With another month rolling by in a rapidly disappearing 2023, it was time for the Intercontinental GT Challenge to run its penultimate round.
Spa-Francorchamps was a Mercedes-AMG rout last time out on Assetto Corsa Competizione. Williams and the two Unicorns of Love entries locked out the PRO class podium – the former extending their championship advantage to 14 points.
A significantly shorter event awaited this time, around the equally legendary Suzuka Circuit in Japan. Ten hours was the timescale to manage and speaking of numbers, points were becoming a premium. For all of the chasing title threats behind the big Mercedes trio, a good result was required imminently.
Ferrari, Lamborghini and reigning champions McLaren-Veloce could all count themselves in this camp. Surely this circuit was looking to suit their machines better, but would that be enough to dismiss the terrifying form of those in the Silver Arrows?
Well yes! But also no. Here’s how qualifying went down.
Unlike the Spanish Inquisition, many had anticipated the arrival of the Audis into the mix and so it came to pass. Jakob Ostermann would line up in pole position for Wipperman Racing ahead of the Audi-based Williams entry to be led by Vojtech Fiala from the off.
The #555 title-leading Mercedes, to be helmed initially by Dáire McCormack as always, scavenged third from the title-congested top half of the PRO class. George Boothby had the responsibility of driving the McLaren-Veloce from its best starting position since Bathurst ahead of a third Audi; that of ITB Sainteloc Racing.
In Silver class, the #1 was appropriately on category pole position down in seventh place. This was the BMW Romania Team West Competition entry which didn’t require too much squinting into the rear views to spot their closest rivals. On this sunny morning, that would be the RennWelten Esports Red of Leon Berndt.
Though the opening sector was very well-behaved, a Lamborghini being spun into the middle of the track – through the Degner Curves I might add – resulted in the first major incident as you would expect.
Many of the struggling PRO entries were caught up in this including, at its heart, the aforementioned Automobili Lamborghini Esports Team who were now in for a guaranteed arduous stint at the office.
Marius Nicolae, in the BMW Romania entry, would lose out in the first hour to the strong pace of Berndt who went about building a sizeable gap. At the sharp end of the field, there was hardly much to discuss. The two leading Audis were comfortably gapping everyone else, aided by the enthralling battle for the final podium place.
That was until the second pitstop phase where Wipperman came in from the lead far earlier than anyone else. The time lost in traffic cost them big time, seeing Williams claim the top spot through recently crowned America Sprint Series champion Igor de Oliveira Rodrigues.
Wipperman’s woes were only just getting started, unfortunately. The team had consistently shown pace but only had one points finish to show for it. Once again, through a combination of deteriorating pace and strategy, they had fallen into the clutches of those behind.
McCormack led Tobias Gronwald and Luke Whitehead (the UOL Mercedes and McLaren-Veloce switching positions in the meantime) and, quite literally, spearheaded the effort to remove Jura Petritchenko from second.
This landed the Williams Mercedes with a ten-second time penalty. Not that this soothed the sorrows of the Wipperman team who would proceed to pick up a drivethrough later down the road, ending any hope of recovery. Heading the other way was RennWelten Red who had flown under the radar to genuinely challenge for a podium.
Although, even by the halfway stage, the #66 Williams was already looking to be unreachable up front.
Having regained much of the initial time lost, Williams Mercedes entered combat with McLaren-Veloce in what would prove to be the duel of the race. Their high-speed chess match would last hours before the points leaders finally came out on top. From this point on, the purple-liveried machine fell back.
Much like their fellow Ferrari runners, the Scuderia played the strategy perfectly coming into the closing stages of the contest. From solid midfield, they had climbed to a highly impressive third place albeit under huge scrutiny from Gronewald in the UOL Mercedes. A stout defence ended with one of the more controversial aspects, a drivethrough penalty for Gronewald.
This was an AI-assigned penalty for track limits but the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back was dubious since Jordan Sherratt had edged the German off track at Turn 1. Sadly, the penalty was served heading onto the final lap giving the team no option to protest the result post-race.
So, in a world of their own, Fiala passed the chequered flag to confirm the #66 Williams’ second victory of the season following Kyalami. Samir Ibraimi netted a mighty second for the Silver class RennWelten Red whilst Sherratt was no doubt relieved to keep Ferrari’s title hopes alive with third.
2023 Intercontinental GT Challenge Esports Suzuka 10 Hours, PRO class results
- Williams Esports – T. van der Velde/I. De Oliveira Rodrigues/V. Fiala/C. Crossland
- Scuderia Ferrari Esports Team – J. Sherratt/C. Harteveld/A. Capoccia/J. Riley
- Mercedes-AMG Team Williams Esports – D. Schöniger/D. McCormack/D. BlajerMercedes-AMG Esports Team Unicorns of Love – B. Richter/T. Pfeffer/T. Gronewald/M. Tauscher
- BMW M Team BS+COMPETITION – N. Naujoks/Gregor Schill/Arthur Kammerer/Philippa Boquida
- McLaren Veloce – L. Whitehead/G. Boothby/G. Kareckas/M. Malinowski
2023 Intercontinental GT Challenge Esports Suzuka 10 Hours, Silver class results
- RennWelten eSports Red – S. Ibraimi/L. Berndt/T. Pietschmann/L. Lucaßen
- YAS Heat Esports – V. Barrier/J. Honzik/E. Marhilevics/S. Arnold
- BMW Romania Team West Competition Racing – S. Apostol/M. Jonkers/V. Nicolae/A. Miclea/D. Simion
- West Competition Racing – H. Mitropoulos/T. Juknevicius/Z. Essa/M. Tol
- Team Racing Point – D. Pertile/A. Castorino/L. Matěja/M. Zampedri
Featured Images: Williams Esports