Koch Takes Wild Win at Virtual VIR

Kenton Koch has been one of the fastest drivers in the IMSA iRacing Pro Series.
Thursday night on the virtual VIRginia International Raceway circuit, Koch finally translated that speed to a victory. After starting the 90-minute Michelin Presents IMSA iRacing at VIR event from the pole position, Koch led a vast majority of the race in the No. 80 Kenton Koch Racing Ford GT.
He led throughout his opening stint and re-emerged as the leader following the pit-stop sequence and competition caution period. In fact, he pretty much led the entire race all the way to the second-to-last lap.
That’s when Jesse Krohn battled his way past in the No. 24 BMW IMSA Team Black M8 GTE in Turn 2, relegating Koch’s pink and black Ford to second place. But it wasn’t over yet.
Just before the white flag was displayed to start the final lap, Koch managed to get a strong run down the backstretch, making it all the way to Krohn’s rear bumper. And while he didn’t “mean” to do it, the ensuing contact sent Krohn’s BMW spinning off course while Koch’s Ford cruised to victory.
“I mean I hate for it to be that way,” Koch said. “Unfortunately, I got in there a little hot and there was definitely a little bit of netcode between us there. I didn’t mean to do that intentionally at all. It was good fun, but man, my heart was pounding for that entire hour and a half. That was good fun and the paint job was good luck this time.”
It was the first IMSA iRacing Pro Series victory for Ford, coming one race after Porsche picked up its first series victory. The first three races of the season were won by BMWs.
Speaking of Porsches and BMWs, Shane van Gisbergen has experienced both in the IMSA iRacing Pro Series. The New Zealander previously finished on the podium earlier this season aboard the No. 97 AIM Vasser Sullivan BMW M8 GTE.
For tonight’s race, the Australian Supercars star and multi-time Rolex 24 At Daytona starter switched to a Porsche. The move paid off, putting “The Giz” back on the podium with another second-place result in the bright yellow and black AVS entry.
“It’s really a different car,’ said van Gisbergen. “We obviously don’t have a Lexus representative in the game so we run what we think is going to be best. It was cool, all the cars are quite different.
“Obviously, I can’t run the Ford due to the conflict with Holden. That’s what (AVS teammate) Jack (Hawksworth) was in and he found that to be the fastest car, so it was sort of switching between a manufacturer brands there, but the Porsche seems to be the most comfortable and easy to drive. I’ve been struggling with qualifying and the BMW guys really know how to qualify good in that car and I struggled with it. So, starting up front certainly helped us.”
Van Gisbergen prevailed in a spirited late-race battle with Argentine racer Agustin Canapino in the No. 66 Juncos Racing Ferrari 488. Nevertheless, Canapino’s stellar performance netted Ferrari’s first podium in IMSA iRacing Pro Series competition and also was the first race to feature three different manufacturers on the podium.
“It was a crazy race from the start after a Porsche spun in front of me, causing an accident where I sustained some damage and lost some positions,” Canapino said. “After that I restarted in ninth and picked up the rhythm, despite having to pit early for new tires. We had some great overtaking moves and great pace, putting us in the Top 3. I was able to get very close to Shane and had some great battles with him until the end. A podium finish for us in a Ferrari is fantastic and a tremendous achievement and I am so happy to have Ricardo Juncos and my team by my side through all of their help.”
With as little as 10 minutes left in the race, it looked like there could be two BMWs on the podium. With less than two minutes left, it looked like BMW might win its fourth race in five tries.
But late incidents wiped out would-be podium runs for both Krohn and points leader Bruno Spengler in the No. 7 BMW IMSA Team Red entry. Spengler recovered from his spin with just under 10 minutes remaining to finish fifth, one spot behind Shinya Michimi in the No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing Porsche 911 RSR.
As a result, Spengler continues to lead the IMSA iRacing Pro Series point standings by 31 markers, 153-122, over Nicky Catsburg heading into the season-ending race at the virtual Watkins Glen International circuit two weeks from tonight.
In the second round of the IMSA iRacing Challenge Series earlier this afternoon also at VIR, Greg Liefooghe took the victory in the No. 119 Stephen Cameron Racing Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport.
A longtime IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge competitor, Liefooghe held off Nealson Lawrence by 2.753 seconds for the win. Lawrence came within a second-and-a-half with eight laps remaining when Liefooghe was challenged by a car resisting to be lapped. While there was contact between Liefooghe and the lapped car that sent the latter off track, there was little to no damage on the No. 119 Porsche and Liefooghe pulled away again from Lawrence to win.
Round 3 of the IMSA iRacing Challenge Series will take place on Thursday, June 11 at 3 p.m. ET prior to the IMSA iRacing Pro Series event at 6 p.m. Both iRacing championships will reach their conclusion that day at Watkins Glen International.
Adam Sinclair