Six hours have passed since the start of the 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual and it is #123 Team Readline with drivers Felix Rosenqvist, Max Verstappen, Maximilian Benecke and Atze Kerkhofs who are at the head of the field, with the #91 Porsche Esports 911 driven by Mitchell deJong, Laurin Heinrich, Mack Bakkum and Martin Krönke leading the GTE class.
The 2022 edition of the race began as the clock struck 2 pm CET, and it was Formula 2 race-winner Felipe Drugovich in the #70 Realteam Hydrogen Redline entry who initially led the 50-car field away for the most competitive racing esports event of the year.
In qualifying the day before, Drugovich’s team-mate Jeffrey Rietveld had beaten Max Verstappen to pole position by a scant two-thousandths of a second, the 2021 Formula 1 world champion driving the #123 Team Redline Oreca LMP.
In a competitive session, Mercedes-AMG Petronas Esports’ Bono Huis was in third, just 0.039 seconds behind the quickest lap times.
In GTE, F1 Esports competitor and former Porsche Tag Heuer Esports Supercup champion Sebastian Job pulled out a stunning lap in the #111 Red Bull Racing Esports Corvette to take class pole, attacking the kerbs at the final chicane.
A feisty start
At the race start, Drugovich made a clean getaway, but Verstappen swept through into the lead just after the Dunlop bridge. The Brazilian would lose a further position to a hard-charging DTM driver Dani Juncadella down the Mulsanne Straight.
Behind, contact between Nico Varrone in the #65 Panis Racing Oreca and Franco Colapinto in the #31 Team WRT SIMTAG Esports entry resulted in the latter hitting the barriers and spearing back onto the circuit into a hapless Tom Dillmann in the championship-leading #4 Floyd ByKolles-Burst car.
In GTE, 2021 British GT champion Dennis Lind would start the race for the pole-sitting Red Bull team, but lost out to the #91 Porsche of Mitchell deJong and the #71 BMW of Rudy van Buren in the opening laps.
Sadly for the W Series BMW GTE entry, it suffered from a disconnection during the electric-hydrogen LMPH2G-led formation lap and headed into retirement. The #77 Proton Competition Porsche driven by Loek Hartog was given a drivethrough penalty for jumping the start.
As has been a constant through the Le Mans Virtual Series, an in-race penalty is served to those teams who didn’t field the requisite number of real-world ‘PRO’ drivers.
For this race, the dubious honour of receiving a six-minute rest in the pitlane went to the two GTE entries of #111 Red Bull Racing Esports and #56 Team Project 1 x BPM, plus the LMP #5 Williams Esports car.
A battle royale in LMP
As the race progressed, Veloce Esports steadily rose through the field, British GT race winner James Baldwin rising from fourth on the grid to second, and matching Verstappen’s pace upfront.
After two pitstops, those positions were reversed, but as the leaders caught lapped traffic, Verstappen slipstreamed his way into the lead once more.
It was clear: the battle for the lead was between Verstappen and Baldwin, both trading fastest sector times and pulling clear of the other competitors.
The two teams were running different strategies, however, as the Veloce car stopped halfway through the first stint and then swapped Baldwin for sim racer Isaac Gillissen relatively early on.
As the first quarter is complete, Redline has extended its lead, with Veloce still in second after a lively battle between Veloce’s former BTCC driver Mike Epps and sim racer Michal Smidl for the pole-sitting #70 Realteam Hydrogen Redline squad.
Drama befell Erhan Jajovski in the #8 R8G Esports LMP – a star performer in the Series races so far – making contact with the #22 Williams Esports car driven by Marcell Csincsik down the Mulsanne. Jajovksi ended up backwards in the wall and lost his rear wing. To further compound matters, the manoeuvrer earned the team a drivethrough penalty.
The Mercedes-AMG Petronas entry that was running so strongly at the start sadly retired with a blown engine close to the three-hour mark, after Juncadella looked to double-downshift at the Ford Chicane, causing an over rev.
Pre-race favourites lead in GTE
In the GTE category, it was the usual suspects in command. Porsche Esports Team, sporting a special livery for this race, were running first and second after the first two and a half hours and continue to do so. BMW Team Redline are sat in third. All three cars fighting for the top positions throughout the Virtual Le Mans Series so far.
It wasn’t all plain sailing, however, as Joshua Rogers in the #92 Porsche briefly visited the gravel avoiding a limping #44 ARC Bratislava of WTCR race-winner Maťo Homola, after he’d spun into the barriers at Indianapolis.
Following its driver line-up related penalty, the aforementioned #56 Porsche was part of an imbroglio with the #86 GR Wolves Racing entry. FIA WEC driver Ben Barker in the latter made contact with Jimmy Broadbent in the former entering the second Mulsanne chicane.
For their efforts, Barker received a drivethrough penalty for making contact at the corner entry, while Broadbent received one for contact off the track. The #86 would retire with engine failure four hours later.
Sadly for R8G Esports, its #15 LMP and #888 GTE entries collided at the Porsche Curves, putting the BMW M8 driven by French F4 driver Elliott Vayron heavily into the barriers near the six-hour mark.
The Ferrari Driver Academy entry was the best-of-the-rest, in fourth. The team has shown promising pace throughout the season so far but suffered its nadir at the pre-Circuit de la Sarthe Sebring round. Pressuring the podium places is the best way to bounce back.
There’s still 18 hours left in the race, and we’ll be back at the halfway stage with a further update. Don’t forget, you can watch it live right now on Traxion.GG’s Facebook, YouTube and Twitch channels.
24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual LMP standings at six-hours
- #123 Team Redline | Felix Rosenqvist, Max Verstappen, Maximilian Benecke, Atze Kerkhof – 103 laps
- #28 Veloce Esports | James Baldwin, Mike Epps, Isaac Gillissen, Eamonn Murphy
- #70 Realteam Hydrogen Redline | Felipe Drugovich, Oliver Rowland, Jeffrey Rietveld, Michal Smidl
- #1 Rebellion GPX Esports | Louis Delétraz, Agustin Canapino, Kuba Brzezinski, Nikodem Wisniewski
- #966 Team Fordzilla | Álex Palou, Luke Browning, Nuno Pinto, Gianmarco Fiduci
24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual GTE standings at six-hours
- #91 Porsche Esports Team | Mitchell deJong, Laurin Heinrich, Mack Bakkum, Martin Krönke- 93 laps
- #92 Porsche Esports Team | Ayhancan Güven, Sage Karam, Joshua Rogers, Tommy Østgaard
- #71 BMW Team Redline | Rudy van Buren, Lorenzo Colombo, Enzo Bonito, Kevin Siggy
- #51 FDA Esports Team | Nicklas Nielsen, David Perel, Jordy Zwiers, Kasper Stoltze
- #77 Proton Competition | Loek Hartog, Matt Campbell, Kevin van Dooren, Jeremy Bouteloup