July 18th, 2016 by Paul Slavonik
After over a month of time off, the third round of the Blancpain GT Series – iRacing’s premiere GT3 world championship series – got underway at arguably one of the greatest motor racing circuits in the world. For six-hours, the best sim racers in the world attempted to tackle Circuit de Spa-Franchorchamps which is nestled in the Belgian countryside and features 19-turns spanned out around its 4.35-mile racing surface.
As the various teams arrived, it was VRS Coanda Simsport who had momentum on their side after their stunning victory at Silverstone during Round 2; however, several other teams such as DarContigo and Team Redline were eager to cement their names as serious championship contenders.
Qualifying further proved just how close the competition is in this series as the top five were separated by less than .2s from each other. At the end of the session, it was Jesus Sicilia who put the DarContigo Racing Team Audi R8 LMS on pole with a time of 2:17.769. Starting alongside would be the BMW Z4 of Pure Racing Team #113 driven by Maximilian Benecke who was just .02s shy of taking pole position.
VRS Coanda Simsport #18’s BMW driven by Markus Lendermann would start from third followed by PJ Stergios in the ineX Racing Yellow Mercedes AMG GT3. The Audi driven by Olli Pahkala of Team Redline Blue rounded-out the top-five of the starting grid for the 37-car field.
A six-hour race has to begin somewhere and it typically does so at Turn 1. Unfortunately for Sebastiano Filosa of Thrustmaster Mivano Black who started in P22, that would the first and final corner of his team’s race as contact with Evolution Racing Australia sent their Mercedes hard into the wall. They would ultimately retire in last place.
As the race progressed and the drivers got into a rhythm, DarContigo began to open up quite the lead over the rest of the field. After about 30 minutes into the online race, the team’s Audi had a four-second gap over the field when disaster struck.
Entering Courbe Paul Frère, Sicilia appeared to go slightly wide which caused him to momentarily lose grip. That was enough, however, to cause the rear of his Audi to snap loose and crash hard into the wall on the left side of the track. The incident gifted the lead to Klaus Kivekäs of VRS Coanda #18 who had moved up to second before Sicilia’s incident.
Although DarContigo would eventually get back into the race, they would finish in 28th and seven laps down.
Technical Gremlins Strike Again
With Coanda now firmly in control of the race, Kivekäs began asserting his team’s dominance just as they had done in Round 2. After leading for several laps, however, a mysterious technical glitch sent their BMW into the pits. It was a devastating blow to the fastest team on the track who clocked the fastest lap of the race and also the fastest average lap time.
Still, Coanda made the most of it and made an unscheduled pit stop out of the debacle that included a driver change which brought in Jörn Jens. With the car undamaged, they eventually got back on track albeit far from their position as the race leader.
With DarContigo and Coanda both dropping out of contention from the lead, Team Redline Blue’s Pahkala assumed the lead after two-hours of racing. As Pahkala continued to run his race, he was shadowed by not one, not two, but by all three ineX Racing Mercedes’.
Error 404: Grip not found
As the laps ticked by, Team Redline Blue seemed to be in solid control but a minor slip at the exit of Pouhon ended with the team’s Audi R8 on its roof at the halfway point. Similar to DarContigo, the Team Redline Blue entry ran slightly wide and suddenly snapped loose. Being driven by Finnish ace Aleksi Uusi-Jaakkola at the time, the Finn was a mere passenger as the car came unglued and crashed hard against the wall on the right side of the track. The resulting impact momentarily sent the Audi airborne before it finally came to a rest, shiny side down. Unable to recover from the damage, Team Redline Blue ultimately retired from the online race in 31st.
With three of the fastest cars in the field now down for the count, the race became a battle of teammates as the three ineX teams battled for position between themselves.
Further back, the Audi of CORE Motorsports was on the move after starting from 20th position. The duo of Alexander Voß and Nils Koch began challenging for a spot in the top-five with two hours remaining. However, a short battle with the Audi of Odox Motorsport got close to disaster for the CORE duo.
Pursuing Cristian Manzano of Odox, Koch who gathered himself for a great run coming down Kemmel Straight and moved to the inside to make the pass heading into Les Combes. Manzano didn’t give an inch as he held his ground in an effort to defend his position. Briefly side-by-side, it appeared Koch had gotten the job done when he suddenly lost rear grip and his Audi began swinging towards the right-side fence.
Although it was very close, there was no contact between the two drivers.
Coming to a stop before the fence could claim another Audi, Koch was able to back it up onto the racing surface and continue on in eighth after losing a few spots.
It wasn’t over for CORE, however, as they eventually found themselves in the lead of the race as the various pit strategies came into play over the course of several hours. With less than an hour remaining, CORE knew they couldn’t finish the race with the fuel left in their car. Pitting with about 20 minutes remaining, they forfeited the lead but a quick stop would guarantee a podium spot.
Unfortunately, the short stop for a splash of fuel turned into a 30-second stop and a driver change. Although it was later reported that Voß was having some technical issues which required the switch, the long stop saw Koch exit the pits in third but directly in front of Dave Gelink of ineX Racing Blue.
Gelink was in a rhythm and on fresher tires while the CORE Audi had not taken tires to save time. Although Koch fought the good fight, he could only delay the inevitable for so long. On lap 144, Gelink made the pass for third and began to pull away.
Back up front, it was all ineX. The combined efforts of ineX Racing Red’s Joni Törmälä and Isaac Price payed off after their Mercedes began the race in tenth. Crossing the line, ineX Red won the race by a four-second margin over the sister team ineX Racing Yellow driven by Phillip Diaz and brothers PJ and Jake Stergios, along with William Levesque. 30 seconds behind them was ineX Racing Blue of Robin Friskopps and Gelink. The three ineX Mercedes had done the impossible and finished 1-2-3 in what’s arguably the most competitive sim racing series on the planet.
Not to be discounted, the CORE duo of Voß and Koch held on to finish in fourth after starting in 20th as they finished ahead of the Pure Racing Team #111 McLaren MP-4 driven by Andreas Allmannsberger and Patrick Pichler.
Others of note were VRS Coanda #18 who recovered from their earlier incident to finish in eighth. Additionally, Greger Huttu and Tommi Hahka of Team Redline Black made up nine positions to round out the top-ten.
In the end, there were 20 lead changes over the course of the 151 completed laps during Round 3 of the Blancpain GT Series.
Standings and Round 4
With their solid win at Spa, ineX Racing Red now leads the Blancpain GT championship with 121 points and are ahead of their sister team, ineX Yellow, with 113 points. Due to their solid recovery effort, VRS Coanda Simsport remains a threat from third and is currently tied with Team Redline Black with 106 points ahead of CORE Motorsports with 102 points.
As the Blancpain GT Series officially passes the halfway point on iRacing.com, teams can now take a short breather before beginning preparations for Round 4 at Brands Hatch which will take place on August 13th.