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Baldwin wins GT World Challenge Europe Sprint title | FOS Future Lab

15th November 2021
Andrew Evans

The UK’s James Baldwin has taken the individual GT World Challenge Europe title to deny David Tonizza a championship double, after a closely fought final round at Circuit Spa-Francorchamps.

Though the two drivers have shared the championship lead all season long, neither set the timing screens alight during qualifying. Tonizza was the best-placed of the two in 11th place, while Baldwin could only manage 14th. Instead it was Jakob Ostermann taking his maiden pole position in the Lamborghini Huracan, although the top 34 cars on the 44-car grid were covered by just one second.

The early action tilted the championship in Tonizza’s favour, as the Italian cut through the pack and up into seventh, enough to overhaul Baldwin’s points advantage. Worse for Baldwin, Tonizza’s Ferrari team-mate Giovanni de Salvo had gone the other way and was now holding up the British driver’s McLaren.

However the race stewards had seen something untoward in Tonizza’s opening lap charge. As the cars ran onto the Kemmel Straight for the first time, the Ferrari swept across into Maciej Malinowski’s Porsche 911. That resulted in a ten-second penalty for the FDA man, which he’d have to serve at his pit stop.

Baldwin was the first to stop, aiming to get out from under de Salvo’s rear wing and undercut the field, but when de Salvo pitted a lap later he came back out ahead of the McLaren once again. Having served his penalty in the pits, Tonizza came out one place and four seconds behind his championship rival.

What looked like it could be a thrilling final 20 minutes somewhat fizzled out though. Tonizza couldn’t close the gap, despite de Salvo ahead. To make matters worse, de Salvo and Gregor Schill collided on the final pass through the Bus Stop chicane, allowing Baldwin to sneak up into sixth at the finish line, with Tonizza only ninth.

The championship action all took attention away from an impressive race win by Niklas Houben, who overtook Ostermann on the opening lap and never surrendered his lead. BMW duo Arthur Kammerer and Nils Naujoks took the remaining podium spots, allowing Naujoks to take third place in the championship too.

An incident-packed Bathurst 6 Hours saw the JMX Phantom squad take pole position, the race win, and the championship lead of the GT World Challenge Asia Endurance series, but the team made it just about as hard for itself as it possibly could.

Presley Martono, driving the JMX team’s McLaren, came together with the Laundry House Mercedes driven by Philippa Boquida in the very first corner, causing an enormous pile-up which affected close to half the field. The stewards judged Martono to be primarily at fault and gave the team a ten-second penalty. That proved almost a lip-service penalty, as the McLaren was able to pull almost a 15-second gap over the Legion of Racers Mercedes of Andika Rama Maulana in the first stint alone.

For much of the middle of the race, JMX and Legion of Racers were trading places, with Dillan Tan and Moreno Pratama driving the Mercedes and Fadhli Rachmat and Avila Bahar in the McLaren. JMX particularly seemed to struggle in the pit stops while being the faster car on-track.

However the pace of Rachmat, Bahar, and Martono eventually won out, with the trio putting half a minute between them and the Maulana/Tan/Pratama car at the chequered flag. Third would go to the second Legion of Racers car of Luis Moreno, Thanathip Thanalapanan, and Damon Woods, with race one winners Full Pace Racing in fourth.

There’s one more round remaining, with the postponed Suzuka race next week, with any one of those four teams still in with a chance of the title.

Gran Turismo’s official FIA Online Championship saw its last round before next month’s grand final, and Valerio Gallo took yet another victory to underline his 2021 form.

The Olympic champion took pole position in the Nations Cup race, but it was 2020 champion Takuma Miyazono who made the early running. However the Japanese driver span out of the lead on the exit kerb of the Coca-Cola corner and dropped back down the field. That left Gallo, Jose Serrano, and 2018 champion Igor Fraga to fight among themselves for the three points-paying positions, and despite Serrano leading through the middle of the race it was Gallo who’d pick up his third win of the season, with Serrano second for the second successive race, and Fraga in third.

Gallo now heads into the December final with 18 points, and a six-point lead over Serrano, with Ryota Kokubun two points further back in third.

Fraga had better luck in the Manufacturer Series, running a controlled lights-to-flag win at the Nordschleife for his Toyota team. Kokubun put in another strong Manufacturers race to finish in second for Mazda, while Serrano took third for Porsche. Toyota and Mazda are now tied on 13 points, ahead of defending champion Subaru on nine.

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