With the Formula Pro Series well underway, rFactor 2 has clearly gone from strength to strength with its officially backed esports program. For the first time, two championships would run back-to-back with Round 3 of the single-seater contest on the horizon. On 9th August, GT Pro Series returned after the Draft Phase had once again created intrigue.
Erhan Jajovski, Season 2’s winner, had plummeted down the order in Season 3 so reigning champion Jan von der Heyde would be hoping the curse was a brief one. The German’s title rival Dennis Jordan returned with Red Bull Racing Esports, though many other names considered themselves in with a shot.
GT3 to GTE
The biggest shake-up to proceedings were the cars themselves, as the series switched from GT3s to GTEs. The mandatory pitstop remained however, so the move was purely to give everyone a fresh start in the setup department. Also new for Season 4 was how the grid would be determined for the Feature Race. Still a top ten reversed grid, the starting order would now be taken from Qualifying and not the finishing positions of the Sprint.
This served to benefit those who harboured strong one-lap speed but didn’t necessarily have the race pace to match. Another hope was that those at the front would take more risks in the Sprint as they were no longer throwing away a potentially decent starting position for the second race.
Familiar drivers and teams looked forward to the challenge. Burst Esport retained Michi Hoyer and Jernej Simončič and Williams Esports featured their Polish duo of Jakub Brzezinski and Nikodem Wisniewski once again. After previous underwhelming campaigns, Season 4 held higher hopes for Kevin Siggy and Risto Kappet. Varga SimRacing, after their solid start to life in Formula Pro Series, continued their rFactor 2 expansion with Jiri Toman and Marcell Csincsik.
The return of a hierarchy
What made Season 3 of GT Pro Series so spectacular to watch was the total lack of ability to predict who would win. Twelve different race winners in twelve races would be an unprecedented circumstance in any motorsport event, be it real or virtual. Season 4 returned to a more traditional setting, although the front runners were still varied.
Round 1 at Monza would start off with a bang as the first corner, notorious for early incidents, witnessed a huge accident involving Csincsik, Wisniewski and Kappet. The Vargas had qualified well and although one fell early on, the other would stride confidently to victory with Toman leading the championship at the earliest opportunity. He would be joined atop the standings by Simončič come the Feature Race’s end despite the Slovenian not winning – that honour would go to Brzezinski.
A wet Sebring Circuit would follow the Italian sun-drenched temple of speed and offer up a bigger insight into the pecking order for this season. Csincsik bounced back from a difficult round to keep Varga in the picture although this round was all about the contest between Burst and Red Bull.
Michi Hoyer had played a peripheral part in the Season 3 Drivers’ championship but was keen to maintain his relevancy, doing so with aplomb. A pole position and win in the Sprint was a strong indicator that he and stablemate Simončič knew their stuff with the GTE setups. A Red Bull 1-2-3 followed the Burst 1-2 with Yuri Kasdorp picking up his first victory in GT Pro.
The elephant in the room was of course von der Heyde who was suffering a miserable season. As Simončič capitalised on a poor round for Toman and claimed the points lead for himself, the reigning champion was consigned to shoddy race pace and a struggle for top twenty finishes.
The Team Game
Whether you love it, hate it or have no opinion on the matter, the lack of a teams’ battle for points remains a fascinating absence from GT Pro Series. Nevertheless, as the six-round calendar wore on, the duels for all-important wins brought each roster into heightened focus.
Lime Rock Park was the first true showing of unique characteristics between the top three outfits. Varga SimRacing was new to the field and evidently eager to make an impression. Though Csincsik hadn’t covered himself in glory at Monza, his redemption at Sebring was commendable, and stablemate Toman became the first driver since Season 2 to take two wins in the same season.
Red Bull Racing Esports were becoming the go-to trio for revolutionary pit strategies. Lime Rock Park truly began the trend of going as long as possible in the first stint of Feature Races, before rallying at the end on newer tyres. The camaraderie of Jordan, Kasdorp and Alex Siebel was a joy to watch.
Burst Esport, meanwhile, was all about the long-game. Maximising points on the day was the priority and this was no more evident when championship leader Simončič generously attempted to allow the faster Hoyer through in race two at Lime Rock Park. This show of selflessness ultimately cost him three places.
The second half of the season was all about who could string together the best set of consecutive results. Loch Drummond was arguably the downfall of Hoyer, as he only managed to net one top ten finish. Csincsik went from strength to strength following up a double podium at Lime Rock Park with a maiden win in the Sprint. Simončič continued to do enough in his efforts to keep everyone at bay; a second Feature win of the season boosting his title hopes.
Spa-Francorchamps would witness the first round since Sebring where two new drivers stood atop the podium in the season. On this occasion, Risto Kappet overcame dire form to win the Sprint, while Jordan took the Feature. The German had been slowly building his case to become GT Pro champion and this latest result, that evening at least, couldn’t have come at a better time.
As events transpired it was all too late in the end.
Indianapolis was where it all came together for von der Heyde half a year ago, and as the German faced down a tragic relegation to GT Challenge Jernej Simončič was lining himself up for a last day hurrah. A timely pole position combined with poor qualifying positions for his title rivals meant the final round had gotten off to a perfect start. Converting that Qualifying triumph into a third win of the season, and scoring another top ten in the dramatic final race, was all the Slovenian needed to do.
Burst Esport had a GT Pro champion under contract.
GT Pro Series Season 4 Championship Standings
Top 10 – final driver standings
- Jernej Simončič, Burst Esport, 959 points
- Alex Siebel, Red Bull Racing Esports, 944 points
- Dennis Jordan, Red Bull Racing Esports, 938 points
- Jiri Toman, Varga Sim Racing, 930 points
- Ibraheem Khan, Zansho Simsport, 927 points
- Kevin Siggy, BMW Team Redline, 921 points
- Jakub Brzezinski, Williams Esports, 912 points
- Michi Hoyer, Burst Esport, 910 points
- Marcell Csincsik, Varga Sim Racing, 909 points
- Risto Kappet,, R8G Esports, 898 points