British GT Esports blasts through Brands Hatch | FOS Future Lab
Firm pre-season favourite James Baldwin beat the success ballast to take his second successive win in the British GT Esports Championship.
The British driver, who made his name in esports before taking up a seat in the 2020 British GT championship for the Jenson Button/Bob Neville Team Rocket RJN outfit, took victory by just over a second from real and virtual team-mate Michael O’Brien, though he was certainly made to work for it this time out at Brands Hatch.
Pole-sitter for the third round was Jody Fannin, in the Ferrari, who managed to beat Baldwin to the line by a tenth. However, Sandy Mitchell’s third-place Lamborghini experienced issues on the warm-up lap and had to start from the pits, leaving a handy gap for O’Brien who took maximum advantage and snatched second from Baldwin in the opening exchanges.
While British GT has seen some questionable first corners in the opening two races, Paddock Hill and Druids were largely clean. Race one winner Angus Fender was squeezed wide exiting Druids but recovered to fifth, but team-mate Ben Green ended up staring at the barriers on the Cooper Straight after door-to-door contact with Morgan Short’s McLaren.
Fannin’s lead only lasted the first lap before O’Brien set up a pass that lasted from Paddock Hill to Surtees. At the same time the third McLaren of Alex Buncombe nipped past Baldwin to drop the favourite to fourth. That was how things remained until the lead pack caught up with the GT4s. O’Brien carved through largely unaffected, but Baldwin was able to sneak back past Buncombe and both caught up onto Fannin’s rear wing – but with that extra 30kg on board, Baldwin couldn’t complete a pass.
With the pit window open, Baldwin made the earliest stop he possibly could, and Buncombe dived in right behind him, but the two had very different stops with Buncombe losing some seven seconds to his team-mate in the pits. O’Brien followed suit, with Fannin the last of the lead four to pit and coming out behind both McLarens. That set up a 30-minute chase to the flag, with Baldwin gradually reeling in O’Brien ahead despite the ballast disadvantage. From a four-second gap over Fannin at his stop, it soon became less than a second to Baldwin, but the two seemed content to run nose-to-tail.
Baldwin was perhaps biding his time, but an opportunity soon presented itself. As O’Brien went to pass the GT4 McLaren of Philipp Engmann, he found his path through Stirlings blocked. That was all the excuse Baldwin needed to send it up the inside of the pair of them and into the lead. Sporting less success ballast, O’Brien would have been hopeful of finding a way back past, but his luck with the GT4 cars almost immediately repeated itself. One lap later O’Brien tripped over the Alpine A110 of Michael Kundakcioglu in Clark Curve as the unsighted GT4 car shut the door on him, losing a second to Baldwin. Buncombe, still running fourth, was having a worse time, picking up a 20-second stop-go penalty for battering clean through Manuel Rodriguez’s KTM X-Bow.
While O’Brien could keep in touch with Baldwin, he wasn’t able to make enough progress as the time ran out, and Baldwin took his second successive win in the series. Fannin was only 2.5 seconds further back in third, while Short inherited fourth after a five second penalty for Fender.
Nils Naujoks finally claimed a victory in the GT4 class for qualified gamers, which also propels him into the championship lead. Just as with GT3, the victory came from second on the grid as Naujoks was starting second on the road behind fastest online qualifier Tariq Gamil who then took the qualifying session by 0.024 seconds. Gamil’s lead lasted two corners before Naujoks – also defying success ballast – took the position and never really looked back. Gamil soon slipped back into the clutches of Moritz Loehner’s McLaren 570S, and then the second BMW of Gregor Schill. Although Loehner was able to cut Naujoks’ lead in the pit stop, the two ended up almost two seconds apart at the chequered flag, with Schill, Robbie Stapleford, and Gamil coming across the line almost together, but some 14 seconds behind the lead pair.
British GT Esports heads to Silverstone next weekend, where Baldwin – who now leads the standings by 28 points – can claim the title with a round to spare. Naujoks is in with a chance of doing the same in GT4, with a 22 point lead over second round winner George Boothby, though will be fighting with maximum success ballast.
In addition to the British GT Esports series, SRO has announced three regional championships for 2021 to accompany the GT World Challenge Asia, America, and Europe series. Each of the three championships will consist of two parts, with a Sprint Series for solo drivers and an Endurance Series aimed at established esports teams, all using the official game of the championship, Assetto Corsa Competizione.
The Sprint Series on each continent will run in a very similar manner to the GT4 class in British GT, with drivers running online qualification hot-laps in order to secure one of 44 places in the first race of the season. Thereafter, the top five in each hour-long race win points and qualify for the next round, with hot-lap qualifying open for the remaining places.
In total there’ll be 20 Sprint Series races, with 10 for Europe and five each for America and Asia. These start with rounds at Brands Hatch (Asia) on 20th May, Monza (Europe) on 21st May, and Kyalami (South Africa) on 22nd May, and run through to 29th October.
Things are a little different for the Endurance Series, with only a single hot-lap qualifying event at the start of the season to determine the 44-car field, drawn from three- or four-driver teams. Most of the races – three each for Asia and America, and five for Europe – will be between three and six hours long, but there’s a ten-hour race at Suzuka for Asia, a 12-hour race at Bathurst for America, and a virtual Total 24 Hours of Spa for the competitors in Europe. The first race gets underway on 22nd May with the Europe contingent running a three-hour event at Monza.
Unusually, access to the qualifying sessions will require a monetary contribution, which will go towards the championships’ prize funds. SRO will crown Sprint and Endurance Series winners in each continent, and has plans for a global final at the end of the season. All 31 races will be live streamed on YouTube, Twitch, and Facebook.
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