GT World Challenge America yields a fourth winner | FOS Future Lab
The GT World Challenge America Esports series has once again thrown up a different winner, with Jordan Grant-Smith taking the top step on his debut.
Going into the fourth race of the season at Hungaroring, three different drivers had tasted victory. Cody Pryde won the opening round at Kyalami in the Porsche 911, before defending champion Michael Kundakcioglu drove his McLaren to the championship lead at Donington. Philippe Simard made it three with a win in his BMW M6 at Spa-Francorchamps.
Along with Chris Severt, who’d quietly managed a string of high-placed finishes, these four drivers topped the table and would be favourites for the Hungaroring event – but Pryde was absent, and once again the form book went out of the window.
Instead, it was Luke Whitehead on pole position in the McLaren 720S, with Grant-Smith alongside in the 911 – neither driver having raced in the championship yet this season. Simard was best of the championship challengers in third, with Kundakcioglu in fifth.
Hungaroring is no better a track for overtaking in sim-racing than it is in real life, so turn one would prove crucial – but was impeccably observed. Whitehead, Grant-Smith, and Simard entered the turn three abreast but came out in their original order – with Aloo Gobi nearly snatching third in her McLaren.
With passing at a premium, the compulsory pit stop became a race-deciding factor. Whitehead was first in, aiming for the undercut, and emerged in clear air to get some fast laps in. However, the later stop proved to be the wiser tactical choice, with both Grant-Smith and Simard taking their stops at the very end of the window and coming out ahead.
Despite Simard’s harrying for the entire second half of the race, there was no way past for the BMW, allowing Grant-Smith to take a debut victory. Whitehead held on to third to lead a three-car McLaren train with Kundakcioglu fourth ahead of Gobi in fifth, and Severt sixth in the Aston Martin.
There’s only a single sprint race left in the Americas season, at Japan’s Suzuka Circuit in October. Kundakcioglu still leads the way, but only by two points now from Simard at 59 to 57. Severt is yet to win in the series but sits third on 51. Pryde is out of contention for the overall title now on 33 points, while Grant-Smith’s win sees him leap into fifth, tied on 25 points with Killian Ryan-Meenan.
Although the official F1 Esports season is still a couple of months away, many of the drivers we’ll be watching later in the year were in action in the Premier Sim Gaming Leagues F1 series, which started this week.
The entry list reads like a who’s who of F1 Esports – including some names we’re likely to see selected for the 2021 season when the roster is announced this September, like Sebastian Job, Josh Idowu, and Domenico Lovece. Defending PSGL F1 and F1 Esports champion Jarno Opmeer headed a star-studded driver lineup that included 2020 F1 Esports runner-up and Formula E Accelerate champion Frede Rasmussen, and 2020 race winner Nicolas Longuet.
Opmeer was on typical form for the first race at Bahrain, setting the pole position lap in the Mercedes by just 0.003s from Longuet’s Alpine, in a field covered by just 0.7s from the slowest car in Q1. The Dutchman got the best start of all too, leading the field through turn one, while team-mate Dani Moreno split the Alpines behind.
The two Mercedes ran different strategies, and that resulted in Moreno taking the lead into the final stint. However, he was only able to hold Opmeer off until two laps from home when a spectacular double-DRS pass saw not just Opmeer but also McLaren’s Bari Boroumand scythe past into turn one. Broumand was carrying a three-second time penalty from a lap one incident, however, and though he crossed the line in second, he would be demoted to seventh.
Instead, it was Moreno who scored the second place, with Shanaka Clay’s Aston Martin promoted to third and his team-mate Lucas Blakeley in fourth.
PSGL will run weekly through to the beginning of November, with a break week in October.