Realteam Hydrogen Redline, with Michal Smidl, Jeffrey Rietveld and Dani Juncadella sharing driving duties, leads the opening round of the Le Mans Virtual Series at Monza at the halfway mark, while Mitchell Dejong, Mack Bakkum and Martin Krönke for the Porsche Esports Team heads the GTE pack.
After a frantic start to the very first event in the new esports championship, mixing the best real-world motorsport and virtual esports talent, the race has settled into a tactical faceoff.
The sun was out for the race start, and mercifully the 38-car grid, a mixture of LMP2 and GTE classes, mostly made it around the first lap without too much drama.
With the choice of three dry tyre compounds, and one wet tyre, plus a mixture of fuel strategies, it was key for competitors to get through the early stages unscathed.
Miraculously, polesitter Jajovski controlled the field after a quick change to green lights. As the LMP2 field mostly went side-by-side into the opening chicane, the R8G ESPORTS car took a relatively comfortable lead. Second was Jesper Pedersen for Floyd ByKolles-Burst ahead of Michi Hoyer in third for the related Alpha Ind. ByKolles-Burst entry.
The Team Fordzilla LMP2 driven by Nuno Pinto received a drive-through penalty for overtaking before the start.
The GTE start a few moments later was not as straightforward, as pole position holder Kevin Siggy in the BMW Team Redline M8 was swamped by the field. Joonas Raivio shot out from fourth to snatch the lead before the first corner, with Timotej Andonovski for TESLA R8G EPORTS flying up the field from eighth to second.
After the frantic start, things began to settle into a rhythm for the LMP2 field, as the leader stretched out a one-second advantage. The GTE pack was anything but stable though, with a big slipstreaming train in behind Siggy for fourth.
With less than ten minutes on the clock, the LMP2 pack was already lapping the GTE vehicles, with traffic management set to be key to success. In the background of shot, it looks as if the Red Bull Racing Esports GTE Corvette of Dennis Lind flew off the track backwards at the Curva Grande, thanks to a punt from behind by a top-class vehicle.
With 20 minutes gone, the fight for second in GTE overheated, when the 77 Porsche piloted by Kevin van Dooren and the fast-stating Andonovski tangled at the Variante della Roggia, both plummeting down the order and handing the position to Charlie Collins for Proton Competition.
For his part, Andonovski received a drive-through penalty. It also meant Joonas Raivio was clear in the lead, two and a half seconds ahead.
Back to the overall leader, Pedersen was hunting down Jajovski, well within half a second, when the top two went wide into the opening corner. The positions remained static, but the moment meant Marcell Csincsik closed to make it a three-way fight at the half-hour stage.
34 minutes in, and the top three made a pit stop, the first in the race. Fourth-placed Michi Hoyer stayed out and pitted a lap later. Through the pit lane shuffle, Jajovski emerged with a four-second lead over Hoyer, with Pedersen dropping to fifth.
Meanwhile, in GTE, Mitchell deJong overtook the BMW of erstwhile leader Raivio on the inside of Variante del Rettifilo as we neared the one-hour mark. The former Global RallyCross competitor and recent eNASCAR race winner stretched his legs up front and pulled away from the chasing pack.
Pit stops started nearly one hour into the race for the GTE cars, and after everyone had stopped, the FDA Esports Team Ferrari driven by Jordy Zwiers took a commanding 10-second lead. It was suspected that he was double-stinting tyres and only received fuel from the pit lane. He then pitted for a second time soon after for fresh rubber and dropped down to seventh.
At this point, the race settled down with gaps starting to appear between the cars. With 43 laps complete, LMP2 leader Jajovski took to the pit lane, and once again Hoyer stayed out for an additional lap.
R8G Esports took this time to switch drivers, Gordon Mutch taking the wheel of the leading number 8 machine. Sadly, he clipped the kerb at the Variante della Roggia, got two wheels in the gravel trap and spun in front of a chasing pack. He was hit by the 61 Porsche of Alister Yoong and the 38 JOTA car of Ferris Stanley.
Jonathan Aberdein, now taking over car 44 from Michi Hoyer, avoided the chaos and took the lead, while Mutch and Stanley had to limp back to the pits.
Aberdein didn’t have it all his own way though as Formula Pro Series competitor Jeffrey Rietveld was all over the South African racing driver. After several attempts, he eventually took the lead on the inside of Turn 1 after a good run off the Curva Alboreto. The race was alight.
After another round of pit stops, disaster struck Marco Saupe in the Team WRT SIMTAG Esports car as he was hit from behind while stationary in his pit box by the Team Fordzilla entry driven by Luke Browing, damaging both vehicles.
With two hours left, the tyre, fuel and driver strategies are yet to play out, but so far, the first round of the Virtual Le Mans Series has been quite the ride. You can watch the live stream for the final stages of the race below. Realteam Hydrogen Redline led the LMP2 pack and the race overall, while the Porsche Esports Team was ahead in the GTE category.