Biela Racing Team EURONICS become first repeat winner and take title in season finale at Spa
All four class titles were still in contention when on Sunday morning the 24H SERIES ESPORTS powered by VCO teams started the longest race of the season, the 12H SPA. A season spanning eight months and 42 hours of racing was coming to an end, and it would do so in a way that we have become familiar with from this extremely competitive grid. With double points on the line at the end of the race, every position was worth twice as much as normal and those teams who were still in title contention knew that every mistake was a potential championship given away.
All class titles were still in contention, but by far the closest battle was in the GT3 class. This class had seen 5 different winners from as many races in the season so far, and going into the final race the gap for the lead of the standings was just four points between the two main contenders. R8G Esports has seen a phenomenal debut season in the 24H SERIES ESPORTS with their Lamborghini Huracán GT3 EVO; Racim Fezoui, Julien Soenen and Vlad Khimichev had racked up three podiums – one of which being a victory at the Red Bull Ring – and a total of 82 points giving them the championship lead going into the final race.
Hot on their heels was the Biela Racing Team EURONICS #46 entry, also in a Lamborghini Huracán GT3 EVO. Luca Kita and Patrick Heinrich had been more consistent over the course of the season than the R8G crew, which meant that they were just four points off despite scoring one fewer podium. The small gap between the two teams meant that whoever would finish higher – provided it was a top 4 finish – would win the title.
An outsider for the title was the Spanish MSI eSports team in their blue BMW M4 GT3, who were 15 points off R8G going into the season finale. They had won the opening race of the season at Hockenheim, but two difficult races at Sebring and Monza put a dent in their championship challenge. Being 15 points behind the lead in the standings, they would need trouble for both main contenders for them to stand a chance of snatching the title away from both Lamborghinis.
In the other three classes the championship decider looked to be a more straight forward affair. In the 992 class the Logitech G Altus Esports team carried a 14-point lead over CoRe SimRacing. While the Altus team had struggled to retain their early season level of performance, Simone Maria Marcenò and Jordan Caruso looked confident going into the final race. With the winner of the previous three races Williams Esports not starting, they looked like the team to beat and the favourites to win the title. The CoRe team, represented by Oscar Mangan, Carl E Jansson and Oskari Rinne at Spa, would need more than just a victory over the Altus team to steal the title from the Australian team.
In the GT4 class, there really was only one bet to make for the title. The Team75 Bernhard by SimRC were coming into the race with a 27 point lead over the Undercut Racing Team. The German outfit had scored 4 victories so far, their only poor race coming at the Red Bull Ring after a multi car crash at the start of the race. Realistically, all Jürgen Frank, Christoph Weitz and Marvin Strehl had to do was finish the race and they would be the champions. A more interesting battle in the GT4 class would be the battle for third in the standings. While Undercut Racing Team looked set to take home a P2, behind them there was just 7 points separating Puresims Esports in third and ENTROPIQ in fifth. Both of them would be battling with Team Fordzilla for the final step on the championship podium.
A similar story for the championship title battle was to be found in the TCR class, although to a lesser extent. CoRe SimRacing had been the team to beat all season, but a poor result at Sebring meant that despite winning 4 races their championship lead over MSI eSports was just 13 points. 6 points further back was Team Heusinkveld. With the nature of TCR racing, all three teams still had a realistic shot at the title, although both MSI and Team Heusinkveld would require some sort of trouble for the CoRe team to have this come true.
For most teams mentioned so far, qualifying went on without a hitch. With such a long race ahead, grid position is less important but still not to be neglected, as all time lost in the first laps in traffic will be time lost for the remainder of the race. For just one team there were troubles in qualifying: Team Fordzilla, in contention for P3 in the GT4 class. They were unable to take part in qualifying due to a planning glitch, which meant that they had to start from the back of their class grid. In the 9 car GT4 field this was not an insurmountable deficit, but nevertheless not the start to the race the team would have been looking for. In the GT3 class, Ruben Bonga delivered a standout performance for the T3 Motorsport by Maniti team to qualify their green Lamborghini in third place, recording the team’s best qualifying position of the season.
