3 for 3: Coanda wins 3rd NEO Endurance Championships in a row
For the third season in a row the VRS Coanda Simsport #1 HPD entry has won the NEO Endurance Championship. The 2016/17 season provided an even tighter field than usual and the competition was extremely fierce.
With 4 wins to their name, including a double points victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Mack Bakkum, Martin Krönke, Martti Pietilä & Mitchell deJong beat out Mivano Racing by 25 points in the championship.
The newly formed VRS Coanda Simsport #48 GT1 team with the Blancpain GT Series winning drivers Jörn Jens, Klaus Kivekäs and Rens Broekman, supplemented by David Williams, could eventually clinch third place overall as the highest classified Chevrolet Corvette.
Here’s a recap of our season.
The opening round of the NEO Endurance series brought us to sunny Sebring, Florida. Martin would qualify the car in the 2nd position, less than half a tenth off pole position set by Maximilian Benecke. In the race it became apparent that the VRS Coanda car was the only HPD on a low downforce package.
Despite qualifying being close, race pace with the lower downforce configuration seemed to be a lot worse than the other teams electing to go for medium or high downforce.
Apart from the first stint this turned out to be a very lonesome race in P5. Due to competitors mistakes in the final stint we could close down the gap to 34s, but ultimately could not improve on P5 for the overall result.
The GT1 team was still busy in their ongoing BES season which hindered the preparation for the race.
The less competitive Chevrolet compared to the Aston Martin did not help either, but avoiding unnecessary incidents VRS Coanda GT1 could finish in a solid 5th place
Qualifying over 0.2 clear of the nearest competitor, the second round driven around Circuits of The Americas got off to a better start. Now on the same downforce package as the other HPDs pace seemed strong from start to finish. The #1 car driven by Martin & Martti lead from start to finish, only not leading laps when other teams elected to go for alternate strategies in the pits.
In the end Martti crossed the line a little over 33 seconds clear of the #22 CoRe Simracing Prototype.
An updated Balance of Performance for the GT1 class helped the Corvette and Rens could qualify the car into front row for the first time. After a strong battle against the Torrent Motorsports Aston Martin Klaus and Rens could not get the edge on them and finished the race in second place.
The first and only night race of the season was held in Motegi, Japan. Mitchell qualified the car on pole by the smallest of margins ahead of the #22 CoRe Simracing car driven by Frederik Rasmussen. The battle for the race win proved to be just as tight. With Coanda and CoRe swapping places to lead multiple times in the race.
Drama would strike with a little less than an hour to go. Mack leading the race, with Frederik in the CoRe car in hot pursuit, got tagged by a spinning Audi R8 GT3 in the final sector. This meant the Coanda car had to come into the pits and repair the damaged car.
Now driving in P3, the win looked certain for the #22 CoRe machine. However, due to a driving limit regulation broken by the #22 car, the #3 Mivano car was promoted to the top step of the podium with the VRS Coanda machine climbing up to 2nd.
Rens was able to clinch another front row start for the VRS Coanda GT1, giving the team a good starting position. CORE Motorsport put on a perfect race, leading from start to finish, leaving Torrent and Coanda, who swapped positions frequently for the final podium positions.
Returning to Europe, it would be Martin setting pole position at his hometrack the Nurburgring. Again CoRe SimRacing would be very close behind.
The race seemed like a repeat of Motegi with both CoRe and Coanda leading an almost equal amount of laps.
Again, drama would strike in the final stint. With roughly half an hour to go Martin overtook Isaac in the #22 CoRe car to regain the lead. With a somewhat optimistic move in the Ford-Kurve the CoRe car made contact with the #1 Coanda car which received some damage in the process. After a stop & go penalty issued by the stewards for the #22 car, Martin crossed the line 15 seconds in front of Isaac.
Jörn qualified the car in a solid second place, but the VRS Coanda Corvette was once again struggling with race pace. After the first two stints Jörn handed the car over to Klaus. While still in second position, prospecting another good finish, his drive ended very early with a blown engine after just a couple of laps. This resulted in the first and only DNF of the season.
In the beautiful Belgian Ardennes it was this time Frederik Rasmussen for CoRe SimRacing setting the pole position. Mitchell would line the VRS Coanda car up in 2nd position.
The good qualification performance of the #22 CoRe car seemed to translate well into the race, building a consistent gap to the VRS Coanda car in 2nd.
Close to 2 hours into the race, the leading CoRe SimRacing car got collected by a spinning GT3 car in Eau Rouge. With nowhere to go the GT3 and CoRe collided which left them with terminal damage.
From here on out there were a few close battles with Friction, Mivano and Radicals. But on a superior strategy the VRS Coanda car crossed the line to win by 27 seconds.
For the first time after the updated Balance of Performance the GT1 team struggled in qualifying and would start the race only in 6th position. Rens and Klaus showed the potential of the car for the first time settings the fastest race laps, but after getting caught up in incidents a stop & go penalty was issued, ending all hopes for a first win this season.
For the first time in the NEO Endurance series we’d have a 24 hour race on our hands. A closely contested qualifying saw Martin edge out the pole from Mivano.
After a close first stint with Mivano, once Martin broke the draft behind, the gap would keep increasing.
Changing strategies mid-race from double stinting to triple stinting, the car driven by Mack, Martin, Martti and Mitchell would only lose the lead from overlapping pit strategies. Once the track started heating up again in the morning the gap was big enough to play it safe on the double stints.
In the end the #1 car crossed the finish line roughly 3 minutes ahead of 2nd place Mivano.
The VRS Coanda Corvette drivers, who were supported by David for this race, were expecting a lot from this race in their Chevy V8 powered car. The team struggled in qualifying and had to start way back from P10. After Jörn had to start from the pitlane and came in again after the first lap, the team found itself down in last place, 90 seconds behind the lead cars.
After a very uneventful race for the team, with several teams retiring and getting caught up in incidents, the team found itself in P3 at the 12 hour mark. With strong race pace the team could defend this position and finish just two and a half minutes behind CORE and SimRC.de, scoring enough points to claim third place overall in the championship.