The 2021 GT World Challenge Europe Esports Sprint Series was an absolute classic, featuring a tense title battle between James Baldwin and David Tonizza which went all the way to the final round at Spa-Francorchamps.
Baldwin emerged as champion, but with even more prizes, a field packed with sim racing talent and a new title sponsor, the 2022 Mobileye GT World Challenge Europe Esports Championship means the British GT race-winner cannot rest on his laurels.
As in 2021, drivers are using the official GT World Challenge game – Kunos Simulazioni’s Assetto Corsa Competizione, and secured their places on the grid through an intensive qualifying process, being split into ‘Pro’ and ‘Silver’ classes by the organisers based on championship points earned across SRO Esports series in 2021.
Qualifying for the first round saw differing fortunes for our 2021 title protagonists, as Tonizza snatched pole position and Baldwin languishing down in eighteenth – the McLaren seemingly not enjoying Misano’s kerbs. It would prove to be an eventful race for the Brit.
Joining Tonizza on the front row was young Irishman Dáire McCormack, driving the Munster Rugby Gaming Bentley Continental GT3, fresh off the back of a second-place finish in the Coach Dave Academy 1000 event at Barcelona.
Tobias Gronewald and Niko Wisniewski shared the second row respectively in their Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evos, while Michael Tauscher and Tonizza’s new Scuderia Ferrari Velas Esports Team stablemate Kamil Pawlowski held row three.
Third overall in the championship, and double race winner in 2021, Nils Naujoks, qualified seventh with 2021 The Real Race presented by Lamborghini Esports champion, Jordan Sherratt ninth.
New for 2021, the Silver class contained some exceptionally quick drivers, and as expected the likes of Dominik Blajer, Mateusz Tyszkiewicz, Joe McAuley and Robbie Stapleford got themselves among the Pro drivers. Blajer took the Silver pole, and eighth overall.
As the lights went green for the 60-minute race, McCormack seized the initial advantage and swept round the outside of Tonizza on entry to the Variante del Parco, the field behaving well except for an altercation between Silver rivals David Pertile and Jesse Kauppinen. The Italian’s Bentley sent the Griphax Engineering AMR Vantage GT3 into a spin and last position.
The race settled down into a steady rhythm, with McCormack stretching his lead to Tonizza, the top four holding station one-to-two seconds apart. Pawlowski had dropped sixth to ninth, assisted by Sherratt, who later received a five second penalty for his indisgression, dropping the Ferrari driver to ninth.
With the pit window in 2021 now open for 30 minutes the opportunity was there for the front runners to attempt an undercut after 15 minutes of racing.
Pawlowski, Luca Losio, Williams Esports’ Tinko van der Velde and Baldwin were notable early-pitters, with Losio especially benefitting from the undercut, rising to sixth place once the order had shook itself out.
Van der Velde and Pawlowski also made position gains, but Baldwin’s rise was more impressive however. His journey to the top ten included a beautifully judged double pass on BMW Team BS+COMPETITION’s Arthur Kammerer and Blajer’s Bentley.
The stewards did not agree, and handed Baldwin a five-second penalty for ‘unsporting behaviour’. His car had partially left the track in the process of overtaking Kammerer, but with zero contact and two wheels still on the circuit, it looked harsh. The penalty was thereby rescinded post-race, allowing the Brit to keep his hard-fought sixth-place finish.
Up at the front, McCormack sailed home with a five-second advantage over Tonizza in second, the pair finishing well in front of the rest of the field. The battle for third went to the wire, with Naujoks, Tauscher and Gronewald separated by just a couple of tenths.
Gronewald held on under extreme pressure from Naujoks, but thanks to a penalty for the German for an earlier incident, Tauscher snatched fourth. It was to be heartache for Losio though, as he was spun out of an impressive sixth place, eventually securing ninth in the Pro classification.
Blajer, Stapleford and Fabien Piffet finished eighth, 11th and 15th overall respectively, deciding the Silver class podium.
In his post-race joy, McCormack twice interrupted the race of Honda NSX Evo driver Nicolas Hillebrand, but otherwise this was a superlative effort from the young Irishman, that surely cements his position alongside the likes of Tonizza, Baldwin and Naujoks as a title contender.
ROUND 1 – MISANO – RACE RESULTS – PRO CLASS
- Daire McCormack Bentley Continental GT3 2018 Munster Rugby Gaming 1:00:08.739
- David Tonizza Ferrari 488 GT3 Evo Scuderia Ferrari Velas Esports Team +5.510
- Tobias Gronewald Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo Mercedes-AMG E-Sports Team UOL +19.016
- Michael Tauscher Porsche 911 GT3 R (2019) Unicorns of Love +19.730
- Nils Naujoks BMW M4 GT3 BMW Team BS+COMPETITION +24.230
ROUND 1 – MISANO – RACE RESULTS – SILVER CLASS
- Dominik Blajer Bentley Continental GT3 2018 TRITON Racing 01:00:40.101
- Robbie Stapleford BMW M4 GT3 BMW G2 Esports +3.077
- Fabien Piffet Bentley Continental GT3 2018 Team Fordzilla +6.442
- Mateusz Tyszkiewicz Bentley Continental GT3 2018 TRITON Racing +6.669
- Joe McAuley Ferrari 488 GT3 Evo FFS Racing +8.341
2022 MOBILEYE GT WORLD CHALLENGE EUROPE ESPORTS CHAMPIONSHIP CALENDAR
sano – 6 April
Zandvoort – 4 May
Nürburgring – 8 June
Hungaroring – 6 July
Monza – 3 August