Williams Esports’ Tinko van der Velde took a commanding victory at the opening round of the 2023 GT World Challenge Esports Europe Sprint series from Monza, with Veloce’s George Boothby emerging as the young Dutchman’s closest challenger.
With defending double champion James Baldwin devoting more time to ESL R1, the path was clear for a new champion in 2023, with perennial title contender David Tonizza particularly eager to fill the void.
And the tension rose further in Round 2 at Paul Ricard, as David Tonizza and Tinko van der Velde came to blows as the race reached its conclusion, paving the way for Maciej Malinowski to take victory for McLaren Veloce.
First blood went to Boothby in his Ferrari 296 GT3, taking his second pole position in a row. The Englishman was just 0.005s ahead of Tonizza, with the top eight Pro class runner less than a tenth behind.
On pole position in Silver was SMP Racing’s Daniil Tylyk. He sat ninth on the overall grid and was more than three-tenths ahead of Round 1 winner Valentin Barrier and 13 positions better off.
After the rolling start, Boothby negotiated the first sequence of corners cleanly and held first place, followed by Tonizza. Behind, van der Velde was under attack from Maciej Malinowski’s Veloce McLaren, regaining third down the long Mistral straight.
Williams Esports’ Dáire McCormack had also joined the lead group, coming close to usurping the down-on-top-speed 720S GT3 while also fending off team-mate Dennis Schöniger.
The lead battle had quickly turned into a full-on stramash as the top six cars fused in vehicular combat. Tonizza launched an aggressive attack on Boothby and claimed the lead, with van der Velde also looking for a way through.
Behind, the two Mercedes-AMGs of McCormack and Schöniger were trying to overtake the Audi R8 LMS Evo II of Mikhail Statsenko, with the Williams pair even rubbing paint in the process. The racing was heating up but unfortunately boiled over as the pit window opened, McCormack hitting the Mistral’s anti-cuts leading to a high-speed spin.
Van der Velde had by now also made his way past Boothby for second and was setting purple sectors as he chased down Tonizza’s Automobili Lamborghini Squadra Corse Huracán GT3 Evo 2. Boothby and van der Velde boxed at the halfway mark, with Tonizza pitting one lap later.
The action at pit exit was thrilling, as Tonizza emerged from the pitlane alongside van der Velde, the pair running side-by-side through Turn 1. There was slight contact a couple of corners later, with Boothby and Malinowski watching and waiting for any scraps.
Van der Velde made a move stick on the Mistral, with enough top speed to slot back onto the racing line before Signes, but struggled to build a comfortable gap.
In Silver, despite starting fifth in his class YAS Heat’s Valentin Barrier impressively worked his way to the front of the field ahead of pole-sitter Daniil Tylyk, who would later succumb to a post-race penalty and fall out of the reckoning.
In the battle for the Pro podium, however, Boothby was losing ground to the front pair while Veloce team-mate Malinowski closed in. In a selfless act of teamwork, Boothby let the VR headset-wearing Pole through and he duly set after the leading pair.
Speaking of which, the lead battle was about to get physical. With around five minutes left on the clock, Tonizza claimed the lead exiting Signes, but in his attempt to re-take the position van der Velde struck the Lamborghini’s rear-left quarter and spun him out of contention. Van der Velde was leading again, but would there be a penalty?
It was a bizarrely careless manoeuvre and the Dutchman was duly punished by a 30s penalty soon afterwards, demoting him to 14th in the Pro class at the chequered flag. Tonizza re-joined the action and would finish fourth, but his shot at victory had gone.
Surprisingly, Malinowski opted not to wait on official confirmation of van der Velde’s penalty and launched an overtake at the final corner, taking the lead and pulling a gap. Boothby was just behind, making it a Veloce sandwich.
Once van der Velde’s penalty came through, Mikhail Statsenko moved onto the third step of the podium with Tonizza finishing a bruised fourth. Fastest lap holder Grantas Kareckas took fifth in another Veloce car, backing up the team’s recent victory in the Intercontinental GT Challenge from Bathurst.
Van der Velde lost the most from Paul Ricard with Tonizza salvaging a decent points haul in fourth, but Boothby emerged as the biggest winner; salvaging his second consecutive second place to lead the championship by 15 points.
Valentin Barrier took another win in Silver to lead with a maximum score of 70 points, but Williams Esports Fanatec’s Vojtech Fiala keeps him honest in second after two podium finishes.
2023 GT World Challenge Esports Europe Sprint Round 2 – Paul Ricard – Pro race results
- Maciej Malinowski McLaren 720S GT3 McLaren Veloce 1:01:19.225
- George Boothby Ferrari 296 GT3 Veloce Esports +1.775
- Mikhail Statsenko Audi R8 LMS Evo II ITB Sainteloc Racing +3.071
- David Tonizza Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo2 Automobili Lamborghini Squadra Corse +3.462
- Grantas Kareckas McLaren 720S GT3 McLaren Veloce +7.411
2023 GT World Challenge Esports Europe Sprint Round 2 – Paul Ricard – Silver race results
- Valentin Barrier Ferrari 296 GT3 YAS Heat Esports +22.340
- Vojtech Fiala Porsche 992 GT3 R Williams Esports Fanatec +29.036
- Danila Cherepenin Mercedes-AMG GT3 2020 SMP Racing Esports +31.753
- Dario Iemmulo Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo2 VS Racing by Ballas +34.390
- Michael Romagnoli Aston Martin Vantage AMR GT3 Absolute Res-Tech by Acelith +35.670
2023 GT World Challenge Esports Europe championship standings
- George Boothby, Ferrari 296 GT3, Veloce Esports, 61 points
- David Tonizza, Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo2, Automobili Lamborghini Squadra Corse, 46 points
- Mikhail Statsenko, Audi R8 LMS Evo II, ITB Sainteloc Racing, 43 points
- Maciej Malinowski, McLaren 720S GT3, McLaren Veloce, 39 points
- Tinko van der Velde, Ferrari 296 GT3, Williams Esports Razer, 38 points
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
Images courtesy of Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS