The opening round of the 2022 Mobileye GT World Challenge Europe Esports (GTWC Europe) from Misano had all the ingredients to make it an enthralling race. We had a huge grid containing some of the fastest Assetto Corsa Competizione drivers in the world, a new face at the front of GTWC Europe in Dáire McCormack and a healthy dose of controversy thanks to James Baldwin’s harsh mid-race penalty – later rescinded.
Round 2, set among the dunes of Zandvoort, looked set to be another action-packed event – the Dutch track features narrow and high-speed turns with barely enough space for two GT3 machines to run side-by-side. The 60-minute race with mandatory pitstop was also set to be run at night in complete darkness…
It was a familiar-looking front row after qualifying. Both 2021 championship runner-up David Tonizza, and champion James Baldwin, locked out the first two positions respectively, with the rest of the field seemingly just behind. Astonishingly, the top 43 qualifiers were less than a second off the Scuderia Ferrari Velas Esports Team driver’s scratch time.
Further back, there were some shocks. Silver class BMW driver Robbie Stapleford out-qualified all his BMW stablemates, including British GT4 Esports title holder Nils Naujoks, while Dominik Blajer continued his impressive early-season form by placing his Bentley onto the fourth row, securing the Silver class pole in the process.
It would not be plain sailing for Blajer, however, as he would have to serve a 15 second time penalty during his pitstop after a qualifying misdemeanour. Naujoks also fell foul of the stewards for the same reason, receiving a five-second penalty.
It would be a frustrating start to Round 2 for the third-place finisher in the 2021 championship, and from 18th on the grid he would be looking for immediate early progress.
With so little margin for error and almost zero visibility, the opening laps around Zandvoort were always going to be a stern test for the GTWC Europe field. And with a slight air of inevitability, the first two tours featured incidents involving a large portion of the grid.
On lap one, nearly half the field was involved in an awkward-looking contretemps where a slight midfield scuffle set off a chain reaction. This led to mass avoidance and minor damage for a number of cars. Most drivers were able to regroup and carry on.
However, at the beginning of the second lap Naujoks had departed the race. His BMW Team BS+COMPETITION teammate Arthur Kammerer was clumsily tapped into a spin by the VDES Academy Bentley of Egor Ogorodnikov, with Naujoks unluckily collected in the aftermath. Perhaps realising this was not to be his day, the German retired.
Up at the front, Tonizza had built a gap to the second-placed Veloce McLaren of Baldwin, with Tobias Gronewald and Michael Tauscher slotting in behind. Misano winner McCormack was biding his time in sixth, and was still very much in with a podium chance after he overtook Amir Hosseini’s McLaren for fifth.
At the halfway mark, the top ten were nose-to-tail, all finding it difficult to make a move stick around the tight confines of Zandvoort. Baldwin had now closed right onto the back of Tonizza’s Ferrari. Drivers were perhaps unwilling to make a failed passing attempt, risking multiple positions, waiting instead for the pitstop phase to complete an overtake.
No one told McCormack though, as he made short work of Tauscher’s Porsche on-track, soon followed by a pass on Gronewald’s Mercedes, moving the young Irishman up to third.
Of the frontrunners, only Hosseini opted for an early stop, with McCormack pitting on lap 24. Baldwin was next to box with just 20 minutes left of the race, prompting Tonizza to visit pitlane the next lap round.
Unfortunately, the Italian was held up slightly on his in lap, and emerged just behind Baldwin, with McCormack now right on the tail of the two frontrunners. The leading cars in the field elected not to change tyres during their pitstops, all taking just a splash of fuel to cut down on the amount of stationary time in the pits.
Baldwin eased away out front with Tonizza and McCormack locked in a battle for second, with the early-stopping Hosseini closing in – albeit having incurred a five-second penalty for earlier contact with Gronewald’s Mercedes.
McCormack was passed by Hosseini with two laps to go after a failed overtake on Tonizza, and the Munster Rugby Gaming driver settled into a net third position, perhaps holding out for a Hosseini overtake on Tonizza and a final chance to snatch net second place.
Unperturbed by the action behind, Baldwin eased home to victory, the gap to Tonizza over nine seconds at the chequered flag. McCormack made it two podiums in a row with third, while R8G eSports’ Hosseini dropped to fifth after his penalty.
The Silver class battle had a grandstand finish too, with long-time class leader Robbie Stapleford succumbing to an aggressive move by TRITON Racing’s Mateusz Tyszkiewicz. This allowed recovering teammate Blajer into second position in Silver class, which became first after Tyszkiewicz was handed a post-race time penalty.
Stapleford was promoted to second, but was no doubt disappointed to lose the class victory in such a fashion. Blajer had driven an excellent race, however, making up his 15-second time penalty with consummate ease, taking his second class win in succession and claiming a stranglehold on the Silver class standings.
Tonizza now leads the Pro championship standings by a single point from McCormack, with Baldwin easing up to third, just 11 points from the lead. With Nürburgring the next round on the 8th of June, it will be interesting to see if the Veloce driver can continue this imperious form and close the gap further.
Regardless, with Tonizza and McCormack also looking strong we are set for an excellent battle at the front of the GTWC Europe Esports series.
ROUND 2 – ZANDVOORT – RACE RESULTS – PRO CLASS
- James Baldwin McLaren 720S GT3 Veloce 01:01:06.172
- David Tonizza Ferrari 488 GT3 Evo Scuderia Ferrari Velas Esports Team +9.264
- Daire McCormack Bentley Continental GT3 2018 Munster Rugby Gaming +10.087
- Tobias Gronewald Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo Mercedes-AMG E-Sports Team UOL +13.631
- Amir Hosseini McLaren 720S GT3 R8G eSports +14.857
ROUND 2 – ZANDVOORT – RACE RESULTS – SILVER CLASS
- Dominik Blajer Bentley Continental GT3 2018 TRITON Racing 01:01:38.238
- Robbie Stapleford BMW M4 GT3 BMW G2 Esports +1.379
- Mateusz Tyszkiewicz Bentley Continental GT3 2018 TRITON Racing +4.284
- Kieran Prendergast Honda NSX Evo Butterfly Effect +7.442
- Léo Boulay McLaren 720S GT3 Intruder Racing Competition +14.672
CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS – PRO CLASS
- David Tonizza Ferrari 488 GT3 Evo Scuderia Ferrari Velas Esports Team, 60 points
- Daire McCormack Bentley Continental GT3 2018 Munster Rugby Gaming, 59 points
- James Baldwin McLaren 720S GT3 Veloce, 49 points
- Tobias Gronewald Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo Mercedes-AMG E-Sports Team UOL, 46 points
- Michael Tauscher Porsche 911 GT3 R (2019) Unicorns of Love, 30 points
CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS – SILVER CLASS
- Dominik Blajer Bentley Continental GT3 2018 TRITON Racing, 70 points
- Robbie Stapleford BMW M4 GT3 BMW G2 Esports, 58 points
- Mateusz Tyszkiewicz Bentley Continental GT3 2018 TRITON Racing, 46 points
- Fabien Piffet Bentley Continental GT3 2018 Team Fordzilla, 29 points
- Kieran Prendergast Honda NSX Evo Butterfly Effect, 28 points
2022 MOBILEYE GT WORLD CHALLENGE EUROPE ESPORTS CHAMPIONSHIP CALENDAR
Misano – 6 April Zandvoort – 4 May
- Nürburgring – 8 June
- Hungaroring – 6 July
- Monza – 3 August