The NEO Endurance Series, one of the most highly contested, well organised and clean endurance racing series kicked off for a third season at Sebring for 6 hours of competition. In qualifying, Pure Racing Team LMP White were sat on pole, with two-time champions Coanda Simsport alongside them, only 0.016 seconds behind. Core SimRacing on their NES debut grasped third, and a dead heat behind them between Thrustmaster Mivano and Geko Vortex. On the initial start, it was very clean, the Top 5 stayed put as they went into Turn 2. At Turn 10, the #2 Radicals Online HPD was spun, but Paul Illbrink at the wheel didn’t lose many positions. With 15 minutes gone, the real race started, as the lappery begun.
With half an hour gone, the #24 Team Chimera HPD with Jack Keithley at the wheel had made great progress. He was challenging for a podium position, but he was up against the #22 Core SimRacing car of Santeri Kallunki. As would be a trait throughout the race, Coanda could go longest on their fuel and tyres. And while this didn’t prove a difference throughout this race, it could certainly help them at the Le Mans 24 Hours. As the first hours elapsed the Top 2 was unchanged from the start, but Team Chimera had made their way from 8th to 3rd. Core SimRacing were 4th, and PRT LMP Black were 5th. As the second pitstops approached, Jack Keithley in the Team Chimera HPD was closing in on the Coanda car, with the one and only Martin Krönke at the wheel. They traded laptimes for a few laps, made a little bit of contact, then the Chimera car dove into the pits, but Coanda continued on. Meanwhile up front, Maximilian Benecke in the PRT LMP White was leading and taking his car through the first 3 stints of their race. In the Pitstop sequence, Coanda had been jumped by Team Chimera, and then caught by Core SimRacing with Frederik Rasmussen at the wheel. Martti Pietilä had been swapped into the #1 car and then, while battling the #22, were spun around.
With 3:45.00 to go, the top 5 looked like this. PRT LMP White, Team Chimera, Core SimRacing, Coanda, and Friction Racing had finally made their way into the frey. Perhaps the biggest incident of the day came from the #21 and #13 on the home straight. The #21 was given a penalty for Avoidable Contact, and that ended Speed Asylum’s race. The Radicals HPD machine had worked its way into a great position, however a mistake in T1 put an end to their Podium hopes. As the race hit the halfway stage, the PRT LMP white car, to its competitors dismay, was still leading. Chasing closely behind however were Chimera, Coanda, PRT LMP Black and Core SimRacing. In the battle for third, Coanda were fending off PRT LMP Black and Core SimRacing. As the Pitstops took place, PRT LMP Black were battling Core SimRacing for 5th place, but that later turned into the battle for 3rd. One of the few contacts between different classes took place between the #17 HPD and the #37 Radicals Online GT1 at Le Mans Corner, however both continued with minimal time loss.
With 90 minutes to go, it was not surprising to see a Pure Racing Team 1th, with Coanda 2nd closely followed by Chimera in 3rd. The battle for 4th was on though between Patrick Wolf and Rasmussen. While that battle SimRacing, Coanda stopped and it became the battle for 3rd. Eventually, the #22 Core SimRacing HPD got past the #12 of Patrick Wolf. An hour and a pitstop later, the Top 5 remained put, but it was now time for some of those drivers to use every single inch of road, and to push if they were to gain another position and gain points on their rivals. But then, drama. With 18 minutes to go, Mert Uzel hit a spinning Corvette GT1, giving them front-end damage, and they were majorly disadvantaged on straight-line speed. With only a 10 second gap, the pass was inevitable. And sure enough, with less than 8 minutes to go, Jack Keithley took the lead. And now it was time to focus on the battle for 3rd, PRT LMP Black were ahead of Core SimRacing. Then with 4 minutes to go, this battle caught the #11 HPD. First, Pure Racing Team Black snatched a 2nd place, then Core SimRacing took away 3rd place. Absolute heartbreak for Maximilian Benecke and Mert Uzel, as they’d led for 340 minutes, and didn’t even come away with the podium. On the last lap, Wolf was on a charge, and caught up to within 1 second of the #24. However the race wasn’t quite long enough for them, and Team Chimera took away the first win of the season in Sebring.
Close endurance racing in GT
GT SimRC.de locked out the front row, with Torrent Motorsports lining up third. Already established Core Motorsports were 4th, and the reigning champions, Thrustmaster Mivano Racing, were 5th. Core Motorsports made their way onto the podium, and Coanda got up into the Top 5 in the highest running Corvette. Further back there was contact between the Radicals Online Aston Martin GT1 and the #69 PRT entry of Andreas Dirnberger. As the lappery begun, it was SimRC.de Crimson who were at the front of a three car train for 2nd place. Also creating trains was Klaus Kivekäs in the Coanda Corvette, which was impossible to pass. Thrustmaster Mivano Racing had not experienced the heights of last season, as they were battling for 7th at the half hour part of the race. A little later on, the #32 Aston was put into the wall by an Audi, showing that these GT Cars weren’t quite as efficient as the Prototypes through traffic. Once Core Motorsports dispatched of the SimRC.de Crimson car, it had its sights set on 1st place. And with Nils Koch at the wheel, it caught up as they approached piststops.
