The penultimate round of 2022’s Mobileye Intercontinental GT Challenge at Kyalami saw the Veloce McLaren team of Eamonn Murphy, James Baldwin and George Boothby extend their gap at the top of the Pro standings to 15 points over the BMW Team BS+ COMPETITION trio of Nils Naujoks, Arthur Kammerer and Gregor Schill.
It was set to be a two-horse race in the final race of the season – the biggest event on the calendar in every sense – the Spa 24 Hours. It was a relief to even get to this stage, the race having been controversially cancelled and rearranged due to targeted server attacks.
Mimicking the real-world race, drivers were set to race twice around the clock on an accurate recreation of Spa-Francorchamps thanks to Assetto Corsa Competizione, the official game of the GT World Challenge motorsport series.
Heading into the race, the Pro class battle was close and the Silver championship even closer – eight points separating the first-place FFS Racing Aston Martin Vantage team and the trailing AJA® Simracing Team powered by GAADI McLaren squad.
Qualifying immediately put a dent in Veloce’s championship chances. The BMW M4 GT3 of BS+ COMPETITION looked quick around Spa-Francorchamps, with Naujoks snatching second on the grid. G2 Esports’ similar example took sixth, highlighting the car’s pace at the Ardennes venue.
However, it was the Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo which enjoyed the sinewy sweeps of Spa most of all, taking three of the first four grid spots. Daire McCormack, Tommaso Mosca and Moreno Sirica’s Mercedes-AMG E-Sports Team Williams Esports example took pole position by less than a tenth of a second.
In Silver, the AJA Simracing Team McLaren of Jura Petritchenko, Luis Roters and Jakob Ostermann were seemingly in control of their championship destiny, securing second on the grid with FFS Racing languishing nineteenth in class. Kirill Kalashnikov, Nikita Bogoroditskiy and Kirill Sadyrov headed the Silver field in their Simware.Pro by VDES – Blue Bentley Continental GT3.
The Veloce car eventually took ninth in the Pro class, qualifying a tenth off the Silver AJA car and some way off BS+ COMPETITION.
46 cars thundered down towards Eau Rouge to start 24 Hours of intense virtual GT racing, with a remarkably clean opening few corners soon tempered by the onset of wet weather – a perennial hazard at Spa in esports – and the real world.
The weather became one of the race’s main talking points, with rain showers punctuating the flow of the race. The inclement conditions settled into a clear pattern before too long; one hour of rain followed by one hour of respite.
Eventually, most teams fell into pitting at the ideal crossover point between slicks and wets (and vice versa), making stint lengths and strategies predictable. This also took away most of the intrigue concerning wet weather, with teams mirroring each other on pit road.
The first major rain shower during the night threw up another hazard: aquaplaning. A small river had formed along the Kemmel straight after pit exit, catching out several competitors. The main championship protagonists escaped most of the incidents but Veloce’s Eamonn Murphy looped his car after hitting the Kemmel river, narrowly avoiding a race-ending incident.
Veloce also had another issue as James Baldwin experienced a hardware failure. The Brit’s gaming PC expired mid-way through the race, prompting a quick switch to an older unit. Despite the trio moving steadily up the order into sixth position, concerns remained over whether Baldwin’s PC could make it.
Elsewhere, the pole-sitting Mercedes-AMG of Williams Esports found itself out of the running, while the Mercedes-AMG E-Sports Team AKKODIS ASP by R8G squad experienced a disconnection. With the Mercedes enjoying a favourable Balance of Performance (BoP) calculation for Spa -coupled with strong driver line-ups – two pre-race favourites had been eliminated.
This played into the hands of the Mercedes-AMG E-Sports Team Unicorns of Love squad of Tobias Gronewald, Michael Tauscher, Dennis Schoeniger and Tobias Pfeffer, who dominated proceedings for most of the race, claiming an assured victory.
BS+ COMPETITION put up a strong challenge, however, and enjoyed the closest battle of the race with their BMW stablemate G2 Esports. The battle would last until the final lap as 16-year-old Robbie Stapleford hassled the rear of Naujoks’ identical M4 GT3.
With Naujoks handed a five-second penalty for a pitlane entry incident, Stapleford stayed within touching distance to claim second place at the chequered flag. With BS+ COMPETITION finishing third, they would require Veloce to finish in seventh or lower to claim the championship win.
However, Baldwin crossed the line in sixth position, claiming the 2022 Mobileye Intercontinental GT Challenge in the process, just five points ahead of BS+ COMPETITION.
The excitement came from the Silver class battle in the closing stages. Champion-elect FFS Racing was nursing a fading set of wet weather tyres, rightly predicting the time lost in Spa’s long pitlane wasn’t worth the switch to slicks.
