Following the 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps where James Baldwin became the first guest driver to win in the Fanatec Esports GT Pro Series, the championship moved into an intriguing scenario for its fourth round of five.
As the real-world action was set to grace the Hockenheimring in Germany, the lack of the venue in Assetto Corsa Competizione necessitated a switch to the Suzuka Circuit in Japan for the virtual competition.
Only one round remained after this: would we finally see a repeat winner?
AKKODIS ASP were – no doubt – delighted to witness a front-row lockout. Tommasco Mosca was at it again; claiming pole position ahead of his Pro-class teammate Daniel Juncadella. For the second time in three races, Arthur Rougier placed his Emil Frey Lamborghini third on the grid. Ezequiel Perez Companc evened out the Pro/Silver numbers in the top four with a strong performance for Madpanda.
With no sign of Nicki Thiim, the highest-placing returning driver from Spa was Niklas Nielsen. The Dane, driving for Iron Lynx, would have a tough road ahead of him only doing well enough for tenth on the grid in qualifying. Neil Verhagen, the first race winner of the season, also registered amongst those not present.
Affairs were pleasantly clean through the first few corners as the race got underway. Tresor’s Luca Ghiotto was the most curious of the leading bunch, eyeing potential positions gained around the outside of Turn 1 but to no avail. Kelvin van der Linde kept the Italian honest but also found opportunities tricky to capitalise on.
Championship leader Alex Aka had less of a steady time, losing ground to ninth by the beginning of the second lap. If results went the German’s way, Attempto Racing would house the new champion for 2022. Thankfully for Aka, there was plenty of race left to recover positions.
Ghiotto’s determination paid off in the opening ten minutes though the reward was somewhat muted. Passing Perez Companc for fourth on the road was certainly commendable. Yet the Mercedes pilot was Silver-class, with Ghiotto’s true next target a further one-and-a-half seconds down the way. Another place was lost to the Madpanda car as van der Linde moved through without much argument.
The battle for fifth in Pro had been bubbling for a few laps and finally, thirteen minutes in, Dan Harper was able to make his move. Tucked up in the slipstream of Nielsen’s Ferrari, the BMW roared past to stand unopposed into Turn 1. Just behind, the Silver class podium scrap was just as enticing.
Aka’s pace had continued to lag following his early tussles; something that Brendon Leitch was keen to punish with a bold move up the inside of Spoon. Sadly for the Kiwi, his good work was undone in a matter of seconds following a poor exit of the Casio Triangle.
Another mistake further up the road gave Ghiotto the initiative to lock down a podium place of his own in Pro-class. Anthony Rougier’s messy campaign continued to ebb and flow with his error occurring through the Degner Curves. Leitch was back for more in his feud with Aka but the second time wasn’t the charm. Tangling with the Audi, he found the outside gravel trap at the final corner.
Every team boss’ worst nightmare is teammates colliding and for AKKODIS this threat became a larger consideration as Juncadella began to ask questions of race leader Mosca. Before any major offensive could be launched, the Spaniard pulled into the pitlane hoping to undercut the Italian.
There was no blinking from Mosca, leaving his stop until the last moments of the pitlane window. That stubbornness to respond early cost him, as upon pit exit he witnessed Juncadella sail through.
Following his pitstop, Rougier was a driver renewed. Finding much more pace compared to his first stint, Ghiotto soon found himself back in fourth place behind the Lamborghini. Continuing to chase, the Italian’s pursuit was enthralling as Rougier brought out every trick in the book to keep the Audi at bay.
It would take a full fifteen minutes to retrieve the Pro-class podium and even that was thanks, in part, to a cheeky bit of contact out of the Degners.
Third helpings are dubious at best. Aka had been dealt a five-second penalty for his earlier tangle with Leitch and now the Kiwi was back again. This time around, Aka was the one worst off as a front-to-back collision sent him spiralling off at Spoon. A drive-through penalty was delivered the way of Leitch which, at the very least, guaranteed Aka fourth in class.
Juncadella had guaranteed himself the overall win however with a direct strategy call that caught Mosca napping. Pipped on the line, Rougier would not hold onto the final Pro podium slot thanks to a last-gasp surge of pace from van der Linde. Both class championships head to the final round in Barcelona where more real-world team points are up for grabs.
PRO CLASS RESULTS
- Daniel Juncadella – AKKODIS ASP Team/Mercedes-AMG GT3 2020 – 1st
- Luca Ghiotto – Tresor by Car Collection/Audi R8 LMS Evo II – 3rd
- Kelvin van der Linde – Team WRT/Audi R8 LMS Evo II – 4th
- Arthur Rougier- Emil Frey Racing/Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo – 5th
- Dan Harper – Rowe Racing/BMW M4 GT3 – 6th
SILVER CLASS RESULTS
- Tommaso Mosca – AKKODIS ASP Team/Mercedes-AMG GT3 2020 – 2nd
- Ezequiel Perez Companc – Madpanda Motorsport/Mercedes-AMG GT3 2020 – 7th
- Jannes Fitje – Haupt Racing Team/Mercedes-AMG GT3 2020 – 9th
- Alex Aka – Attempto Racing/Audi R8 LMS Evo II – 10th
- Brendon Leitch – Leipert Motorsport/Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo – 11th