Williams continued its form from the Spa 24 Hours to take another victory in the Intercontinental GT Challenge at Suzuka, but the championship will go down to the final round with three cars left in the title hunt.
The championship-leading Williams machine, the #555 Mercedes, had to settle for third on the grid at Suzuka, behind both their team-mates in the #6 Audi and the pole-sitting Wippermann Racing Audi. It was the Wippermann squad’s second pole of the season, and the only car to hit a sub-1:58 lap – with the top 30 separated by only a second.
With ten hours separating the green and chequered flags it was a relatively gentle start for the top 20, who mostly remained in their starting positions for the entire first hour. The only incident of note came at the Degners on lap one, when the silver class Vladislav Kolosov (Armamentario) was adjudged to have caused a collision with Dario Iemmulo (VS Racing) which scattered the field from 20th back.
Moving into the second stints the lead changed hands in bizarre fashion. Both Luis Roters (Wippermann) and Tinko van der Velde (Williams) encountered trouble in the shape of Simone Iezzi in the Absolute Aston Martin. Although almost a lap down, Iezzi wasn’t keen to surrender his position and even re-passed Roters to unlap himself. Rattled, Roters collided with the Aston at Spoon – which the stewards classed as a racing incident – allowing van der Velde to take the lead.
Overtaking at Suzuka was very much at a premium, so despite losing time hand over fist to the leading Williams Audi, the Wippermann car was able to hold position and fend off the main championship contenders – Williams AMG and Unicorns of Love – until a fourth-hour incident.
Daire McCormack (Williams) had been biding his time under the Audi’s rear wing, but made an optimistic move into turn one and span Jura Petritchenko (Wippermann). That attracted a ten-second penalty, and effectively relegated the team behind its main championship rival.
But for a brief challenge from the Veloce McLaren – race-winner all the back in round one at Bathurst – it’d be the #4 UOL Mercedes that would hold second through the mid-point as the leading Audi had dragged almost 30 seconds clear. However it seemed that the Ferraris were having much better race pace than qualifying times, with the silver class RennWelten eSports Red car in third overall and the works Pro entry now up to fifth in class.
The Veloce and William-AMG cars were providing the most entertainment, but eventually both were adjudged to have caused avoidable collisions with each other and collected a five-second penalty each.
As they slipped back a little, the Ferraris came to the fore again. With the race entering its final hour and darkness falling on the circuit, both the silver class RennWelten car and the works car – now driven by Jordan Sherratt – leapt past all but the leading Audi.
Tobias Gronewald, now in the Unicorns of Love car, had designs on Sherratt’s class second, but with just three laps to go he ran wide in turn one and fell afoul of the totting-up system to earn a drive-through penalty. To add insult to injury, and while serving the drive-through Gronewald also earned five seconds for a collision with Sherratt in the Triangle.
That allowed the Williams-AMG car past into third in class, which is where it would finish. Having been in the lead since the incident in the second hour, the Williams Esports Audi car took the win by almost 30 seconds from the leading Silver class car of RennWelten Red, with Sherratt’s Ferrari the next Pro car in third overall another 15 seconds back.
The result means Williams-AMG has extended its championship lead slightly over the UOL team, to 18 points, while Scuderia Ferrari is still just in contention for the title a further 12 points behind.
Williams Esports (Crossland, Fiala, Rodrigues, Van Der Velde – Audi R8 GT3 Evo) – 294 laps
Scuderia Ferrari (Capoccia, Harteveld, Riley, Sherrat – Ferrari 296 GT3) +42.965
Williams Esports (Blajer, McCormack, Schoniger – Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo) +1:03.492
Garrett Lowe is the first driver to book his spot in the season-ending eNASCAR Championship 4 after taking victory in the first race of the playoffs at Michigan International Speedway.
Lowe had started well on the second row, but a gaggle of early cautions saw him slip down the order and running outside the top ten by the time of the fifth caution at half-distance. Having stopped for tyres during this period, the race looked to be going the way of 2021 champion Keegan Leahy.
With just a few metres to go before Leahy took the white flag former champions Michael Conti and Nick Ottinger were involved in an incident which sent the race into overtime, and Leahy himself was among the cars crashing at the first restart – along with defending champion Casey Kirwan.
At the second restart Lowe stormed through from fourth to grab the lead from Ryan Luza for the first time in the race, holding off a late challenge from fellow finalist Steven Wilson to take victory and a shot at the $100,000 prize.
eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series Playoffs Round 1 Results
Garrett Lowe (Jim Beaver – Ford Mustang) – 78 laps
Steven Wilson (Stewart-Haas – Ford Mustang) +0.128