Arthur Rougier, driving for Emil Frey Racing, has wrapped up the overall Fanatec Esports GT Pro Series title with a round to spare, despite a second place finish in the latest round at the Nurburgring.
The German circuit was hosting the fourth round of the five-round esports championship which sees the teams of the real GT World Challenge Europe field their official drivers in an hour-long virtual sprint race to win points towards their overall title challenge.
Though the races only award three points for the win, two for second, and one for third, the esports event was proving a tie-breaker in the Silver Cup, with Team WRT’s extra point over the AKKA squad giving it a half-point overall championship lead.
Entering this weekend’s races at the Nürburgring, the Emil Frey team held a two-point advantage over AKKA in the Pro class, with the team being the only one to manage podium finishes in all three races, courtesy of Rougier. That meant that a second-place finish, so long as AKKA didn’t win, would be enough to claim the title - and that’s exactly where Rougier qualified the Lamborghini, albeit fourth on the grid, with two Silver Cup cars separating him from pole man Dries Vanthoor in the WRT Audi.
However it was Silver class driver Ryuichiro Tomita who played a starring role in the race. Qualifying second in the sister WRT Audi – teams must enter one driver for each class they enter – Tomita quickly scythed through into the lead in the opening complex.
The two Audis pulled away from Rougier four a handful of laps before Tomita’s pace proved too much for Vanthoor to live with – and the Pro WRT car began to fall back into the clutches of Rougier and David Pittard’s Walkenhorst BMW. That was actually an indication of an issue with Vanthoor’s Audi, which retired shortly after.
Tomita was proving uncatchable though. By the time Rougier pitted, the Silver driver was more than ten seconds ahead of the Pro – but then Rougier had no real need to catch up, as he was in position to claim a class win. That was assisted by the battle between Pittard and Matt Campbell in the GPX Porsche behind, with the two cars losing time to Rougier while scrapping. It would prove an unnecessary tussle too, as Campbell didn’t pick up the mandatory litre of fuel in his required pit stop which would dump him down to 15th with a two-minute post-race penalty.
Ultimately it was Tomita’s race, and he’d claim the first overall win by a Silver driver in the championship this season as well as his second class win. Rougier would come home 14 seconds behind to take second overall but the crucial Pro class victory, four seconds clear of Pittard. Such was Tomita’s dominance that the second Silver car, the GRT Lamborghini driven by Kikko Grasser, was some 22 seconds back at the flag.
That gives Emil Frey an unassailable four-point lead over Walkenhorst, nine points to five, in the Pro class with a single round remaining, with AKKA now third on four points. The Silver class is much tighter though, as the Rinaldi team’s first failure to score sees its lead cut to a single point over the victorious WRT car, seven points to six. Madpanda also failed to score for the first time and remains on five points, dropping to third.
The Nürburgring GP circuit would also host the first round of the regular season of the Ferrari Esports Series this past week too. After all the qualifying rounds earlier in the season, the final 48 drivers – accompanied by two female wildcards, Timea Bencsik and Lyubov Ozeretskovskaya – will be racing in a four-race championship season for one of 24 places in the Grand Final later in the year.
With so many drivers taking part, the field is split into two brackets, and the top 12 from each will take up their places, and it was the UK’s Isaac Price that took first blood in Group A. Though hassled throughout by Kamil Pawlowski, polesitter Price led the race from lights to flag, just as he had done back at the first qualification round at Brands Hatch back in April when he became the first driver to qualify for this stage.
Group B went to a similar theme, but with veteran French racer Arnaud Lacombe heading the pack. Lacombe qualified in May by winning the round at Laguna Seca, by a massive 18-second margin, and once again he demolished the field here. Leading away from pole position, Lacombe simply drove away from the chasing field to win by 15 seconds – Maichol Tonizza the best of the rest, with Maxime Batifoulier barely half a second further back after a race-long scrap.
There’s three more rounds of the championship to go, with one each in September, October, and November, before the grand final in December.
The fourth round of the PSGL season was able to run this weekend from Circuit Zandvoort, and a shock result saw Joni Tormala take the win with championship leader Jarno Opmeer coming home as the second last runner at his home race.
It was a race that hinged on an unfortunately timed safety car. Despite a first pole position for Red Bull’s Ruben Vallejo, Opmeer led the race through the first stint on the medium tyres and was looking to be in the perfect position for the closing stages as the weather closed in.
However Simon Weigang crashed his Alfa Romeo heavily just as the rain started to fall, bringing out the safety car and a frantic dash to the pits for most of the field. It’s not clear if Opmeer made an error in the confusion or was anticipating less rain, but instead of intermediate tyres the Dutch driver picked up a set of softs instead.
When the safety car peeled off, Opmeer immediately plunged down the order, while Tormala dashed off at the head of the field. The Finnish driver’s AlphaTauri team-mate, Sebastian Job, would take third for the team, split by Louis Welch filling in for Shanaka Clay at Aston Martin.
While the rest of the season is in doubt, Opmeer does still hold the championship lead by 18 points from new second-place driver Jake Benham.