Championship Teams Will be Decided in Season Finale at DIS
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The third round of the 2023 IMSA Esports Global Championship took on the bumps of virtual Sebring International Raceway on Sunday, Dec. 3. Despite some early race mayhem, the field put on another spectacular two-hour and 40-minute show around the 3.74-mile, 17-turn road course. The Williams Esports combination of Josh Lad and Matt Farrow in the No. 11 BMW dominated the day in the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class. In the Grand Touring Daytona (GTD) field, the No. 101 Mercedes-AMG Apex Racing team entry of Alejandro Sanchez and Luke McKeown became the first multi-time winners on the season after another convincing victory, vaulting the pair back into the championship lead.
Things didn’t start off too smoothly in either class. Lad led the field to the green in GTP, but Race Control took issue with his start, pinging the No. 11 with a 10-second penalty issued postrace.
With the jumble, the middle of the field collided, affecting the championship leaders – the No. 71 BMW M Team Redline entry of Diogo Pinto and Chris Lulham. With only four races in the championship, one bad race could take a team out of the running. The damages cost the No. 71 team seven laps, resulting in a 16th-place class finish. The No. 3 CrowdStrike Racing Acura and the No. 89 BMW M Team BS+COMPETITION entries were forced to retire before completing a lap due to the same incident.
A few moments later, the GTD field took the green with the No. 153 Mercedes-AMG Team Williams Esports entry of Vasilios Beletsiotis and Daniel Pasztor leading the way. Their pack would make it into Turn 1 before everything unraveled, as the No. 114 Simufy eSports Porsche went for a slide after contact from the outside pole position. The next corner, multiple cars tangled in another incident, including the No. 120 Dörr Esports Porsche and the No. 110 MAHLE Racing Team BMW.
Once the chaos cleared, both Williams Esports class leaders had taken control. In GTP, the No. 11 began extending the lead, growing to two seconds before the lapped traffic came into play. As for GTD, the No. 153 found the No. 101 on their bumper from the third starting spot, waiting for the right opportunity to pounce. As the GTP field lapped the GTD leaders on Lap 7, the No. 101 was able to take advantage and move into the lead, where they would stay for the remainder of the event.
Last in the GTP standings through two rounds, the No. 69 Drago Racing Acura – this week driven by Przemyslaw Marek Lemanek and Jakub Maciejewski – joined the battle for the victory throughout the evening. From 15th on the grid, Lemanek, the Grand Prix Turn Racing iRacing Series champion, weaved through the traffic to get up into the top five before the first round of pit stops. Staying in the car, Lemanek’s pit road delta was about seven seconds shorter than Lad in the No. 11, as well as the rest of the field. This moved the No. 69 up into second following the cycle, and with less fuel in the tank, Lemanek moved into the lead easily and began to pull away from the Williams team through the second stint.
On the midway pit cycle, due to having less fuel, the No. 69 pitted earlier than anyone else and spent more time on pit lane as a result while the team swapped from Lemanek to Maciejewski. Lad was able to go five laps longer before he pitted and handed the keys to Farrow. When the cycle completed, the No. 69 was in third, fighting with the No. 43 Altus Esports Cadillac of Edoardo Leo and Marcos Nunez through the traffic. It didn’t matter who was driving the No. 69—impressive moves were a constant, as Maciejewski took Nunez three-wide with a GTD down the frontstretch to clear back into second place.
Disaster struck another GTP title contender around the same time, as the No. 90 URANO eSports Datagroup BMW of Dominik Hofmann and Daniel Alves Lourenco were forced to retire after contact with the No. 99 Apex Racing Team BMW of Peter Berryman and Maxime Brient in the final corner. Winners in the first round of the series at Road Atlanta, the No. 90 team was in position to capitalize greatly from the No. 71 team’s early misfortunes. After retiring on lap 53, the No. 90 ended up finishing behind the No. 71 in 17th.
With the top two in the points out of contention, the championship battle for GTP was wide open. At this point, the No. 11 had gapped the lead to over 10 seconds, nullifying the post-race penalty. The No. 69 just wasn’t able to hold pace during the run, and as the field entered the final round of stops, the gap between first and second was nearly 15 seconds. Through the final stops, the No. 11 team managed to gap more than 20 seconds over the rest of the field. The No. 69 wound up with a drive-through penalty with only minutes to go, resulting in an eighth-place finish. The battle for second fell to the No. 91 VRS Coanda Porsche team of Charlie Collins and Julien Soenen, outdueling the No. 99 for a step higher on the podium.
Back in GTD, the No. 101 cruised home to their second win of the season, catapulting the team back on top of the GTD standings over the No. 170 Team Redline Ferrari duo of Gianni Vecchio and Ole Steinbraten, who worked from sixth on the grid to finish second. Those two teams have the best chance at walking away as the GTD champions in two weeks after the finale at Daytona International Speedway, with the pair separated by only 23 points.
The same cannot be said for the GTP championship, somehow still led by the No. 71 BMW M Team Redline group, but only by 10 points over the winning No. 11 Williams Esports BMW. A total of seven teams are within 65 points entering the finale, including the Nos. 91, 43, 99, 90 and the No. 4 CrowdStrike Racing Acura team of Sam and Scott Michaels, that duo finishing ninth at Sebring.