At the start of the race Bonga tried to take P2 from Dominik Staib in the MAHLE Racing Team Porsche 911 GT3 R, but was shuffled back down to P7 instead. The start also saw contact between the two Porsche GT3s of Arnage Competition and Team75 Bernhard by SimRC, spinning Jimmy Antunes’s bright pink Arnage entry into the wall, ending their race before it had well and truly begun. In the 992 class there was also trouble at the start, as Brayden Werner for Puresims Esports tagged Marcos Saavedra’s Aurys Racing Mrw entry. In the resulting kerfuffle, the Asetek Simsports Volante car, which had put in strong performances earlier in the season, sustained damage.
There was further trouble on lap 2, this time in the GT4 class. Pablo López, who had started the Team Fordzilla entry from the back of the grid, lost the rear end of his Porsche Cayman through the right hander at Malmedy and hit the tyre wall right front corner first. The car was delayed by twenty minutes while the virtual mechanics repaired the damage, but after a further twenty minutes back on the track the team decided to call it quits.
After these early hitches, the race was able to find its rhythm in all four classes. In the GT3 class, there was plenty of battling as the relative pace of the different teams shuffled the order. Slowly but surely, the T3 by Maniti entry made its way back to the front of the field after being dropped back on lap 1. In the 992 class, CoRe and Altus slowly pulled away from the rest of the field while Aurys Racing Mrw established themselves in third place despite the turn 1 troubles. In GT4, a familiar pattern established itself with Team75 Bernhard by SimRC out front, and the main battle being for the lower placings on the podium. One car that had dropped out of the GT4 battles for position was the Undercut Racing Team, who had sustained damage after an incident with the Carbon Simsport entry in La Source. They were still running and a P2 in the standings was still on the cards, but were four laps down and facing a long day of turning laps. In TCR the first stint of the race was characterised by the typical TCR draft train, which broke up following the pit stops with CoRe SimRacing leading the way from Team Heusinkveld and MSI eSports.
During the second round of pit stops, there was an upset in the running order in GT3. It had seemed like R8G had played a masterstroke. Earlier on in the race, Khimichev had dropped back after a spin following contact with the Fordzilla GT4. Before the pit stop cycle, the dark blue Lamborghini with the orange highlights was running in P6, about 30 seconds being the leading Biela Racing Team EURONICS #46. Not good for their championship aspirations. Khimichev handed the car over to Thibault Cazaubon, who emerged from the pits just 10 seconds behind the Biela entry. Seemingly, the title battle was back on. But unfortunately, it only seemed that way. R8G’s faster pit stop was not planned, but forced due to issues when changing the tyres. This meant that Cazaubon had been sent back out on track with Khimichev’s old tyres, which had already done 50 laps around the Spa-Francorchamps circuit. After another 25 laps, the tyres had had enough and Cazaubon had to return to the pits with a puncture, losing even more time on top of the time he had already lost running around on second hand tyres. After the third round of pit stops had been completed by the rest of the field, he found himself in P12 and over three quarters of a lap down, with a mountain to climb in order to win the title.
Over the course of the race, the R8G team slowly gained back positions, but as described earlier: as long as it was a top 4 finish whoever finished higher between R8G and Biela would win the title. And with Biela in the lead, there was nothing R8G could do apart from not giving up. The #46 Biela team of Kita and Heinrich wouldn’t be getting the win for free though. After Bonga in the T3 by Maniti #7 had fought his way back to P2, he set about applying pressure on the #46. Pressure that would be sustained by both himself and his codriver Tim Matzke all the way throughout the race, right until the last metres of the season.
