The SimHQ Motorsports GTE squad built upon their result at round one and this time brought the car home in 5th position, although a podium spot could have been within their grasp.
With all three drivers available for the New Orleans event, and a useful base setup in place from Indianapolis, concern had mainly centered on how the multi-class traffic would play out on such a tight and narrow track. However, the #399 encountered no significant troubles from the prototype ranks and also enjoyed a penalty-free race.
Qualifying was perhaps even tighter than at the season-opener, with seven midfield cars being separated by four tenths of a second. The team’s established choice for qualifying, Blazej Myszk, was in the top bracket of that fight, and started the race from 7th position in class, besting the Team Rookie Monsters #373 by just 0.015 seconds.
The warm-up session was perhaps unwanted thinking time, leading to some indecision about which tire compound to use for the opening laps, but with the season being young and everyone still learning, the car was simply fitted with the standard Mediums before it went to the grid.
The start of the race was mostly uneventful: the two lead GTEs had a major speed advantage and eased away to fight among themselves, while everyone else broadly held position and set about finding a good rhythm.
As a few of the higher qualifiers fell back (seemingly due to unfortunate problems with their computers or internet connections), Myszk found himself climbing the leaderboard with ease. When his excellent fuel economy led to the first stint lasting a few laps longer than everyone else, he visited the box from 2nd position.
On rejoining, however, he found himself in the middle of a five-car train, and enjoyed several laps of close, pressurized racing. Unfortunately, in the high-speed complex of Turns 8 and 9, he eventually dropped a wheel over the back of a kerb and was unable to prevent the car from squirming off the track and spinning in the grass. Though annoyed, he kept his head and put in solid laps thereafter, limiting the damage very well.
When he handed over to James Andrew after two hours, the field had separated more and the SHQM entry found itself nestled in 3rd or 4th position depending on where other teams made pit stops. Drawing ever closer, though, was the #371 entry of World of Simracing Am, piloted by David Hoyo. This was a replay of a chase that took place at the previous race, but the end was much more interesting than before.
As Hoyo finally drew within a few car lengths, and both cars came through the tough Turn 8-9 combination, Andrew made a small error and had to run wide onto the grass. As his car began a long, lazy spin, Hoyo spun in sympathy, entirely by himself. He was able to get going again a little faster than Andrew, and so the place was lost before the battle could really begin.
Another self-induced error later on did no damage other than add to the tally of lost seconds but at the end of the race, it would be those three simple spins that would separate the SimHQ Motorsports team from a podium in just their second race.
For the final third of the 6-hour event, Steven Hill took control of the car. Early in his stint it became obvious that things were shaping up to be incredibly close at the end of the race. 3rd position was now out of reach but consistent lap times might yet be able to fend off the two cars from RacingClub Endurance, who were mounting strong finishes.
With James Andrew now on the pit wall and watching the timing screen carefully, Steven did set about putting in consistent and competitive laps, but the #353 and its sister #372 were working together and reducing the gap with ease. With the final pit stop approaching, a strategic decision was called for: stop for fuel only and hope the lead was big enough to last, or change to Soft tires (taking longer in the pits) but giving extra grip and speed with which to fight or chase.
The latter option was chosen and the lap times of the #399 dropped nicely. Steven was really enjoying the balance and grip he had, but the hand had been played and everything depended on the pit stops of the rivals.
What happened was that one of the cars managed to get out of the pits ahead of Steven, and one a few seconds behind. That set up a thrilling finish where both drivers knew that fighting was allowed. Hill resisted for several laps, including forcibly closing the door as his rival tried going round the outside at turn 1.
But eventually the pass was made, and 6th position seemed to be the final result for a good day’s work. However, the fat lady had not yet sung. On the very final lap, the car which had been running in 2nd found itself being gradually demoted while driving normally. The reason for this is still unclear but when Hill brought his BMW over the finish line, he was classified 5th.
An investigation into the use by certain teams of a previously unknown rF2 bug led to the race result being amended. The SimHQ Motorsports #399 GTE was thereby promoted to 3rd place!
The squad now heads to the Sao Paulo race with confidence that they are more than capable of getting decent results on a regular basis. Indeed, if they can continue to avoid both contact and penalties while also eradicating the small solo errors which today saw precious seconds lost forever, podiums are clearly possible.