Baldwin takes Fanatec Esports GT Pro win at Spa | FOS Future Lab
Esports specialist James Baldwin has taken a dominant, if unsurprising, victory in the Fanatec Esports GT Pro series at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps.
With considerable experience driving both the real and virtual McLaren 720S GT3, Baldwin – without a real-world drive since the 2020 season where he won a round of the British GT Championship – was a natural choice for the Garage 59 McLaren seat in both the 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps and the hour-long Esports race beforehand.
Baldwin’s Esports prowess, as one of the drivers fighting for the GTWC Europe title this season, was obvious as he comfortably outclassed the field in qualifying. The McLaren’s pole position time was almost a second quicker than the nearest rival, Rowe’s Max Hesse – although Hesse was still the lead Pro class car. Nicki Thiim quickly passed Hesse to take the Pro class lead, but Baldwin had already checked out at this point and was busy setting fastest laps.
It wasn’t long before Hesse also dropped behind Nicklas Nielsen with a smart move at the Bus Stop and Luca Ghiotto at La Source, but Ghiotto had earned a penalty for contact earlier in the race with Silver class Tommaso Mosca. Mosca, running second in class, collided with Hesse through Blanchimont and saw his race end prematurely. That promoted class championship leader Alex Aka into second, he briefly battled with Hesse before the pit window opened but eventually fell away from the Pro driver.
Baldwin took the win by 15 seconds from Thiim, who was himself nearly 18 seconds ahead of Ghiotto. Despite not taking the overall win, Thiim took victory in the Pro class and five points in the championship to put the BeechdeanAMR team four points clear of Attemptom while Rowe sit at the top of the table on 11 points. With five points for the Silver class win, Garage 59 is now joint second on five points with Akkodis and Haupt, while Attempto holds a huge lead with 13 points.
In addition to the pro event, SRO Esports also held a special “Sim Racing Night” at Spa, bringing along some of the best drivers in the GT World Challenge Esports for a rare, in-person event. One notable absence was Baldwin, who was of course occupied driving Garage 59’s real car in the 24-hour race at the time.
Tobias Pfeffer qualified his Lamborghini on pole position for the race and led for the entire opening half, but found himself staring at the back of Kamil Pawlowski’s Ferrari despite both pitting at the same time. That quickly became two Ferraris, as David Tonizza used the overcut to leapfrog both cars.
Amazingly, Pawlowski experienced a technical failure with the driving rig with just six minutes to go which eliminated him from the race with a Ferrari 1-2 looking certain. Tonizza coasted to the finish, over four seconds clear of Pfeffer, with Nils Naujoks taking third.
Newcomer Kylian Drumont proved a force to be reckoned with after taking wins in both Gran Turismo championships on his debut, in the first Gran Turismo live event in more than two years. Drumont was driving for the much fancied Subaru team in the Manufacturers Cup – a team event for drivers representing a brand – but the squad suffered a blow with the late withdrawal of its lead driver, 2020 champion Takuma Miyazono, after a positive COVID test.
After showing some good early pace, and a solid middle stint from Daniel Solis, Drumont took the Subaru for a second time and quickly blitzed through the field to take the lead with 14 laps remaining. Despite late attention from Lucas Bonelli in the AMG though, Subaru took the win, with Toyota in third – and Subaru now holds a four-point lead over AMG after two of five rounds.
In Nations Cup, Drumont had to settle for a third-place spot in his regional qualifier as Jose Serrano ran out a comfortable winner from Beauvois. 2018 champion Igor Fraga won the Americas regional event, with Ryota Kokubun taking the Asia-Oceania race.
Fraga made the best start to lead the opening exchanges, before executing a curious strategy that saw him pit twice in two laps in order to meet mandatory tyre requirements. In fact it seemed like all the drivers had some tactical tricks up their sleeves, resulting in seven lead changes and a race that was almost impossible to call.
However, after a relatively quiet run, it was Drumont who would play his hand best, coming out from his final stop with a narrow lead over Fraga which he’d hold until the former champion’s tyres went off – almost falling to third behind Kokubun. With seven points after two rounds, Fraga leads the championship from Drumont on six.