Championship rivals AJA closed the gap by nearly eight seconds on the final lap as a result, falling just a tenth short on the run to the line. A thrilling conclusion to one of the toughest events in sim racing.
Both BS+ COMPETITION and Veloce would have been deserving winners of the championship thanks to their consistent points-scoring. However, Unicorns of Love may well have taken the title if it weren’t for a non-score in Round 1. As it was, they finished 16 points off the lead in third place.
Could next year be different for the two-time race winners?
Have you enjoyed this season’s Mobileye Intercontinental GT Challenge? Are you impressed with the level of racing on display? Let us know in the comments below.
Mobileye Intercontinental GT Challenge 2022, ROUND 5, SPA 24hr, RACE RESULTS – PRO CLASS
- Tobias Gronewald – Michael Tauscher – Dennis Schoeniger – Tobias Pfeffer Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo Mercedes-AMG E-Sports Team UoL 24:00:42.094
- Robbie Stapleford – Charlie Crossland – Isaac Price BMW M4 GT3 BMW G2 Esports +1 lap
- Nils Naujoks – Arthur Kammerer – Gregor Schill BMW M4 GT3 BMW Team BS+COMPETITION +1 lap
- Bastian Richter – Lars Kisser – Nils Klinkmüller – Leon Otocki Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo Mercedes-AMG E-Sports Team HRT +2 laps
- Dominik Blajer – Jakub Charkot – Mateusz Tyszkiewicz Bentley Continental GT3 2018 TRITON Racing +2 laps
Mobileye Intercontinental GT Challenge 2022, ROUND 5, SPA 24hr, RACE RESULTS – Silver CLASS
- James Parker – Jan Willem van Ommen – Joe McAuley – Killian Ryan-Meenan AMR V8 Vantage FFS Racing 24:01:51.505
- Jura Petritchenko – Luis Roters – Jakob Ostermann McLaren 720S GT3 AJA® Simracing Team powered by GAADI +0.121
- Sven Hettich – Tobias Schurr – Felix Arndt – Tom Gorka – Manuel Popp McLaren 720S GT3 PRIME eRACING +47.450
- Victor Nicolae – Sebastian Apostol – Dragos Simion – Andrei Miclea BMW M4 GT3 West Competition Racing +1 lap
- Leon Berndt – David Michel – Henrik Gamball – Jan Biermann AMR V8 Vantage RennWelten eSports – Orange
INTERCONTINENTAL GT CHALLENGE ESPORTS 2022 CALENDAR CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS PRO
- Eamonn Murphy – James Baldwin – George Boothby McLaren 720S GT3 McLaren Veloce GT, 122 points
- Nils Naujoks – Arthur Kammerer – Gregor Schill BMW M4 GT3 BMW Team BS+COMPETITION, 117 points
- Tobias Gronewald – Michael Tauscher – Dennis Schoeniger – Tobias Pfeffer Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo Mercedes-AMG E-Sports Team UoL, 106 points
- Bastian Richter – Lars Kisser – Nils Klinkmüller – Leon Otocki Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo Mercedes-AMG E-Sports Team HRT, 80 points
- Robbie Stapleford – Charlie Crossland – Isaac Price BMW M4 GT3 BMW G2 Esports, 79 points
INTERCONTINENTAL GT CHALLENGE ESPORTS 2022 CALENDAR CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS SILVER
- James Parker – Jan Willem van Ommen – Joe McAuley – Killian Ryan-Meenan AMR V8 Vantage FFS Racing, 142 points
- Jura Petritchenko – Luis Roters – Jakob Ostermann McLaren 720S GT3 AJA® Simracing Team powered by GAADI, 129 points
- Fabien Piffet – Maciej Hyla – Trevor Wenham – Grantas Kareckas Ferrari 488 GT3 Evo Race Anywhere Simsport – Silver, 92 points
- Sven Hettich – Tobias Schurr – Felix Arndt – Tom Gorka – Manuel Popp McLaren 720S GT3 PRIME eRACING, 73 points
- Victor Nicolae – Sebastian Apostol – Dragos Simion – Andrei Miclea BMW M4 GT3 West Competition Racing, 71 points
INTERCONTINENTAL GT CHALLENGE ESPORTS 2022 CALENDAR
Round 1 – Bathurst 12 Hours – 21st May Round 2 – 24 Hours of Spa – 18-19th June Round 3 – The 8 Hours of Laguna Seca – 16th July Round 4 – The Kyalami 9 Hours – 27th August Round 5 – Suzuka 10 Hours – TBC