After taking victory in the 2022 Porsche Esports Challenge USA at Indianapolis, Randall Haywood has done it again in the 2023 edition, this year held at Rennsport Reunion 7 at Laguna Seca.
Haywood came home first in the live event, claiming a $15,000 first prize and a TAG Heuer Connected Calibre E4 Porsche Edition Watch, as well as an impressive trophy depicting the Laguna Seca circuit.
36,000 players across the USA tried out for the event, in a series of online time trials and in-person events at Porsche dealers across the nation, with just 16 places up for grabs in the final. Along with some regulars at GT World Series events, including Haywood and two-time world champion Daniel Solis, there were a few new names in the mix too.
Spread over two days, the event consisted of a semi-finals stage, with two groups of eight racers going head-to-head over three rounds of racing, before the finals on Saturday evening that saw the best four from each group taking part in two further races.
The semi-finals went more or less to the form book, with a couple of surprises. Haywood and Dean Heldt would share the spoils in their bracket — with Haywood taking two wins to Heldt’s one — though GT World Tour driver Kevan Pounder wasn’t able to progress as he could only place fifth overall.
Despite winning the Laguna Seca race, 2022 runner-up Andrew McCabe suffered a similar fate in the other bracket, after an error in the race at Road Atlanta ended with him finishing in last. Robby Heck won the remaining two races, with Donovan Parker and Solis also safely through.
With Heck and Haywood tied on points after the semi-finals it set the scene for two frantic final races — made more so by some chaos on lap one of the first race at Spa.
After getting the best start and pulling a gap on Heck behind, Haywood became the victim of a collision on braking at Les Combes. It seemed — from the one-second penalty later handed out — that Solis made a bit of a pig’s ear of a move on Dean Heldt, skittering across the inside of the right-hander and blazing through the cars ahead. Secondary contacts essentially cleared the path for Heck, while Haywood fell to sixth.
Fortunately for Haywood, who also made a tactical late pit stop for the softer tire, there were plenty of other incidents which allowed him to recover to third behind Heck and Parker. Heldt’s fifth-place finish, behind Solis, just about kept him in the hunt for the title with the final round being double points.
Heck would start on pole for the race, at Daytona’s Road Course, and would be the only driver to do so on the softer tire. Despite an initial burst of speed though, he wasn’t able to pull quite the gap we’d expect — dented a little by an unseen incident. He’d also be the final car to pit, only 26 seconds up the road from what was now a chasing pack of three, and on the much slower hard tire.
That all came to a head on, unluckily, at the end of lap 13. Following a side-by-side collision between Heldt and Haywood — not judged to be worth a stewards’ intervention — Haywood took the lead into turn one, dragging Parker through with him.
Although Parker and Haywood were scrapping through to the checkered flag, it would be Haywood who’d take the win. Heck was able to hold on for third, but that would only be good enough to place as runner-up to Haywood for his second successive title.
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