Three new classes, three new circuits, one new car, and a newly branded partnership make NEO’s new era as the 24H SERIES ESPORTS championship as tough to predict as ever before. But when has that ever stopped anyone from trying?
Last season, our pre-season predictions had some hits and misses, so while our crystal ball has proven a bit hazy, we’ve consulted it to make nine predictions — some bolder than others — for NEO’s sixth season.
1. The entire GT3 field will be separated by less than a second in qualifying in at least 4 rounds.
Let’s start at the front of the grid. The GT3 class was crazy competitive in pre-qualifying, with just 0.346 seconds of average lap pace separating first-place Biela Racing Team EURONICS from tenth-place Huber Racing E-sports, the last team to secure an invitation to the grid.
While each of this season’s six circuits are longer than Donington, the pre-qualifying venue, there’s no reason to think the class will be much further apart based on qualifying pace. And from top to bottom, there are no weak links among teams in the class.
Because of that, we predict the entire 18-car field will qualify less than a second apart at least four times this season.
If it happens, it would be even closer than last season’s GTE field, which was covered by less than a second three times, at Sebring, Interlagos, and Spa.
2. The TCR class will have a margin of victory of less than a second in at least one race.
While we’re talking tenths of a second, let’s look to the TCR class, which was also closely matched in pre-qualifying. Eleventh-place Williams Esports TCR, the final team to get in, was less than half a second off the leaders’ pace at Donington.
In addition, the draft-friendly Audi RS 3 LMS TCRs seem to favor close racing where it can be tough to break away.
While multi-class traffic, tire wear, and pit strategy could all help open gaps in the field, we think the stars will align at least once this season to produce a photo finish for first place in the TCRs.
So which teams will it involve, and where will it happen? With so many strong teams on the grid, we’ll leave that up to them to decide.
3. MSI finally earns their title (in the 991 class).
One of last season’s closest finishes came in the final race at Le Mans, where the GTE race and championship battle between Altus Esports and MSI eSports came down to just a few seconds after 24 hours of racing.
In the end, Altus took the victory and the title, but it was still a season for MSI to be proud of. They’ve doubled down this offseason and returned to NEO with three teams well-equipped to compete in the new 24H SERIES ESPORTS format.
Their GT3 effort led by Julián Rodríguez and Álvaro Ramiro was second-quickest in pre-qualifying, while their TCR team of Víctor Lobato and David Pérez was a solid seventh in class.
We’re most impressed by their 991-class entry. Marc Pérez, who chased Altus to the finish in that heartbreaking Le Mans result, will be in their Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car this season.
Alejandro Sánchez returns to the car in which he placed fifteenth in the recent world championship-level Porsche Esports Supercup series.
And Salva Talens, one of last season’s surprising stars-on-the-rise in the GTE class, moves from Euphoria Drivex Racing to MSI to round out their super-talented 991 team.
While we haven’t yet seen that trio on track together in NEO competition, we still like them as our pre-season championship favorite.
4. Audis will sweep every victory in the GT3 class.
This one may not seem like such a stretch considering that 14 of the 18 GT3 teams will campaign the Audi R8 LMS. The four-ring contingent also includes many of the top teams, including MSI, both Williams Esports and Williams JIM Esports, and a pair of Biela Racing Team EURONICS entries.
However, dominance from one manufacturer like we saw in last season’s Porsche-swept P1 class is certainly no guarantee.
For starters, there are some good teams in other makes. Mivano Racing has consolidated its NEO efforts into a single Mercedes AMG led by two-time class champion Tommaso Carlà. Along with the newcomers from Huber Racing E-sports, the Privateers including veterans Vincenzo Amico and Filip Mitrevski will join Mivano in the AMG.
Team Heusinkveld will have the lone Ferrari on the grid, but with the likes of Jan Sentkowski and Marcel Tie in the lineup, they could also challenge for wins, especially at fast tracks like Monza that may favor the prancing horse(power).
And while the Audi looks strong at the moment, potential tire model and balance of performance updates are always looming in iRacing’s quarterly builds. Past BoP changes have been notoriously feast or famine for the R8, so one unfavorable adjustment could put the majority of the GT3 field chasing the few who dared to be different.
5. Four different teams will win races in the TCR class.
We won’t belabor the point about how competitive the TCR field appears this season. Among the 17 teams, it’s easy to imagine any of them fighting for wins or podiums.
Predicting at least four different winners doesn’t seem too bold, then. But predicting which four teams will win is much more challenging.
For starters, let’s go with CoRe SimRacing. While they placed only fifth in pre-qualifying, they’ve got too much talent in their lineup — including 8k+ iRating drivers Thomas Gibson and Carl Jansson — not to figure out the TCR and find victory lane like they did twice last season in their Ford GT.
It’s also difficult to doubt Vendaval Simracing. After a season away from NEO, they return looking as strong as ever, and any of their five drivers including Finnish phenoms Antti Ahola and Matti Kaidesoja are capable of challenging for NEO wins and championships.
When you’re talking touring cars, a few experienced iRacers may come to mind. These include Steliyan Chepilevski of Evolution Racing Team, Diogo Melro of Team MAD, and Jack Sedgwick of CraigSetupShop.
Among this trio and their teams, we’ll take CraigSetupShop for a win, but Evolution and Team MAD for at least one podium a piece this season.
Finally, we can’t ignore ASTRO Gaming Altus Esports, who we’ve seen have the talent and endurance needed to win in NEO. While this season’s races will mean some late nights or early mornings for their down-under duo of Beau Albert and Andrew Kahl, we suspect they’ll still have enough physical endurance to fight for endurance race wins.
