As we entered the fifth round of the IVRA Endurance Series, we expected to experience a series of ups and downs. Literally, first of all, as this technical unde rated track on iRacing, offers nice elevation changes to the point that one of its sections is named “roller coaster”. Then in terms of the ranking, as the free practice sessions revealed significant differences in pace within our two crews involved in this event. Despite this, here more than elsewhere, we felt that keeping our four wheels on the asphalt could be a guarantee of success. We had no idea how accurate this prediction would be…

Qualifications

Engaged in GT AM, we have the obligation to qualify our two 911 RSRs with an amateur at the wheel who will then have to start the race. Luckily, for this event each of our Porsche has an amateur on board who is faster than the driver classified “pro”. On the #324, Romain Virlouvet gets out “the lap of [his] life”, only a few thousandths of his “optimal”, to offer himself the 3rd place in the category and place 8th GTE out of 25. At the wheel of the #372, Sébastien Reithmuller has once again fine-tuned a setup for the team, and although the practice sessions showed that he was capable of setting times close to Romain’s, he was unable to match them all in this session and started 19th GTE, 9th amateur. But as we already know, in IVRA, it’s not that important…

Dream start for #324

It’s always tricky to go out with an “amateur” label in front of a pack of “pros”. Nevertheless, the front of the pack is relatively respectful at the start of the race and Romain holds his place. Better than that, he manages with the leading group to create a comfortable gap over his direct rivals before the LMP2 leaders start to take a lap at the GTE. That’s precisely the moment of the first of a long series of safety car entries.

Any gap that had built up at the start of the race was therefore cancelled. But then again, the luxury replacement of the #324 will hold the top spots in the GT class and benefiting from the mistakes of some, he will manage to take the lead in the AM class shortly after the first hour of the race and will simply end up in the top trio of GTE a few laps later!

Drama…

But concentration must be at all times in IVRA and even more so at the moment when one could imagine being able to relax, the Safety Car periods. In fact, in addition to having to think about an overturned strategy and pay attention to the instructions of the race management, one must also be doubly vigilant to watch out for the inevitable concertina effects in the procession of the cars driving at reduced speed. The recent winner of the iRacing 24H of Daytona will be surprised like many others before him this season and will not be able to avoid the competitor literally stopping in front of him.

From then on, the lead of #324 was suspended to the inevitable penalty to come from the stewards, which was expected to be a massive one. Faced with a large number of track events to manage, the decision would only come minutes later, after the driver change and after the car had suffered collateral damage. Verdict: 2 minutes of immobilization in the pits, without being able to touch the car, of course.

Virginia miracle

At the halfway point of the race, any hope of a good result on this round is definitively abandoned. But with the RSR finding itself penultimate, the magic of this championship started to operate. After yet another appearance of the safety car, the #324 found itself in front of its leader in the line; wave around. Strategic talks and Alex decides hastily to return to the pits to change tires and thus benefit from a few seconds to carry out short repairs. In the confusion, the “pro” driver of the crew does not notice that the pitlane entry is not yet open, which will be worth him later to be sent to the back of the line for the restart.

Nevertheless, on the lap following this illegal stop, all the GTEs chose to refuel, repositioning once again the #324 in front of the GTE leader; re-wave around. The subject will be discussed after the race by our driver with the stewards who will not see anything wrong. Thus, after successively taking the lead and then falling into the depths, the #324 Porsche found itself back in the race. Better still, it would take the trio a long time before they can get the measure of the situation, it is indeed a top 5 that was now possible again.

Unlikely outcome

But things were not going to stop there. Indeed, on a track that is much warmer than during the practice sessions, almost everyone will be in trouble at the end of the race. There is probably not a crew that didn’t make at least one detour in the grass and during the last hour of the race some have seen their ambitions destroyed. Thus, before handing over the wheel to Stéphan Modde, Alex would manage to climb to second place in AM class.

While every effort had been made to put the Parisian, who was not very comfortable on this track, in conditions of minimum stress, the weight of an unhoped-for podium was now on his shoulders. A little swerve here and there, without much consequence as the direct competitors also ended up giving in to the pressure or suffering in the traffic. Luck finally rewarded the #324 this season with an unimaginable third place in the GT AM category at the end of the 5H race. Steph sums up the situation best: “It was my worst race of the season (taking into account the practice sessions) and it’s my best result…”. Never give up, kids!

The #372 in embuscade

If the lead of the peloton was quickly able to build a gap by being wise, it was not the same, lower in the classification. Tension was indeed present with many “pro” crews elbowing their way through the field to make a place for themselves among the “amateurs”. Inevitably, some would end up gardening, whether it’s our friends from Samba (who will finish second in PRO) or even Seb who will imitate them in the infamous “Oak tree” turn that will remain the graveyard of many teams’ hopes on this event.

As for the sister car, the strategy at the start of the race was to take advantage of the numerous Safety Cars to make the first set of tires last as long as possible out of a total of four allocated. The already high temperatures at 9:00 am made us fear the worst for the end of the race and most of the teams seemed to agree on this point. Caution finally paid off and after 2 hours, the #372 was up to 6th place.

Imbroglio and return to grace

Then the bad news is dropped… 45 seconds of Stop & Hold for a return to the track deemed unsafe. Appeal, penalty suspended, but in the meantime it is a drive through that delays Sylvain for an infringement in the pitlane. The positive point is that it takes some pressure off his shoulders. He, who had to replace one of the crew members at the last minute or so, is not really at ease. So the pressure will be even less once the first penalty is finally confirmed by race control. See you at the back of the pack with the #324. When everything goes wrong…

Seb then gets back behind the wheel and gets back to the pace he set during practice. After the surprise of being once again behind his garage neighbors and after checking once again if the grass was not greener elsewhere, he manages to position Sylvain 8th for the final sprint. Resting is always a good idea and the rider from Sarthe finally feels at ease and manages to bring the #372 back to a very nice 6th place. Definitely a roller coaster that race…

Hats off to IVRA

The physiognomy of the race did not do justice to its organizers. Indeed, in response to the many fears expressed before the event about the layout of the VIR track originally planned as well as the restarts, the organizers were there to listen and minimize the risk of incidents. Thus they backed off and finally proposed the Full Course, allowing LMP2 to have a full straight to get rid of the GTEs and above all, the decision was made to group the LMPs at the front of the line and the GTEs after them on the restarts.

This last point certainly made these phases of the race safer than ever but, while we could have imagined that the large grassy areas of the VIR would have allowed the clumsy drivers to avoid using the tow truck and therefore the Safety Car too often, this race brought to light certain unsuspected traps set by this track. Throughout the 5 hours, we were going to see a good number of prototypes “tanked” on a ridge or planted in a wall of tires. It didn’t help to make things go smooth, obviously but that’s life.

Only two races left before the end of the season. See you at Imola.

A.G