The inaugural Sports Car Open season was a highly competitive affair which saw the Legends Racing pair of Darren Seal and Adam Parle narrowly miss out on a top 5 placing in the GT class, finishing 6th – albeit as the top placed Ford by way of consolation.
The Sports Car Open 2018-19 Season also begins in the Ardennes at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, a perennial fan and driver favorite that needs no further introduction.
The teams and drivers registered in 2018 is indicative of the level of the competition taking another step up. Many high profile sim racing teams are in attendance, with Sports Car Open champions, NEO Endurance Series champions, and iRacing World Championship Grand Prix Series champions among them.
For the first time in our history, Legends Racing are fielding 2 entries in a premier sim racing endurance series, with a pair of HPD ARX-01c cars running in the Prototype Challenge class. The familiar pairing of Seal and Parle hope to “divide and conquer” as they move into separate cars. The #36 Legends Racing entry sees Adam Parle joined by Nick Rowland and recent recruit Paul Searle in the familiar blue, orange and black livery. Darren Seal is joined by Paul Richards and Darrell Taylor in the attractive “away” livery of the #37 Legends Racing White car.
Qualifying duties were handled by Paul Searle and Darren Seal, with Seal narrowly out qualifying Searle as they placed 7th and 8th respectively in the Prototype Challenge class, 22nd and 23rd overall in the 53 car field.
Rolling starts typically limit the amount of carnage at turn one, but after an aggressive start there were concerns regarding damage to the #36 car after contact at that first corner. With no visible damage, the understeer being experienced was assumed to be related to travelling in the draft of the five car train that quickly developed, and otherwise no cause for concern.
The #37 lost several positions in the opening laps, but with 8 hours of racing ahead this was less important than safely navigating the start of the race. Unfortunately the chance to recover was lost when Richards suffered a loss of control through Blanchimont on lap 6 and was subsequently hit by the InSim Sailors entry. The damage suffered left the #37 trio with no option but to retire the car, and trying to come to terms with the worst possible start to their season. The Legends Racing White car was not alone in suffering significant misfortune, a pair of Mivano machines and the VRS Coanda Simport LMP1 being high profile entries that also left the race early.
Buschfink Racing provided the main source of competition for the remaining Legends entry through the opening stints. At the initial stop a small gap was created through the Legends car not taking new tyres, saving time despite repair work being carried out on the car. The time lost carrying out the repairs to the car was immediately vindicated as the car felt much better to drive, allowing Paul – and subsequently Adam – to concentrate on fuel saving.
Whilst the rest of the prototype field ran 17 lap stints, the Legends went one lap longer in each of the next three. This left the team out of sync with the rest of the field, but without the prospect of a splash and dash in the closing stages of the race. Whilst the use of the Spa Grand Prix pits rather than the more usual endurance pits meant less time would be lost through an extra stop, the team believed that avoiding a splash and dash would give them the best possible finish.
Being out of sync with the rest of the field saw the Legends shoot up the order as every other car pitted, before shuffling back in to a mid pack placing. Nick took over from Adam, and with the extra laps eked out by Paul and Adam, was able to go “full gas” for his double stint behind the wheel. Whilst the Prototype Challenge cars were now spread out over the circuit, there was never a time to relax. The hybrid LMP1 cars required constant attention to be paid to the mirrors, and the slower GTE cars also providing a frequent obstacle to navigate.
The three Legends drivers continued to run consistently, despite battling recalcitrant equipment and suffering multiple light contacts which necessitated repairs. A sound strategy, consistent pace and good traffic management all contributed to a potential 5th place finish being achievable.
Further lift and coast was required for Rowland in the final hour to ensure the team couldn’t get caught out by the race going one lap longer than anticipated. The penultimate stint gained the team this further lap, and allowed Nick to run flat-out to the finish – something that was very much needed when the Mivano entry emerged from their final stop of the day under 3 seconds behind. It was a straight shootout for 5th, but Nick held off the charging Carlo Labati, through a combination of consistently fast laps and excellent traffic management. The Mivano entry was subsequently disqualified for exceeding the incident limit, as the team was well over the permissible number of incident points for the event, but finishing in 5th on merit was cause for celebration.
A top 5 placing looked possible heading into the event, although it would require a massive effort required to make this a reality. To have realized this potential was an exceptionally pleasing result for the #36 car, and sets the trio of Searle, Parle and Rowland up well for the rest of the season. The trio in the #37 are left to consider what might have been after a promising qualifying session, and will look to restart their season at the second round at Monza.
The official practice sessions for the second round of the Sports Car Open 2018-19 season commence on Thursday 1st November, with the race taking place on Sunday 4th at 1600 (UTC), with live race coverage once again being provided by RaceSpotTV.