The second leg of the 2022-23 Le Mans Virtual Series witnessed changeable conditions in a virtual Italy. From a dry to wet track, and then back again, it was anyone’s guess as to who would stand victorious in either the LMP or GTE classes until the final moments.
Incident-filled first hour
Things started off with a pair of nearly identical-looking incidents in the opening corner for both classes.
The #21 SEM9 Axle LMP of Naquib Azlan was tagged as things spread out. The Malaysian driver clipped the grass and wound up bowling into the #8 R8G Esports LMP of Marcell Csincsik.
Moments later, the opening-round winning #99 Red Bull Racing Porsche of Alex Siebel was also clipped, spinning and striking the #11 Project 1 by Dörr Esports Porsche driven by Leonard Krippner. Both wound up in the pits for damage repair, losing laps in the process.
In the opening stint, Porsche Coanda driver Joshua Rogers trailed team-mate Mitchell deJong, but things would swap after the first pitstop. Both cars pitted at the same time and because the #23 of Rogers was ahead of deJong, the Australian had the better exit, taking the lead in the cycle.
The first hour witnessed a slew of crashes, including a big one in Curva Alboreto involving a handful of LMP drivers. The #966 Team Fordzilla entry of Luke Browning attempted a move on the #28 YAS Heat Veloce entry, but the two made contact and calamity ensued.
Csincsik, the #100 Arnage Competition LMP with Adam Pinczes in control and more were also involved. All cars continued, but Browning received a pitlane penalty, while the others lost a lap repairing the damage.
Meanwhile, in GTE, the #51 SF Velas Esports Team Ferrari driven by Christian Michel took the lead at the start over pole position-starting Timotej Andonovski in the #888 R8G Esports Ferrari.
Romain Grosjean's eponymous squad took control back 16 minutes in, but the #77 Proton Coanda Porsche and the #95 Prodrive FYRA Esport Aston Martin were both in contention.
Things got wet in the second hour
During the second round of pitstops, the #2 Redline entry did not swap drivers. As a result, Diogo Pinto was able to take the lead, the reigning Porsche TAG Heuer Esports Supercup champion ahead of the #23.
It began to lightly rain after the one-and-a-half-hour mark, just before both the LMP and GTE pit cycles were about to begin. The track was declared wet by the race stewards with two hours and 23 minutes to go, wet tyres were now on the table.
However, a full course yellow would shake things up even further. The #18 R8G Esports LMP of Christopher Högfeldt turned himself off of the nose of a slower GTE.
Some teams opted to pit, including the #36 Alpine Esports LMP of Rory MacDuff, plus the majority of the GTE class.
Things would get even more jumbled as the Code 60 lifted before others could pit. The Porsche Coanda duo would stop immediately while early title protagonists of the #1 Redline and #4 Floyd Vanwall-Burst opted to stay out for a few more laps.
The #63 AMG Team Petronas Esports entry was the first to bite for wet rubber, with many more opting to at the end of the hour.
Wet tyres vs slick tyres in the third hour
As the rain continued there were still a few stragglers on slick tyres, including the pole-sitting #20 Porsche Coanda LMP.
The #63, driven by Graham Carroll, briefly led thanks to its early stop for grooved tyres. However, Redline snatched the lead on lap 78, with Luke Bennett immediately increasing the gap over the rest of the field.
Meanwhile, in the GTE class, Andonovski in the #888 had a comfortable lead over Paschalis Gkergkis who had taken control of the #77 Proton Coanda Porsche.
A second full course yellow was then enacted due to an incident involving the #86 GR Vector Esport LMP, slowly driving back to the pitlane with a technical issue.
This would reset the field on pitstops, as most teams opted to take advantage of the reduced speeds. The race restarted with just under 75 minutes to go with the #1 machine still out front, free pit stop in the pocket, and the #20 Coanda entry now in second after staying out.
Strategies realised in final hour
As the circuit dried, Martin Krönke in the #23 Porsche Coanda LMP looked to have snookered the field, opting for the slicks during the full course yellow, pole-vaulting into the lead once everyone has swapped tyres.
With 45 minutes to go, the chase was on for Jeffrey Rietveld in the #1 to try and catch up to Krönke. The gap was closed to about two seconds before the Porsche-backed entry pitted for the final time.
Rietveld stayed out as long as he could, finally pitting on the 123rd lap with just under 27 minutes remaining. The overcut provided a 14-second advantage which remained until the end of the race, the #53 also rising to second, with Porsche Coanda in third.
For the battle in GTE, the #888 wound up being overcut by the #77 once all pitstops had been completed. It was up to Formula Challenge Series front-runner Risto Kappet to hunt down Dayne Warren.
However, with just 10 minutes to go in the race, the Porsche was handed a penalty for not respecting the prior full course yellow, handing the lead back to the R8G Esports Ferrari.
Despite this, it wouldn’t be an easy win for Kappet, as the #95 Prodrive FYRA Esport Aston Martin with Lasse Sørensen in the seat was right on his heels until the chequered flag.
“It was an endurance,” said Kappet, driver of the winning #888 R8G Esports Ferrari 488 GTE alongside Andonovski and Formula 3 race-inner Smolyar.
“It was so crazy, there were so many smaller races inside this race, it was intense.”
“It was a very difficult race,” said Rietveld, driver of the overall winning #1Team Redline LMP with Bennett and Benecke.
“Switching from the dry, to the rain, and then back to the dry, that was very difficult circumstances, but I think we nailed the strategy and that gave us the win today.”
The #4 Floyd Vanwall-Burst LMP leads the points standings, after finishing fourth, by just two points over the race-winning Redline crew after two races, while the #99 Oracle Red Bull Racing Porsche GTE still leads GTE, 5.5 points over the #71 BMW Team Redline.
Next up for the series will be the 6 Hours of Spa, 5th November 2022.
4 Hours of Monza – LMP Class Top 5 Finishers
- Luke Bennett, Jeffrey Rietveld, Maximilian Benecke - #1 Team Redline - 140 laps
- Michael Romanidis, Nikodem Wisniewski, Jakub Brzezinski - #53 AMG Team Williams Esports +15.612
- Joshua Rogers, Mack Bakkum, Martin Krönke - #23 Porsche Coanda +18.709
- Tom Dillmann, Jernej Simončič, Jesper N. Pedersen - #4 Floyd Vanwall-Burst +42.588
- Ayhancan Güven, Tommy Østgaard, Mitchell deJong - #20 Porsche Coanda +42.781
4 Hours of Monza – GTE Class Top 5 Finishers
- Alexander Smolyar, Timotej Andonovski, Risto Kappet - Ferrari 488 GTE - #8 R8G ESPORTS - 128 laps
- Lasse Sørensen, Lasse Bak, Mikkel Gade - Aston Martin Vantage GTE - #95 Prodrive FYRA Esport +0.956
- Dayne Warren, Charlie Collins, Paschalis Gkergkis - Porsche 911 RSR GTE - #77 Proton Coanda Esports +18.445
- Lorenzo Arisi, Christian Malghera, Andrea Terzi - Ferrari 488 GTE - #26 SIM Maranello +31.700
- Chris Lulham, Kevin Siggy, Enzo Bonito - BMW M8 GTE - #71 BMW Team Redline +1 lap