According to the state slogan, Virginia is for lovers, but Virginia International Raceway is for racers. The manicured circuit in the rolling Virginia countryside will host Saturday's American Le Mans VIR 240, the ninth round of the 10-race 2012 American Le Mans Series.
The penultimate event on this year's ALMS calendar is indeed a VIR – "Very Important Race" – for Corvette Racing. The Chevy team leads the driver, team, and manufacturer championships in the GT class, and can clinch the titles at VIR. The series' first appearance at VIR is a venture into unexplored territory, however. Corvette Racing was in France preparing for the 24 Hours of Le Mans during the ALMS open test held at VIR in June. While all four Corvette Racing drivers have experience at VIR, none has raced a Corvette C6.R on the 3.27-mile Virginia road course.
"Antonio and I both know the circuit," said Jan Magnussen, second in the GT standings with co-driver Antonio Garcia in the No. 3 Compuware Corvette C6.R. "It's a fantastic place, a motorsports country club – the scenery is fantastic, the track has a lot of elevation changes, long sweeping corners, and some really tight and tricky bits.
"While we were busy at Le Mans, several teams got a chance to test there, so we are a little behind," Magnussen explained. "Usually Corvette Racing picks these things up quickly, so I don't think that is a huge disadvantage. The competition is extremely close in this series, so we will need a few good practice sessions before qualifying to be able to fight with everyone else."
Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner will arrive at VIR with a 28-point lead in the GT standings over their teammates and a 30-point margin over their closest BMW rival. A lead of 24 points at the conclusion of the VIR 240 would clinch the GT championship for the Anglo-American pairing in the No. 4 Compuware Corvette C6.R.
"We really are coming to the point in the season where the pressure is on for everybody," said Gavin, who is scheduled to make his milestone 100th career ALMS start on Saturday. "There are championships on the line for drivers, manufacturers, and teams. Everyone is watching everything they do, whether it's a setup change, tire selection, a pit stop, or race strategy. You're wondering how that is going to have a knock-on effect for your end result.
"In reality, championships are never won or lost in these final races," Gavin observed. "A point earned or lost in an early round can make all the difference. There have been races that haven't gone to plan for us, but that has happened with everybody. The teams and drivers in GT are super competitive, and everyone is taking points off each other. No one can predict who is going to come out on top.
"Last year I raced a Camaro in a Grand-Am race at VIR in the rain," Gavin recalled. "I remember it being quite a challenge. It's a fast and flowing track, but it's quite narrow and unforgiving. It's got a unique character that is great fun, and I think it's going to be fantastic in the Corvette C6.R."
Tommy Milner also knows his way around VIR. "I raced there 2004 and 2005," said the longtime Virginia resident. "I've qualified on the pole and I've won there, so I have good memories of the track. The Esses are going to be awesome in these cars, almost flat out and very, very fast. The track is rather narrow, so it will be tough to pass, and if you are ahead, you can make it difficult for people to get around you."
Antonio Garcia is looking forward to this stop on the ALMS tour in his first season as a full-season driver for Corvette Racing – he's driven Daytona Prototypes at VIR for years. Garcia is fresh from a victory in a Corvette DP at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on Sunday.
"I know the track quite well, but I don't know the Corvette at that track so I will need to adjust, just as the team will adjust the car setup to perform," the Spaniard said. "I am looking forward to going to a track that I already know. The section going toward the Oak Tree corner is fast and flowing, with a series of corners that get your full attention. The circuit will produce really good racing."
While the Corvette C6.R has not raced at VIR, the Corvette crew does have data from bygone days. "We tested at VIR when we were developing the C6.R many years ago," revealed team manager Gary Pratt. "We may be behind on the first day, but by the second day we should be right there. With all of the tools we have now, we won't be at a big disadvantage by not testing there."
The four-hour American Le Mans Series VIR 240, the ninth round of the 2012 American Le Mans Series, will start at 2:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, Sept. 15. The race can be viewed live on ESPN3.com starting at 2:15 p.m. ET. ESPN2 will televise the race at 5 p.m. ET on Sunday, Sept. 16.