Porsche's PWC Teams Suffer Bad Luck At VIR SprintX Rounds
A timing glitch by officials derailed their chances on Saturday, and Sunday they were hit from behind during a caution lap.
This weekend marked the first round of Pirelli World Challenge's SprintX sub-championship. It's a little difficult to explain, but essentially the sprint race format remains with a 1-hour race, but with the added complication of a mandatory driver change. Each car features one driver from the full-time PWC season and one additional driver partner. For instance, in GT teams are allowed to run with two pro-level drivers, while in GTA one of the drivers (usually the full-time driver) needs to be an amateur-level driver. Wright Motorsports called in Joerg Bergmeister to assist Patrick Long's GT class car and Jan Heylen to help with Mike Schein's GTA car. GMG, who runs a car in GTA, had Porsche factory driver Laurens Vanthoor in to help James Sofronas. Preston Calvert hired Alec Udell to run in his Pro/Am car.
Race 1 - Saturday
What can we say other than this race was an absolute mess. VIR is a great circuit, and there were some phenomenal drivers aboard some of the world's best racing cars, but some poor officiating and some unnecessary incidents marred the finish. If you're a Porsche fan, you're probably a little upset with PWC at the moment, or at least perhaps you should be. Pat Long has been running well this season so far, and looks in with a shot at claiming the championship title, so when title rival Alvaro Parente suffered an incident on the opening lap that dropped him down the time sheets, Pat knew it was time for him to make hay while the sun shone. After running a bit wide under braking and dipping two wheels off, he fell back a bit, but then recovered well to be running in the top three. When Long pitted to hand off to Joerg Bergmeister, the team looked in great shape, returning to the circuit in third and quickly moving up to second behind the CRP Mercedes AMG GT3 of Daniel Morad. Within a couple of laps of hard charging, Bergmeister had caught the tail of Morad and was hassling him for the overall lead.
During SprintX competition, there is a rule mandating a minimum pit lane delta time. In other races, cars pit when they need tires and fuel, and driver changes are completed at that time. Drivers have plenty of time to swap seats and get buckled back in when there is a fueling stop going on, but during SprintX there is no need for such things, being an hour race. The minimum pit time allowance gives drivers the opportunity to slow down and make sure the belts are all fastened up before going back out on course. It's done for safety. Unfortunately, PWC naffed it all up. They mismarked the timing beacons by placing the acceleration cones at pit out in a different place than where the timing was taken. A full seven out of the top ten teams fell just short of the full 1-minute pit time needed, and they were all given drive-through penalties. The leading CRP car was called in, as were Bergmeister's car, a Ferrari, and one of the Cadillacs.
PWC issued a statement that they would review the proceedings of Saturday's race on Sunday. Sunday they stated that no change would be made. Likely because there was no way to fairly adjudicate their own screw-up. Didn't the stewards think to themselves "Huh, if 7 of the top 10 teams in our top class are falling afoul of a technical rule, is perhaps the rule being officiated incorrectly?"
GMG Racing's Laurens Vanthoor and James Sofronas finished Saturday's race with the GTA victory, only to have it stripped later with a 40 second post-race penalty. We have not yet been able to determine what the penalty was for.
Their trophies were later taken away from them and given to the second-placed Wright Motorsports GTA Porsche of Mike Schein and Jan Heylen.
Race 2 - Sunday
The second race of the weekend has its grid set by order of fastest lap times from Saturday's race. In this case, Joerg Bergmeister would start the #58 Wright Motorsports car from 9th on the grid. He got away to a decent start, but was soon held up by some cars only slightly slower than he was while the pair of Mercedes AMG GT3s (CRP and Black Swan Racing) streaked off at the head of the field. On lap 8 of the race the Calvert Dynamics Porsche of Alec Udell went off course and needed to be recovered, calling out a full-course yellow flag period.
When the yellow came out, everyone slowed down, as is procedure, and the field bunched up behind the safety car. Bergmeister was sitting just ahead of the #44 Magnus Racing Audi of Marco Seefried, and was looking forward to coming into the pits to swap out for Pat Long as the pit lane opened up. Then, in an instance of nutcase-ness, Seefried was not paying attention, looked down at his steering wheel to make some adjustments, and forgot to brake for one of the corners, running right up the back of the #58. The damage, seen above, saw the car with some shattered bodywork, some serious aero deficiencies, and a completely buggered exhaust system. Apparently having pinched one of the exhaust pipes basically closed, Bergmeister reported the car wasn't running right and they were forced to retire.
Sadly, all of Pat Long's points he'd gained on Saturday were gone with this retirement, as the McLaren of Parente finished in second during race 2.
Recovering from their penalty on Saturday, GMG managed a GTA podium position behind the Mercedes of Black Swan. In the second half of the race on Sunday it was Am vs. Am with James Sofronas taking over the GMG car and Tim Pappas taking over the Black Swan from Jeroen Bleekemolen. Sofronas was running down Pappas at a rate of almost 5 seconds a lap, but the class victory was awarded to Pappas as there was a big crash with 8 minutes remaining in the race that caused it to finish under yellow.
Ultimately this was not the weekend that Porsche competitors were looking for, and PWC needs to have a long hard think about how they're going to fix this SprintX format going forward.