Stuttgart. Second place at the virtual 24 Hours of Le Mans has handed the Porsche Coanda Esports works team the title in the virtual Le Mans series. Despite several setbacks, Joshua Rogers, Mitchell deJong, Ayhancan Güven and Laurin Heinrich were just 21 seconds off the winner. Their team colleagues in the No. 23 LMP racing car came sixth.

The race

The Porsche Coanda Esports Racing Team has won the 2022/2023 virtual Le Mans Series. Works drivers Joshua Rogers (Australia) and Mitchell deJong (USA) secured second place with the former Porsche Juniors Ayhancan Güven (Turkey) and Laurin Heinrich (Germany) at the virtual 24 Hours of Le Mans. Despite two drive-through penalties and time losses due to server connection problems, the quartet crossed the finish line on the digital Circuit des 24 Heures a mere 21.1 seconds behind the victorious LMP2 vehicle fielded by Team Redline. This result was enough for the No. 20 car of the Porsche Coanda factory squad to move to the top of the leaderboard at the fifth and final round on the rFactor 2 simulation platform. Driving the sister car, Mack Bakkum (Netherlands), Dayne Warren (Australia), Morris Schuring (Netherlands) and the new Porsche Junior Bastian Buus (Denmark) were also hampered by unfortunate setbacks during the race. They ultimately crossed the finish line in sixth place.

“The virtual Le Mans Series is one of the most prestigious championships in sim racing – so with this in mind, winning the title is incredible. It shows how hard we’ve worked throughout a season that had a rocky start for us,” states Philip Stamm, team principal at Porsche Coanda Esports Racing. “It’s a shame, of course, to finish a 24-hour race in second with a gap of just 21 seconds behind the winner. Still, we’re at the start of a new year and we hope that there’ll be many more great successes to come.”

The virtual 24 Hours of Le Mans represents the highlight and the finale of the virtual Le Mans Series. A special feature of this championship: seasoned professionals from real-life motorsport share driving duties in the digital racing cars with sim racing experts.

Both Porsche Coanda racing cars started from the first grid row 

Already in Friday evening’s qualifying, the Porsche sim racing works team underlined its competitiveness: Joshua Rogers posted a commanding top time almost three-quarters of a second ahead of the second-fastest competitor. Like his teammate Mack Bakkum in the second Porsche Coanda racing car, the Australian made it into the hyperpole session with a top-six result. There, the two clinched a perfect grid spot for the 24-hour race: Rogers set pole position, with Bakkum lining up beside him on the first grid row.

The race got off to a turbulent start on Saturday at 2:00 pm: With an ambitious manoeuvre in the first chicane, current Formula 1 world champion Max Verstappen swept into the lead. First stint driver Laurin Heinrich defended his second place with the No. 20 car, with Porsche Supercup driver Morris Schuring running in fourth place. A little later, Heinrich made a counterattack and reclaimed the lead spot.

After a good 3.5 hours of racing, the sister car suffered an unexpected setback: A technical problem threw Dayne Warren off the server. The No. 23 racing car initially fell back to 23rd place but was later handed a time bonus of 250 seconds. He returned to the top 10 and was back in the same lap as the top group. Further server glitches on the simulation platform in the early evening resulted in the race being interrupted for long periods. The virtual 24 Hours of Le Mans resumed regular operations from 9:30 pm.

The No. 20 entry faced special challenges during the night. Ayhancan Güven came under pressure from the two Redline cars however he vehemently defended his lead lap after lap. At around 11:30 pm, the Porsche Junior from 2020 and 2021 was handed a drive-through penalty. This relegated Güven back to ninth place. Almost two hours later, the car, now with Laurin Heinrich at the wheel, was back in second place. Due to an ‘unsafe release’ at the following pit stop, the race director handed the No. 20 car another driver-through penalty. Heinrich rejoined the race in sixth place from where he launched another pursuit.

But the streak of bad luck did not end there. As the sun came up, the two Porsche Coanda racing car, among others, again experienced server problems, which increased the gap to the leaders to over two minutes. However, the competition wasn’t immune either: Shortly before 7 am on Sunday morning, the leading car driven by Max Verstappen lost ground and retired 90 minutes later. With a good two hours of racing to go, the No. 20 car had reclaimed second place. The No. 23 entry was running in fourth place, a minute behind. It then received a drive-through penalty for exceeding the track limits and ultimately finished in sixth. Thanks to a spirited charge through the field, especially in the last two hours, Rogers, deJong, Güven and Heinrich halved the gap to the Team Redline’s No. 2 car but were unable to close the gap completely. In the end, they crossed the finish line in second place.

Strong drive from Proton Coanda Esports in the GTE class goes unrewarded 

Six digital Porsche 911 RSR took on the 24-hour challenge in the GTE category. As the best competitor, the racing car fielded by Project 1 by Dörr Esports took the flag in fourth place after 322 laps. The Hungarian Norbert Kiss and his German teammates Marc Gassner, Moritz Löhner and Leonard Krippner were just one lap behind the class winner. Raoul Hyman (South Africa), Alexander Tauscher (Germany), Bryn Collins (United Kingdom) and the Dutchman Kevin van Dooren secured fourth place with the No. 88 car run by Proton Coanda Esports, despite an accident and a 90-second pit stop for repairs. The 911 RSR campaigned by Oracle Red Bull Racing concluded the virtual 24-hour race tenth in its class. At 2:00 am in the morning, Proton Coanda’s second car had to retire with a defect. Until then, Loek Hartog (Netherlands), Jefferson Giassi from Brazil, Paschalis Gkergkis (Greece) and most notably Charlie Collins from the UK gave an impressive performance in the GTE class with blistering lap times.

Comments on the race

Mitchell deJong (Porsche Coanda Esports Racing Team #20): “We’re wrapping up the season as the champions but obviously we also wanted to win Le Mans. Still, we had a great race. It went back and forth, I’m thinking mainly of the penalties that were imposed on us but we kept fighting as a team. Ultimately, we managed to slash the gap to 21 seconds – so it was very close. At the end of the day, it was only enough for second place.”

Laurin Heinrich (Porsche Coanda Esports Racing Team #20):“It was a very, very long and mentally demanding race – not least because of the red flag interruptions. A very interesting dynamic unfolded from this, from which some benefited more than others. Such things are sometimes out of your hands. Still, I’m satisfied with this result. We came second and also won the championship. That’s worth a lot. We were actually the fastest car on the track today but to win a 24-hour race, you also need luck on your side.”

Mack Bakkum (Porsche Coanda Esports Racing Team #23):“Obviously we’re disappointed with how things turned out in the end. We lost a lot of time without being able to do anything about it. That’s always annoying. Everyone encountered problems, some were affected more than others. I’m really very proud of the team and how we worked together. That’s the most important thing at the end of the day. Hopefully, we can do better in the race next year.”

Bastian Buus (Porsche Coanda Esports Racing Team #23): “Porsche Coanda Esports put a huge amount of work into this project – more than I actually expected. It was fantastic to be part of this and to get the chance to learn. Looking ahead, I’m certain that I can take what I’ve learned from this endurance experience into the real world. The result was a bit unfortunate. A couple of situations that were out of our hands stopped us from achieving a better result. All four of us did a great job as drivers. All in all, I think things could have gone better, but they could also have been much worse.”

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