Although nine teams were still in the running after the two rounds so far – at Bathurst and at Monza – only the championship’s top four, led by the Sidemax/Black Hawk squad, had realistic hopes. However qualifying for the longest race of the Americas’ season saw all four with plenty of work to do. PPR Esports Blue was the best-placed, qualifying in fifth, with round one winner HPD JAS Pro America in sixth, round two winner Kings of Asphalt in eighth, and the championship leaders in tenth.
The top 13 cars though were covered by just 0.5 seconds, with the FFS Racing car – consisting of Sprint series champion Michael Kundakcioglu, Sprint series runner up Philippe Simard, and Sprint series race winner Killian Ryan-Meenan – taking pole position.
A first corner contact, at the Andretti Hairpin which technically comprises Laguna Seca’s second corner, saw Kundakcioglu come together with Ben Creanor in the other HPD Honda, #94, with the stewards deciding that the cars needed to swap positions as a result.
Creanor though soon threw the lead away, running wide out of turn five and ending the team’s slim championship hopes, while promoting the sister #93 Honda into the effective championship lead. However, Nicolas Hillebrand at the wheel of that car overcooked his braking defending into the famous Corkscrew, and ended up falling back far enough for van der Velde’s McLaren to overtake and assume the live championship lead.
Kundakcioglu was next to come a cropper at the Corkscrew, although his was not self-inflicted. Instead the race-leader was tapped off at the top of the hill by a BMW he’d just lapped, allowing the Williams McLaren of Igor de Oliveira Rodrigues to take the lead. That roughly corresponded to the first pit stops and driver changes, with the two HPD cars coming in together to start the rush to the pitlane, and the race began to settle down as new drivers took control.
As the race evolved through the second and third hours, it looked like the Williams team was going to run away with it, until just after the halfway mark. Having driven the opening three hours, de Oliveira Rodrigues handed over to Renan Negrini, who was almost immediately in strife. Negrini appeared to miss the Andretti Hairpin, and in recovering to the track contacted a back-marker and span. Just to pile on the misery, the stewards hit Negrini with a drive-through for an unsafe rejoin, wiping out the healthy lead he’d started with and putting the Williams car behind the FFS Ferrari (now driven by Simard) and the #3 PPR Esports car of Harry Spiers.
That battle would define the last three hours, the race, and the championship as a whole. Regardless of who was driving – Taha Malih and Jordan Grant-Smith also in the PPR car – the two were rarely more than a couple of seconds apart and usually much less. With the time counting down and Cairns holding third in the Sidemax/Black Hawk McLaren, Spiers needed to pass Simard to take the championship.
Spiers made his move with six minutes left, running into the Andretti Hairpin, but came into contact with the pink Ferrari, which span. That resulted in an order to return the place, setting up a final two-lap sprint to the flag. Ultimately, Spiers couldn’t make a pass, having to settle for second by just 0.4 seconds and allowing Simard to take the win for FFS.
Third place on the road was enough though for Sidemax x Black Hawk – the only team to finish on the podium in all three races this season – to take the overall title by four points, on 48 to PPR Esports Purple’s 44. The #93 HPD Honda came home in fourth to take third in the championship on 39.
That means there’s only one event remaining in this year’s regional GT World Challenge Esports championships, with the Endurance Series final in Asia to take place at Suzuka this coming week and four teams still in contention for that title.
However that won’t quite be everything, as there’s also a planned grand final later in the year which will see the top endurance and sprint series drivers from all three regions coming together for a single, one-off event to crown a global champion. The format for this has yet to be revealed, pending an announcement from SRO Esports.
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