The final round of the innagural Sports Car Open season took place at the Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace. Often a venue for real world title deciders, in the SCO finale both the Prototype and GTC titles hung in the balance.
With a seven point lead in the Prototype standings, Vendeval Black held the advantage over Thrustmaster Mivano. SimRC.de were also in contention (mathematically at least), though in reality this was going to be a straight shootout between the top two teams.
In the GT class, having already won the title following their win at the Cirtuit of the Americas, Vendeval would only settle for another win to complete a perfect season. CoRe looked likely to finish second, with Follow eSports and Scuderia Lento fighting over the final podium step. Legends Racing sat fifth coming into the final round, tied with Rubagalline Racing. SRN, Torrent Motorsports and TeamGT Freem close behind. For the Legends duo, the aim was simple … to finish as the top Ford and 5th in the championship.
In the GTC class, Vendeval were leading and looking to take a historic triple – taking all three class titles. The GTC title however, was the hardest fought with Vendeval, Hellenic and CoRE all very much in contention. With seven points covering the contenders, this was going to be one to watch.
The practice and warmup sessions confirmed how close in pace the GT and GTC classes were. Whilst the prototypes were be able to pass the slower classes with ease, the GT and GTC classes had to cooperate more than ever.
In the GT field, ABRacing took pole position, with the all conquering Vendeval entry a mere hundredth of a second behind. Buschfink racing blue started third, highlighting that their fourth place finish at Spa was no flash in the pan and provided cause for concern when looking at the championship. With the Legends starting eighth, the eight point lead held over the #73 outfit would not be enough if they scored their first podium of the season.
There was once more a significant difference in performance between the Ferrari and Ford. Eight tenths of a second seperated the respective leading entries … as ever the Ford having no answer to the pace of the Prancing Horse. SRN took the honour of being the fastest Ford in 6th, with the FitzSty Ford and the Legends machine mere hundredths behind.
At the front of the race, the front row of the grid was occupied by Vendeval and Mivano, setting up their shootout for the title. Back in the GTC field, SRT eSports Green once again demostrated their evident pace, grabbing class pole ahead of trio of title contenders CoRe, Vendaval, and Hellenic Racing Blue.
In opening lap the FitzSty Ferrari managed to pass, dropping the Legends to ninth in class. With the leading Fords threatening to build a gap, passing the #77 was crucial, but it was lap nine before Darren managed to craft a fine overtake in turn one. Reeling SRN in then became the next objective, with the Legends needing to finish ahead in the race to stay in front in the championship. After the HPD field filtered through for the first time, the Ford train was firmly established!! The FitzSty, SRN, Legends and Chimera Fords were covered by less than a second.
Darren battled past the SRN Ford on on lap twenty nine, before the the Ford train was split in two three laps later. The Helenic Racing #121 was deemed to be at fault and causing the turn four pileup. Darren did his utmost to avoid contact, but with so many cars running so close together on track, contact was inevitable. Whilst the damage was light, the loss in time was costly. With SRN and Chimera several seconds up the road, and Sam Fitzpatrick’s robust defending preventing progress, the team rolled the dice, committing to an early stop.
The gamble backfired, with the #56 rejoining just behind the leading GTC cars. Fractions of a second were the margins involved, but the poor track position led to losing time whilst passing the only marginally slower GTC car. In the first hour SRN appeared to be in pole position in the Ford fight, but with Team Chimera’s strategy of maximizing stint length, they too appeared to be a strong position.
The Legends and FitzSty entries appear equally matched, with Seal and Fitzpatrick swapping positions a number of times in the second quarter of the race. FitzSty had a gap of several seconds after the second round of pit-stops, with Fitzpatrick staying in the car for a triple stint whilst the Legends drivers swapped over at the midway point.
The gap to FitzSty and SRN was written off ten laps into Adam’s stints, a turn one incident promoting the #56 car to 7th in class. SRN were issued with a drive through penalty having been found to be at fault and – with SRN and FitzSty now trailing – boosted the Legends hopes of a championship top five finish. Sam Fitzpatrick was able to catch up with Adam following his turn one incident, and when Adam ran wide at the Descida do Lago, FitzSty moved ahead. Whilst Adam was able to remain in touch, the drop in position had major implications for the championship.
Fitzpatrick handed over to Gregory, who would bring home the FitzSty Ford, but with Adam closing the gap in a matter of laps, it looked like the #56 and #68 would surely trade places once again. A light contact with the CoRe GTE entry in the Senna Esses proved expensive for both team. A momentary loss of control by Maik Palush resulted in a loss of the race lead for CoRe and and time lost in the Legends versus FitzSty fight. Undaunted, Adam reeled in Ben Gregory once more, but time and again Gregory’s defence proved more than a match for Adam’s pace. Having to lap the GTC cars, and cooperating with the lapping Protoypes meant that gaps appeared between the two Fords, but they were shortlived and Adam was soon hunting for an opportunity to pass once more. Unfortunately, the chance to pass never materialised, and FitzSty and Legends would finish seventh and eighth respectively.
The Prototypes had an eventful race, the outsiders for the title – SimRC.de Black – crashing out on the opening lap, and both of the main contenders received penalties during the race. Vendeval rebounded from their drive through penalty to take the race win and with it the title. Mivano were issued with a heavier penalty, their stop and go spelling the end of their championship aspirations though they would remain runners up.
The hotly contested GTC crown did not dissapoint when it came to drama. Vendeval had a race to forget, off the pace and dogged by problems, their 9th place finish dropped them out of contention. SRT eSports Green – devoid of points for the rest of the season – backed up their pole position start with an impressive drive to the finish, taking a well deserved win. With Vendeval out of title contention, it was left to CoRe and Helenic Racing Blue to fight for the GTC crown. CoRe Simracing’s second place finish to Helenic’s third led to CoRe overturning a two point deficit to take the innagural GTC title by a solitary point.
In the GT field, Vendeval did indeed round out a perfect season with their fifth win, CoRe finishing on the podium to consolidate their championship position. Follow eSports had their best result of the season, their second place finish helping them beat Scuderia Lento to third in the championship, the Italian outfit remaining fourth. The inability to pass the #68 machine ultimately cost the Legends their hoped for championship finish. Buschfink Racing Blue scored their second fourth place finish of the season, and with it broke the tie on points to leapfrog the Legends duo and round out the championship top five.
Despite having missed the top 5 placing by the narrowest of margins, Darren and Adam can take solace in being the top ranked Ford GT. Throughout the season the Ferrari 488 showed to be the stronger of the GTE car choices, the Fords almost forming a sub-category in the GTE field. The Legends duo did themselves proud with some strong performances – finishing as the top Ford demonstrating once more that they belong in championships of this caliber.
The season was another learning experience from which the team will come back stronger. Heading into future seasons Legends Racing will enter the fight better prepared, and better equipped. For now though, all that remains is to thank the Sports Car Open admin team for a fantastic season, to congratulate the newly crowned champions on their success, and to warn our rivals not to rest on their laurels … we surely won’t!