Sunset at Sebring – World GT Championship Round 3

Monday the 28th of January saw the third meeting of the World GT Championship take the teams to Sebring International Raceway for the series’ first Endurance race of the season. The drivers would have to settle in for two hours at the popular Florida venue, and after some strong results there previously, Beast Racing driver Tom Jacobs was feeling confident for his first appearance of the season. He showed great pace in pre-season testing and the Media Day at Silverstone in January, but hadn’t yet had chance to get out in track in a Championship round. It would be the first time all three drivers were on track together as he joined #22 Chaz Draycott in his Ford GT LM, and #23 Steve Burke in the sister Porsche 991 RSR.

Practice went very well with Tom ending up 18th overall, topping the time sheets in the AM category – almost three tenths of a second quicker than his nearest rivals. The Porsche was feeling good, and despite tricky, hot conditions, it was all looking good. Chaz’s Ford was dialled in from the get go as well, but just seemed to lack some pace in the first sector of the lap – he ended up 39th overall and 16th in AM. Steve was having technical issues and didn’t manage to get any time on track, but luckily the car was ready just before qualifying begun.

Tom continued his strong form from Practice, putting in a quick lap early on in the session. His time of a 1:56.606 put him 23rd overall and 4th in AM, only two tenths back from AM leader, Jeroen Keizer. Burke came out of nowhere after only 3 laps on track all day, to go only 11 thousandths of a second slower than Jacobs and grab 6th in AM – a real display of how close this Championship is, with 0.016 seconds covering five cars! Chaz had a similar fate to his Practice session, struggling in the first sector, and would be starting the race from 35th on the grid – 15th in AM.

The Race started in a calm manner as expected, with two hours ahead of the drivers… for all of two corners. An incident taking out around five drivers triggered a number of cars to then collide in turn 3 as they rejoined and avoided others. All three Beast Racing drivers managed to make it through with only slight contact here and there – Chaz being the main beneficiary after gaining five places on top of those involved in the incidents. After a couple of laps, the dust had settled and the intense midfield battling had begun.

Tom held his nerve near the front of the AM field for the entire race, even swapping positions with some of the Pro drivers, lingering just inside the Top 20. Steve Burke got involved in a five-car train which never stopped morphing into all manner of orders, and Chaz closed them down as they held one another up. 8 Laps in though, a car spun in front of Steve as the group came out of the final corner and he was left with nowhere to go. After making contact and coming to a stop, he carried on but the car was suffering with straight line speed.

The #22 Ford and #23 Porsche were then locked in a great battle with #27 Jaime Ayres’ Ford GT LM, but at the end of Lap 19, a move down the inside into Sunset Bend led to the latter two drivers colliding. Steve was once again on the receiving end and decided to pit, as he was low on fuel as it is, minimising any time that could have been lost. He took tyres in his first stop.

Tom and Chaz both planned on taking tyres in their first pit stops and just fuel in their second. Chaz came in on Lap 21, and Tom Lap 22. The latter unfortunately missed his pit box when coming in due to a stack of cars that obstructed the position of his pit crew. He didn’t lose too much time though, and was straight back on the pace once he got out, picking off drivers that hadn’t taken tyres while pitting. Steve and Chaz remained in tandem chasing down Simmortal driver Lee Deamer. At the hour mark, where points were to be scored, the three drivers were 24th, 34th and 35th respectively.

It was almost as if time stood still once the half-way mark had passed – positions didn’t change (other than places gained from people pitting) for another 15 laps. Unfortunately, the next action the Beast Racing drivers saw was an accident for the #23 machine of Burke on the exit of turn one – after catching the dirt on the exit, the car spat him back out the other way, and the only option was to retire. Playing it safe on fuel, the #5 Porsche and #22 Ford both came in on lap 43 with half an hour to go. Tom came back out behind #33 Paul Smith and then engaged in an epic 5-lap battle with no contact, showing great respect between them.

Chaz remained in situe, catching Smith’s stable-mate Mark Woodhouse and AM rival Adam Hedgecock. The two collided on lap 46 with the BoosTED Motorsport driver coming off worse. Chaz continued to chase Mark who seemed to be at a reduced pace because of damage, eventually making the move on lap 48 to get past. Tom’s battle with Paul was still raging on – the #5 Porsche Driver testing his patience and looking for the perfect opportunity to get through. A slow-down penalty for cutting a corner delayed his attack, letting Pro driver Ben Hackeson by, but this would end up helping Tom out as he too started battling with Smith, ahead. Lap 51 was the pivotal lap in which the move was completed after some more exciting side-by-side action.

XVR Sim Racing driver Layne O’Connor provided the entertainment for Draycott in the last 20 minutes, battling over 27th and 28th overall. Both would make two mistakes over the course of their battle, alternating from Layne to Chaz, back to Layne, and Chaz once more. They would eventually cross the line only a couple of tenths apart with the #22 Beast Racing Ford GT LM being the car behind.

Tom’s awesome first appearance this Season saw him finish 21st overall and 4th in AM – a strong performance that would hopefully continue for the Season ahead. The sister Porsche of Burke would be classified 40th overall, 20 Laps down – not a true reflection of the pace Steve had despite next to no practice at the track before the event.

“I was plagued by hardware errors with my Oculus Rift during Practice, but I managed to get in with 5 minutes of qualifying left. I only managed to do 3 laps but still put my car 25th. The Race started okay, but having been hit by another driver and sustaining damage the car lost some top end speed. The same culprit then lost it right in front of me and I dropped 15 places. Chaz and I cut through the pack well until I made an unforced error with half an hour to go. It was cracking race – just wasn’t meant to be.” -Steve

“The car showed great promise throughout the meeting, going P1 in the AM Class in Practice and P3 in Qualifying, I knew she was quick. We got off to a great start, staying P3 in class, and with well executed pitstops, managed to only drop down to P4 for the race finish. The Porsche feels fantastic, and I know with Chaz in the Ford and Steve in the other Porsche, we can really strive for a fistful of points and great championship finishing places this season.” -Tom

“Despite not having a specific setup for this track, the Ford felt good, but just slightly down on pace to what she could have been. Then again, I’d rather have been safe than on the edge for the whole 2 hours, risking more mistakes. I think the car will come good at other tracks this season – we’re off to Suzuka next and it felt good there in winter testing so I’m feeling confident. It was great to see Tom smash it tonight and mix it with some of the Pro guys so hopefully he’ll spearhead our Teams Championship effort.” -Chaz

The Championship now takes a week’s break but will return to the iRacing eSports Network on the 11th of February, as they head to Suzuka in Japan for three 20-minute Sprint Races. You can catch the action live from 8:00pm GMT.

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