2018 iRacing Spa 24

iRacing Special Event – 2018 24 Hours of Spa

Image result for circuit de spa logo

21st to 22nd July 2018 saw the Legends trio of Darren Seal, Gary Hickman and Adam Parle take to the famous Circuit de Spa Francorchamps for the iRacing 24 Hours of Spa.  The 2017 running saw a Legends quartet advance from a lowly 42nd place start in split 2 to finish 15th in a very strong field, and in 2018 the team were hoping for another relatively trouble free race and another strong result.

In the 2017 race questions needed answering regarding the Balance of Performance (BoP) as the races were almost a one-marque affair.  The 2018 running gave the teams a choice of 6 GT3 machines and whilst the Audi and Mercedes machines proved most popular, there was still a good mix of cars on track.  The Legends outfit opted for the Ferrari 488, being one of the less often run cars in the Legends Racing stable.

528 teams registered to race around the clock, and mirroring the 2017 race, the Legends trio found themselves in split 2 of 9.  Darren’s qualifying time of 2:15.412 meant the team lined up 23rd of the 59 entrants in the split, which as ever contained a number of familiar names – FitzSty Motorsport, Team Heusinkveld, Torque Freak Racing, SRN Motorsports, MSP Phoenix , Probatum Racing and others.

With the pre race warm-up completed, the grid formed up ready for the rolling start that would begin the gruelling 24 hour event.  Having posted the qualifying time for the team, Darren also started the race for the team, taking responsibility for avoiding the myriad of pitfalls likely to present themselves at the start of such an event.

Navigating the opening hour of the race is generally regarded as the most difficult portion of the race, though the driver starts considerably fresher than in any subsequent stint!  Surviving the opening laps and the first hour of the race was the first objective for the team, collecting damage at this early juncture would compromise the rest of the race.  Therefore keeping out of trouble was of paramount importance – even if it meant sacrificing lap time and track position.

The Mindtrick Motorsports team clearly had a different approach to the start of the race, going two-wide into Eau Rouge at the first opportunity.  Rather than rolling the dice on the opening lap Darren lifted off the throttle to tuck in behind the #001 Audi, but otherwise held station.  The opening laps were frantic, and with cars running nose to tail every mistake resulted in positions changing.  Darren was able to take advantage, moving up 7 positions in the next 6 laps and positioning the team in the middle of the a train of cars covering 14th to 19th.

Darren continued to run in the pack of cars until lap 18, when the R70 Thrustmaster BMW was getting increasingly impatient – starting to make dangerous moves.  Having already nudged the back of the Legends Ferrari on lap 3, the R70 car was threatening a repeat performance lunging to the inside at La Source.  Darren ran wide to keep out of trouble though it presented Mindtrick Motorsports with the opportunity to move back through, and allowed the TFR Mercedes to latch onto the Legends bumper.  TFR’s Barraclough managed to get by after Darren was forced to run wide at Blanchimont to avoid a spun car, but TFR’s positional gain was short lived as Darren retook the place on the next run down the Kemmel straight.

With the first hour in the books, the Legends had moved from 23rd to sit 18th.  Further advances up the standings followed in the next hour, with differing pit strategies starting to change the complexion of the race.  The R70 Thrusmaster entry had continued their campaign of uncompromising overtaking attempts, and the inevitable collision between them and the Follow Me eSports entry gifted a further two places to the Legends who would sit 13th as the second pitstopand first driver swap loomed.

With Adam at the wheel, the team continued their steady march up the standings bringing the Legends within touching distance of a top 10 placing.  Adam’s otherwise solid stint wasn’t completely devoid of incident however, locking up after touching the grass under braking, Adam made contact with the Berlin SimSport entry.  Fortunately both cars appeared to be without damage, though the German entry suffered a greater loss of track position.

Shortly after Adam’s first pit stop the team were sat in 8th following another slipstream assisted pass at the end of the Kemmel straight.  Ahead, Phil Letchford of XCM Cross Continental Motorsports was opening up the gap Adam had been closing prior to their change of drivers, whilst behind the Legends #237, following their driver swap BerlinSimSport’s Fabian Klockner was also closing down the gap.  With four hours run, the team were already inside the top ten after something of a dream start.  Finishing in the top 10 was very much a target having started 23rd, so it was fantastic to sit in 8th as Adam handed back to Darren for his second time in the car.

With the race being somewhat more settled then he found it to be in the first couple of hours, Darren was able to lay down consistent laps to reel in SimTag Spa racing.  The #5 car was duly passed with another textbook overtake under braking at the end of the Kemmel straight.  The task of reeling in 6th place Flat Six Racing was made difficult by battling backmarkers, but after the Japanese outfit changed drivers Darren was able to close the gap and make the move on Toshinori Konishi and into 6th.

Another single stint for Adam followed, though there were no changes for position, and with nearly a third of the race run, Gary stepped into the car for the first of his stints.  At this point in the race changes in position were extremely infrequent, with all the teams hammering out lap after lap, each one bringing them closer to the finish.

Whilst Gary didn’t have the opportunity to pass the SRN entry, he had closed the gap sufficiently that shortly after taking over after midnight, the Legends leapfrogged SRN whilst they were in the pits and moved the the #237 Ferrari into 5th place.  Indeed, shortly after Adam’s stop the team found themselves in 2nd as ACRL Grello crashed out and Heusinkveld pitted.  The time in 2nd was shortlived however, with XCM Cross Continental Motorsports and Flat Six Racing’s drivers putting some blistering laps in to close the gap and overtake, and a four way battle for 2nd was well established when Adam handed over to Darren.

Unfortunately, after a flawless start to the race, an issue at the next stop lost the team some time, dropping the team to 5th place and off the back of the battle for 2nd.  The team stayed in the top five for the next few hours until a backmarker collided with the car during Adam’s final stint at the wheel.  Whilst the damage wasn’t as serious as it could have been, it was nonetheless sufficient to cause the team to lose time and drop to 6th in the standings.

With nineteen hours gone and the requisite repairs carried out, the team moved to a fuel saving strategy to avoid an extra visit to the pits inside the final hour.  The pit lane at Spa is extremely long when using the full endurance layout, and an extra stop would mean a significant loss of time – the time lost through fuel saving would be more than compensated by avoiding that run through the pit lane.

The strategy to fuel save gave the team a strong chance of finishing inside the top 5, but a second incident involving a back marker put that possibility in jeopardy, before a repeat of the pit-stop problem experienced earlier in the race rendered a top 5 finish extremely unlikely.  Gary took over for the final hour, but the gaps to the competition were such that all was to be done was to drive the car to the finish.

After the highs experienced earlier in the race, with the steady climb from 23rd on the grid to 2nd place, missing out on a top 5 placing through a combination of misfortune and errors made what was a still a very strong result somewhat bittersweet.  The trio of drivers had combined to form what was an extremely competitive outfit, and raised the bar for the 2019 running, which should be a very different animal with the day to night transitions promised by iRacing.

The next iRacing special event is another 24 hours event – with the GT3 cars making way for the mighty Protoypes and GTE machines at the Le Mans 24 hours, and the team has every intention of a similarly competitive entry taking to the grid at the Circuit de la Sarthe.  We’ll see you there!