Supporting the Le Mans Virtual Series, Team Fordzilla’s Shaun Arnold dominated a wet Le Mans Virtual Cup race – as drama unfolded behind.
The first two rounds of the season had seen Shaun Arnold pick up two wins and the points lead ahead of Várkonyi Zoltán. Mickael Le Roux, Paul August Lääne and Mia Rose led the chasing pack – all hoping to lock-in in a guest car spot at the 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual.
From one iconic European circuit to another, Spa-Francorchamps posed the classic conundrum of downforce against top speed. The only thing one could not compromise on was racecraft and the will to do what it takes to score all-important points.
Arnold’s strong form over one lap continued as pole position would be his, adorned in the Team Fordzilla livery.
Even better news for the Welshman was that of Várkonyi lying back in fifth position. Rose and August Lääne were both in the mix for top-five points finishes whilst the biggest surprise was Johannes Drayss who had secured himself a top-three start.
Immediately Arnold found himself under the cosh, which only grew more intimidating heading down the Kemmel Straight for the first time.
Challenged by both a fast-starting Várkonyi and Drayss, the trio went three-wide into Les Combes. Scratching paint off each other, Drayss was the worst off, falling to fourth. Somehow, Arnold retained the lead.
Following a chaos-ridden first lap, affairs settled down across the near-thirty car field for the ensuing five minutes. Early interest lay in the battle between Rose and now seventh-placed Theo Micouris who had risen some fifteen places to get there. Both gained a free position thanks to a massive hit for Jelle Binsbergen at Raidillion and continued their enthralling scrap.
Although Binsbergen lost the car on a tour through Eau Rouge, he’d take comfort in knowing he would not be the only one that race. Just a few minutes later, Roland Szucs crashed out in exactly the same manner – catching Drayss and threatening the overtake the German.
With the retirement count rising, thoughts turned to the pitstops. There was, hypothetically, a little more jeopardy predicted than usual with rain expected in the final stages of the event. That rain arrived much earlier than imagined, prompting on-the-fly calls between race engineers and pilots.
Precipitation levels were not dramatically high, thus many chose to stay out and bear the challenge of slippy roads. August Lääne certainly wasn’t enjoyed this new scenario, given Drayss’ rapid descent on the Estonian’s position. As he and his pursuers passed pit road, Arnold could be viewed making his stop and onto wet tyres no less. Understandably, the domino effect was instant.
For most in the top eight, another lap round Spa-Francorchamps killed any feasible chance of catching Arnold. By the time all had exited the pits, they had largely held their running order. Drayss lost out the most falling behind both August Lääne and Micouris who held third. Yet, this train fell under pressure from the likes of Fabian Balle, Tomasz Wach and Juha Maki-Jouppi – all of which had strapped their appropriate boots on one lap prior.
Conditions had taken a serious turn by this point, demonstrated by August Lääne who nearly met the end of his evening with eleven and a half minutes to go. His car almost crunched in half by the inside wall of the Kemmel Straight, Drayss picked up his previously held fourth place.
The German, heading into this round, needed a big result to help his cause before the final round at Bahrain International Circuit. Hard work went into catching Micouris and, just four minutes away from the chequered flag flying, he got the Englishman around the outside of Les Combes.
It was looking to be a rather cautious run to the end for everyone; no risks taken. There was one last piece of drama to unfold, however, as at the dawn of the final lap, both August Lääne and Balle made their way onto pit road requiring one more lap of fuel to complete the race. This was disastrous for especially August Lääne as someone who was fighting for a top two place in the championship.
Just another day at the office then for Shaun Arnold who picked up a third consecutive win of the season. Várkonyi’s third consecutive second put him in the best seat possible to both chase Arnold on the final day for glory and lock-in that Virtual Le Mans appearance. Drayss rounded out the podium with his best day of the season.
Le Mans Virtual Series Cup, Round 3 2022, results
- Shaun Arnold – 20 Laps
- Várkonyi Zoltán
- Johannes Drayss
- Theo Micouris
- Mia Rose
- Tomasz Wach
- Sido Weijer
- Juha Maki-Jouppi
- Zsolt Szucs
- Paul August Lääne