Masters of Endurance reached the midway point of its 2014/15 season at the 24 hours of Spa-Francorchamps. The iconic Belgian circuit played host to round 3 on January 10 and 11th, the 8th annual 24 hour race held by Masters of Endurance since 2006. New teams from iRacing communities in France, Portugal and Turkey – as well as second cars from current teams – featured on the grid. 59 teams of between three and six drivers took the green flag, with a total of 250 sim racers competing in the event.
Championship leaders Team Redline started with a 15 point advantage over ineX Racing Red in the standings. Double points were on offer to all finishers, making this a crucial race in the hunt for the series title. The teams also competed for the cash prizes offered by race sponsors Blue Flag Racing to the podium.
More than 70 cars took part in qualifying on the Wednesday before the race. Team Redline’s Enzo Bonito scored his third pole position of the season, setting a 2:16.490 lap. But the gaps at the front were much closer than earlier in the season. Round 1 and 2 winners Coanda Simsport and Ibérica Racing Team completed the top three, covered by just 0.065 seconds! GTros SST’s pair of cars started fourth and fifth, with ineX Racing Red rounding-out the fastest six teams.
Bonito led the field into Eau Rouge and onwards through a clean opening lap, as battles raged behind him. GTros SST Silver prevailed in an early battle against Spanish counterparts Ibérica Racing Team, with ineX Racing Red and Coanda Simsport also making their way past. By the first round of pit stops Team Redline’s advantage over the field was up to 13 seconds.
Coanda Simsport sat in fourth after the first hour, but suffered a setback on Lap 36. For the second race in a row they collided with a lapped car, this time one which had unsafely rejoined the circuit. They were able to limp back to the pits to use one of their two free repairs, leaving them down in 26th position.
Team Redline were unable to keep up their initial pace and lost the lead during the fourth hour. A spin at Blanchimont added to the time lost repairing damage received from a lapped car. This allowed ineX Racing Red to assume the lead which they would hold until the finish.
By the end of the eighth hour, things had changed at the front. GTros SST Silver led 29 laps at various points by extending their stints by one or two laps. On Lap 161 a backmarker spun in front of them at the top of Eau Rouge, clipping the GTros car as it took avoiding action. The contact sent them into the wall, causing irreparable damage. The sister car of GTros SST Orange sat just outside the top 10, moving up the order after a poor start to the race. Their race ended attempting to avoid an incident at Blanchimont on Lap 195, but were rear-ended by an unsighted car.
More drama was to come before the halfway point, in the form of Team Redline’s retirement. Lying 50 seconds from the lead, Aleksi Uusi-Jaakkola lost control in the middle of Eau Rouge and hit the tyre barriers. Redline managed to get back on track having used their final free repair, now a lap down in third. But just 15 laps later, their race – and perhaps championship challenge – was over. A collision with a lapped car at the end of the Kemmel straight sent them into the armco barriers.
ineX Racing Red continued to run a near-faultless race at the head of the field. Coanda Simsport saved fuel to get back onto a similar pit strategy, but could not make inroads into the gap to ineX. By the end of the 24 hours, both teams were the only cars on the lead lap – 1 minute 16 seconds the winning margin at the chequered flag.
The battle for the final podium position featured Glacier Racing in the much-improved Ford GT. The Finnish team moved up from 17th on the grid thanks to superior fuel economy and a slight top speed advantage. But in the nineteenth hour they became another victim of the treacherous Eau Rouge corner. On worn tyres at the end of a stint, they lost control at the top of the hill, destroying their car just a few hours from the finish.
This gave CORE Motorsports a clear run to third position, two laps behind ineX and Coanda. The three driver German squad kept out of trouble, driving a consistent pace to move up the order as other teams faltered.
The last hour provided action inside the top 10 with ineX Racing Blue and Ibérica Racing Team fighting for fourth spot. Ibérica had spent much of the race recovering from several penalties for exceeding the track limits. They emerged ahead at the final pit stops, but were soon caught by ineX Racing’s second car. An intense battle ensued, with several position changes as they worked through traffic. ineX Racing Blue finally took the position with just under 20 minutes remaining.
A further two laps behind, the contest for sixth was finally settled in last 10 minutes of the race. For over an hour Team Chimera held off VergilRacing, who were unable to find a way past in their slightly damaged car.
42 teams collected points from the race, with 37 cars running at the finish. ineX Racing Red’s 200 point win gave them the championship lead, and a 45 point gap back to CORE Motorsports. Coanda Simsport sit just behind while Ibérica Racing Team remain fourth. Team Redline slipped to 12th, 185 off the lead with just 210 points available.
The penultimate round of Masters of Endurance takes place on 7th February 2015 at 14:00 UTC. The teams return to the USA for the 6 hours Circuit of the Americas presented by grandprix247.com. For full results and points standings, visit the mastersofendurance.net website. The eight part broadcast can be viewed on the MoE youtube channel.