Randal Haywood is the 2023 Porsche Esports Challenge USA champion, taking home $15,000 and a TAG Heuer watch after a thrilling final race that involved plenty of action.
The Gran Turismo 7-utilising tournament culminated in a series of in-person semi-finals and finals at the Californian racetrack venue. It followed preliminary qualifying via the game, online and inside Porsche experience centres.
Once those had been completed, over 36,000 entrants were whittled down to just eight finalists who took to the sim rigs for two final races in front of a live audience and series producer Kazunori Yamauchi.
Finals – Race 1
The grid for the first of the final day’s races was set by the points standings, carried across from the semi-finals. That meant Haywood would start from pole position, heading a field of identical Porsche 911 RSR (991) Gr.3s. Robert Heck would be second, with Donavan Parker and Dean Heldt completing the top two rows.
As the nine-lap race at Spa-Francorchamps began, the entire field was on the medium-compound tyre, but needed to swap to the softs at some point. Haywood from the lead covered the entry to La Source, while behind Heldt dived down the inside of Parker, the resulting rub seeing a loss of momentum for the Floridian driver.
Heck would keep second, but Heldt moved up to third, Parker dropped to fifth and the moustachioed Daniel Solis was up to fourth.
Running up the Kemmel Straight, the field would use the slipstream effect to bunch together, causing pandemonium at Les Combes on the opening lap. Solis would slew across the grass on the inside of the corner.
Haywood spotted this and took a wide line to avoid what otherwise would be an accident, but as he checked up, Heldt tapped Heck, who in turn hit the erstwhile race leader.
It required an opposite-lock save from the reigning champion, with Heck through into the lead before Haywood slammed into Solis who rejoined the track right in front of the field, moving up to second place.
The two-time World Series Manufacturers Cup champion would only hold that position for a handful of seconds, as Donavan Parker unceremoniously biffed him wide at Bruxelles.
Haywood, however, down in seventh at this point would make the most of raggedy driving standards across the field to eventually make it back up to third at the flag. Heldt helped matters by sliding off on the second lap, Solis received a penalty for earlier contact and then Armando Rolon Rivera picked up a three-second reprimand for a pitlane infringement.
Heck and Parker made the most of the frenetic opening lap to disappear up front to take first and second comfortably.
Finals – Race 2
With the points standings determining the overall champion, results from the previous day’s action were combined with points handed out in the two finals.
To end the competition, if 17 laps at the Daytona International Speedway – Road Course in the 1970s Porsche 917K wasn’t challenging enough, the tyre wear rate was ramped up to 16x and drivers were required to use both the hard and soft compound at least once.
‘Robby’ Heck, who was by now leading the championship standings, was on pole position and elected to start on softs – the only driver to do so.
Haywood, who started third, made it by Parker for second in the early stages and therefore was the leading hard-tyre-equipped runner. The driver from Fruit Cove would lose another spot to Heldt one lap later.
The 21-year-old would then vault into second after the position’s previous incumbent picked up a 0.5s track limit penalty, however, Haywood would return serve two laps later.
Four laps in and Heck had amassed a 6.4s second lead, but off-camera (yet visible on the track map), dropped four seconds after a moment heading into Turn 5.
The leading hard-users would stop on the seventh lap, while Heck extended his soft stint to three laps later.
The pack was now chasing the points-leader down, although there were hairy moments along the way, with Solis finding the wall at one point and Haywood, Parker and Heldt running three wide on the 10th lap.
With five laps left, Heck was gamely trying to hold on to the lead, while contact between Heldt and Haywood witnessed the former spear down from the banking and out of contention. It was contentious, but the stewards judged play-on.
With only hard tyres left to fight with, Heck was a sitting duck, leaving the path clear for the 22-year-old from Forrest Park, Illinois, to take back-to-back titles.
“I don’t even know what has happened, it hasn’t sunk in yet,” said Haywood post-race.
“[Heldt] left the door open and I went for it, I guess we bumped doors and got loose.”
2023 Porsche Esports Challenge USA Gran Turismo 7 standings
- Randall Haywood
- Robert Heck
- Donovan Parker
- Dean Heldt
- Armando Rolon Rivera
- Daniel Solis
- Cyrus Cross
- Denis Vandell