6. Altus Esports will repeat as a champion… but in which class?
Speaking of Altus, they’ve split their effort across two teams this season — one in the TCR class, and another in the GT3 class with returning GTE champions Simon Feigl, Yannick Lapchin, and Simone Maria Marcenò.
While they started last season as rookies, they finished as proven winners and the hottest team in the series. Despite the new classes, it’s hard to bet against them this time around.
We’ve already seen what they can do in GT cars. Along with their NEO championship, Altus swept the GTE and GT3 class wins in this year’s iRacing 24 Hours of Daytona, and they finished second in the GT3 class in the 12 Hours of Sebring.
So far, they’re also looking strong in the TCR. In the official IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge series, Alexander Lauritzen has 14 starts and 8 wins — tied for the third-most of any driver.
Both of their entries should be championship contenders in the new 24H SERIES ESPORTS season, but we’ll give the edge to their GT3 squad led by Marcenò, whose drive to last season’s GTE title was one for the ages.
7. TRITON will finally win a race.
Last year, DV1 TRITON Racing started as one of the steadiest teams in the GTE class, finishing second in the season-opening races at Sebring and COTA.
While their performance dropped off after that, in part because their team members were busy competing in the Porsche SimRacing Summit, their team has gotten even stronger in the off-season and is now set to compete in two classes.
Their GT3 entry returns Marcin Skrzypczak and Wiktor Smolarczyk from last season’s GTE team, while Dominik Blajer and Jan Wiechowski moved over from S2V Racing this summer. Blajer already helped the team to a third-place GTE class finish in the official 24 Hours of Le Mans back in June.
In their 991 entry, Porsche Esports Supercup competitors Dawid Nowakowski and Kamil Franczak join Piotr Jagodziński and Paweł Szymanek in what may be TRITON’s best shot at a win.
Either team should be capable of contending, though, so we like TRITON’s chances of finally finding victory lane.
8. A new-to-NEO team will finish in the top five in each class’s final standings.
We’ve dedicated most of this article to returning teams because they’re something of a known quantity, but we don’t want to ignore the NEO newcomers who hope to shake up their classes the same way Altus and MSI did one season ago.
There is plenty of skill behind the wheel for first-time teams on the grid, so we expect to see them fighting for victories from the start of the season at Spa.
In the TCR class, an easy favorite among new entries is the pre-qualifying leaders from Prologue React E-sport Blue, but we also can’t count out RaceKraft Esports and either entry from Satellite Racing TCR. Like last season’s GTE class, the TCR ranks could hold some unexpected surprises, especially if any of the talented veteran teams falter.
The GT3 entry from SRC Squadra Corse had an impressive pre-qualifying outing — a fourth-place finish on the strength of runs by Marco Gabriele Nesi and Emanuele Petri. In their Audi R8, they’ll join the likes of Marco D’Acunto, with hundreds of GT3 starts and more than three dozen victories under his belt. If any new team is prepared enough for this year’s NEO season, it should be SRC.
And among the 991 ranks, it’s tough to consider Burst Esport a newcomer given Anders Dahl’s five seasons and counting of NEO experience. So instead, we’ll go with a team whose drivers have a combined zero NEO starts. Alpinestars Geodesic Racing pairs Miguel Vigo and Brendan Cronin, whose fifth-place run in pre-qualifying looked like only the beginning of what they’re capable of.
9. Our Wildcards Worth Watching will be top-five contenders.
They may not have the big names or high iRatings to be considered championship favorites, but in each class, we’ve picked a team with the experience needed to potentially shake up the race results and the standings. These are our Wildcards Worth Watching, or WWWs.
The last time GT3 cars raced in NEO was the season-three finale at Le Mans, and finishing second in that class was the impressive two-man team of Dennis Gerressen and Michael Storm.
They’re still teammates with Virtual Motorsport, and after a season in which they overachieved in the often-underpowered Audi R18 P1 car, they’re one of many in the Audi R8 LMS GT3 car this season.
On equal footing with their competitors and in a class they’re familiar with, look for the endurance experience from Virtual Motorsport to lead them through another consistent and competitive season.
It’s hard to not consider Team Chimera among the favorites in the TCR class, but the big names in that car and the team’s recent run of bad luck over the past two seasons has left them looking to reestablish themselves among NEO’s top tier.
The new 24H SERIES partnership and class structure is just what Team Chimera needed to rejuvenate itself, according to Jamie Wilson.
“We’ve been waiting eagerly for a touring car for over a decade,” he said.
Ranked eighth in pre-qualifying just behind the likes of Vendaval and MSI, Team Chimera will look to challenge those same teams all season.
Another team that has been with NEO since its beginnings is IRDK Endurance, and it may have seemed the new partnership arrived at exactly the wrong time for them. After finally getting up to speed in the HPD ARX-01c last season, they were forced to switch cars and classes.
However, their new vehicle of choice, the Porsche 911 GT3 Cup, is awfully similar to the Ruf C-Spec the team campaigned back in season one in the GTC class.
With an almost untouched lineup including Marcello Maio, Egil Sandfeld, Jakob Søndergaard, and Kim Vedel-Østerby, they could rediscover some of the Dane Train magic that took them to a runner-up finish at Interlagos almost five years ago.
This season’s 24H SERIES ESPORTS action kicks off in just over one week with the 6H Spa-Francorchamps. From the green flag in Belgium to the season-ending checkered flag in Barcelona, we’ll find out whether our predictions were on point or off in the gravel trap, where we hopefully won’t find too many teams venturing this season.