The first round of the 2023 Mobileye GT World Challenge Esports Europe Sprint Series was scheduled to take place at Italy’s Temple of Speed – Monza.
Champion for the last two seasons, James Baldwin had elected to sit out the 2023 series, meaning the path was clear for a new name to be written on the GTWC Esports Europe Sprint trophy. And there was no shortage of contenders.
Williams Esports looked particularly strong preseason thanks to a Pro class driver lineup of Tinko van der Velde, Dáire McCormack, Dominik Blajer, Dennis Schöniger and Charlie Crossland.
George Boothby took the team leader mantle at Veloce Esports in one of the new Ferrari 296 GT3s (introduced in Assetto Corsa Competizione’s recent 2023 GT World Challenge DLC pack), while Automobili Lamborghini Squadra Corse looked formidable in the hands of Luca Losio and new recruit David Tonizza.
Of the 2023 contenders, Dáire McCormack looked to be in the best form thanks to his overall victory in the ACC-powered Logitech McLaren G Challenge. Not only that, but the Irishman has already won twice in the hotly contested ESL R1 competition. Naturally, he’d be hoping to go one better than his second-place finish in the 2022 championship.
Monza has a habit of throwing up unexpected results, however.
Fittingly given the Italian setting, it was a trio of Ferrari 296 GT3s at the front of the grid, with van der Velde taking pole from Boothby. In third place was the Silver category entrant of Valentin Barrier, with Tonizza sealing fourth overall on the grid behind.
Further back, Crossland was seventh, McCormack ninth and Blajer 13th on his Pro class debut. The Pole had comprehensively won the Silver class in 2022 in a TRITON Competition Bentley Continental and was making a solid start to his first Pro campaign.
In the opening exchanges, the front of the field got away cleanly from the Prima Variante chicane, with Boothby claiming the lead from van der Velde. Behind, Tonizza deposed Barrier for third with a small gap opening up between the Frenchman and the Pro Audi R8 LMS Evo II of Mikhail Statsenko in fifth.
Van der Velde was in bullish mood, however, homing in on Boothby for the lead. The pair had broken the tow to Tonizza behind and were easing clear of the field.
For this season, new pitstop rules meant drivers would have to change all four tyres in their single, mandatory stop, meaning the minimum stationary time for each car in pitlane would be 30s. In previous seasons, drivers only had to stop for one litre of fuel to complete a pit stop, resulting in converging strategies between drivers.
Being obliged to stop for new tyres therefore opens up more undercut and overcut opportunities, with drivers able to push harder on lower fuel loads. That was the theory, at least, and drivers had a twenty-minute window in the middle of the race in which to pit.
Dominik Blajer was first to blink, pitting as soon as he could. He hoped to undercut the cars ahead but it was a risky strategy given tyre wear is offset by fuel load drop-off at Monza, meaning lap times are often quicker at the end of a stint than its beginning.
Blajer emerged 31st and just ahead of the rapid Luca Losio, who cut a frustrated figure stuck in the slipstream of the Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo.
As the field approached the halfway mark, the leaders caught the back of the pack, giving van der Velde a sliver of an opportunity to launch an attack on first position. Boothby, recognising he was sure to lose time negotiating backmarkers, headed for the pitlane, leaving van der Velde to attempt the overcut in traffic.
Surprisingly, van der Velde jumped Boothby after their pitstops, filing back onto the track just ahead of the Ferrari. Blajer and McCormack, on the other hand, had made positions, elevating themselves to 11th and sixth respectively.
Heading in the opposite direction was Valentin Barrier, who had tumbled down the order to seventh and was now just three seconds ahead of second-placed Silver rival Dario Iemmulo.
The battle for the podium positions had by now stabilised, with the fight for fourth between Crossland, Statsenko, McCormack and Barrier becoming the main focus.
Statesenko and McCormack both made successful moves on Crossland, while Barrier, not content with his comfortable lead in the Silver class, overtook the ailing Englishman with around five minutes left on the clock.
In the end, van der Velde showed superior pace to Boothby and took a deserved victory, with Tonizza running a quiet race in third. Statsenko and McCormack ended up a close fourth and fifth, with Barrier coming home sixth and the first Silver finisher.
Ferrari had won both classes convincingly on home ground at Monza; can the Prancing Horse be reined in at Paul Ricard on the 24th of May?
2023 MOBILEYE GT WORLD CHALLENGE ESPORTS EUROPE, ROUND 1, PRO
- Tinko Van Der Velde – Ferrari 296 GT3 – Williams Esports Razer
- George Boothby – Ferrari 296 GT3 – Veloce Esports
- David Tonizza – Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo2 – Automobili Lamborghini Squadra Corse
- Mikhail Statsenko – Audi R8 LMS Evo II ITB – Sainteloc Racing
- Dáire McCormack – Mercedes-AMG GT3 2020 – Mercedes AMG Team WIlliams Esports
2023 MOBILEYE GT WORLD CHALLENGE ESPORTS EUROPE, ROUND 1, SILVER
- Valentin Barrier – Ferrari 296 GT3 – YAS Heat Esports
- Dario Iemmulo – Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo2 – VS Racing by Ballas
- Vojtech Fiala – Porsche 992 GT3 R – Williams Esports Fanatec
- Michael Romagnoli – Aston Martin Vantage AMR GT3 – Absolute Res-Tech by Acelith
- Tommy Razeyre – McLaren 720S GT3 – SDL eSports by Logitech G
MOBILEYE GT WORLD CHALLENGE ESPORTS EUROPE (ONLINE SPRINT) CALENDAR
May 3 – Monza
- May 24 – Circuit Paul Ricard
- June 21 – Spa-Francorchamps
- July 19 – Nurburgring
- August 23 – Barcelona
Prize money pool: €18,500
Featured image courtesy of Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS