The Prototype & GT Challenge series arrived at the historic Sebring International Raceway for the first of twelve rounds this season.  With iRacing’s decision to mothball the original GT Challenge series, this series is now the sole playground for the HPD ARX-01c, the Corvette C6.R GT1 and the Ford GT.  The decision has also allowed the series to enhance its popularity and with that comes increases in on-track battles.

With the new car regs, the series’ popularity is on the rise.

The HPD is the fastest of the three cars, therefore the top class, and because of that spends most of its race negotiating traffic.  Drivers who do this the best normally stand out on top, and the ones who don’t normally find themselves dealing with quite a few angry GT drivers.  The top split of the week featured drivers Paul Ilbrink and Mack Bakkum.  Ilbrink on pole was able to instantly stabilize a gap between himself and Bakkum.  Once they reached traffic though, Ilbrink consistently extended his lead, while Bakkum suffered untimely traffic, which allowed a hard-charging Joshua Chin to contend for the second position.  In the end, Ilbrink took a commanding win and the points lead after Round One with 225.  Bakkum, Tiago Orfao, Chin, Oliver Brandt, and Teemu Iivonen round out the top six positions after the first week at Sebring.

Ilbrink leads Bakkum into the hairpin.

The Corvettes followed closely behind the HPDs, with drivers William Levesque, Fredrik Follestad, and Lieven Drijkoningen leading the way.  Drijkoningen, while not racing Levesque or Follestad directly, instead had to hold off World Championship Grand Prix Series regular Aleksi Elomaa.  However, Levesque and Follestad faced-off directly in the week’s top split.  Levesque used his pole position to good effect, taking the early lead with Follestad in tow.  Levesque held the lead to just over two seconds until half way through the race when some good breaks with traffic enabled him to extend his gap by a few more seconds.  Lap 21 saw Levesque nearly throw away his chances of victory when he lost control and went off track, doing a quick 360 in the grass.  However, Levesque managed to scramble back on the conventional racing surface ahead of Follestad and to secure the trophy and the Corvette points lead with 248 points, over Follestad’s 217 and Drijkoningen’s 214.

Levesque led Follestad by a small margin most of the race.

The Ford GT class rounds out the field, but don’t underestimate the competition that sits within this class.  The biggest race of the week did not disappoint, with Jon Hall, Ief Vangenechten, Phil Diaz, Roope Turkkila, and Oliver Brandt racing for the win which could possibly have put them in the championship lead at week’s end.  Hall started on pole and instantly was able to pull a small gap to the drivers behind.  Diza led the chase after making his way around Vangenechten, who shortly after had contact and went off with Brandt.  Diaz then set his sights on Hall, duly getting to Hall’s outside for the Turn Seven hairpin.  The two stayed at each other’s doors until Turn Ten, where a herd of HPDs separated the two and allowed Hall to sneak away.

An HPD invasion separates the Ford GTs of Hall and Diaz.

Further lapped traffic and a mistake by Diaz allowed Turkkila to take over the second position.  The threesome finished in order but, due to drivers doing multiple races, none would be sitting atop the standings after Week One.  Instead, Kimmo Suominen took top honors for the week with 242 points after holding off Vangenechten’s fierce challenge in a race early in the week.  Behind Suominen, the top five in points consists of Turkkila, Hall, Diaz, and Vangenechten.

Suominen leads the Ford GT championship after Sebring.

So as the first round of the Prototype and GT Challenge series concludes, the most significant feature of the new season is its popularity.  The series showed a large growth in numbers in comparison to last season, and the on-track action has never been better.  Let’s hope this continues as the online racing series heads into Round Two at the ever popular Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin

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