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Von der Heyde sets the pace at the start of the GT Challenge in Long Beach

rFactor 2’s GT Challenge returned last night (27th March 2023) with a revamped format and a plethora of American tracks pitted against the competition in six rounds of GT3 racing action.

The drivers in this season’s top split are familiar names to those of you who have followed the GT Challenge over the years, but the format has been adjusted; with a 15-minute sprint race followed by a 45-minute top 10 main race with a reverse grid.

While there are no prizes up for grabs this season, the field is packed with esports talent, including Scuderia Ferrari Esports team’s Alex Siebel and Dennis Jordan, and ex-GT Pro champion Jan von der Heyde among others and Jernej Simoncic.

qualification

It was Simončič who drew the first blood in the first qualifying session, the Slovenian taking pole ahead of Jordan on the tricky, walled Long Beach GP street circuit.

Further back was von der Heyde in seventh place, R8G Esports’ Michi Hoyer and race of the season winner Turkka Häkkinen in 11th place. Siebel was ninth, seven places behind his teammate and eager to move forward as the rolling two-for-two start of the sprint race began.

sprint race

Simončič blocked an early attack from Jordan at Turn 1 and moved up a few tenths in the early laps. Behind it moved von der Heyde; gaining a place on lap one before making a well-crafted nosedive past Mickael Le Roux just after half.

GT Challenge, rFactor 2, Long Beach

Otherwise, it was a pretty low-key affair in the top 10 as Simončič held off Jordan for the season-opener win. Tenth place went to Jake Denehan, the Irishman fended off advances from Jimi Nisula and Matt Richards to take pole position for the feature race on the reverse grid.

Behind them, there was a massive pile-up on the last corner of the final lap as the notoriously tight confines of Long Beach eventually claimed a few casualties; including teammates Fabian Balle and Arda Ercan.

Simončič claims the sprint race

main race

Denehan sped away as the lights went out for the feature race as Seibel was under immediate pressure from the fast-starting von der Heyde. The winner of the sprint race, Simončič, got into an argument further back and had to pit for repairs at the end of the first lap. Rocket Simsport’s Von der Heyde walked resolutely behind Denehan.

Further back, Damian Skowron suffered significant wall damage (GT Challenge has 100% simulated damage) and fell back out of the field, leading to a slight misunderstanding with Mia Rose. The Aussie was shoulder slammed into the barrier by Skowron and continued her tough start to the season after contact with Ryan Elliott in the sprint race.

Denehan leads von der Heyde in the Main Race

Two-thirds into the race, Denehan had an unfortunate moment where the rear wing of his Audi R8 broke, giving von der Heyde a lead he wouldn’t give up (and also damaging the German’s McLaren in the process). It was a hard hit for the Edge Esports rider as he confidently strode through the field.

Siebel capitalized on Denehan’s mistake by finishing second at the finish while Daniel Stepkowski was third on the last step of the podium. Jordan bounced back to an impressive fifth position, securing second place in the riders’ points table.

The final lap was dramatic again as Jesper Pedersen tapped Martin Murguly on the entry into Turn 1, leaving Murguly with three wheels on his car and gifting two positions to Michie Hoyer. Pedersen recovered to take ninth place (pending penalties), but unfortunately Murguly was out of the running.

Denehan loses it in the barrier and is collected

With no enforced pit stop rule, drivers had to keep their medium or soft compound tires alive throughout the main race, with the majority choosing the safe medium option. Jordan, Hakkinen, Henri Sinik and Timotej Andonovski all opted for soft tyres, but it was Von der Heyde and Siebel who made the most of the grippier compound, placing them first and second respectively.

Von der Heyde sits at the top of the championship standings after round one of the season, continuing his impressive pre-qualifying form. However, he faces stiff competition from Ferrari duo Jordan and Siebel, with Jernej Simončič also likely to bounce back strongly in the second round of Sebring on April 3.

Hoyer benefits from the impending chaos

GT Challenge 2023 driver standings after round 1

  1. Jan von der Heyde, 247 points
  2. Dennis Jordan, 244 points
  3. Alex Sibel, 237 points
  4. Daniel Stepkowski, 236 points
  5. Dawid Mroczek, 236 points
  6. Michael Le Roux, 235 points
  7. Jernej Simončič, 231 points
  8. Damian Skowron, 228 points
  9. Turka Hakkinen, 227 points
  10. Martin Murguly, 226 points

GT Challenge, rFactor 2, Long BeachMandatory pileup in Long Beach in the sprint race

GT Challenge 2023 calendar

Qualification | February 21 – March 19
Rd1 – Long Beach – March 27th
Rd2 – Sebring – April 3rd
Rd3 – Laguna Seca – April 10th
Rd4 – Indianapolis – April 17th
Rd5 – Lime Rock Park – April 24th
Rd6 – Daytona – May 1st

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