David Tonizza took the big esports prize at the 24 Hours of Spa using Assetto Corsa Competizione, but was pushed hard all the way in a thrilling race.
Ferrari’s David Tonizza has won the SRO Esports Racing Night event, a unique one-off professional sim racing challenge held at the 24 Hours of Spa during the race.
The entry list included some of the best Assetto Corsa Competizione drivers, several of whom currently compete in the Mobileye GT World Challenge Europe Esports Championship, plus some car manufacturer-backed drivers and one entry from an on-site hot lap competition.
The event took place in person from 9 pm local time in the Spa-Francorchamps paddock with the sound of the real-world GT3s reverberating around the Fanatec Arena. A prize pool of €14,500 was up for grabs.
The format was 15-minutes of qualifying, followed by a 30-minute qualifying race that set the grid for a 60-minute main race.
After the end of the initial session, Kamil Pawlowski was the quickest – the Scuderia Ferrari Velas Esports Team entrant winning the Ferrari Esports championship last year to secure his drive. BMW Team BS+COMPETITION driver Nils Naujoks was second ahead of Tobias Pfeffer for Unicorns of Love in third.
The qualifying race started immediately, and it was Pawlowski who got the jump and held onto first. Just behind, both Lamborghini’s made ground – Pfeffer got ahead of Naujoks for second, while team-mate Dennis Schöniger leapt from ninth to sixth, both taking advantage of the car’s strong top speed down the Kemmel Straight.
Dominik Blajer was sitting in a comfortable fourth place, but received a drive-through penalty for barging R8G Academy Esports driver Luke Whitehead off the track at Bruxelles during the early stages.
Schöniger came under pressure from 2019 F1 Esports champion David Tonizza at the halfway stage, only for the Ferrari driver to switch from attacking the Lamborghini to defending from the Audi of Jakob Ostermann and Porsche of Alpine Esports race winner George Boothby – if only for one lap.
Once clear of the chasing pack, Tonizza pounced and went around the outside of Schöniger at Les Fagnes for fourth as the Lamborghini driver tried to save fuel.
In the end, the grid was set for the one-hour encounter, with Pawlowski in pole position ahead of Pfeffer, Naujoks, Tonizza and Schöniger.
At the start of the main event, the familiar sight of the Lamborghinis making progress down the Kemmel Straight returned.
Pfeffer took the lead from pole-sitter Pawlowski and Schöniger attacked from fifth but was boxed in. As the field reached Bruxelles, Naujoks was eased wide by Tonizza, the Ferrari up to third, the BMW down to fifth. That would soon be sixth, as a late dive into the Chicane didn’t pan out.
Things up front remained stable until the mandatory pitstop window opened. The top two, Pfeffer and Pawlowski, entered the pitlane with 28 minutes remaining but emerged with the positions switched.
Tonizza, originally in third, stayed out for one extra lap and once his pitstop was completed had leapfrogged into the lead. Just. The ensuing battle into Les Combes between the two Prancing Horses allowed Pfeffer back into contention, trying around the outside of Bruxelles and the inside of both Speaker’s Corner and Double Gauche.
Meanwhile, while the Ferraris held on, Naujoks forced a defensive shape from Schöniger into La Source. The BMW then cut back to take fourth, only for the Unicorns of Love driver to fight back with two wheels on the grass into Les Combes. Michael Tauscher then tried to sneak through, but Naujoks prevailed.
With 15 minutes left on the clock, the two leading Ferraris started fighting. Pawlowski was never more than 0.5s behind Tonizza, continually looking for an opportunity. But disaster struck nine minutes later as he suffered a disconnection and was booted out of the race – particularly galling with cash on the line, the young Pole was visibly distraught.
That left his team-mate to comfortably cruise to the finish ahead of Pfeffer, Naujoks, Schöniger and Tauscher rounding out the prize-paying positions.
“It was a very tough race starting from the free practice because for a LAN event you have to get used to this specific simulator,” said winner Tonizza to Traxion.GG.
“In the qualifying race, I saw I was getting the pace lap after lap. So in the main race, I had the chance and went for the over-cut.
“After that, my team-mate pushed me like crazy and I am very sad for him. This is sim racing, in real-world you have car or engine failure and here you can have PC failure.
“Finally after three years, the pandemic, we are back on site and this is a new start for sim racing.”