After the penultimate round from the Nürburgring, the destination of this year’s GT World Challenge Esports Europe Sprint crown remained unclear, with the top four in the championship separated by just 10 points.
It was Williams Esports’ Dominik Blajer who held a one point advantage over Sainteloc Racing’s Mikhail Statsenko, with Nikas Houben in third. Veloce’s George Boothby lay fourth, seemingly with only an outside chance of claiming the title.
With overtaking opportunities at a premium around the aero-dependent Barcelona circuit, qualifying was set to be doubly important for our championship contenders, and it was first blood to Boothby, as the Englishman was set to start fifth on the combined Pro and Silver class grid.
Of his title rivals, Statsenko was next up in eighth, with Blajer and Houben struggling for pace in their Mercedes-AMGs down in 23rd and 32nd respectively. With only 60 minutes of racing ahead of the field, it looked to be a straight fight between Statsenko and Boothby for the championship.
The battle for Silver class honours was less dramatic, however, with Williams’ Vojtech Fiala enjoying a near-insurmountable 34-point lead over Dario Iemmulo. The pair were close in qualifying trim, however, with Iemmulo shading his Porsche-driving rival by less than four-hundredths of a second to line up seventh overall.
Fiala was ninth on the grid, but both championship rivals were beaten by a resurgent Erik Del Fante, who after winning last round’s Silver class continued his impressive form at Barcelona, emerging third overall and first in Silver.
On pole, however, was Veloce’s Luke Whitehead, sealing a narrow advantage over second-place team-mate Grantas Kareckas.
Nikals Houben’s hopes of becoming champion went up in smoke after barely a lap, after a contact-induced off dropped him to 35th position. The top four emerged line astern after some brief Turn 1 struggles, with Silver driver Del Fante hanging onto Whitehead and Kareckas impressively in his Honda.
Boothby was therefore champion-elect in the early stages, as Statsenko and Blajer struggled to make gains through the front-running Silver drivers, but the Englishman was under severe pressure from 2023 SRO Esports race winners David Tonizza and Tinko van der Velde.
With the pit window open, Kareckas was the first of the leading group to box, followed by Whitehead and Boothby on the following lap. Engaging with Tonizza on his out-lap didn’t help Kareckas’ cause, as he dropped from second to third, only staying on the podium thanks to Del Fante’s tardy overcut strategy. Boothby, on the other hand, had jumped up two spots, further enhancing his title prospects.
Tonizza had also jumped Del Fante in the pitstop phase, with the pair followed by Van der Velde in sixth. The front three had gradually eased away after visiting pitlane, with Malinowski seemingly cut adrift in eighth and fellow championship hopeful Blajer struggling well back in 15th.
Del Fante lost out to van der Velde with just over 10 minutes to run, no doubt acknowledging his comfortable lead in the Silver class, with the gap between Tonizza and Kareckas decreasing every lap, giving Boothb a headache in the final stage of the race.
However, Kareckas played the team game well, hanging back from his Veloce team-mate to help guarantee the championship and hold off any potential attacks from Tonizza. Out front, Luke Whitehead had driven a comfortable race and handled the pressure of leading remarkably well, bringing home a one-two-three result for Veloce in the process.
Del Fante was even more dominant in Silver, building on his second place from the Nürburgring to take the win. However, Vojtech Fiala came home in third position, easily securing the Silver championship from Dario Iemmulo. Early pacesetter Valentin Barrier was no doubt ruing a string of average results.
It was George Boothby who was most delighted of all, though, taking what seemed like an unlikely championship victory after a non-score at Spa-Francorchamps.
“It feels amazing because the last two rounds were really, really difficult . I think I underperformed and the car just wasn’t quite there so it put me on the back foot after such a strong start to the season,” explained Boothby.
“I knew this car (Ferrari 296 GT3) wasn’t the quickest at this round but it was able to fight and that’s what I needed. I just really grinded to get good at it. Qualie went well and in the pitstops I was able to make such an advantage.” he continued. “I’m so happy, I just can’t believe it!”
Understandably delighted, given the strength of the field, Boothby inherits the GT World Challenge Esports Europe Sprint title from two-time winner James Baldwin, and will no doubt be eager to emulate his former Veloce team-mate next season by doing the double.
GT World Challenge Esports Europe Sprint Round 5 Barcelona results Pro
- Luke Whitehead Porsche 992 GT3 R Veloce Esports 1:01:36.034
- George Boothby Ferrari 296 GT3 Veloce Esports +01.681
- Grantas Kareckas McLaren 720S GT3 Evo McLaren Veloce +02.023
- David Tonizza Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo2 Automobili Lamborghini Squadra Corse +02.614
- Tinko Van Der Velde Ferrari 296 GT3 Williams Esports Razer +03.194
GT World Challenge Esports Europe Sprint Round 5 Barcelona results Silver
- Erik Del Fante Honda NSX GT3 Evo The Italian Job +03.594
- Dario Iemmulo Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo2 VS Racing by Ballas +12.340
- Vojtech Fiala Porsche 992 GT3 R Williams Esports Fanatec +14.543
- Luis Fleischer Porsche 992 GT3 R Team ONE • FF +17.666
- Alberto Garcia Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo2 Odox Motorsport +18.060
GT World Challenge Esports Europe Sprint championship results Pro
- George Boothby Ferrari 296 GT3 Veloce Esports, 100 points
- Mikhail Statsenko Audi R8 LMS Evo II ITB Sainteloc Racing, 92 points
- Dominik Blajer Mercedes-AMG GT3 2020 Williams Esports Razer, 87 points
- Grantas Kareckas McLaren 720S GT3 Evo McLaren Veloce,78 points
- Niklas Houben Mercedes-AMG GT3 2020 Mercedes-AMG Esports Team HRT by UOL, 73 points
GT World Challenge Esports Europe Sprint championship results Silver
- Vojtech Fiala Porsche 992 GT3 R Williams Esports Fanatec, 152 points
- Dario Iemmulo Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo2 VS Racing by Ballas, 123 points
- Valentin Barrier Ferrari 296 GT3 YAS Heat Esports, 97 points
- Erik Del Fante Honda NSX GT3 Evo The Italian Job, 95 points
- Marco Jonkers Mercedes-AMG GT3 2020 West Competition Racing, 66 points
Mobileye GT World Challenge Esports Europe (Online Sprint) Calendar
May 3 – Monza May 24 – Circuit Paul Ricard June 21 – Spa-Francorchamps July 19 – Nürburgring August 23 – Barcelona
Prize money pool: €18,500
Featured image courtesy of George Boothby
All other images courtesy of Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS