Nein for Nine? Reviewing Our Over-Confident Pre-Season Predictions
Way back in October before the first 24H SERIES ESPORTS season was about to begin, we speculated about the great unknowns of the season ahead. With three classes — including one brand new car in the Audi RS 3 LMS TCR — set to hit the track together for the first time in iRacing, many of our predictions were shots in the dark as we tried to shine some light on what to expect during the coming 42 hours of racing.
For better or for worse, here is how our nine bold predictions fared.
1. The entire GT3 field will be separated by less than a second in qualifying in at least 4 rounds.
The pre-qualifying results made us expect a tightly packed GT3 grid, and for the most part, it was. In five of the six rounds, at least 16 of the 18 teams were separated by less than 1 second in qualifying pace, and in those five rounds, the entire field was covered by an average of 1.3 seconds.
Barcelona was the only outlier, as just 12 of 18 teams were within one second for the finale, and the gap from the pole to the last-place qualifier was 2.54 seconds.
The closest round based on front-to-back qualifying results was Monza, where 1.072 seconds separated first-place Mivano Racing from Team Heusinkveld in eighteenth on the grid.
Verdict: The GT3 field was indeed closely matched, but not quite as close as we expected. Ultimately, all 18 entries were separated by less than 1.5 seconds in four rounds — a bit more than the one second we predicted.
2. The TCR class will have a margin of victory of less than a second in at least one race.
The ability of CraigSetupShop — and in the final round, MSI eSports — to decimate the draft trains and run away from the field meant the finishes in the TCR class weren’t as competitive as we expected.
But we came oh-so-close to that predicted photo finish in the penultimate round at Monza, where CraigSetupShop and CoRe SimRacing fought door-to-door in the final laps, including a side-by-side duel across the line with three laps to go.
However, contact entering the first chicane on the following lap broke up their battle and put CSS’s Jack Sedgwick ahead of CoRe’s Thomas Gibson for good.
Verdict: The final margins in the TCR class all exceeded one second, although several races — including Spa, Silverstone, and Monza — all had close fights for the win inside the final hour.
3. MSI finally earns their title (in the 991 class).
From the start at Spa, it was clear that no other 991-class team could challenge MSI eSports and their trio of Spanish talents. Experienced Porsche drivers Marc Perez, Alejandro Sánchez, and Salva Talens were brought together in the off-season to fight for a championship, and they did exactly that.
With five poles and six wins in six races, MSI was downright dominant, both in their ability to out-pace their opponents and in their keen management of traffic and strategy.
While we liked their 991 team’s chances at a championship the best, it’s worth noting that their two other teams both finished in the top five in their class standings. That included fifth overall for their GT3 team after a season-ending podium at Barcelona, and third in class for their Barcelona-winning TCR entry.
Verdict: One season after coming up just seconds short of a GTE title, MSI eSports did indeed earn their first NEO Endurance championship in the 991 class. (Hey, we actually got one of these correct!)
4. Audis will sweep every victory in the GT3 class.
The four rings were certainly strong all season, and Williams Esports campaigned their Audi R8 LMS GT3 to the class championship after earning three victories. But not all wins went the way of the Audis.
Early struggles at Silverstone for Williams and Biela Racing Team EURONICS — the Spa winners in their #45 Audi — opened the door for other contenders, including the eventual race winners from Williams JIM Esports in their Mercedes AMG.
Monza was also a Mercedes track, and the fight for the win came down to a pair of AMGs, with Mivano ultimately taking the victory after late contact with Ronin SimSport.
It’s worth noting that Audis were in contention late in both races. Logitech G Altus Esports had fresh tires in the final half-hour at Silverstone and were chasing down Williams JIM before crashing in traffic, and Biela was leading prior to their final pit stop at Monza before a crash of their own ended their chances.
Verdict: Audis took four of six wins, but not the season sweep. In our defense, Williams JIM Esports changed makes from Audi to Mercedes after pre-qualifying. To our detriment, we pegged the Mivano Merc as a potential contender in our predictions, but didn’t expect them to find victory lane.
5. Four different teams will win races in the TCR class.
With a brand new car on a new tire model and the expected heavy role of drafting in deciding the TCR races, it didn’t feel like much of a stretch to expect many different winners in the class.
But then Jack Sedgwick, Simeon Lynch, and CraigSetupShop showed up with a clear advantage — or a set of advantages, it seemed, with raw pace, tire management, fuel saving, and pit strategy.
They broke away from the field and even overcame a penalty to score their first victory at Spa. They added to that with wins at COTA, Silverstone, Imola, and Monza. And their undefeated season was only interrupted by MSI’s Oriol Bohé and David Pérez in the 12-hour finale at Barcelona.
Verdict: CraigSetupShop was the clearly dominant TCR team, earning five of six wins to ensure only two distinct class winners. CoRe put up a strong fight all season while Vendaval Simracing, SimRC, and Apex Racing Team all found the podium, but not victory lane.
6. Altus Esports will repeat as a champion… but in which class?
Coming off their impressive NEO Endurance Series championship season in the GTE class, Altus Esports expanded its efforts across two classes, with a GT3 and a TCR team in the first 24H SERIES ESPORTS season.
Even with defending champions Simon Feigl, Yannick Lapchin, and Simone Maria Marcenò split between those two entries, we thought they had the overall talent and speed to contend for another title, and we liked their GT3 entry’s chances the best.
