Ahead of the real world 24 Hours of Spa this weekend, the pro drivers were in sim-racing action in the Fanatec Esports GT Pro Series.
This pilot event is the first of its kind, with points towards the overall GT World Challenge Europe titles awarded for the esports series, along with the Sprint and Endurance races. Each team in the Pro and Silver categories sends a single driver along for an hour-long sim race on Assetto Corsa Competizione – the official racing game of the series – with three points towards their championship challenge available at each round.
The Spa event was the third race this season, but despite this there’s already a clear form book emerging. Arthur Rougier for Emil Frey Racing and Daniel Juncadella for AKKA were the only two pro drivers to have recorded a podium in both previous rounds, and Rougier almost immediately jumped David Pittard’s pole-sitting Walkenhorst BMW at the race start.
Indeed it seemed like Rougier’s race to lose as he built a comfortable five-second advantage during the first phase, but then a hold-up in the pits saw that lead wiped out, and more. Pittard, who pitted at the same time, emerged in the lead, with Matt Campbell’s Porsche splitting the two following his earlier stop.
However a mistake from Campbell at Les Combes allowed Rougier back up into second. That resulted in a 15-minute dogfight to the chequered flag, but despite almost drawing level in the final run through the Bus Stop, Rougier couldn’t overhaul Pittard for the BMW team’s first win of the season. A third successive podium though puts Emil Frey Racing at the top of the table on six points, two clear of the non-scoring AKKA.
The Silver class race was no less frantic, and somewhat predicted events out on the real circuit. Fabrizio Crestani became the second successive driver to win for the Rinaldi Racing team, with a fourth place overall finish. Crestani could only qualify third, but issues for Kikko Galbiati at the Bus Stop on the first lap and Marvin Dienst’s high speed crash at Raidillon promoted the Ferrari to the front for a rather untroubled race.
Further back, Madpanda’s Ezequiel Companc had a much busier event, fighting back from a lowly ninth in class – and 21st overall – to pick up two points from a second-place class finish. The team remains second overall, two points behind the Rinaldi squad.
GT Academy graduate Ricardo Sanchez took his first ever class win in the real 24 Hours of Spa – and the first for any GT Academy winner – courtesy of a very similar performance from the very same Madpanda team. Sanchez won the famous “gamer-to-racer” program in 2014, in which players qualified through the Gran Turismo game series with the prize of a real-world racing career through the event’s partnership with Nissan. The Mexican driver remained attached to Nissan, and drove three 24 Hours of Spa for the brand, until 2018, and has driven for both Madpanda and Haupt in the Endurance Series this year.
Madpanda could only qualify 27th overall, but an inspired pit stop when the traditional Spa downpour started – following a lengthy full-course yellow for a nightmare crash between Jack Aitken, Kevin Estre, Franck Perera and Davide Rigon – put the Mercedes at the head of the Silver Cup pack. It was a lead the team never surrendered over the following 22 hours.
The final 12 drivers have booked their places in the 48-car Ferrari Esports Series starting later in the month, with the fourth round of qualifying from Zandvoort.
It was a race dominated by France’s Maxime Batifoulier and Poland’s Wojciech Lukasek, who ended up nose-to-tail but some 16 seconds clear of the chasing pack. That was courtesy of Dutch driver Maurice Strijker’s unforced error on lap one sending him tumbling from third down to a perilous 12th, though he managed a fine fightback to 9th to ensure his qualification for the finals.
The Logitech McLaren G Challenge (you can watch the video here) had its first qualification races this past week too. A new format for 2021 will see racers from four regions – Asia-Pacific (AP), Europe/Middle East/Africa (EMEA), Latin America (LATAM), and North America (NA) – attempt to qualify in any of three categories for semi-finals later this year. Online qualifiers precede month-ending live events, with the top three in each making their way through to the semi-final events.
Matt Danson, Nick Ottinger, Octavio Rondoletto, and Oisin Walsh came out on top in the stock car event at the Charlotte Speedway in their respective regions, while the open wheel challenge using the Dallara IR01 saw Justin Bustamante, Brandon Hawkin, Muhammad Ibrahim, and Marcus Jensen take the wins.
More familiar names won in the sportscar event – using the McLaren 720S GT3 – with Philippa Boquida and Tobias Pfeffer winning in Asia-Pacific and EMEA respectively. Phelipe Roberto and Ryan Yee also won through in their regions. Graham Carroll (EMEA, Open Wheel) and Andika Rama Maulana (AP, Sport Car) also qualified among the 36 drivers across the regions and classes.
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