The #70 Realteam Hydrogen Redline entry of Felipe Drugovich, Oliver Rowland, Jeffrey Rietveld and Michal Smidl has taken the lead of the 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual after Max Verstappen crashed out in dramatic fashion. In GTE, a four-way battle for the lead is currently headed by BMW Team Redline.
Following an opening six hours that saw the Verstappen take the #123 Team Redline entry to the front following a strategic battle between it and the #28 Veloce Esports machine, the race had settled into a natural rhythm.
It’s all change in LMP
As we headed towards halfway, the 2021 Formula 1 world champion was back at the wheel of the #123 Redline entry, following a rousing stint by VCO ProSIM SERIES champion Maximilian Benecke.
Meanwhile, after taking the fight to Verstappen in the opening stanza, James Baldwin was once again at the helm of the Veloce machine. The two rivals once again head-to-head, only not quite, as by now the Redline machine had a 40-second advantage and Baldwin was back in third.
After the 11th pitstop for the leading bunch, the pole-sitting #70 Realteam Hydrogen Redline car was now in second and back in the hands of Brazilian Formula 2 racer Felipe Drugovich. Baldwin closed in but couldn’t quite regain second, despite a flurry of lapped GTE traffic.
It all went upside down for Max Verstappen just before seven and a half hours had passed as the erstwhile leader span and crashed at the Ford Chicane, clattering over the kerbing and into the tyre barrier. With two wheels off the Oreca, it was instant retirement for the #123 Team Redline entry.
This handed the lead to the #70, with pole-sitter Rietveld at the controls who carried out a metronomic stint, pulling a handsome lead over Veloce in second and the reigning champions, #1 Rebellion GPX Esports – in third at this point and still within striking distance of the lead.
As darkness fell, Franco Colapinto crashed in the #31 Team WRT SIMTAG for a second time, this time losing control at Indianapolis and drubbing the barrier. Arguably the unluckiest team on the grid all season continued its trouble-strewn run, but its race was thankfully not over.
The same couldn’t be said for the #44 ARC Bratislava or #39 GRAFF by ProSimu entries, both succumbing to mechanical issues. The #24 LM Cup Champions entry driven by Juan Pablo Montoya, Sebastian Montoya, Luca D’Amelio and Christopher Högfeldt also retired after contact with a wall.
Further back in the pack, Rory MacDuff for Race Clutch Alpine overtook WTCR race winner Néstor Girolami and then Naquib Azlan to edge into seventh.
With nine-and-a-half hours complete, 2021 IndyCar champion Álex Palou took over the #966 Team Fordzilla car and was sat inside the top-10. A spin coming out of the second Mulsanne chicane while trying to lap a GTE-class car was thankfully harmless.
WTCR race winner Attila Tassi then rotated the #5 Williams Esports LMP at the Porsche curves, but unfortunately the #61 SEM9.Axle Porsche GTE was already off the road thanks to a separate incident just ahead. The two cars collided in the gravel trap and the resulting damage meant the Williams machine was out of the race on the spot.
With the halfway mark approaching, Formula E race winner Oliver Rowland was now driving the leading #70 and keeping ahead of the reigning champions, Rebellion GPX Esports now up to second. The gap to the lead was slowly but surely coming down, sitting at 33 seconds 12 hours in.
With nine LMP entrants still on the lead lap when the clock struck 2 am CET, it’s still all to play for.
A four-way fight in GTE
In GTE, it was still a Porsche and BMW Team Redline benefit. However, as the race progressed, the BMW squad’s fuel-saving was becoming more apparent. At this stage, it was doing one lap longer per stint than its chief rivals, playing the long game as it has done so many times this season.
That meant sim racing stalwart Kevin Siggy in the #71 BMW jumped up to second by the seven-hour mark and was on the tail of the IndyCar and NASCAR Xfinity driver Sage Karam – at that time leading in the #92 Porsche.
After a few laps in the slipstream, Siggy took the lead for the first time, diving down the inside at the second Mulsanne chicane.
But, after the next round of pitstops, Ayhancan Güven took the #92 to the class lead once again ahead of #71 driver Rudy van Buren. A stint later, after making the alternative strategy work, the BMW had the lead definitively ahead of the two Porsches.
With the nine-hour mark approaching, the #51 Ferrari Driver Academy Esports 488 was now well in the mix for the GTE laurels. Having run in fourth all the way through, it had kept touch with the leading Porsches and BMW, and on a slightly different strategy to the Porsches, would often overlap into the podium spots.
With 12 hours complete and 12 hours still to go, the top four – BMW, Porsche, Porsche, Ferrari – are still only separated by 20 seconds.
24 HOURS OF LE MANS VIRTUAL LMP STANDINGS AT SIX-HOURS
- #70 Realteam Hydrogen Redline | Felipe Drugovich, Oliver Rowland, Jeffrey Rietveld, Michal Smidl – 203 laps
- #1 Rebellion GPX Esports | Louis Delétraz, Agustin Canapino, Kuba Brzezinski, Nikodem Wisniewski
- #28 Veloce Esports | James Baldwin, Mike Epps, Isaac Gillissen, Eamonn Murphy
- #4 Floyd ByKolles-Burst | Tom Dillmann, Bent Viscaal, Jesper Pedersen, Jernej Simončič
- #11 Red Bull Racing Esports | Cooper Webster, Norbert Kiss, Frederik Rasmussen, Alex Siebel
24 HOURS OF LE MANS VIRTUAL GTE STANDINGS AT SIX-HOURS
- #71 BMW Team Redline | Rudy van Buren, Lorenzo Colombo, Enzo Bonito, Kevin Siggy – 183 laps
- #91 Porsche Esports Team | Mitchell deJong, Laurin Heinrich, Mack Bakkum, Martin Krönke- 93 laps
- #92 Porsche Esports Team | Ayhancan Güven, Sage Karam, Joshua Rogers, Tommy Østgaard
- #51 FDA Esports Team | Nicklas Nielsen, David Perel, Jordy Zwiers, Kasper Stoltze
- #77 Proton Competition | Loek Hartog, Matt Campbell, Kevin van Dooren, Jeremy Bouteloup