Supreme pace and an inspired strategy took Tolman eSports by HCR to a commanding maiden win against a large, high quality entry in the prestigious iRacing Spa 24 Hours (11-12 July).
Unbelievably, 5000 drivers from 1292 teams entered the 2020 edition of the iRacing Spa 24 Hours – the jewel of the virtual GT3 racing calendar – and Tolman eSports’ expectations were lifted after breaking its podiums duck a week earlier at Le Mans.
The McLaren Customer Racing team was in fine form from the outset of the weekend in the Ardennes Forest and placed in Split 5 to face rivals from the top 20 per cent of the mammoth entry, including ex-McLaren Formula 1 and current Super GT driver Heikki Kovalainen.
VRS Endurance regulars Scott McCracken and Chris Bell shared the sole Tolman McLaren MP4-12C GT3 with Karl Raper and Adam State, and it was McCracken who was elected to qualify and start the twice-around-the-clock endurance race.
Steady and conservative from 14th on the grid, McCracken successfully negotiated a spectacular multi-car pileup that implicated many of the top qualifiers at Raidillon, emerging from the chaos completely unscathed in 12th position.
The Happy Cat Racing driver breached the top eight and still managed to extend his first double stint to lap 55 – four laps beyond Tolman eSports’ chief rivals – when Bell took the reins of the #4 McLaren.
After a full service, Bell settled into a fast, yet comfortable rhythm to catch and pass the Glowing Disc Motorsport BMW Z4 for seventh, and then zero in on the three-way fight for P4 involving the YMCA, GTrs and ERT Blue squads.
The top three were some 35 seconds up the road once Bell was in clean air, and he made marginal gains on the No Nonsense Racing, VRPC Racing and Apex V2R entries over the course of a strong and consistent double stint, once again going several laps further on each tank of fuel.
Tolman eSports by HCR eventually cycled through into the lead as strategies unfolded and those ahead got caught up in incidents, and the McLaren Customer Racing team had more than two minutes in hand after 11 hours, when Raper and State took over driving duties.
Both sim racers continued their teammates’ good work by keeping a tight grip on first position during alternate night stints, despite a relative lack of testing, although several challengers began to emerge as the sun rose over the Ardennes.
Fatigue was starting to set in, the McLaren MP4-12C’s setup had passed its peak and McCracken was facing mounting pressure from Protocharge SimSport’s Rick Jonk, who had ERT Blue’s Angelo Schut close behind.
Ultimately, Bell emerged from the final driver-change with 140 minutes to run and a diminishing 25-second lead, with the challenge of conserving more fuel and keeping his tyres in check for a yet untried and untested distance.
Bell completed the first half of his stint without losing time, but a small mistake at Eau Rouge caused an enormous slide that so nearly resulted in race-ending contact with the tyre barriers and heartbreak for the Tolman eSports squad.
However, during the final hour, Bell re-established a one-lap lead as the threat from the Protocharge and ERT BMWs faded, with only a short fuel fill required for a seven-lap sprint to the chequered flag and Tolman eSports by HCR’s maiden iRacing special event victory.
Chris Bell (#4 Tolman eSports by HCR McLaren MP4-12C GT3): “Incredible! There really are no other words to describe the race. After Tolman eSports by HCR’s performance at Le Mans, we went into the iRacing Spa 24 Hours with the exact same strategy in mind – go long and stay clean. Other than a couple of small errors we ran flawlessly, sticking to our plan and doing our own thing, but taking four positions in quick succession during the fifth and sixth hours really set us up for the long haul.
“When we had asserted ourselves at the top, we never gave it up, leading 410 of the 602 laps raced. My teammates were phenomenal, and we used the McLaren MP4-12C to its full potential, to win in the premier GT3 event of the sim racing season. For eSports, 2020 has been an incredible year, and we’re delighted to have repaid our partners’ and friends’ faith. Thank you to Tolman Motorsport, McLaren Customer Racing and Leveridge Promotions for giving us these incredible opportunities. We now all look forward to continuing our push for the VRS Endurance Series title.”