INSIGHT: VIR highlights IMSA’s speed evolution

Jordan Taylor’s future teammate Antonio Garcia earned a memorable pole position for the 2011 edition of Grand-Am’s Rolex Series event at Virginia International Raceway. The rapid Spaniard threw the Chevy V8-powered Coyote Daytona Prototype chassis around the sprawling road course with a best lap of 1m44.984s, which stunned the bigger teams at Chip Ganassi Racing, Action Express Racing, and the other front-running DP programs.

The No. 90 Spirit of Daytona entry was the only DP to dip below the 1m45s mark, and while the pole for Garcia and co-pilot Paul Edwards didn’t translate into a win, the lap time definitely stands out 10 years later as IMSA loads into VIR for its all-GT WeatherTech SportsCar Championship event.

Minus IMSA’s three prototype classes, the Michelin GT Challenge at VIR will be led by the GT Le Mans category by Corvette Racing and WeatherTech Racing’s Porsche and filled with pro-am entries in GT Daytona. Turning the clock back to 2011, Taylor was astonished to learn the overall pole, claimed by a purebred prototype, was more than four seconds slower than what he and Garcia are likely to produce in the No. 4 Corvette C8.R on Saturday.

Last year’s GTLM pole, set by Fred Makowiecki in the No. 911 Porsche GT Team 911 RSR, came in at a 1m40.389s — an improvement of 4.595s over the No. 90 Coyote-Chevy DP — with a car that started its life on the auto manufacturer’s assembly line.

“It’s crazy, to be honest,” Taylor told RACER. “I remember my first time driving a Daytona Prototype and going from Daytona, low downforce, to COTA, max downforce, and just being shocked of how much downforce there was back then and how much grip there was and trying to wrap my head around it.

“And now you’re telling me the pole from VIR in 2020 was four seconds faster in GT car now. It’s crazy how times change and technology develops. I would never guess it was that much. I think about the raw feeling that you used to get from a Daytona Prototype, very rough, sequential gearboxes, shifting with your hand, blipping the throttle on the downshifts, like an old school kind of car. The harder you drove it, the more lap time that came out of it. It was a much different animal.”

If it isn’t impressive enough to note how today’s GTLM class, which ranks as the WeatherTech Championship’s fourth-fastest category, is quicker than Grand-Am’s leading DP car from 2011, consider how the Rolex Series’ GT class fared around VIR in qualifying a decade ago.

The Stevenson Motorsports Chevy Camaro GT.R shared by Jan Magnussen and Robin Liddell, built by the same Pratt & Miller Engineering firm behind Corvette’s C8.Rs, captured the GT pole with a 1m53.727s tour around the 3.3-mile circuit. Taylor was there with Bill Lester in an identical No. 88 Camaro GT.R entered by Autohaus Motorsports, which qualified sixth in class with a 1m55.273s.

In the battle between time and technology at VIR, Taylor’s GTLM machine wins by nearly 15 seconds per lap over the old Grand-Am Camaro.

“Now the GTLM cars are so well developed and have come such a long way from a mechanical grip point of view and aerodynamics for a GT car, it’s like night and day from the Camaro Bill and I raced,” he said. “The amount of downforce we have now is significant, and probably the biggest part is the tire developments, especially with Michelin being able to customize their tire for each car. The grip and consistency we get now is mind boggling. And that was the biggest adjustment I had to make.”

With all the aforementioned advancements, Taylor experiences a lap at VIR today in a much different way than back in 2011.

“Coming to this GTLM class, it is funny how big the lap time differences are from Rolex GT,” he said. “I remember 10 years ago, being there in the Camaro, which was a really great car, and having big lifts in the esses; it was super sketchy. And now we go there and in the current spec of a GT car and the esses are flat out. You don’t even think about it. It’s amazing how times have changed.”

Whether it was Grand-Am’s DPs or GTs, Taylor loves the fact that his championship-winning C8.R is not only light years faster than the Rolex Series’ best at VIR, but also how today’s incredible speed is being generated by production cars.

“Those Grand-Am days were fun because the rulebook was still pretty open and you could still show up on a weekend with new parts that you developed and throw them on the car and see if they worked and if I did great if I didn’t, then you go back to the drawing board,” he said.

“The development we’ve been doing on the on the racetrack with the new mid-engine layout and perfecting the handling is great, because I know Corvette and Chevrolet are proud of how much crossover it’s bringing with the street car program, and and vice versa. We learn from them, they learn from us, and we make each other better.

“These days, the rules are pretty strict, especially in our class. Back 10 years ago, everything was pretty much built from scratch, all custom racecars that didn’t come from the street. Now, there are so many similarities of the Corvette street car and the C8.R, so to be going these speeds on race tracks in what is realistically just an upgraded street car is incredible.”