In the 992 class, the battle between CoRe SimRacing and Logitech G Altus Esports raged on for hours, with both cars swapping positions multiple times through various driver changes. It wasn’t until 9 hours were complete that the Altus team with Caruso behind the wheel finally managed to break free from the CoRe entry. Once they did, they never looked back. As the 992 race was being decided, there was still a battle to be decided for third place in the GT4 class between Torque Freak Racing and Puresims Esports, with championship implications. This would ultimately be decided in favour of the Puresims team, which meant that with Undercut Racing Team’s earlier troubles they would be able to hold on to P3 in the final standings. In the TCR class, CoRe SimRacing had already developed a substantial lead when Team Heusinkveld made a somewhat embarrassing error: they ran out of fuel while out on track. This meant that the gap between each of the podium positions in the TCR class ended up being a lap each.
With all other races decided, it was the GT3 battle that remained close – really close – until the end of the race. Matzke in the T3 by Maniti #7 had closed up to within just a handful of seconds from Heinrich prior to the penultimate round of pitstops. This was when the T3 by Maniti team played their cards: they short fueled by just enough seconds to be able to take away the track position, and with a lighter car they managed to jump Heinrich in the #46 in the pit stops. Heinrich remained in close proximity however, and when the Matzke inevitably had to stop before Heinrich, the Biela driver pounced and put in some quick laps to play the same trick on Matzke that had occurred at the start of the stint. After the #46 had made their final pit stops, just 3 seconds separated the two Germans after 11.5 hours of racing. A valiant effort from Matzke to close up in the final laps fell short by just 0.34s at the line, and Heinrich drove the #46 Biela Racing Team EURONICS across the finish to take the victory and the GT3 title. Despite their best efforts, the R8G team had only managed to recover back to P7 after their puncture which meant that they had to settle for a well deserved P2 in the standings.
Reactions of the winners and champions:
Patrick Heinrich (Biela Racing Team EURONICS, GT3 champions): “It was a really stressful last few minutes of the race, but we knew whether we’d finish first or second we’d win the championship. We wanted to win today but the focus was on the championship. The season was good, we had some ups and downs but Patrick and I did a good job. We didn’t expect to be in the championship fight, but we were lucky with what happened with our competitors R8G and MSI, so nothing could have gone better today. After the start, we were really comfortable with the car as the guys behind were fighting and getting penalties. The car was perfect in all conditions, we didn’t make any mistakes or had any incidents, it must have been the perfect race today.”
Simone Maria Marceno (Logitech G Altus Esport, 992 champions): “Thanks Arjuna and David for inviting me for an interview! It was hella fun today, the last races were unbelievable. It was a shame I wasn’t able to race at the Red Bull Ring, but the guys still did the job there. At the end of the day the pace came out and we did it. This season I really liked driving the 992 compared to the 991. I don’t know if it’s just because the car is easier to drive or if I practiced more, but the car on iRacing is just very enjoyable. Jordan did a mega job. It’s 8 o’clock in the morning for him in Melbourne, Australia so I had to do my best to keep him awake during his stints. It takes a great effort to do this race for 12 hours with two drivers, it’s very demanding and my back pain is crazy right now. I’m gonna get a pizza for the winners now!”
Jürgen Frank (Team75 Bernhard by SimRC, GT4 champions): “I think overall we had the best package. Pace wise we were not dominant, for example Undercut and Puresims were on the same pace as us, but we made no mistakes. The strategy today and at the other races was flawless, today it was perfect for us. The partnership with Team75 Bernhard means a lot to us, Timo Bernhard is a big name and a legend. The partnership is only for when we drive Porsches, so when we drive other cars we remain in black and yellow. But for sure it give a bit more motivation to drive in the Team75 colours.”
Kieran Harrison and Corentin Guinez (CoRe SimRacing, TCR champions): “It’s been a perfect weekend for us, everything seems to have gone our way. I think we win partly because of the setup, partly because of how we push each other to go faster. Something just seems to click with us and these cars.
It was a stressful race today, we didn’t have a lot of time to prepare the strategy. So we tried to pull away at the start, but that was impossible with the draft. Then we tried to save some fuel instead and with what happened behind it became easier for us.”
TFRLAB provide a Laptime Summary for each of the 24H SERIES ESPORTS powered by VCO races. If you want to have a closer look at the data from the races of this season, check out their Summaries here: TFRLAB | Laptime Summaries
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