Sheena Monk claims second podium of the season with second place at VIR
"For once it felt that luck was on our side." – Sheena Monk claimed her second overall podium of the season in Michelin Pilot Challenge, as the driver of the JG Wentworth Racing Mustang survived a drive through and late fuel drama to keep momentum in the second half of a very positive campaign.
"We just are on a very good trajectory right now and I'm getting significantly more comfortable with the car" – Sheena Monk, driver of the #877 PF Racing JG Wentworth Mustang, told us a few weeks ago, after her remarkable performance at Road America. After a difficult start of the season – also marked by a big accident for her teammate at Sebring, which resulted in a switch from the Toyota Supra GT4 to the Ford Mustang GT4 – Sheena Monk and Kyle Marcelli were able to adapt to the new machinery and built momentum in a crescendo of positive results. The American/Canadian duo claimed their first podium of the season at Lime Rock Park, with a very encouraging third place that followed a top ten at Mosport. At Road America, Monk was on an impressive run to hand over the #877 Mustang in yet another podium position to Marcelli, before she was pushed off track and into the gravel. Sheena was able to keep a cool head and managed to extract herself from the gravel trap without assistance and, having avoided going one lap down, she brought the car back to her co-driver still in contention for a strong result. With an equally charging second stint, Marcelli would then score more important points with a sixth place finish. At VIRginia International Raceway – another iconic North American racing venue – Monk and Marcelli qualified in P13 in the GS class, after spending the practice sessions around the top ten. The Murillo Racing's duo of Murillo/Szymczak clinched the overall pole position, preceding the #8 McCann Racing Porsche 718 GT4 of Davis/McCann by over one second. Kenny Murillo took the start in the leading #72 Mercedes and pulled away from his rivals, preceding the Turner Motorsports BMW M4 GT4 of Machavern – who was able to move ahead of Michael McCann at the start. At the wheel of the #877 Mustang for the first stint of the race, Sheena Monk immediately gained a position and moved into 11th place; she would reach the top ten on lap 5, passing the #43 BMW driven by Sean Quinlan. "I've been steadily getting more comfortable with the car, but I had a poor qualifying and that caused me to have a much slower race pace than I would have liked, as I got behind cars that I shouldn't have been dealing with" – Monk told us. "But I settled in and I kept the car in place. I think that we made up a few positions just from mishaps with other cars." Lucas Mars (Kohr Motorsport Mustang) was then on the move, and navigated through traffic to climb the order up to second place – until the retirement of the championship-leading Volt Aston Martin of Alan Brynjolfsson, who came to a halt on track approximately 30 minutes into the race. The caution allowed everyone to pit and Sheena Monk – who had continued to climb the order with steady pace up to seventh – pitted on lap 25, handing over to Kyle Marcelli. "Ultimately, the yellow came out at a good time for us in the fuel window, but the pit stop was rather untidy for many reasons – and we ended up with a drive through penalty" – Sheena explained. "From that point it looked like our day was pretty much over." Marcelli served the penalty on lap 30, as soon as the race went back to green, dropping to the tail end of the pack in 27th overall.
The Turner Motorsport BMW of Bill Auberlen found himself in the lead once the race went back to green; the experienced BMW driver preceded Jason Hart (Nolasport Porsche) and Sean McAlister (Hardpoint Porsche). Having taken over the Kohr Motorsport Mustang, Billy Johnson was fourth and engaged in a fierce battle with Liefooghe (Stephen Cameron BMW) that became the fight for second once Jason Hart retired. The heated duel ended up in contact and Johnson would receive a penalty that paved the way to the Murillo Racing Mercedes of Christian Szymczak to slot back into second place, behind race leader Auberlen. Kyle Marcelli, meanwhile, had cleared the TCR traffic and was quickly gaining positions on the GS competitors to get back into the top-15. But the most dramatic moments of the race had not even started yet: with the GS front runners forced to save fuel, many had to stop under green and Marcelli could soon move into the top ten – despite also having to manage fuel himself. With 12 minutes to go, Auberlen and Szymczak ultimately had to pit and, when the Harpoint Porsche of McAlister came to a halt on track – triggering the second Full Course Yellow – everything was still to play for. Riley Motorsports' Scott Andrews took the lead but, running on fumes, lost the first place on the final lap of the race to the PF Racing's Mustang of Joey Hand. As more GS cars dropped down having run out of fuel, Kyle Marcelli seized the opportunity and snatched third place across the line. A post-race disqualification for the Kohr Mustang of Mars/Johnson resulted in a PF Racing 1-2, with Sheena Monk and Kyle Marcelli claiming their second podium and their best result of the season. "For once it felt that luck was on our side." – Sheena Monk, summed up. "Kyle just went on an absolute tear through the field. We got some help again from some late yellows, otherwise we would have been short on fuel and either have to splash or take a chance at the end", she continued. "Even at the very last two minutes of the race it was still uncertain whether we were going to make it on fuel or not – it was just one of those days where we walked away from the racetrack and we were lucky." "Obviously the pace Kyle showed was strong, he did an incredible job on the saving. It was one of those days when things were on our side and, frankly, I cannot think of another day at the racetrack where that has really happened for me, so the momentum feels really nice overall", a rather stunned Sheena Monk told us. "As a team, PF Racing did a nice job throughout the weekend and I was happy to see the result. A 1-2 is really special and I'm just happy that we've had two podiums in the last three races for JG Wentworth and for Ford Performance", she concluded. Having survived a drive through and late fuel drama, Monk and Marcelli now sit eighth in the drivers' standings, with one round left on the calendar: the Fox Factory 120 at Road Atlanta will in fact round out the 2022 season on October 1st.