NEO Endurance Series at Interlagos – Race Report

CbwKNjRWIAAC6DZDavid Barraclough: We went into this race after a scruffy affair at Spa hoping for a more consistent run, with myself and Timo sharing duties behind the wheel.

Practice throughout the week prior to the race had mostly been held on a track with scorching conditions, where tyre management was key, as the GT1 class could easily lose up to 3 second a lap by the end of the stint! To that end we had focused our setup on being as easily to drive within the tyres as possible. However, the dynamic Gods of iRacing Physics intervened, and we found that the race session was held in a quite chilly air temperature of 20 degrees, and mostly cloudy conditions. This had the fortunate effect of reducing tyre wear to a point where laptimes remained constant throughout the run, an interesting factor that was to play out throughout the race.

Timo qualified the car of Saturday in 14th pace, but I spectacularly threw that away by being forced to start from the pitlane due to two brainfades on the qualifying target time laps. First attempt was 1x by running wide on corner exit, second attempt blew the engine when minimising iRacing to check our target time on a seperate sheet!

However, as is often the case starting from pitlane might have been a blessing in disguise as the bottom two GT1 cars of FRT Hawkers and Dart Frogs came together in the Senna S on lap 1, resulting in some damage for Dartfrogs and even worse for the FRT Hawkers car, losing a lot of laps with repairs.

So coming out of the pits we started off in 12th, and I quickly overtook the Blue Flag and IRDK Corvettes with moves down the inside into Curva du Sol in first 10 laps. The gap to midfield turned out to be around 20s by the time the lead pack had broken their draft, and amazingly I held this for most my first stint. Alas, a couple of mistakes in the last few laps of the stint cost us 10-15 seconds, but I held off Fenix and IRDK with a 3 wide moment down the straight after the second of those two moments.

We were amongst the last to make our pitstop and I was expecting to emerge around 35 seconds behind the midfield pack. Unfortunately I chose this moment to make my biggest mistake of the race – I hit the limiter button too soon on exit and had to take a 15s stop and hold which lost us around 40 seconds overall. This left us almost a lap down on most of the field, and while my second stint contained no big mistakes, my pace was definitely scrappy compared to the first hour. I caught and passed IRDK again at the same corner as at the start of the race, but this time I couldn’t pull away and the gap remained under 10s by the time Timo jumped in the car.

Timo was able to run a great consistent pace, and from here on we held the single lap gap to the midfield. Egil Sandfield had jumped in for IRDK, and he and Timo engaged in one of those great proxy battles that happen so often in endurance racing. We were on the longer strategy with hour long stints, they were slightly quicker but stopping one more time. It was still quite close at end of hour 3, with us able to use less fuel than the corvettes, so able to pit on the halfway mark exactly.

However, drama – race control threw a FULL COURSE YELLOW! Fortunately my chat was set on, so I was able to inform Timo in time to slow to pit limiter speed. All HPD managers had been summoned unceremoniously to the stewards briefing! (As an aside neither of us had any big issues with any of the HPDs throughout the race, yes they did take a few risks but each time they had done enough to make us aware that they were coming through beforehand.)

This played into our hands as it eased our fuel use and helped us pit on the hour mark again. By this time the SRN Corvette had had a couple of issues and had dropped back into range – and even better, they were engaged with IRDK on a very similar strategy, which cost both cars time.

Hour 5 held the status quo, with myself back in the car. This was a much better stint my previous double, I was able to keep up on track with Chimera ahead, a great sign for races to come. This set up Timo with a cushion of 10 seconds to SRN, and 15 to IRDK once both of their cars emerged from their final stops. The sting in the tail – our tyres were 10 laps older. We were set for a 3 car showdown to the end of the race!

What ensured was a great battle for 5 laps between Timo and SRN’s Steven McGarvey, captured by the Racespot coverage. Some great defence from Timo held of Steve for 2 laps. Their Corvette was on high downforce and fresher tyres, and had the advantage in the slow corners of the middle sector. A switchback, and disaster – we were hit! A racing incident, and only a few seconds lost as Timo was able to scamper across the track and re-emerge with no damage done. That would have been that, but Steven very gentlemanly let us back through on the straight, and the battle resumed. A few laps later both cars were side by side again throughout the first half of the track, and Steven finally got the move done into turn 5. A battle for the ages!

One of the downsides of battling so long and hard was the use of more fuel – with 10 laps to go we were now critical to finish without stopping again, and IRDK were only 8 seconds behind. I was watching the fuel level with apprehension and urging Timo to lift and coast. We were able to bring our usage down, but Marcello in the IRDK was gaining gaining gaining, he could smell the metaphorical blood in the water. With 2 laps to go it was down to 1.5 seconds, and we were only just going to make the line.

And then – BANG. Black smoke everywhere in our mirrors. An HPD had tried an unwise move around IRDK on the exit of the Senna S, and left them with nowhere to go. An unfortunate end to a great all race long battle with those guys.

Finally, we took a dash and splash just in case the HPD leader beat the white flag (he didn’t), and crossed the line with exactly the 5 litres of fuel added at the stop.

TFR vs SRN NEO InterlagosOverall one of our better races, we finished 8th out of 15 with no big incidents and no damage to the car, no mean feat for a GT1 on the twisty Interlagos track. I feel that it was only above average races from most of our competitors that meant this was not our highest placing of the year. At times we were on a pace with the upper midfield, but less consistency and a couple of mistakes in my double stint cost us a lap in the first half of the race.
If I can improve on this, we may be able to strongly challenge in the midfield in the last two races of the season.

Up next is Monza, which will be a very different prospect to any track up to this point. A good setup over the kerbs will be key to allow us to stay close in what surely will be a draft fest.

Timo Verhoest: I had a great time. It was the strongest race of the season so far for TFR, and was probably my hardest fought race. Had a great battle with the SRN car and IRDK was always lurking in the background. Looking forward to the next one!