Ahead of January’s 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual, the 500 Miles of Sebring was the final chance for teams to log valuable championship points and practice during a race scenario.
Consequently, several entrants were working once again with their FIA-graded pro drivers, delivering extra seat time. It meant the likes of Max Verstappen, Romain Grosjean, Raffaele Marciello and Beitske Visser lined up on the virtual circuit.
In qualifying the day earlier, R8G Esports driver Marcell Csincsik set the quickest time, but would not start the race at the head of the field due to a 10-place grid penalty carrying over from the previous round at Spa-Francorchamps.
That honour went to Porsche Coanda’s Joshua Rogers instead, and as the race started the #23 disappeared off in the distance in a peerless display of speed and consistency.
Behind, however, Mexico Racing Team’s Alberto Gironella misjudged the rolling start and drove into the back of Pescarolo Esport Monaco, who in turn hit Rocket Simsport. The net result was a drivethrough penalty for the Mexican team and a pitlane visit for damage repairs for the British entry.
The latter was to suffer an embattled race, later pushed off by ARC Bratislava’s Erik Vizi, sharing the car with former Formula 1 and IndyCar driver Tomáš Enge.
In the supporting GTE category, the race start was less fraught. The surprise pole position holders were SIM Maranello thanks to a rapid lap by Christian Malghera. They kept the lead, with fellow Ferrari squad SF Velas Esports up in second during the early stages, but fell back as various strategies played out.
Reigning champion Kevin Siggy was eased wide in his BMW on the opening lap, dropping down the order.
As the race progressed, two key moments happened on the 17th lap. Jernej Simončič, driving for the competitive Floyd Vanwall-Burst team, received a drivethrough for easing Csincsik onto the grass, damaging the team’s podium hopes.
A second R8G entry was also hindered on the same lap, this time its GTE Ferrari, as Risto Kappet, unfortunately, came across a stranded Diogo Pinto who had spun the Team Fordzilla LMP across the track.
Just five laps later, the first major pitstops took place, the leading Porsche stopping at the end of the 22nd lap, its #20 teammate a lap later. By now, it was total domination, with only the #1 Team Redline still in touch with the Porsches when Verstappen took over with just over 40 laps remaining.
Things weren’t going quite as well for the second Redline entry, however, as the #2 plus the #8 R8G LMP both came around Cunningham Corner only to find a stranded Adolfo Pérez. Several vehicles piled in, with no serious damage, but a second indiscretion for Mexico Racing Team resulted in another drivethrough.
The R8G entry may have survived that contretemps, but sadly current ADAC GT Masters driver Arthur Rougier then hit the wall at Gurney Bend, inflicting suspension damage. From being the quickest car in qualifying to a lowly 15th place finish.
As darkness fell, the two M8 GTEs of Redline and BS+Competition were chasing down the leading SIM Maranello 488, Enzo Bonito within a second of Lorenzo Arisi with 20 laps remaining. The Autosport Esports Driver of the Year nominee made the move to head the field six laps later.
Back to LMP, in third overall Verstappen was being caught by Spa-round-winner James Baldwin. With just six laps remaining, the Mercedes-AMG driver swept by in a clean move ahead of the two-time world champion.
Porsche Coanda, however, were never touched from the start to the finish. Mack Bakkum crossed the line after just over four hours for the team’s first-ever overall victory.
“It was an awesome job by everyone in the team,” said Rogers.
“The team has dug deep and worked on any mistake that was [previously] made. It’s fantastic to finish off the regular season with a one-two result ahead of the 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual.”
BMW Team Redline has fought back in GTE with Bonito, Siggy and Rudy van Buren taking back-to-back wins for the team.
“For me, I had the easy job, [Kevin and Enzo] carried me,” said Red Bull Racing Formula 1 development driver van Buren.
“I just had to be consistent and tick the boxes, hats off to them.”
The 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual will be held on 14th-15th January 2023.
LE MANS VIRTUAL SERIES, 500 MILES OF SEBRING LMP RESULTS
- Laurin Heinrich / Joshua Rogers / Mack Bakkum – #23 Porsche Coanda – 134 Laps
- Ayhancan Güven / Tommy Østgaard / Mitchell deJong – #20 Porsche Coanda +2.785
- James Baldwin / Bono Huis / Graham Carroll – #63 AMG Team Petronas Esports +27.130
- Max Verstappen / Jeffrey Rietveld / Maximilian Benecke – #1 Team Redline +28.947
- Sami-Matti Trogen / Jack Keithley / Petar Brljak – #5 Williams Esports +1:18.285
LE MANS VIRTUAL SERIES, 500 MILES OF SEBRING GTE RESULTS
- Rudy van Buren / Kevin Siggy / Enzo Bonito – #71 BMW Team Redline – BMW M8 – 121 Laps
- Lorenzo Arisi / Christian Malghera / Andrea Terzi – #26 SIM Maranello – Ferrari 488 +3.201
- Alen Terzic / Ibraheem Khan / Ferris Stanley – #89 BMW Team BS+Competition – BMW M8 +4.611
- Dennis Lind / Yuri Kasdorp / Dennis Jordan – #99 Oracle Red Bull Racing – Porsche 911 RSR +51.458
- Marcus Jensen / Turkka Häkkinen/ Rasmus Busk – #111 P1 Esport – Porsche 911 RSR +53.764
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