In the short time since the Team GT3 Challenge’s inception it has proven to be a very challenging series with many more complications, strategies, and surprises than some might have anticipated. The fourth week of the series made the short jump to Sebring International Raceway and the full International layout. The sim-racers in the dozens of teams that participated had an additional and unique challenge to cope with this week as the race was twice the length of the three previous; a full two hour race would surely complicate things even further. Massimo Erra and Roberto Badinelli took pole position in the GT World RUF with Teamdutch starting best of the rest in their BMW. With 120 minutes until checkered flag the optimal strategy was unclear. Stints of 30 minutes are the norm in the usual one-hour races, but with this length the possibilities range from one, two, or even three planned pit stops to complete the race distance (with three of the teams electing to run three drivers, at least some teams were guaranteed to do a two-stop race).
The action kicked-off straight away as Hermann Pfander of Vortex SimRacing dropped to P6 at the start, and then was struck by Oliver Walter of Altbier Racing Club. Walter dipped a wheel in the outside grass under braking for Tower and went sliding toward Pfander, tapping him gently but not causing any major damage to either car. Walter managed to not only avoid hitting Pfander, but maintain his position as a result of his slide.
Despite sitting on pole, Erra couldn’t shake Norbert Sulzer in the Austrian Bulls Racing BMW and with a nice slipstream down Ullman Straight, Sulzer took the early lead off Erra.
After just a single lap a visible gap had already begun to form between the BMW of OSR iRacing GT3 in P5 and Pfander in P6. Pfander’s struggles became a bit more dire at the end of the second lap when he went wide through Sunset Bend, lost a position to Walter and, as a result of reduced corner exit speed, dropped another place to Wade Lillington in the Woof Racing Team BMW heading into Turn One.
Sulzer’s time at the top didn’t last long; after just over two laps of leading the race a moment of oversteer at Turn Three dropped him to fourth, behind Stanislav Ostadal in the OSR iRacing GT3 BMW while Erra regained the lead.
At the start of the race, Luc van Shaik lost his second place position to Sulzer, but did an excellent job of keeping up with both Sulzer and Erra while they were leading. After moving back into second with Sulzer’s slide, taking the lead from Erra didn’t seem like such a bad idea. At the start of Lap Five van Shaik grabbed the inside line at Turn One and took the lead off of Erra, making him the third person to lead the race in just over four laps).
A handful of corners later, Sulzer looked to improve his fortunes as he moved up the inside of Ostadal at the Turn Seven Hairpin and into a podium position.
On Lap Eight, van Schaik could hold off the advances of Erra no longer, as Erra took to the outside of Turn Five to regain the lead (and with Sulzer now just behind them).
After a few more laps behind the leaders Sulzer was surely considering the way in which he would make his overtake, but a slide through Collier sent him into the inside barrier instead. Sulzer lost time to the leaders and also two positions to Ostadal and Samuel Augsburger in the GTrs McLaren.
Sulzer was able to make up one of the positions he’d lost just a couple of laps later with a basic straight-line overtake on Augsburger while heading down towards Sunset Bend.
By Lap Nine Schaik had begun dropping off the back of Erra and by Lap 16 the gap was more than a few seconds. At the end of 16 Schaik dove into the pits for Teamdutch’s first pit stop; surely the first of two stops considering the race would likely be over 50 laps long. Further proving the additional stop, van Schaik remained at the wheel after his pit stop.
A few laps later, on Lap 20, Erra came into the pits for GT World’s first stop of the race. Erra turned over the controls out of the car to the capable Badinelli who rejoined the race in sixth, behind van Schaik.
On Lap 23 both van Schaik and Badinelli came upon Pfander, who had yet to stop and was on well-used virtual rubber. Van Schaik made his pass on Pfander at Big Bend, while Badinelli had to wait until Ullman Straight.
By Lap 26 Lillington of Woof Racing Team had worked his way in fifth after passing Corentin Goncalves in the GTrs McLaren, but was coming under heavy attack from Mario Gesierich of Austrian Bulls Racing. At the end of the lap, coming out of Sunset Bend, Geseirich made contact with Lillington, inflicting damage and sending him sliding towards the pit entrance. Lillington did well to manage the slide and made the most of the situation, diving into the pits to get repairs and put Simon Flecknoe in the cockpit.
By Lap 39 the GT World lead was quite impressive with the OSR iRacing GT3 car running nearly half a lap behind in second place, now piloted by Olaf Matzenbacher. M. R. Schimmel had also taken over for van Schaik in the Teamdutch and was running in third when a slide at Tower brought Goncalves into the equation. Schimmel struggled again at Le Mans corner and Goncalves took over third place.
At the end of Lap 41 Goncalves came into the pits for the second and final pit stop for the GTrs McLaren, as third driver Emmanuel Suter took over for the final stint. However, Suter barely completed a single lap before spinning into the barrier in Turn One. Just ahead of Suter, Georg Naujoks was exiting the pits in the Vortex SimRacing RUF, which likely caught Suter off guard and resulted in the spin. Suter didn’t lose any positions, but did lose a valuable opportunity to battle Naujoks for fourth place.
As the race entered its closing stages and everyone made their final pit stops it became obvious that Matzenbacher had no intention of pitting a second time. The OSR iRacing GT3 team made their single stop at the end of Lap 28 and, when Erra came out of the pits on Lap 41, he faced a 15 second gap to the BMW ahead of him. Erra knew he would have to make the pass on track, and started pumping-out consistent 2:01s to bring the gap down. Amazingly, by the end of Lap 48 Erra was right on Matzenbacher’s gearbox and he regained the lead with the inside line for Turn One.
The battling continued into the closing laps of the race, specifically when the third driver of Altbier Racing Club, Uwe Länger, came under attack from Naujoks. Naujoks got the inside line for Sunset Bend but went deep into the corner. Länger came back at him with the inside line but Naujoks’ exit speed was better and he took fourth with only five laps remaining.
In the end the two-stopping GT World RUF of Erra and Badinelli won by over 18 seconds from the one-stopping BMW of OSR iRacing GT3. 40s behind the second place finishers came the two-stopping Teamdutch, some 45 seconds clear of the two-stopping Vortex SimRacing. Altbier Racing Club took home fifth, as the first of the teams which didn’t finish on the lead lap. Overall, eight cars finished the race with two being a lap down and another two being two laps down.
In the championship GT World took max points for the week with their win, earning 123 points, while OSR iRacing GT3 scored third for the week with 111 points for their second place. The second highest scorers of the week were the Online-SimRacing.de team of Jakob Lehmann and Marcel Unger who took home 118 points for their win in an 1802 SOF race.