James Baldwin, Graham Carroll and Bono Huis of AMG Team Petronas Esports have won the 6 Hours of Spa outright, the third round of the 2022-23 Le Mans Virtual Series. In GTE, it was the #71 Team Redline BMW of Kevin Siggy, Chris Lulham and Enzo Bonito who took home the laurels.
At the start, pole sitter and #23 Porsche Coanda driver Joshua Rogers covered the inside line aggressively down to La Source, holding off this season’s Porsche TAG Heuer Esports Supercup champion Diogo Pinto in the #2 Team Redline entry.
This left a clear outside line for Jernej Simončič in the championship-leading #4 Floyd Vanwall-Burst to take second position in the early running.
In GTE, it was a BMW one-two on the grid, and after the rolling start, it remained the same manufacturer order but not team. Kevin Siggy still led, but Alen Terzic for BMW Team BS+Compeition slipped behind Mahle Racing’s Muhammed Patel.
Moritz Löhner in the #11 Project 1 by Dörr Esports Porsche tried a bold effort around the outside of the first corner but slipped down into fourth.
Just two laps into a six-hour race, through Eau Rouge and Raidillon, Terzic and Löhner collided. The BMW was impeded, losing momentum, while the Porsche went for a dramatic spin in front of the chasing pack. Through blind luck, a huge shunt was avoided. However, the Porsche emerged from the melee in last.
As the first hour progressed, in LMP, Pinto made a move on Simončič for second overall, but in the process made slight contact. It created a gap for Mitchell deJong to also squeeze through, the #20 Porsche Coanda driver would then overtake the Redline car to make it Stuttgart cars in the top two positions.
Former Formula 1 driver and current IndyCar competitor Romain Grosjean completed a steady stint in the #18 R8G Esports Oreca – unscathed after a fierce battle with ARC Bratislava driver Erik Vizi.
As halfway approached, Porsche Coanda was still heading the field, with Redline line astern in third and fourth. The best of the rest was AMG Team Petronas following a stirring stint by multiple Assetto Corsa Competizione series champion James Baldwin.
In GTE, it was BMW Redline domination, with Siggy and team-mates Chris Lulham and Enzo Bonito disappearing into the distance. Behind sat the Aston Martin Vantage of Prodrive FYRA Esport, once again rising through the ranks into a solid podium position – just like at Monza.
Two-time F1 world champion Max Verstappen joined the field with over three hours remaining, behind the wheel of the then fourth-placed #1 Team Redline entry. It was set to be a dramatic time on-track for him.
First, he narrowly avoided disaster, as ahead, third-placed colleague Luke Bennett collided with the GTE BS+Competition BMW of Ferris Stanley. The former second-placed squad copped a drivethrough penalty for the incident, which saw them plummet to tenth. It also meant Verstappen was now on the podium.
However, a lapped GTE Ferrari was a potential fly in the ointment. As Verstappen ran side-by-side through Eau Rouge, there was contact and the F1 champion speared off the track, making light contact with the barrier. He was able to continue, but Graham Carroll’s AMG Petronas was now in third.
With the GT-based category spread out amongst the top three, much of the focus was on a battle for fifth between Alex Siebel in the Oracle Red Bull Racing Porsche and the R8G Esports Ferrari driven by FIA Formula 3 race winner Alexander Smolyar.
Risto Kappet and Dennis Jordan would resume the duel in the latter stages, the energy drink manufacturer prevailing over Grojean’s eponymous team.
Heading into the final hour, the #20 Porsche Coanda was still up front. But questions remained about its strategy. The #1 Team Redline and #63 AMG Team Petronas Esports cars could complete 19-20 lap stints, while both the #23 and #20 Porsche Coanda cars would drive flat-out for just 18 laps.
With just under 40 minutes to go, the #63 and #1 cars made their final stops. Coanda’s plan of running shorter, flat-out stints was seemingly the wrong one, but the leading #23 car still had a sizeable 70s gap to the AMG Petronas of Baldwin in third.
With 26 minutes to go, the #23 pitted, emerging 20s behind the AMG car and 10s behind the #1 Redline car. The #20 boxed with 20 minutes to go, gifting the AMG Petronas squad a lead they would not relinquish.
At the chequered flag, the gap to the #1 Team Redline car was just 7.8s, with Verstappen’s earlier GTE tangle potentially costing the Dutchman and his team victory. However, it was the Coanda Porsche team that was left ruing its strategy, the Weissach-based manufacturer falling short of the win in the final laps.
As it turned out, Coanda would fail even to make the podium, as Erhan Jajovski in the #8 R8G Esports – fighting back after an earlier drivethrough penalty – prevailed in a bruising battle with Mack Bakkum.
The winners, Baldwin, Huis and Carrol, had driven a faultless race, significantly bettering their eighth-place finish from the previous round at Monza.
There was some consolation for the #1 Redline car in the end, as they now snatch the lead in the overall LMP standings as we head towards the fourth round of the 2022-23 Virtual Le Mans Series.
Its stablemate in GTE, the #71 BMW, also heads to the top of the championship thanks to its race-winning performance – leading from start to finish ahead of Prodrive FYRA Esport and the #77 Proton Coanda Esports Porsche of Dayne Warren, Charlie Collins and Paschalis Gkergkis.
The next round of the Le Mans Virtual Series is the 4 Hours of Sebring, 3rd December 2022.
LE MANS VIRTUAL SERIES, 6 HOURS OF SPA LMP RESULTS
- James Baldwin, Bono Huis, Graham Carroll – #63 AMG Team Petronas Esports – 171 laps
- Max Verstappen, Jeffrey Rietveld, Maximilian Benecke – #1 Team Redline +7.836s
- Jiri Toman, Erhan Jajovski, Marcell Csincsik – #8 R8G ESPORTS + 27.580s
- Joshua Rogers, Mack Bakkum, Martin Krönke – #23 Porsche Coanda +27.709s
- Zac Campbell, Tommy Østgaard, Mitchell deJong – #20 Porsche Coanda +29.760s
LE MANS VIRTUAL SERIES, 6 HOURS OF SPA GTE RESULTS
- Chris Lulham, Kevin Siggy, Enzo Bonito – #71 BMW Team Redline BMW M8 GTE -155 laps
- Lasse Sørensen, Lasse Bak, Mikkel Gade – #95 Prodrive FYRA Esport Aston Martin Vantage GTE +25.900s
- Dayne Warren, Charlie Collins, Paschalis Gkergkis – #77 Proton Coanda Esports Porsche 911 RSR GTE +1:07.444
- Nicklas Nielsen, Kasper Stoltze, Christian Michel – #5 SF Velas Esports Team Ferrari 488 GTE +1:20.088
- Michele D’Alessandro, Muhammed Patel, Eros Masciulli – #10 MAHLE Racing Team BMW M8 GTE +1:20.813