Ferrari wins first official Virtual 24 Hours of Spa | FOS Future Lab

09th August 2021
Andrew Evans

A three-man squad of David Tonizza, Giovanni di Salvo, and Amos Laurito has won the first ever official Virtual 24 Hours of Spa for the factory Ferrari Driver Academy esports team.

Although high-profile virtual 24-hour races at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps have taken place in the past, this weekend’s event was the first with official standing. Running in Assetto Corsa Competizione, the official sim of the Fanatec GT World Challenge, the race formed part of this season’s GT World Challenge Europe Esports Endurance Series.

Going into the Spa race, the situation at the top of the championship couldn’t be tighter. Ferrari had taken the victory in the first race at Monza ahead of the VRS Coanda car of Joshua Rogers and Paschalis Gkergkis, while VRS Coanda reversed the result at the longer Circuit Paul Ricard event. That put both teams on 43 points, ahead of the GPX Racing by Rennwelten squad on 27.

Qualifying didn’t quite go to form though, with none of the leading teams in the top three as success ballast came into play. Pole position went to the Unicorns of Love team in the Mercedes-AMG by just 0.014 seconds from the Romain Grosjean R8G team’s Audi R8.

The Rogers/Gkergkis car, with Tommy Ostgaard returning from the Paul Ricard win and Mack Bakkum in as a fourth driver, was at least the lead Porsche in fifth, one spot ahead of the GPX 911, and the FDA car a lowly 13th –  though again, the lead Ferrari – by more than four-tenths of a second.

A surprisingly clean opening lap from the entire field saw the lead change even before the first turn, with Tobias Pfeffer judging the green flag better than Tobias Gronewald, to put the R8G car ahead of the Unicorns. However the opening stint slowly came back Gronewald’s way and the Mercedes was able to get back past at Les Combes on lap 23. Chris Hoeke in the GPX Racing 911 had a nightmare opening lap though, experiencing issues throughout to tumble down the pack before an off-screen incident at the Bus Stop chicane dropped him to last in the 33-car field.

Ferrari’s di Salvo was moving in the other direction. The Italian climbed up to seventh before handing over to Tonizza at the first pit stop around the hour mark. Tonizza emerged in fifth partly thanks to the overcut but also a five-second penalty for the #23 McLaren, while title rival Rogers remained in his car to jump the #62 BMW Motorsport car into third, before passing Giorgio Simonini in the R8 for second.

With Simonini taking an early stop, the championship top two were now together on the same piece of track, and hit the pitlane together for their second stops. However, Ferrari made the quicker stop, and di Salvo emerged ahead of Bakkum, with the two still placed second and third overall.

The two biggest race-changing incidents both happened in the fifth hour. Firstly the #18 VRS car was caught up in an incident involving the sister #88 machine. Martin Kroenke in the 911 came into contact with the #286 Honda NSX of Team BUSR’s Juuso Helvio through Blanchimont, and Bakkum had nowhere to go but grass and the outside barrier. The Unicorns car then suffered a huge pit stop, dropping around 40 seconds and gifting the lead to the Ferrari, now driven by di Salvo.

That was a lead that Ferrari would keep for almost the rest of the race. A pit stop just after the halfway mark, during which the Ferrari team changed the 488’s brakes, saw the #88 VRS Coanda car, with Charlie Collins at the wheel, and Samir Ibraimi in the recovering #22 GPX Racing Porsche move past, the latter making contact with Tonizza in La Source and picking up a drive-through for an ill-judged inside move.

However the Ferrari was soon back at the head of the field and drove practically unchallenged through the final 11 hours. A late braking issue saw Laurito running a very conservative pace through the final stint, but as the FDA squad had already lapped the entire field, there was little danger.

With the car leading at both the halfway point and the finish, Ferrari picks up the maximum 37 points from the race. A surprising second place went to the Bentley Continental of Racing Line Motorsport, driven by Maxime Batifoulier, Samuel Ratz, Marek Schinz, and Pedro Siclari, who also crossed the line second after 12 hours, to score 27 points. The final overall podium went to the #18 VRS Coanda team, though the team was only seventh at half distance and scored 18 as a result.

That gives a healthy 19-point advantage to Ferrari Driver Academy at the top of the table, meaning the team only needs to finish second in both the remaining endurance races –Nürburgring in September, Barcelona in October – to win the title. Racing Line replaces GPX in third, but the two are only a single point apart.

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