DANIEL ROWE WINS THRILLING INAUGERAL VIRTUAL SAGT RACE
Race report: Virtual SAGT Round 1 and 2
Aldo Scribante Circuit, Gqeberha
21 May 2021
Daniel Rowe converted his third place qualifying slot into a 4.5 second victory in the first ever Virtual SA GT race using a risky but ultimately successful pitstop strategy to beat the driver of the day, Tristan de Nobrega into second place, after de Nobrega missed qualifying and started from the back of the grid.
The Virtual SAGT Championship replicates all the South African racing circuits used in the SAGT National Championship this season, another world first for the Southern African Endurance Series organizers.
Rowe, a professional factory racing driver, crossed from the virtual world and earned his first real drive in a SAGT Lamborghini Huracan GT3 last weekend in round three of the SAGT National Championship before bouncing back into the digital space to claim a hard-fought win.
Pole-sitter Luc Lucchesi (Ferrari), with a time of 56.452 seconds, scorched into the lead while Rowe quickly passed front row starter Johann Grobler in another Ferrari. Rowe was right on Lucchesi’s tail as the leaders caught the backmarkers, closing to half a second after 20 minutes of racing.
It was game on! As the leading pair avoided a backmarker, Rowe made a move around the outside of the Ferrari at the end of the main straight; both touched and left the track, leaving Johan Labuschagne’s Ferrari in the lead, with Rowe lucky to stay second but Lucchesi was suddenly out of the lead and down in fifth place.
Behind the lead fight, Andre Serodio (BMW M6 GT3) and Kurt Glashagen (Ferrari) had a great scrap, swapping positions as they scythed through the slower cars with Barkhuizen’s Porsche GT3 in close attendance.
Half the field pitted at the halfway mark, dropping a lap behind the leading scrap. Serodio dropped to ninth, and when Labuschagne pitted, Rowe was back in the lead. De Nobrega set the fastest lap as he sliced through the pack into podium contention.
As the minutes ticked down, Lucchesi pitted, dropping to fifth behind Serodio’s BMW. All eyes were on the top three as none had pitted, which required a minimum of 41 seconds.
With just six minutes of racing left, Rowe pitted – a quick stop – which left De Nobrega in the lead for a lap until he too made his compulsory stop.
Rowe was back in front, from De Nobrega and Serodio as they crossed the line, followed by Lucchesi, Barkhuizen and Labuschagne.
RACE 2: TRISTAN DE NOBREGA CLICHES DRAMATIC VIRTUAL SAGT VICTORY
As is the case in the real SAGT Championship, the race two grid is set according to drivers’ fastest laps set in race one.
Johan Labuschagne lined up on pole in his Ferrari, followed by De Nobrega, Damian van der Walt (Ferrari), Serodio, Lucchesi, Ethan Smith, Rowe in seventh and Kurt Glashagen.
The opening laps provided plenty of drama; by Turn One, Lucchesi grabbed third, followed by Rowe in fourth and by Turn Four, Cape Town karter De Nobrega was into the lead. Serodio spun down to seventh.
A lap later, Lucchesi tried to take Labuschagne, who defended vigorously, giving the Ferrari driver a wild moment as he struggled to remain in control, allowing Rowe to close right up. Glashagen followed in fifth, closely ahead of fellow Ferrari racer Smith, who had Serodio all over the back of his car.
Five laps in, Lucchesi took second while Serodio tried to take Smith on the inside line at the hairpin. The pair touched, sending Serodio’s BMW into a spin with more drama for Serodio as he and Douw Gerber (Ferrari) touched at the sweep, sending both cars off the track, dropping to the bottom of the top 10.
Rowe changed his winning race one strategy by pitting after 16 minutes, which dropped him to 12th.
Glashagen was into third, ahead of Labuschagne and Hildebrandt. Further back, Gerber and Luke had a huge fight, with Tihan van Rooyen and Smith also enjoying a mighty tussle over ninth position.
Mid-race, Hildebrandt and Grobler were bumper-to-bumper; Grobler got great drive out of the last corner and passed his rival down the main straight. Rowe was scything through the pack, setting the fastest lap.
Lucchesi pitted for a splash and dash, dropping to third while Glashagen copied the move to emerge in fourth.
De Nobrega’s race almost unraveled with 15 minutes to go when Glashagen spun, setting off again right in front of De Nobrega, who crashed into the Ferrari. The leader had 37 seconds in hand but with unknown damage; Lucchesi, whose tyres were toast as he was yet to pit, allowed De Nobrega to open his lead to 45 seconds. Lucchesi had Grobler 1.5 seconds behind, but Grobler spun out at the final corner with six minutes left on the clock.
De Nobrega made a mistake on the last lap, but with 30 seconds still in hand it was no more than a heart-in-mouth moment. Lucchesi duly took second ahead of a delighted Grobler joining the podium celebrations.
Tristan De Nobrega leads the championship table by six points from Daniel Rowe, tied for second with Luc Lucchesi.
The Virtual SAGT Championship is proudly supported by ATK, Africa Race Together, Michelin, Fast Racing Fuels, Toys-R-Us, Motorsport SA and SAGT.