The second round of the Le Mans Virtual Series kicked off just three hours ago and it’s R8G Esports and Proton Competition who lead their respective classes at the halfway marker.
The 38-car grid mixes the best of professional esports and real-world talent. After a victory in round one, the Realteam Hydrogen Redline led the field away from pole position after Jeffrey Rietveld qualified the #70 just 0.069 ahead of Marcell Csincsik in the GPX Rebellion Williams entry.
In the ultra-competitive GTE class, Kevin Siggy had placed the BMW Team Redline M8 at the front after qualifying just ahead of reigning Porsche TAG Heuer Esports Supercup champion Joshua Rogers. The Monza winners in the #91 Porsche lined up in fifth, with BMW and Porsche entries taking the top-eight spots.
Despite the Ardennes region that Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps is located within known for unpredictable weather conditions, so far, the race has been run under bright sunlight.
At the start, Rietveld set off sharply, with newly-crowned Formula Pro Series champion Bono Huis charging into second. Through Raidillon, contact between the #18 R8G Esports car driven by Risto Kappet and the #31 Team WRT SIMTAG Esports entry driven by Arne Schoonvliet sent both cars spinning ahead of the pack, which thankfully dispersed around the stricken vehicles and avoided what could have been a colossal incident.
Somewhere in the melee, Rory MacDuff visited the pits to fix damage on the Race Clutch Alpine entry, while on lap two Naquib Azlan and Michele D’Alessandro came to blows at Les Combes, with Ibraheem Khan making heavy contact with the wall in avoidance.
Meanwhile, in the GTE category, pole-sitter Kevin Siggy went side-by-side with Charlie Colins’ Porsche through Malmedy and around Bruxelles – the Proton Competition driver prevailing. The rest of the field was relatively well behaved on the opening lap.
Over the next few minutes, the Porsches started a seemingly dominant rise to the front – filling the first three places – with the BMW Team Redline M8 falling backwards. But, with over five hours left at this point, it remained to be seen how the various strategies would play out.
15 minutes in, and the leading prototype class started to lap the GTE runners, adding an extra dimension to the racing. During this phase, the leading #70 car dropped from first to third and was then overtaken by current GT Challenge Series competitor Erhan Jajovski.
Dennis Zeťák span into the barriers after trying to avoid a GTE-class entrant, and Michele D’Alessandro came to grief a second time in the #10 MAHLE RACING TEAM entry down the Kemmel straight after coming across a pack of slower cars. This incident also collected the #888 BMW M8 with Florian Lebigre behind the wheel and meant a drivethrough penalty for the #10.
The lead switched hands 35 minutes in, as Marcell Csincsik squeezed by the incumbent Bono Huis at Les Combes in what was becoming a popular overtaking place.
Drama befell the first-round winners before the first hour was complete as Jeffrey Rietveld tried to lap the GTE SIMMSA Esports Ferrari and looked to clip the kerb on the inside of Blanchimont. The impact with the tyre barrier resulted in the left rear corner departing the prototype and a retirement. A catastrophe for the erstwhile championship leaders.
As the race settled into a rhythm, R8G elected to keep Monza race-leader Jajovski in its car, maximising the 180 minutes allowed per driver. GPX Rebellion Williams and Team Redline placed their Pro drivers behind the wheel – 2021 ELMS champion Yifei Ye and IndyCar race winner Felix Rosenqvist respectively.
The battle for second between these two drivers rumbled on for several laps, with Rosenqvist trying on several occasions to pull off a successful move. Twice there was contact at the Chicane and Ye put up a staunch defence.
It provided onlookers with a thrilling battle, as both drivers battled without risking an accident before two hours had been completed. It also meant Jajovski pulled out a 17-second lead. Eventually, the move was pulled off at La Source with a clean block pass.
As we entered the third hour, the mood was darker, with ominous clouds forming overhead. Despite this, most drivers kept their focus and there looked to be a holding pattern as most teams were conserving consumables ahead of any potential stops for wet rubber.
For the GTE class the Porsche-BMW lockout at the front was still in place, but the Ferrari Driver Academy 488 had worked its way up to fifth and within 35 seconds behind the leading German car. Jajovski still held the lead overall, but now Rosenqvist had jumped Ye, the gap was pegged to a stable 21 seconds.
The drama was in the pack behind. Axle Sports LMP2 car lost its front right wheel but did make it back to the pits after a spin near the pit entry. Fellow Axle Sports member Amir Haziq span rearwards into the wall at Raidillon just minutes later – a calamitous period for the team.
Subdued up until this point, the #444 of Alpha Ind. ByKolles-Burst was in the hands of Michi Hoyer and he set about closing in on fourth. Not only did he reach Louis Delétraz, he overtook the ELMS driver around the outside of Les Combes to snatch the position.
As the first three hours have closed, despite expectations, the wet tyres have remained in their virtual blankets and the aggressive strategy deployed by R8G Esports mean they continue to lead overall, with Gordon Mutch behind the wheel. Proton Competition is ahead in GTE, Dayne Warren on driving duties, a lead they have yet to relinquish since the opening lap – but the battle for second, third and fourth is currently separated by less than a second.
It’s still all to play for with half the race left, and we’ll have a full race report as soon as the chequered flag falls.