age, and we’re hitting it off well. Chemistry is very important when it comes to motor racing. I think a combination of all of these little bits are adding up for us to be fighting for the championship this year.”

Bamber says he likes the challenging 3.27-mile VIR layout.

“It’s a super challenging track, and you have to keep your concentration up very, very high,” Bamber pointed out.

“You’ve got the track, and you’ve got grass and then the wall. There is no asphalt. There is no margin for error as a driver, and that presents a great challenge.”

The New Zealand native said this weekend’s race, the second and last GT-only event of the season will be a good one for fans.

“We had a GT-only race at Lime Rock, which was pretty awesome,” he remarked.

“Now we’re going to have another good one at VIR.”

Bamber says the competition will be keen this weekend.

“In GTLM, we’re not talking about seconds between each other, we’re talking about a half a second between first and last in that category,” he said.

“It’s very close competition. I think it’s the best racing in the world.”

Joe Chandler is the sports editor for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact him at jchandler@gazettevirginian.com.

Joe Chandler is the sports editor for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact him at jchandler@gazettevirginian.com