With the 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual just over a month away, plenty of eyes lay upon the Le Mans Virtual Cup which was to hold its final round of the season at the Bahrain International Circuit; preceding Le Mans Virtual Series qualifying as always.
Of those with points on the board, only first to tenth now held a mathematical chance of taking one of two seats in the Le Mans Guest Car for one of sim racing’s crown jewel events.
Shaun Arnold and Zoltán Várkonyi could not be argued against as hot favourites. Both drivers had either won or come second respectively in all rounds until this point. Realistically speaking, Paul August Lääne and Mia Rose were the closest to upsetting the proverbial apple cart thanks to strong, consistent performances.
What both drivers needed at this stage was their strongest performance of the year.
For Rose, she could not have done any more to start her evening off in style. Pole position was a pleasant surprise to be sure, especially as points leader Arnold was down in sixth on the grid. Várkonyi had not performed any better than his main title rival; an eighth place for the Hungarian was not awful, but hardly ideal.
Starting alongside Rose would be previous title contender Mickael Le Roux who was almost sure to throw a spanner in the works with a potential win on the cards.
With such a long run down to the first corner off a rolling start, Rose’s lead was inevitably under threat immediately.
Both Le Roux and third-placed Juha Maki-Jouppi made strong cases but a concertina effect left the Finn in a spin and the pole sitter breathing a sigh of relief. Várkonyi had sliced his way through the ensuing clutter – up to the podium in a matter of corners. Sido Weijer inherited second.
A calm descended over the major points-scoring positions for the following laps. The only incidents of note included a spin out of the final corner for Roland Szucs and Le Rouw falling outside of the top ten. In fact, the next game-changing overtake wouldn’t arrive until almost twenty minutes in when Weijer finally relinquished second over to Várkonyi.
The Dutch pilot was enjoying an excellent evening yet his pace ceiling had been reached. Fourth-placed Shaun Arnold was soon to remove him from the podium places entirely and, in doing so, put further doubt on Rose’s chance to sneak a guest car spot for herself.
Following the retirements of both August Lääne and Le Roux, both with damage and unlikely to score points by race end, the first pitstop of the top ten was undertaken. Mattia De Campo was hoping to catch out others around him as many were struggling with overall tyre grip. Arnold eventually bit the bullet a couple of laps on but, much to the dismay of De Campo, refused a new set of rubber.
Várkonyi’s pace at this stage was extremely encouraging, putting pressure on the Hungarian to stay out and stick with it. His hand was somewhat forced by poorly timed traffic which he chose to ignore through a pitstop. Out of the frying pan and into the fire as Arnold’s undercut had placed him within imminence of Várkonyi’s gearbox.
Rose had no reason not to pit one lap on from the stop of her nearest threat. A fluctuating two to three-second lead was well-maintained thanks to less fuel heading into the tank. She now had the better part of fourteen minutes to keep that effort up.
With the lead gap whittling down at a noticeable yet not too alarming pace, interest whipped up in De Campo’s journey back up the order. Antonin Titus was quickly put to the wayside, and Jelle Binsbergen seemed to be moments away from losing his eighth place. Sadly, De Campo’s enthusiasm got the better of him with a misjudged lunge into Turn 11 costing him a spin and all of his hard work undone.
As the Italian recovered his lost earnings in the final two minutes, it was all getting a little too close for Rose. Várkonyi was galloping in stride and as the final lap approached he had finally dipped underneath a second behind the race leader. This was a moment for cliche as truly had the race been one lap longer the Hungarian would have had her.
Yet it was not and Rose hung on the take the final win of the season. She had not done enough to earn a spot in the 24 Hour of Le Mans Virtual Guest Car, but she had certainly done enough to attract the interest of other potential suitors with seats available.
LE MANS VIRTUAL SERIES CUP, ROUND 4 2022, RESULTS
- Mia Rose – 24 Laps
- Zoltán Várkonyi
- Shaun Arnold
- Sido Weijer
- Tomasz Wach
- Theo Micouris
- Jurica Slovinac
- Mattia De Campo
- Antonin Titus
- Jelle Binsbergen