The opening practice session of the Michelin GT Challenge weekend for the GT Le Mans and GT Daytona classes took place on Friday morning with Earl Bamber setting the fastest lap overall.
The opening segment of the one-hour practice session saw several manufacturers battling for the top spot. With 20 minutes in the books, Bamber owned the fastest lap in the No. 912 Porsche 911 RSR, with Ford, Corvette and Ferrari each represented in the top four positions at that stage.
Once the halfway mark of the session was reached, the GTLM and GTD fields had been sorted at the top and bottom of the running order. Earl Bamber’s best lap, a 1:43.712, remained fastest overall while the GTD division was topped by Spencer Pumpelly in Change Racing’s No. 16 Lamborghini Huracán GT3.
Just minutes after the midway point of the outing, Bamber’s lap had been bested by nearly five-tenths by Joey Hand in the No. 66 Ford GT of Chip Ganassi Racing. Antonio Garcia placed the No. 3 Corvette C7.R in the second position before Bamber improved his time to 1:43.444 to displace the Corvette with his No. 912 Porsche.
The duel between these three drivers and manufacturers continued when Bamber improved to a 1:43.232 with 22 minutes on the clock to return to the top spot. With 20 minutes of running left until the checkers, the top five in GTLM were covered by less than 0.7 seconds.
With 17 minutes remaining, the No. 912 Porsche, No. 66 Ford GT and No. 3 Corvette occupied the top three spots. Each had been brought in for a driver change, with Frederic Makowiecki taking over for Earl Bamber in the leading Porsche.
The red flag made an appearance when the closing quarter of the session arrived.
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The debris left at Turn 6 was the roof and rear window of the No. 25 BMW M6 GTLM, driven at the time by Dirk Werner.
Green-flag running returned with 10 minutes to go.
No further changes came to top of the running order during the final minutes of Practice 1, with Earl Bamber’s lap of 1:43.232 marking the session’s quickest time.
Dirk Mueller finished the session in the No. 66 Ford GT but was unable to improve upon the 1:43.250 set by Joey Hand in the car earlier on. Garcia’s best lap placed the No. 3 Corvette in between the pair of Ford GTs, with Richard Westbrook setting the fourth-fastest time in the No. 67 Chip Ganassi Racing entry.
Giancarlo Fisichella ensured Risi Competizione completed the top five with its No. 62 Ferrari 488 GTE, with Nick Tandy placing the second Porsche, the No. 911, in sixth.
In GTD, Madison Snow turned a 1:45.722 late in the session to relegate the Change Racing Lamborghini to the second position and top the class in the No. 48 Lamborghini of Paul Miller Racing. The leading Lamborghinis, separated by 0.238 seconds, were followed by the No. 44 Audi R8 LMS GT3 of Magnus Racing which rounded out the top three in the class.
Andrew Davis spun in Stevenson Motorsports’ No. 6 Audi within the final five minutes of the outing and made contact with the tire barrier at Turn 15, bringing out another short red-flag period. Nonetheless, an earlier lap in the car from Robin Liddell allowed it to end the session fourth fastest.
The No. 63 Ferrari 488 GT3 of GTD points-leading team Scuderia Corsa and drivers Christina Nielsen and Alessandro Balzan ended Practice 1 down in 11th among the 12-car GTD field.
The GTLM and GTD classes of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship will return to the 3.27-mile Virginia International Raceway circuit at 3:35 p.m. EDT on Friday for Practice 2.