But Jurgen Frank was on a charge and caught up soon enough. Nils defended admirably, and then Jurgen pitted, however he lost a position to Torrent Motorsports. A quick stop from Core Motorsports got them to 3 seconds behind SimRC.de Iris on the hour mark. Even Coanda got to the back of Dustin Hickman in the #33 Aston Martin GT1 car. Throughout the stint, Klaus could never get close enough in the Coanda GT1 Corvette. When the pitstops approached once more, It was SimRC.de Iris who had stretched their lead to 5 seconds over Core Motorsports who were coming under increasing pressure from Torrent Motorsports. The #66 Aston Martin were pushing the fuel numbers, staying out longer than anyone else. Coanda had a longer spot and dropped to 6th, however they caught back up to Mivano and challenged their Aston for a Top 5. Kevin Siggy in the Torrent Motorsports car had jumped Core Motorsports and were now 2nd.
At the Hairpin, SimRC.de Crimson had contact with the Thrustmaster Mivano Racing Prototype entry, but they got away with minimal damage and time loss. After their incident, SimRC.de Crimson had caught up with Jordan Weekes in the Torrent Motorsports car, and passed it three-wide on the Home Straight. Torrent then had two incidents and a pitstop, one of which was with the #95 GTS Machine. This brought them all the way down to 6th to battle with the #37 car. Reigning champions Thrustmaster Mivano had continued their slow crawl up the field, as they were now 3rd with 3 hours gone, and 3 hours to go. Unfortunately, the SimRC.de 1-2 was destroyed by the Crimson’s blown engine, as they ran into Sunset Bend the iconic V12 blew up and ended all chances of a good finish. Radicals Online GT1 were running well, and they caught up with Core Motorsports to battle over 3rd place. More engine trouble for the Thrustmaster Mivano Racing, as the Racing Lions car made contact with them, that machine also blew. Conditions were getting tricky, and there were lots of spins for all the cars on track. After Radicals Online had a spin at Le Mans, Coanda caught up and battled them for 4th place. Torrent Motorsports had recovered to third, and Core Motorsports had inherited 2nd after trouble for the other cars.
The #69 PRT GT car didn’t even start in the Top 10, however they moved their way into 6th position, and certainly drove well to move up so many places in the race. For the last hour, things quickened down in the GT Class. Towards the end, Radicals Online #37 got past the Coanda Corvette for 4th place. The #34 SimRC.de Iris car came across the line to win the GT Class in a dominant performance. A great NEO Endurance Series debut for Core Motorsports with Nils Koch and Kay Kachube in the #55 Aston Martin. Torrent Motorsports performed excellently to recover to 3rd place, and Coanda Simsport finished 5th, the highest a Corvette got in the race.
All Audi at Sebring
In GTS it was Audi domination with the Top 10 all Audis. On pole was the Core SimRacing car, followed by Shinya Michimi Racing, Thrustmaster Mivano GTS, PRT GTS and Odox Motorsport. It was single-file within the Top 4, and the Top 5 remained the same. The whole field were on the same straight at the start of Lap 2, and as traffic approached, the Audis started to pull away. Finally Shinya Michimi Racing got past Core SimRacing, but they didn’t get away quickly. However when the Prototypes passed the GTS cars the field got split up, the Shinya Michimi Racing car got away and Core SimRacing were no longer creating a train. Problems for the #90 at Cunningham Corner sent them in the wall in the first incident of the day. Thrustmaster Mivano Racing made their way into 2nd, and Pure Racing Team were looking to make the pass too. After holding up some fellow Audis, Janne Kiuru lost the car and backed it into the wall at Sunset Bend. This demoted them to 13th. Then on queue, the pitstops arrived.
A slow Pitstop for Shinya Michimi Racing demoted them to 2nd, and a great pitstop from Pure Racing Team GTS car put them third. Thrustmaster Mivano were in 1st, MSP Drivers Home 1 were 4th, and Odox Motorsport Samsung in 5th. Pure Racing Team were hounding Shinya Michimi Racing for 2nd, but they dropped back slightly through traffic. Things stayed very quiet for the next hour, and before you knew it, the pitstops were back. Thrustmaster Mivano Racing were off strategy and had to run the fuel tank dry every stint to make it to the end on fuel. Once again Pure Racing Team jumped Shinya Michimi Racing in the pits, as Mivano went back to the lead on their unique strategy. The IRDK Endurance Mercedes caused an incident at the hairpin, taking out a GT car and fellow GTS Mercedes in what was an otherwise very clean race. At the halfway point, things calmed down and there was a rhythm to proceedings over the next couple of hours. A Top 5 runner, Team GT GTS, binned their Audi in the tyre wall, leaving those spots up for grabs.
At this point, it became apparent that Mivano would have to make an extra stop, so they were now out for the fight for the major positions. MSP Drivers Home 1 took the opportunity to grasp 3rd place, leaving Mivano 5th. More problems for Team GT GTS as they rolled on the exit of Sunset Bend, leaving them out of contention. After the final pitstops, Thrustmaster Mivano were on a final push, and they caught MSP Drivers Home 1 for 4th place, which would be sufficient to keep them in the championship fight at this early stage. Then, more drama. Shinya Michimi Racing crashed all on their own, promoting Thrustmaster Mivano to third, and Odox Motorsport to second. And with that Pure Racing Team GTS took the win home by a whole lap over Odox Motorsport and Thrustmaster Mivano in third. MSP Driver Home 1 took 4th and the highest Mercedes, Team DFTBA, came 5th. In the end, while Audi had much more pace than Mercedes, the Audis weren’t under control for all of the race, and the Mercedes camp had much better race-pace.
Full results and championship standings are available on the website. The race is also available on demand in the NEO race archive.
The second round of the NEO Endurance Series takes place at Circuit of the Americas on November 13th at 14:00 GMT. This race will be broadcasted by RacespotTV on iRacing Live.
Credits photos: Jamie Wilson. For all pictures, go to Team Chimera’s website.