However, bad luck seemed to follow that team from the drop of the green flag, as a lap-one crash at Spa ended their chances of bookending the off-season with GT victories. Additional crashes at COTA, Silverstone, and Imola further doomed their title defense.
Their TCR team also had a slow start to the season, finishing eighth at Spa, being torpedoed at COTA, and finishing ninth at Silverstone. By the end of the season, though, they picked up the pace, with a fourth at Imola and a third at Barcelona using a consolidated lineup of their GT3 and TCR drivers.
Verdict: Altus wasn’t able to recapture the magic of their championship season in either of its entries, but despite a frustrating season, there were some bright spots. They were in contention for the GT3 win at Silverstone before a late crash, and they had a strong TCR drive onto the podium at Barcelona, with a lineup of veterans Marcenò and Tuomas Tähtelä, and a new addition in up-and-coming touring car ace Jackson Souslin Harlow.
7. TRITON will finally win a race.
Like Altus, DV1 TRITON Racing also looked to build on its season-five success by fielding a pair of entries this season — one in the GT3 class and another in the 991 class.
Both teams had rosters capable of winning after the off-season additions of Dominik Blajer and Jan Wiechowski to their GT3 lineup and Porsche Esports Supercup competitors Dawid Nowakowski and Kamil Franczak in their Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car.
Spa offered plenty of promise, with their GT3 team finishing third and their 991 team in second. But that race was the lone bright spot for their GT3 team, whose frustrations included a mid-race flip into the gravel at COTA and a starting-line crash at Silverstone. The #11 team scored points in just three races and finished a disappointing sixteenth in the standings.
The season went better for their 991 entry, with three podiums including another second-place finish in the finale at Barcelona. They had no results worse than fifth and easily came home second in the standings after such a consistent season.
Verdict: TRITON failed to find victory lane this season, but it wasn’t from a lack of effort, especially by 991 teammates Nowakowski, Franczak, Piotr Jagodziński, and Paweł Szymanek. However, they were up against the unstoppable force of MSI eSports, who were only denied a six-for-six sweep of pole positions by one team — TRITON at Monza.
8. A new-to-NEO team will finish in the top four in each class’s final standings.
All three classes entered the season with some new names on the entry list, so we gave them a good chance of contending for wins and high positions in the final standings.
Ironically, the one class that seemed perhaps most favorable for the new teams ended with NEO Endurance veterans claiming the top seven spots. In the TCR ranks, Prologue React eSports outpaced their opponents in pre-qualifying and for the pole position at Spa, but they slipped to sixth at the finish and competed in just one other round all season.
A similar sort of TCR truancy also applied to our expected contenders from RaceKraft Esports and Satellite Racing, while the likes of CraigSetupShop, CoRe, MSI, and SimRC had perfect attendance and solid results en route to the top four places in the class standings.
The other two classes each had a new team in the top four, and in both cases, it was a team that changed identity during the season!
In the GT3s, the #99 Mercedes including experienced NEO drivers Vincenzo Amico and Filip Mitrevski took the grid at Spa as the Privateers before joining Ronin SimSport prior to the COTA round. Regardless of the name and colors on the car, they showed solid pace all season, earning three podiums and finishing second in the standings.
In the 991 class, the drivers from Avid Chronic Racing merged with HM Engineering over the holiday break. The #959 team had runner-up finishes at Silverstone and Monza, putting the squad headed by Norbert Leitner, Kieran Harrison, and Jordan Weekes third in the final standings.
Verdict: The early promise of parity in the TCR class gave way to NEO veterans atop the standings. New entries from Ronin SimSport and HM Engineering did finish in the top four of the GT3 and 991 standings, so two out of three ain’t bad, right?
9. Our Wildcards Worth Watching will be top-five contenders.
Some teams keep coming back for more in NEO competition, and the rebranding and new class structure of the 24H SERIES ESPORTS didn’t stop them from returning this season. Because of their longevity and history of endurance racing performance, we liked several of these teams who have been in NEO since the beginning to finish well after six rounds.
Team Chimera was always a top contender in the P2 class, but they never quite found their footing in the P1s last season, so the format change seemed like exactly what they needed — and they thought so as well entering the season.
While they had a shaky start with an eleventh-place result at Spa after some troubles in traffic, the team of Joshua Chin, Simon Trendell, Ben Tusting, and Jamie Wilson eventually steadied their season, with a top five at Monza helping them earn fifth in the final TCR standings.
We also had high hopes for IRDK Endurance, returning to a Porsche Cup car for the first time since their successful NEO season one in the Ruf C-Spec. Since then, they’ve become known for making early pit stops to go off-sequence and get out of traffic, and that didn’t change this season.
But that strategy alone wasn’t enough to lift them out of the competitive 991-class mid-field, and with a best finish of sixth at Barcelona, the Dane Train came to a halt in ninth in the final standings.
Finally, Virtual Motorsport was optimistic after returning to the Audi R8 in which they had found success in NEO season two. But amid a strong GT3 field, even their perseverance and proven ability to finish races made for a struggle near the back of the pack, and they finished thirteenth in points.
Verdict: A switch from a prototype to a touring car helped Team Chimera earn a top-five overall finish, but a return to familiar equipment did not work out as well for our veteran wildcard picks from IRDK Endurance and Virtual Motorsports.
After a well-earned summer break and what’s sure to be a highly anticipated lead-up to next season, we’ll see which new wildcards will emerge, whose new names we’ll have to learn, and how many more predictions we can get wrong when the 24H SERIES ESPORTS returns this fall.