On the eve of the 2022 24 Hours of Spa, current Alpine Esports champion and British GT race winner James Baldwin has won the Fanatec Esports GT Pro Series race at Spa-Francorchamps.
The championship – which sees real-world SRO GT World Challenge Europe drivers compete on Assetto Corsa Competizione simulator in races during event weekends – has seen victories for Tommaso Mosca and Neil Verhagen so far this season.
The third round was held at the Belgian race venue, and thanks to Baldwin’s entry into the 24-hour race for Garage 59, the former World’s Fastest Gamer winner was able to enter the GT Pro Series as a special one-off appearance. He backed up his sim racing credentials with pole position by a staggering 0.9s.
Second on the grid was Rowe Racing’s Max Hesse, ahead of Beechdean AMR driver Nicki Thiim and Audi Sport Team Tresor entrant Luca Ghiotto in fourth.
As the 60-minute race began with a rolling start, Baldwin executed a perfect lanch and disappeared off into the sunset with metronomic consistency. Quickest in qualifying, led every lap, won the race. Game, set and match.
Behind, however, drama ensued.
Thiim made a move for second on Hesse coming into Les Fagnes on the first lap to secure second. At the same time, Mosca was under attack for sixth from Audi driver Alex Aka, pushing the Mercedes-AMG wide.
Son of six-time Formula 1 race-winner Riccardo Patrese, Lorenzo, then braked too late for the final chicane, clipping Raffaele Marciello as his father watched on anxiously in the crowd. Thankfully, no damage was done, and both continued uninterrupted.
Ezequiel Pérez Companc wasn’t so fortunate, audibly frustrated within the Fanatec Arena after being caught up in a second-lap melee and retiring.
Hesse would start falling back down the field after a strong qualifying session. He first ceded position to Niklas Nielsen and then Ghiotto. The latter then grabbed the Ferrari for third position moments later.
The embattled Mosca was on a charge following a bruising opening segment but span into retirement trying to pass Hesse at Blanchimont.
As the halfway point neared, Aka tried to take Hesse around the outside of Les Combes, only to run wide and across the run-off. The only problem being that Hesse also made a mistake at the same time and lost a further position to Daniel Morad. It was difficult to judge if a redress needed to be implemented, but the positions remained albeit Arka now with a five-second penalty.
After the mandatory pitstops had been completed, the order remained Baldwin ahead of Thiim, with Neilsen back onto the podium for Iron Lynx.
As the clock ticked down, with under 10-minutes left, Dries Vanthoor made a move on Patrese for seventh, only to drop to 12th on the final lap.
The gap between Baldwin in first and Thiim in second was over 15-seconds, the reward being €6,000 and five team championship points in the real-world standings.
“In qualifying, I did a lap I was so happy with,” said winner Baldwin to Traxion.GG after the race.
“The race itself, performance-wise, probably wasn’t my best, but I just wanted to bring it home.
“I managed to build a gap of Nicki Thiim, he was really quick, but I think my tyre management was a little better.”
Baldwin now starts the 24 Hours of Spa in a McLaren, starting from 26th on the grid and fifth in the Silver Cup class.
Fanatec Esports GT Pro Series, Spa, results
- James Baldwin – Silver – McLaren 720S GT3 Garage 59 – 25 Laps
- Nicki Thiim – Pro – Aston Martin Vantage AMR GT3 Beechdean AMR +15.181
- Niklas Nielsen – Pro – Ferrari 488 GT3 Evo Iron Lynx +33.344
- Luca Ghiotto – Pro – Audi R8 LMS Evo II GT3 Audi Sport Team Tresor +35.364
- Max Hesse – Pro – BMW M4 GT3 Rowe Racing +50.604
- Alex Aka – Silver – Audi R8 LMS Evo II GT3 Attempto Racing +59.214
- Lorenzo Patrese – Silver – Audi R8 LMS Evo II GT3 Tresor by Car Collection +1:03.699
- Jannes Fittje – Silver – Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo Haupt Racing Team +1:21.816
- Daniel Morad – Silver – Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo Al Manar Racing by HRT +1:22.643
- Jean-Baptiste Simmenauer – Silver – Audi R8 LMS Evo II GT3 Team WRT +1:28.166