Barcelona proved a happy hunting ground for Ingolstadt’s famous four rings, with five of the top 10 GT3 finishers having entered an Audi R8 LMS for the 12H BARCELONA E-SPORTS.
Among the lead contenders from the get-go was Williams Esports Benq (#34, Agustin Canapino / Sami-Matti Trogen / Daniel Lafuente), the official online entity of the nine-time Formula 1 Constructors’ Champion and an iRacing team of repute as its GT3 wins at COTA, Imola and Barcelona en-route to last year’s 24H SERIES ESPORTS championship will attest. Couple that with the grunt of Audi’s virtual 5.2-litre V10 around the low downforce Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, and few were surprised to see the British team take the top spot in qualifying, albeit by a ludicrously slim 0.048s over Modena Motorsport’s Ferrari 488 GT3 (#16, John Shen / Joshua W Anderson / Benny Simonsen / Dekota Fripp) and barely two-tenths ahead of the sister entry, Williams Esports Chillblast (#33, Arthur Lehouck / Josh Thompson).
Much like GazX Racing at Spa-Francorchamps, however, and after a similarly commanding run, all hope of a dual podium for Williams Esports was dashed when damage to the sister R8 – which had run 2nd early on – dropped the #33 Audi out of podium contention and, ultimately, into retirement shortly after half distance. A flawless run to the flag though meant Williams Esports was victorious nonetheless in Barcelona for the second year in a row.
But for a puncture for the Modena Motorsports Ferrari 488 GT3, that one-lap deficit to eventual winner Williams Esports Benq could have been so much closer. Despite dropping to 3rd in the early stages, the Modena-entered Ferrari – a novel entry for the ‘991’ class regulars in the 24H SERIES – more than had the legs on the Audi R8s at Barcelona. Indeed, though Williams Esports had opened a one-lap gap heading into the night, Modena Motorsport was slowly inching its way back on to the Audi’s rear wing.
Whether the Hong Kong outfit could realistically have usurped Williams from the top spot though will never be known, as a puncture in sight of the flag scuppered any hope of a fighting victory for the Ferrari in Barcelona.
Still, given that the former 24H SERIES Europe /Continents class winner had yet to make its ‘Virtual’ debut with CREVENTIC ahead of the weekend, 2nd overall for team patriarch John Shen and his crew ahead of 12H SPA E-SPORTS runner-up, Atlantis Racing Team GT3 (#28, Arkadiusz Neumann / Jakub Wyderka / Marcin Imielski / Maciej Mlynek), could hardly be considered a disappointing return.
Speaking of Atlantis, the team’s sister entry – Atlantis Racing Team (#27, Pawel Kowalik / Tomasz Oliwiak / Miroslaw Nastalczyk / Lukasz Mikoda) – finished a solid 6th in Barcelona, just ahead of Team ABBA Racing (#8, Sam Neary / Jan Sentkowski / Adam Christodoulou). At an event dominated by the Audis and Ferrari’s, ABBA’s Mercedes-AMG GT3 was the sole outlier in 7th.
2020 12H BARCELONA E-SPORTS – GT3 Top 3
1. Williams Esports Benq (#34, Audi R8 LMS) – 370 laps
2. Modena Motorsports (#16, Ferrari 488 GT3) - + 1 lap
3. Atlantis Racing Team GT3 (#28, Ferrari 488 GT3) - + 3 laps
Though it couldn’t quite match its astonishing three class wins at the opening race at Spa-Francorchamps, DUWO Racing nevertheless enjoyed a fruitful online weekend at Barcelona, collecting its second GT4 class win on the bounce with its Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 CS MR (#476, Dylan Pereira / Tom Vallenthini / Marcel Fassbender / Mathias Schoger) and securing the runners-up spot in both ‘TCR’ and ‘991’ with its Audi RS3 LMS (#176, Felix Luding / Jürgen Frank / Charlie Collins) and Porsche 911-II Cup (#976, René Osterkamp / Patrick R Kessler / Steffen Herrmann) respectively.
With its nearest championship rivals – Ferry Motorsport E-Sports and Raceunion 12H respectively – unable to reach the podium in Barcelona, the team from Luxembourg continues to lead the standings in ‘991’, ‘GT4’ and ‘TCR’. Given its strong and consistent pace across the opening two rounds, DUWO by SimRC must surely be the team to beat at the season finale at Sebring, though one wonders if SIMMSA Esports GT4 (#466, Riley Thompson / Teemu Toikka / Tim Greven) – which took its maiden 24H SERIES Virtual podium in Barcelona – and the Overall GT Champion in the 24H SERIES Continents, Leipert eSports Black (#410, Lukas Käuper / Marc Röttgen / Sandro Petrozziello) can topple the champion elect in the USA.
