TBR 1st and 3rd at the opening round of the new AOR GTE season, read on to see how it unfolded.
After TBR’s huge success in Season 5 – taking the overall win with Eero Nomm and 3rd overall for Dan Sosulski – a severely trimmed down roster of drivers signed up for Season 6, with just Dan and Joris Thielen picking up the mantle for TBR. After extensive testing through the week of official racing at Road America, the car of choice for the Belgo-Deutsch pairing was the newest addition to the iRacing GTE field, the all new BMW M8.
For season 6 of the league there have been a few changes to the rules with the return of 2 drop rounds and some other minor rule tweaks, but the basic format remains the same. 80 minutes of practice is available before a 20 minute, open qualifying session followed by an 80 minute race. Pit stops are NOT mandatory, but good luck getting a GTE car through 80 minutes on pace with a single tank of fuel!
Quali for this race proved to be a highly competitive affair and possibly a sign of things to come. With the dynamic weather and changing track temperatures timing your fast run would be critically important – and so it showed with the top 18 cars being covered by less than a second, and just 3 seconds covering the entire 50 car field! Mike Schepers of V3 racing would place his M8 on pole with a time of 1.59.774 closely followed by the TBR boys in 2nd and 3rd – Dan on 1.59.938 and Joris on 1.59.951. Last car inside the 2 minute mark was previous champion Christoph Holstein of Comrade Gaming with a 1.59.990.
From the start with everybody being so close on pace it was pretty much a procession for the first 10 cars, with Dan and Joris maintaining their positions in 2nd and 3rd. Schepers never managed to gap Dan who had Joris sat within .5 of a second closely followed by the Comrade Gaming pair of Holstein and Dominik Gadermayr. Lap 3 and a small mistake from Schepers let Dan through to the lead, a change that with hindsight was possibly not the best move for Dan but so early in the race its difficult to judge these things. Joris put a move on Schepers on lap 4 and the TBR duo began their attempt to build a gap. Positions at the front then remained pretty static for the next 20 or so laps, Joris saving fuel behind Dan and Holstein sat close behind Schepers, also theoretically saving fuel. Lap 25 and Schepers chose to pit closely followed by Joris a lap later. This turned out to be a master stroke by Joris, allowing him to pass Dan by the closest of margins as they came to T1 of lap 29. The fly in the TBR ointment came from Holstein, who was the last of the leaders to pit and entered back in to the race virtually side by side with Joris and Dan, splicing the two TBR M8’s again as they all entered T1.
Down to the last 20 minutes of the race and the first 3 were all within spitting distance of each other. Joris seemed able to stay ahead of Holstein reasonably comfortably, however Dan was chomping on the white and blue 488s rear bumper, desperate to get past and chase after his team mate. A slight mistake from Holstein coming on to the back straight on L32 gave Dan the run he needed, however some judicious blocking coming toward the bridge saw Dan on the grass before a late move in to the 1st gear turn 5 had a tiny bit of contact between the 2 drivers, sending Dan in to a spin and Holstein off the track. Thankfully, both were able to recover with minimal damage, however not until Schepers and Claudiu Clima of Alpine Stars Geodesic has squeezed past.
For Joris, it was now a case of keeping his nose clean for the last 8 laps or so. Mike Schepers in 2nd place was around 3 seconds back with a further 5 seconds to Clima who had a remarkably calm Sosulski (at least he looked it on his stream, but Im sure he was raging inside!) hot on his heels in 4th. Having been gifted 3rd spot, Clima defended valiantly, however a mistake leading on to the start/finish straight gave Dan the opportunity he needed, slipping his car past before T1. Clima’s stout defense had the effect of allowing Holstein to close right up again, and having seen Dan pass at T1, decided he should do the same at T3, sadly contact with Claudiu sent the pair off track, allowing Carlos Vila to sneak through for 4th spot, followed by Clima and Holstein. Unfortunately for Carlos, he broke the No1 rule of racing – “Don’t ever….EVER crash in to your team-mate” – and so it was that on the last lap he out-braked himself in to the back of Clima in to T5 allowing Holstein through to his finishing position of 4th, with Clima and Vila rounding out the top 6.
So congrats to Joris who took the first win of the season, and his first win in AOR. After his excellent qualifying performance, Mike Schepers took a (Im sure he would agree…) fairly lucky 2nd with Dan rounding out the podium in 3rd. This places TBR at the top of the Team Champs with 100 points ahead of Alpine Stars Geodesic Echelon in seconds with 73. The next round will be held at Monza next week, the track of much drafting and broken dreams….
Official Results are here.
AOR’s excellent coverage of the race is here.