The 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual has started with a bang, with a multi-car crash, fierce battling and red flags.
As the race began, Porsche Supercup driver Laurin Heinrich was behind the wheel of the pole-sitting #20, but heading into Ralentisseur Dunlop reigning Formula 1 champion Max Verstappen swept into the lead from fourth on the grid.
He wasn’t the driver to make the most progress in the opening stages, however, as Autosport Esports Driver of the Year James Baldwin jumped up from seventh to third.
In GTE, Formula 3 racer Alexander Smolyar held the lead from pole position, but it was Lasse Sørensen for Prodrive FYRA Esport who was the one to watch, making it up to second from fourth in the early running.
The #22 Rocket Simsport entry was jettisoned from the race for failing to reach the minimum internet quality level set by the race organisers and became the first retirement. The GR eSports LMP driven by Alexandru Cascatau spun into the barriers at the ‘S’ du Tertre Rouge and became the first pitlane visitor for repairs.
Soon, the LMPs hit the first of the lapped GTEs and the first of the pitstops began. So did the strategy game. The leading set of prototypes visited the lane as 32 minutes had been completed, but both Heinrich and Porsche Coanda team-mate Morris Schuring stayed out for one lap longer, with the former retaking the lead.
Verstappen’s fellow Redline entrant, IndyCar driver Felix Rosenqvist, lost positions by avoiding the #65 Panis Racing Team car in the pitlane, the offending LMP receiving a drivethrough penalty. Rosenqvist would later lose more time spinning coming out of the final corner.
As the first hour came to a close, it was a clear three-way fight for the lead. Porsche vs Verstappen vs Baldwin, the latter two close on track once more, in scenes reminiscent of Sebring last year.
This was undone somewhat when Verstappen span at the second Mulsanne chicane. He carried on, and remained in third.
Up front, Joshua Rogers was now in the leading #20 Porsche and used too much kerb at the final chicane, also spinning but also staying in position, with Baldwin sitting second for AMG Team Petronas Esports.
In GTE, it was two for the lead, with Smolyar just holding off Sørensen initially but after the pitstops, it was Prodrive ahead.
With nearly 90 minutes run, however, both cars disconnected, alongside several other entrants. They did re-join, and received lost laps back, but slipped down the order. This gifted the lead to Coanda, atop both classes as two hours were completed, but under pressure from BS+Competition’s Ibraheem Khan.
P1 Esports, meanwhile, retired after Oliver Rasmussen slammed into the barriers at Indianapolis, removing the rear left wheel.
The biggest on-track incident befell the #39 Graff by ATRS eSports, when Vincent Capillaire’s steering wheel peripheral failed while charging down the Mulsanne straight. The resulting accident was spectacular, but after pitting for repairs, the team was able to continue.
After three hours, Coanda still led GTE, although the crafty BMW Team Redline was running longer stints. In LMP, the #20 Porsche still headed the field, but Verstappen’s #1 Redline entry was back into second with GB3 champion Luke Browning behind the wheel and AMG Petronas now third with Graham Carroll in control.
Team Fordzilla was the surprise of the show at this point, comfortably in fourth after consistent lap times and a slick strategy – 12 positions up on its lowly qualifying position.
With four hours completed, several key moments happened. First, seven vehicles, including the #23 Porsche Coanda LMP, #62 Brabham Esports LMP and #66 SIMMSA Esports disconnected from the race. They were handed laps back, and moments later, the rain started to fall at Circuit de la Sarthe.
With the race then declared wet, there wasn’t quite enough moisture on the asphalt for wet tyres to be used, but before that changed, a red flag due to a technical issue.
The race was paused for 79 minutes.
When it resumed, the positions behind the LMPH2G prototype safety car were based on 71 laps completed – but of course, like a real-world race after a stoppage, gaps between the vehicles were now reset.
At the lively restart, it was clean at the head of LMP and GTE, but as the mid-pack raced around the opening lap, there was a multi-car crash.
The incident started a corner before at Arnage when Marcell Csincsik looked to have squeezed Andy Priaulx off track in the braking zone. Delayed, two cars piled in, nearly spinning the three-time World Touring Car Champion. The loss of momentum meant seven cars gaggled together through Courbe de Buisson.
The end result was Liam de Waal spearing across into the side of both Vanwall-Burst cars, including the championship-contending #4 and supporting #444. As Michi Hoyer in the latter rolled back across the circuit, Alpine’s Rory MacDuff arrived straight to the scene of an accident.
As the clock showed six hours complete, a second sudden red flag happened, which is still enacted at the time we publish.
24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual 2023, Hour 6 LMP Standings
- #20 Porsche Coanda – Ayhancan Güven, Laurin Heinrich, Mitchell deJong, Joshua Rogers – 77 laps
- #1 Team Redline – Max Verstappen, Luke Browning, Jeffrey Rietveld, Diogo Pinto – 77 laps
- #63 AMG Team Petronas Esports – James Baldwin, Daniel Juncadella, Graham Carroll, Bono Huis – 77 laps
- #966 Team Fordzilla – Ramon Piñeiro, Georgi Dimitrov, Gianmarco Fiduci, Alessandro Ottaviani – 77 laps
- #5 Williams Esports – Agustin Canapino, William Tregurtha, Jack Keithley, Petar Brljak – 77 laps
24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual 2023, Hour 6 GTE Standings
- #77 Proton Coanda Esports – Porsche 911 RSR GTE – Loek Hartog, Jeferson Giassi, Charlie Collins, Paschalis Gkergkis – 70 laps
- #88 Proton Coanda Esports Porsche – 911 RSR GTE – Raoul Hyman, Alexander Tauscher, Bryn Collins, Kevin van Dooren – 70 laps
- #99 Oracle Red Bull Racing – Porsche 911 RSR GTE – Dennis Lind, Ayumu Iwasa, Dennis Jordan, Yuri Kasdorp – 69 laps
- #89 BMW Team BS+COMPETITION – BMW M8 GTE – Bruno Spengler, Phillippe Denes, Alen Terzic, Ibraheem Khan – 69 laps
- #888 R8G ESPORTS – Ferrari 488 GTE – Alexander Smolyar, Scott Andrews, Timotej Andonovski, Erhan Jajovski – 69 laps
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