2020 12H BARCELONA E-SPORTS – GT4 Top 3
1. DUWO by SimRC (#476, Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 CS MR) – 342 laps
2. SIMMSA Esports GT4 (#466, Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 CS MR) - + 21.371s
3. Leipert eSports Black (#410, BMW M4 GT4) - + 4 laps
MSI eSPorts clearly enjoys virtual 12-hour races around the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
At last year’s 12H BARCELONA, the final round of CREVENTIC’s inaugural 24H SERIES ESPORTS season in partnership with Neo Endurance, MSI finally secured its maiden series podium in the GT3 class. This past weekend, the Spanish team put knowledge of its home circuit to seriously use by securing class wins in both ‘991’ (#914, Salva Talens / Alex Ardisana / Alvaro Ramiro) and ‘TCR’ (#111, David Pérez / Victor Lobato / Oriol Bohé) categories. No mean feat, given that MSI had to best DUWO by SimRC on both occasions to do so.
With momentum now clearly on its side, one wonders whether MSI eSPorts can make it two-for-two at the 12H SEBRING E-SPORTS in November.
Don’t be too quick to count out T3 eSports Alpha though (#171, Oliver Ackermann / Mike Erang / Jens Ledwig / Sebastian Gesche). The German team, which also finished 4th overall in ‘GT3’ after an impressive run with the sister Audi R8 LMS (#71, Bastian Dobitz / Patrick Dietzen / Jens Homann), similarly finished 3rd in ‘TCR’ at the opening round of the 24H SERIES Virtual in Spa-Francorchamps, and is thus well in contention for a shock title win.
2020 12H BARCELONA E-SPORTS – TCR Top 3
1. MSI eSports TCR (#111, Audi RS3 LMS) – 336 laps
2. DUWO by SimRC (#176, Audi RS3 LMS) - + 1 lap
3. T3 eSports Alpha (#171, Audi RS3 LMS) - + 4 laps
A ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ cameo appearance on this list by our reigning ‘991’ champions in both the 24H SERIES Europe and 24H SERIES Continents. Porsche Lorient Virtual Racing (#911, Jeremy Mazurais / Julien Fischer / John Boureau / Mathieu Pontais) endured another tough weekend at Barcelona, ultimately finishing 23 laps adrift of 3rd placed Mühlner Motorsport Simracing Blue (#988, Kevin Hilgenhövel / Alexander Dejaco), and thus emulating its 4th place finish at this year’s 12H MONZA E-SPORTS.
Still, 3rd place for the team last time out at Spa-Francporchamps means the French outfit is far from out of the running for this year’s ‘991’ class title in the 24H SERIES Virtual, despite the formidable run of DUWO by SimRC thus far.
Interestingly, at Barcelona, Mühlner collected its second consecutive 3rd in-class in the 24H SERIES Virtual, behind category winner MSI eSports CUP (#914) and runner-up DUWO by SimRC (#976). If you count 3rd overall for the team at this year’s Hankook 24H PORTIMAO (at which it also took the GT4 class win with the sister Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 CS, that’s three on the bounce for Muhlner Motorsport in the 24H SERIES in 2020!
2020 12H BARCELONA E-SPORTS – 991 Top 3
1. MSI eSports CUP (#914, Porsche 911-II Cup) – 360 laps
2. DUWO by SimRC (#976, Porsche 911-II Cup) - + 3 laps
3. Mühlner Motorsport Simracing Blue (#988, Porsche 911-II Cup) - + 6 laps
Though rarely one of the most popular motorsport venues in Europe, the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya is already one of the most storied: the Catalan track has been the home of the Formula 1 Spanish Grand Prix since 1991 and the home of F1 pre-season testing for almost as long, and has welcomed crowds to MotoGP’s Catalan motorcycle Grand Prix since 1996. Oh, and the Hankook 24H BARCELONA has been an annual event – bar two – since 1998!
Though plans to ‘recover’ the Grand Prix from Jerez in the 1980s meant the foundation stone was first laid in February 1989, work was fast-tracked during the backlash of Martin Donnelly’s near-fatal accident at Jerez in 1990. One year later, and with an inordinate amount of money thrown in its direction for development purposes, the brand-new Circuit de Barcelona Catalunya was ready to host its first Grand Prix in September 1991.
The original 4.747km layout wouldn’t last long. After a one-off tyre barrier was erected there in 1994, the Nissan chicane was straight-lined altogether for 1995. La Caixa was heavily remodelled for 2004, and in 2007, the Chicane RACC made its controversial first appearance on the now 4.655km Grand Prix configuration.
A significant mainstay of the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunta since its inception though has always been the 1.047km start-finish straight, which, after passing the pitlane and the main grandstand, crests the hill and begins the slow drop down into turn one, GT3 competitors usually arriving in top gear and at well over 250kph for the ensuing right-left handers. Even in its virtual guise, Barcelona’s main straight is among the most recognizable viewing points in European motorsport.
What else could round off our favourite images from the 2020 12H BARCELONA E-SPORTS?
*Images courtesy of In.Sim Photography.