With the second round of the IMSA SportsCar Championship – the 12 Hours of Sebring – delayed until November, the series held a virtual replacement on iRacing with 50 drivers ranging from IMSA champions to IndyCar race winners taking to the Florida asphalt in a race swept by BMW, as Bruno Spengler and Nicky Catsburg dominated the 90-minute encounter.
From the start, the BMW M8 GTLMs dominated at the sharp-end as Robby Foley – who had started on pole – dropped down the field after an early mistake allowed Catsburg and Spengler to move to the head of the field.
The pair didn’t look back as they powered off into the distance with the M8s seemingly more stable around the perfectly recreated Sebring bumps which caught out a number of other drivers in the all-GTE race, including Porsche racer Daniel Morad who span from seventh at turn three with less than 20 of the race’s 90 minutes on the clock.
Despite Morad’s spin, it appeared Porsche was going to establish a grip on the podium places with a third of the race gone as Sage Karam held off the advances of BMW driver – and Daytona class winner – Jesse Krohn. However, the IndyCar regular ran slightly too deep going onto the Ullman Straight and the Finn’s extra few miles per hour down the straight into the final corner allowed him to slingshot onto the podium.
Just a few minutes later back at the front and it was all change as Catsburg outbraked himself through turn seven, giving Spengler just enough of a gap to muscle his way into the lead on the run down to Cunningham Corner.
Despite the pair pitting for fuel at the same time, the lead didn’t change again as Spengler started to slowly pull away in the final 20 minutes – eventual winning by 3.172sec.
Spengler told IMSA Radio after the race: “First of all, I have to say it is great to organise such an event. In the difficult times we are having just now it is great for IMSA to organise such an event. I felt goosebumps when I crossed the line, it was a great race and we had great support. It was a team performance and throughout the race it was a great car. I’m sweating like crazy but I really enjoyed it!”
For Catsburg, who maintained an eight-second advantage over Krohn, the support from the BMW engineers – who were monitoring fuel and tyre wear on the pair’s cars – proved a decisive advantage over their rivals.
He added: “I made a mistake and Bruno was the stronger man today unfortunately. It was great fun today and I never worry about losing to him. We have great support from BMW, we did a lot of work on the set-up and we have guys from the engineering team looking at the fuel and looking at the numbers. I think we have good equipment, Bruno’s maybe gives him two-tenths extra! Just joking!”
Fourth went the way of Karam, as Mirko Bortolotti’s quiet charge in the similar Porsche 911 RSR proved too little, too late as he took the flag fifth with a deficit of just under four seconds to the American.
Kenton Koch ensured there were more Porsches in the top ten as he came up trumps in his bright pink machine (pictured above) in a remarkable battle with Lamborghini Super Trofeo race winner Shinya Michimi. The latter, who has a wealth of experience on iRacing, was closing in on the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge racer but a mistake on the final lap confirmed him in seventh.
Daniel Morad took eighth after a number of incidents in his 911, with Tristan Vautier taking ninth and Gabby Chaves rounded out the top ten despite a spin and crash at Cunningham Corner in the final three minutes which almost gave former ChampCar racer Dan Clarke an unlikely tenth having started his Porsche in 26th.
Of note elsewhere in the field, 2018 IMSA Champion Felipe Nasr was a lap down in 16th, one place ahead of Filipe Albuquerque – the latter being the only driver in the top 20 to pit twice.
Simraceway Driving School’s Nico Rondet was the fastest of the Ferrari 488s in 19th, with the second car of Jeff Segal completing the top 20. There should have been three Ferraris taking the green flag, but João Barbosa had a problem with his sim rig before the start and was forced to withdraw.