A masterful strategy helped Tolman eSports by HCR to a maiden podium result in Round 4 of the iRacing VRS Endurance Series at Circuit de la Sarthe (5 July), and the McLaren Customer Racing team is determined to carry its winning form into the blue riband Spa 24 Hours (11-12 July).
A strong, predetermined race strategy was very much a gamechanger in Mid-Ohio, and it was deemed just as important at Le Mans because an unfavourable Balance of Performance (BoP) restricted the McLaren’s top-end speed and, consequently, its ability to overtake on Circuit de la Sarthe’s long straights.
After hours of number-crunching and countless race simulations, the Happy Cat Racing-run Tolman eSports team felt it had formulated a strategy capable of negating its BoP limitations, although qualifying was a mixed bag, with the #5 McLaren MP4-12C of Scott McCracken and Chris Bell fourth and the #4 car of Dan Durance and James Brown 31st.
McCracken stood his ground in P4 as the pack shuffled through the first sequence of corners and on the run down to Tertre Rouge, but Durance hit trouble at the first Mulsanne Chicane and was forced to return to the pits for running repairs that cost him and Brown 40 minutes.
McCracken continued battling with the lead pack and was still inside the top six at the end of the first hour, benefiting from other drivers’ mistakes while being chased by the Kilometro Zero Ferrari of Gabi Montoro.
The top eight cars were covered by just ten seconds as the first round of pit stops began, the Ferrari and Mercedes teams managing 13 laps of the 13.6km Circuit de la Sarthe on a full tank of fuel, while McCracken took his McLaren to lap 15, well into the second hour.
After stopping for fuel-only to save critical seconds, Tolman eSports emerged in eighth behind the Grip eRacing Czech Mercedes AMG GT3, and what followed was a conservative stint with an unwavering focus on staying with the race leaders while pressing the McLaren’s fuel advantage.
McCracken’s restraint was rewarded, as he went four laps longer than his Ferrari and Mercedes opponents, finally boxing to pass the reins of the #5 MP4-12C to Bell on lap 30, with only 55 minutes left on the clock.
Eighth at the start of his stint, Bell drove his own race and rose to second position; all those ahead of him required a splash of fuel to reach the chequered flag and only the leading W00T Motorsport Mercedes of Ben Grindle and Chris Wilkinson came out ahead.
Bell tried his best to challenge for the win but the pacey W00T Mercedes escaped his clutches and he came home in a solid second place to secure Tolman Motorsport’s maiden eSports podium finish, while the #4 entry doggedly fought back from 51st to 38th.
McCracken and Bell now lie third in the VRS Endurance Series standings, and only a handful of points separate them from the top spot as they head into the blue riband Spa 24 Hours (11-12 July).
Chris Bell (#5 Tolman eSports by HCR McLaren MP4-12C GT3): “We took another step closer to the top spot at Le Mans and we’re delighted to have brought home Tolman Motorsport’s first eSports podium result. The race was always going to be an uphill battle with an unfavourable Balance of Performance, but we stuck to our plan and were able to record a big result before the Spa 24 Hours.”
Scott McCracken (#5 Tolman eSports by HCR McLaren MP4-12C GT3): “I’m very happy with second place. Tolman eSports by HCR pulled off a difficult strategy to perfection, fighting the urge to go toe-to-toe with our Ferrari and Mercedes rivals early on. The McLaren had really good pace throughout, even while saving fuel, and we now need to take this momentum to the Spa 24 Hours.”