Last of Four-Race Series Completed at Daytona International Speedway
The 2023 IMSA Esports Global Championship season concluded on Saturday with night-to-day action from Daytona International Speedway. Two class champions were crowned following a final two-hour and 40-minute battle in the Michelin 240.
The faster Grand Touring Protoype (GTP) class crown awarded to the No. 91 VRS Coanda Porsche duo of Charlie Collins and Julien Soenen, also piloted by both Laurin Heinrich and Michael Romanidis throughout the season, after finishing in second at Daytona. In GT Daytona (GTD), the No. 170 Team Redline Ferrari, with Ole Steinbraten and Gianni Vecchio behind the wheel, won the final race and scored the championship in doing so. The GTP race itself was won by the No. 95 XSET Cadillac duo of Casey Kirwan and Owen Caryl.
Neither champion came into the finale leading their respective standings. GTP had about a seven-way battle entering, with two BMW entries, the No. 71 BMW M Team Redline and No. 11 Williams Esports machines, in the top two positions. VRS Coanda entered in third with the No. 43 Altus Esports Cadillac right behind in fourth. In GTD, it was down to two, with the No. 101 Mercedes-AMG Team Apex Racing Team leading on entry by 23 points over the No. 170 Team Redline duo.
The No. 11 Williams Esports BMW GTP took the overall pole while the No. 71 was mired in 10th, the championship lead already swinging in favor of Josh Lad and Matt Farrow at Williams. It swung even further in their favor when the No. 71, with Diogo Pinto behind the wheel, was crashed out of contention on the second lap following contact with the No 69 Drago Racing Acura. The No. 11, with Lad behind the wheel, was feeling the immediate heat in lapping the GTD traffic as Kirwan, in the XSET Cadillac, was sniffing for an opening.
On Lap 15, disaster struck for the leading Williams entry as the No. 196 BS+Turner BMW GTD went around after contact with the No. 199 Apex Racing Team BMW GTD in the infield, resulting in heavy damages for the No. 11 GTP as Lad had nowhere to go. Kirwan in the No. 95 XSET Cadillac breezed through on the right side to take the lead, with the No. 43 Altus Esports Cadillac, with Edoardo Leo in the seat also passing through unscathed. This set up a three-way battle for the top spot in the race among the Nos. 95 and 43 and the No. 91 VRS Coanda Porsche, who had just taken third from their No. 92 teammates.
Meanwhile in the GTD ranks, the No. 120 Dörr Esports Porsche of Damon Woods and Jesse Jones were looking to play spoiler in their own class, taking the pole position while the championship teams struggled in qualifying. The No. 170 team ranked ninth while the No. 101 was mired back in the 21st position in class. That shrunk the No 101’s lead down to 11 points as the race went green. The duo of Luke McKeown and Alejandro Sánchez in that No 101 would have a long way to go to even catch the No. 170.
As pit stops began, the GTP race consisting of four quarters of racing while the GTD would have three periods, the racing would settle out with a clearer picture of who was in it to win it in both classes. There were six GTDs under a blanket by the time the final stops came around. The No. 120 led the way. The Nos. 170, 101 and 199 were also still in the mix. Both the No. 155 Mercedes-AMG Williams Esports team and the No. 178 Maniti Racing Lamborghini were also right there, also looking to play their own bit of spoiler.
In GTP, the lead would change hands a few times through the cycles. Before the first stop, the No. 43 managed to take control, but an elongated pit stop gave it back to the No. 95 for the second run. To start the third run, the No. 91 managed to leap ahead and pull out to a gap as the No. 95 swapped over from Kirwan to Caryl, the XSET strategy being an even split of driving duties, Kirwan in first with Caryl in to close. The No. 91 VRS Coanda opted to swap drivers every pit cycle, with Collins taking the start and the third run while Soenen ran the second and final stints.
The No. 43 was also on the same type of strategy as XSET, with Leo passing the second half over to Oscar Mangan. Disaster struck for the No. 43 on the final round of stops, however, as Mangan was caught speeding on pit entry, essentially eliminating the team from championship contention. Up front, it was down to the No. 91 and the No. 95 for the overall win, but for the title, it was comfortably in the No. 91’s hands now with the No. 43 out of the equation.
A pit issue would also decide the title among the GTD class. Just before the final pit stops of the day, the No. 170 managed to take the class lead from the No. 120. The No. 101 followed through, but not without making slight contact and a nifty save. The No. 170 was the first to strike for pits as the No. 101 pitted a lap later, and that’s when it all came undone.
As McKeown exited the car and Sánchez went in, fueling was interrupted. Sánchez backed up and re-pitted to get fuel in, but the damage was already done, and their chances at a repeat title were dashed. The No. 170 entered the final stint as the leader with the No. 120 and the No. 178 still in the lead group, but Steinbraten would not be denied both the victory and the championship.
Back in GTP, Soenen put the No. 91 back into the lead following the final pit cycle, but on the 84th lap, with just under 40 minutes to go, Caryl stuck the No. 95 Cadillac in deep to take the lead. The No. 91 seemingly backed off and accepted their fate to finish second and score the title as the No. 95 XSET Cadillac cruised in for their first IMSA Esports victory.