Officially past the halfway mark of its debut season, the Blancpain GT Series – iRacing’s premiere GT3 world championship series – arrived at Brands Hatch as the best sim racers in the world took to the technical European circuit for Round Four of the 2016 season.
As qualifying got underway, it became clear that certain manufacturers seemed to favor the flow of Brands Hatch over others. As times began coming in, Jeremy Bouteloup of Radicals Online Steelseries posted a dominating time of 1:21.894 in the BMW Z4 and was the only driver to get into the 21s.
VRS Coanda Simsport #18 looked to improve upon a season which has seen mixed results as they qualified in second with Rens Broekman behind the wheel of their BMW.
Team Redline Green – a team which hasn’t been in the spotlight very much – started the race in third with their Mercedes AMG driven by Bono Huis. Sylvain Pommarede of Radicals Online GT3 brought his team’s BMW to the fourth spot on the grid ahead of Team Redline Black’s Mercedes driven by the five-time iRacing World Championship GP Series champion, Greger Huttu.
Despite their pace in previous rounds, neither the Audi R8 LMS nor the McLaren MP4 posted a top-ten starting position. The closest Audi to the front row was that of CORE Motorsports which started in 11th while the first McLaren belonged to Kerb Surfers which started back in 23th.
Arriving at Brands Hatch as the championship leaders and the team to beat, ineX Racing Red looked to continue the dominating performance they’ve shown thus far. As qualifying concluded, however, the extreme level of talent in the series meant that every tenth lost on the stopwatch equaled five or more positions lost on the grid. Despite a fast qualifying time for ineX Red, they would start back in 12th with their work cut out for them.
All or nothing?
As the three-hour online race got underway, so too did the incidents. By design, Brands Hatch is notoriously difficult to pass on due to its narrow racing surface and various driving lines through the corners. When you throw in a 37-car field chock-full of teams who are all vying to be the coveted first ever Blancpain GT champions, things can get a little hectic.
Although the incidents throughout the race were numerous, some proved more devastating than others with potential championship implications. Such was the case with Coanda as Broekman battled for second position against Huis of Redline Green.
After about one hour of racing, Broekman was applying enormous pressure on Huis while heading through Pilgrims Drop. Additionally, Radicals Online’s Sylvain Pommarede was directly behind the two in fourth.
Heading through Hawthorns Bend, Broekman made a move but didn’t have the real estate to make it stick. As the track narrowed on Derek Minter Straight, Broekman swung wide to the left and hit the curb which snapped him into the grass. Able to momentarily hold onto it, Pommarede went for the now open door to third. Unfortunately, the door closed in his face as Broekman slid back onto the racing surface and door-slammed the Radicals Online BMW.
Broekman was able to continue but Pommarede went nose first into the steel barrier on the left side of the track. Surprisingly, however, the damage wasn’t enough to force an early pit stop from Pommarede but the end result was a significant loss of track position. Although they recovered some of the lost positions, Radicals Online GT3 were destined to finish the race in seventh.
Friends don’t let friends dive bomb
Fast forward about 45 minutes and a dive bomb gone wrong nearly wiped Coanda out of the race. As the various pit strategies began cycling through. Coanda found themselves in seventh while being pursued by the Audi driven by Jesus Sicilia of DarContigo Racing Team.
As the two entered Druids Bend, Sicilia made a very late dive to the inside of the Coanda BMW driven by Jörn Jens for a gap which was arguably never there. As a result, Sicilia made contact with Jens and the #18 Coanda BMW went for a ride which nearly collected another car.
Able to recover, Jens continued on and in the span of a few laps, found himself at the tail-end of a three car train with Sicilia and the CORE Motorsports Audi driven by Alexander Voß battling hard for position. The pressure began to climb until it reached a boiling point at Westfield Bend.
As Voß made his move for position, he went side-by-side with Sicilia but the latter refused to give up any ground. However, when the two went to make the right-hander, Sicilia pressed Voß but got a little too close. The two made contact which caused Sicilia to spin to the right as Voß had to check up only to get rear-ended by both Jens and Maximilian Benecke with the latter getting the worst of it.
For Sicilia, however, the spin led to contact with the wall which proved costly. By the end of the race, DarContigo finished the online event in 15th and one lap down.
Despite the numerous incidents throughout the race, the Radicals Online Steelseries BMW driven by Jeremy Bouteloup and Mack Bakkum kept their nose out of trouble as they went on to cross the line to win Round Four after leading 121 of the 128 laps. With an impressive gap of nearly 10 seconds over their closest rival, it was a much needed victory for the duo as they look to keep their championship hopes alive.
Able to recover from the earlier incidents, Broekman and Jens of Coanda brought their BMW home in second ahead of the Mercedes of PJ Stergios and William Levesque of ineX Racing Yellow who started in eighth.
Team Redline Black moved up one spot to finish in fourth but the movers and shakers were Jack Sedgwick and Joni Törmälä of ineX Red who finished the race in fifth after their 12th place start.
With only 13 of the 37 cars completing the race on the lead lap, many teams are eager to move on to the next round and leave the memory of Brands Hatch in the rearview mirror.
Championship and Round Five
Due to their impressive recovery run, ineX Racing Red maintain their lead of the Blancpain GT Series with 158 points and are ahead of their sister team, ineX Yellow, who now have 151 points after their podium finish. VRS Coanda Simsport #18 continues to remain a threat from third with 145 points and have broken the tie with Team Redline Black who are now in fourth with 143 points. Heusinkveld CORE Motorsports rounds out the top-five with 136 points.
Round Five of the Blancpain GT Series takes drivers to the historic Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari. Commonly known as Imola, the nearly three-mile track has been recently added to the iRacing service and will be the penultimate round in the 2016 sim racing season.
Teams will have almost two months to fine tune their cars in preparation for the race which is scheduled for October 1, 2016.