rFactor 2’s GT Challenge returned yesterday evening (27th March 2023), with a revised format and a plethora of American tracks facing competitors across six rounds of GT3 race action.
The drivers in the top split this season are familiar names to those of you who have followed GT Challenge over the years but the format has been tweaked; featuring a 15-minute Sprint Race followed by a 45-minute top 10 reversed grid Main Race.
Although there are no prizes on offer this season, the field is stacked with esports talent, including patronage from Scuderia Ferrari Esports Team’s Alex Siebel and Dennis Jordan, as well as ex-GT Pro champions Jan von der Heyde and Jernej Simončič, among others.
It was Simončič who struck first blood in the opening qualifying session, the Slovenian taking pole ahead of Jordan at the tricky, wall-lined Long Beach GP Street Circuit.
Further back, von der Heyde was in seventh place, with R8G Esports’ Michi Hoyer and Race of the Season winner Turkka Hakkinen in 11th. Siebel placed ninth, seven spots behind his team-mate and eager to move forward as the Sprint Race’s two-by-two rolling start commenced.
Simončič blocked off a Turn 1 attack from Jordan at the outset and eased ahead by a couple of tenths over the opening few laps. Behind, it was von der Heyde making moves; gaining a place on lap one before pulling off a well-crafted dive past Mickael Le Roux just past the halfway point.
Otherwise, it was a fairly cagey affair in the top 10, with Simončič holding off Jordan for the opening win of the season. In tenth place was Jake Denehan, the Irishman fended off the advances of Jimi Nisula and Matt Richards to claim the reverse grid pole position for the Main Race.
Behind, there was a massive pile-up at the final corner on the final lap, as Long Beach’s infamously tight confines finally claimed a few victims; including team-mates Fabian Balle and Arda Ercan.
Denehan streaked away as the lights went out for the Main Race as Seibel came under instant pressure from the fast-starting von der Heyde. Sprint Race winner Simončič came to strife further behind, pitting for repairs at the end of the first lap. Von der Heyde of Rocket Simsport set after Denehan determinedly.
Further back, Damian Skowron suffered significant wall-related damage (GT Challenge features 100% simulated damage) and dropped down the field, leading to a slight miscommunication with Mia Rose. The Australian was shoulder-barged into the barrier by Skowron, continuing her tough start to the season after contact with Ryan Elliott in the Sprint Race.
With two-thirds of the race done, Denehan had an unfortunate moment which broke the rear wing on his Audi R8, gifting von der Heyde a lead he would not relinquish (causing damage to the German’s McLaren on the way, too). It was a gutting blow for the Edge Esports driver, who was pacing the field confidently.
Siebel capitalised on Denehan’s error by claiming second at the flag, while Daniel Stepkowski stood on the final step of the rostrum in third. Jordan recovered to an impressive fifth position, gaining him second in the drivers’ points table.
The final lap again saw drama, as Jesper Pedersen tapped Martin Murguly on entry to Turn 1, leaving Murguly with three wheels on his wagon and gifting Michie Hoyer two positions. Pedersen recovered to claim ninth place (pending penalties), but Murguly was unfortunately out of the race.
With no enforced pitstop rule, drivers had to keep their medium or soft compound tyres alive throughout the Main Race, with the majority opting for the safe medium option. Jordan, Hakkinen, Henri Sinik and Timotej Andonovski opted for softs, but it was Von der Heyde and Siebel who made the most of the grippier compound by nursing them home to first and second position respectively.
Von der Heyde stands on top of the championship standings after the first round of the season, continuing his imperious pre-qualifying form. He faces tough competition from the Ferrari pair of Jordan and Siebel behind, however, with Jernej Simončič also likely to bounce back strongly at Round 2 from Sebring on the 3rd of April.
GT Challenge 2023 Drivers’ Standings after Round 1
- Jan von der Heyde, 247 points
- Dennis Jordan, 244 points
- Alex Sibel, 237 points
- Daniel Stepkowski, 236 points
- Dawid Mroczek, 236 points
- Mickael Le Roux, 235 points
- Jernej Simončič, 231 points
- Damian Skowron, 228 points
- Turkka Hakkinen, 227 points
- Martin Murguly, 226 points
2023 GT Challenge calendar
Qualification | 21st February – 19th March
Rd1 – Long Beach – 27th March
Rd2 – Sebring – 3rd April
Rd3 – Laguna Seca – 10th April
Rd4 – Indianapolis – 17th April
Rd5 – Lime Rock Park – 24th April
Rd6 – Daytona – 1st May