The 500 Miles of Sebring, the fourth of five rounds of the Le Mans Virtual Series, kicked off Saturday 18th December with 114 drivers across the LMP2 and GTE classes taking to the start line. Star drivers including the likes of ex-F1 and IndyCar star Felix Rosenqvist who battled against the bumps of the infamously challenging circuit as the last opportunity to display their skill, experience and knowledge ahead of the 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual final in January.
Conditions were clear in Florida, and all eyes on team strategy with the race being run to 500 miles instead of a set time on the Sebring International Raceway, with some cars including #966 Team Fordzilla pitting early after firing up the grid in the opening laps. James Baldwin in the #49 YAS Heat also pitted early to fit new soft compound tyres that largely paid off as the car continued to set purple sectors throughout and eventually recorded the race’s fastest lap time with Isaac Gillissen at the helm.
In the LMP Classification, the race began with Erhan Jajovski in the #8 R8G Esports leading the grid in pole position, and initial skirmishes saw the pack leaders still largely intact, with the #22 GPX Rebellion Williams driven by Marcell Csincsik on the hunt in second. Drama occurred on lap 38, after the then-championship-leading #123 Team Redline received a drive-through penalty for causing a collision with the #888 TESLA R8G Esports GTE amid packed traffic, dropping the car down the rankings and away from the podium. With the Le Mans Virtual Series championship at stake, the team produced an impressive comeback performance to finish in sixth place and only drop to second in the championship rankings.
The top three entered a tense battle going into the final third of the race, with tremendous driving from third-place Nikodem Wisniewski in the #1 Rebellion GPX Esports, who produced a quick double-overtake to assume the lead for the first time. Having dropped down to third, catastrophe struck #22 GPX Rebellion Williams driver David Pittard when he hit the barriers on lap 106 and lost the car’s rear wing to force an unexpected visit to the pits and plummet down the rankings. The #1 Rebellion GPX Esports car continued to extend its lead at the front of the pack, eventually taking its first win of the championship. The #8 R8G Esports crossed the line in second, with the #70 Realteam Hydrogen Redline rounding out the podium in third. The #10 MAHLE RACING TEAM quietly had a blistering race and soared up the rankings, securing fifth behind #4 Floyd ByKolles-Burst.
Over in the LMGTE Classification, the #71 BMW Team Redline and driver Kevin Siggy took pole position on the grid, but was quickly overtaken by Joshua Rogers in the #92 Porsche Esports Team, with the other #91 Porsche Esports Team close behind as the three battled for first for most of the race. After the halfway mark on lap 83 the #51 FDA Esports Team’s Ferrari – which was surging up the standings – was at the centre of drama. Struck by #55 BMW Team GB, the Ferrari then spun out and made contact with the #65 Panis Racing LMP, triggering drive through penalties for both GTEs.
In the end, the #71 BMW Team Redline’s unique fuel saving strategy worked to dramatic effect as the BMW M8 eventually secured a dominant win over its Porsche rivals, who were forced to refuel more. The #91 Porsche Esports Team finished some way off in second, while the #88 Proton Competition secured the final podium place place after a time penalty for Nestor Garcia – who had stayed in the car for too long – meant the #111 Red Bull Racing Esports car dropped from third to seventh.
Isaac Gillissen for #49 YAS Heat recorded the fastest lap time in the LMP2 Classification, with a blistering 1:45.341 on the 132nd lap during a tense battle against Bono Huis in the #123 Team Redline. In the LMGTE Classification, Dayne Warren for Proton Competition secured the fastest lap, recording an impressive 1:57.835 in the 30th lap.
Augustin Canapino from GPX Rebellion Williams said: “It was a great job from everyone on the team and I enjoyed every lap of the race. It was a great drive from Niko [Wisniewski] to finish so strongly and now the car is in a really good position to fight for the championship in the final round.
Rudy van Buren from BMW Team Redline, said: “We felt our strategy was very sensible and thought others would adopt that to make it closer. It was a great race and our preparation paid off…This week we’ll get going at [the Le Mans 24], and set ourselves up to be as good as we can be for it.”
Sebring presented the final challenge to teams and drivers before the 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual race, which will be held entirely online on January 15/16, 2022.