Team Toyota and Kokubun quickest at the FIA Gran Turismo World Series Showdown
The official halfway stage of the FIA Gran Turismo Championships 2021 season was marked this year by the Showdown – two days spanning six races across the Manufacturer Series and Nations Cup utilising similar formatting to a World Tour event.
Bigger points systems for the Grand Finals ensured that even in extreme scenarios, the fights would only end upon the conclusion of the GT Sport-utilising event.
Manufacturer Series Race 1
Tomoaki Yamanaka was first up for Toyota both chronologically and indeed on the grid with pole position for Race 1 in the Manufacturer Series. Racing in Alsace, it was a rarity to see a Gr.3 Volkswagen at the sharp end of the grid yet Roberto Sternberg did brilliantly to meet Yamanaka on the front row.
The Japanese pilot was one of only two drivers to take the soft tyre for the start and pulled away convincingly. Meanwhile, half the grid chose to pit on lap three in an effort to undercut those ahead. Leading this pack was the Mazda of Miroslaw Kravchenko who made short work of the backmarkers he had fallen behind.
Initially, the gamble had worked with a jump on Sternberg confirmed. But, as the race progressed, life in his tyres faded and the Beetle was back into second. No one was able to trouble Yamanaka however who cruised home to claim maximum points for Toyota.
- T. Yamanaka – TOYOTA – 10 Laps
- R. Sternberg – VOLKSWAGEN – +4.415
- M. Kravchenko – MAZDA – +5.039
- Á. Tápai – JAGUAR – +5.111
- B. Beauvois – MERCEDES – +5.268
- S. Sugimori – HONDA – +10.824
- K. Iwata – PEUGEOT – +10.984
- M. Straka – NISSAN – +13.796
- A. Takida – ASTON MARTIN – +15.321
- K. Jones – DODGE – +16.113
Manufacturer Series Race 2
Switching over to Gr.4 cars and the Autodrome Lago Maggiore wasn’t going to dampen Volkswagen’s excellent tournament form as Hiroshi Okumoto grabbed the pole and a second front row start for the team. Alongside him, Mazda would feature in the top three once again under the spell of Jeff Gallan.
No pitstops would mean that this encounter was a pure sprint; not favourable for the front-wheel-drive machines such as the Scirocco upfront. For six full laps, there wasn’t much to speak of up at the sharp end until the Porsche of Jose Serrano finally broke the tension with a slipstream overtake on Gallan. This would spark a much more intense duel including Toyota’s Coque López giving Okumoto all the breathing space needed to preserve his tyres.
Volkswagen took the lead of the Showdown with Mazda and Porsche joining the German outfit on the podium.
- H. Okumoto – VOLKSWAGEN – 13 Laps
- J. Gallan – MAZDA – +4.600
- J. Serrano – PORSCHE – +4.936
- C. López – TOYOTA – +5.220
- A. Regalado – ASTON MARTIN – +14.080
- R. Heck – PEUGEOT – +14.151
- D. Solis – SUBARU – +15.256
- F. Portilla – DODGE – +15.484
- S. Iseri – JAGUAR – +16.200
- R. Haywood – HONDA – +17.065
Manufacturer Series Grand Final
Back into Gr.3 machinery and onto the Dragon Trail, Toyota took point again through 2019 champion Igor Fraga. Volkswagen meanwhile suffered its nadir; Thomas Labouteley’s effort was only good enough for sixth.
In stark contrast to Race 2, the 25-lap extravaganza to round off the evening’s entertainment would see a mandatory use of three tyre compounds. Only the front row of Fraga and Peugeot’s Quinten Jehoul opted to go for soft rubber at the start. Behind, the Mazda and Subaru of Ryota Kokubun and Takuma Miyazono respectively went for a hard compound opening stint causing frustration for the medium rubbered runners behind during the opening laps.
With Fraga comfortably in the lead by lap 10, Labouteley needed to gain ground quickly and to this effect pitted for his soft compound run, crucially coming out ahead of Kokubun. The Brazilian would respond immediately with the rest in tow. Volkswagen’s hopes appeared dashed upon completion of the Frenchman’s final pitstop though as both Kokubun and Miyazono ultimately maintained track superiority with lighter tyre compounds.
Showdown spoils would come down to Kokubun’s pace on average alongside his ability to overtake. On lap 23, Jehoul was demoted to third leaving a three-second gap to overhaul in two and a half trips around Dragon Trail. Fraga’s advantage was simply too much however and victory was Toyota’s.
- I. Fraga – TOYOTA – 25 Laps
- R. Kokubun – MAZDA – +1.353
- Q. Jehoul – PEUGEOT – +3.188
- T. Miyazono – SUBARU – +7.189
- A. Brooks – JAGUAR – +8.936
- G. Mangano – ASTON MARTIN – +13.290
- L. Bonelli – MERCEDES – +15.762
- Y. Araki – DODGE – +15.784
- V. Gallo – HONDA – +16.374
- A. Inostroza – PORSCHE – +16.424
Nations Cup Semi-Final A
After picking up a podium in Saturday’s second race, Serrano got his Nations Cup Sunday off to the best start with pole position on the Tokyo Expressway. The field would utilise Alpine Vision GTs in Japan and fellow front-row sitter Kokubun would be eager to do well in his home race. Along with Angel Inostroza, the top three would be the only drivers to start on soft compound tyres.
In order to qualify for the Grand Final, a top-eight place was required but points were still in play to battle over. Inostroza was disappointed to lose position to Nikita Moysov until the Czech pitted whilst Kokubun and Serrano exchanged places with no hold barred.
The arguing would cost them dearly as Moysov jumped the pair of them into the lead with a two-second buffer to boot. The situation would get even worse for Inostroza who had hopes and prayers unanswered in a ‘Hail Mary’ divebomb for secnd place which ended up losing him fourth to the hugely impressive Adriano Carrazza.
Moysov strolled home cool as you like. Tactically brilliant race executed to perfection.
- N. Moysov – CZECH REPUBLIC – 10 Laps
- J. Serrano – SPAIN – +1.676
- R. Kokubun – JAPAN – +1.915
- A. Carrazza – BRAZIL – +2.367
- A. Inostroza – CHILE – +2.463
- A. Lee – AUSTRALIA – +2.875
- N. Romero – SPAIN – +3.407
- Q. Jehoul – BELGIUM – +6.090
- B. Beauvois – FRANCE – +6.213
- S. Seelan – UNITED KINGDOM – +7.090
Nations Cup Semi-Final B
Semi-Final B saw a switch up to the Renault Sport R.S.01 and Interlagos. Olympic Virtual Series winner Valerio Gallo put his Saturday woes behind him to take pole ahead of Toyota and Brazil’s star man, Igor Fraga.
Much like their counterparts, the grid took on the familiar look of soft tyres exclusively at the front; this time the top four taking the plunge. A rare standing start allowed Fraga to take the initiative and lead his home race into the Senna S.
Lap six saw the first pitstops with López the leader of the group. Aware of the Spaniard’s pace advantage and looming threat, lap 10 is where Gallo would fire back into life, taking back the lead into the corner he lost it.
Ultimately there wasn’t much further in the way of drama but Gallo had done the job required of him.
- V. Gallo – ITALY – 13 Laps
- I. Fraga – BRAZIL – +0.341
- T. Yamanaka – JAPAN – +0.680
- T. Miyazono – JAPAN – +0.987
- C. López – SPAIN – +1.225
- K. Kawakami – JAPAN – +1.516
- Á. Tápai – HUNGARY – +3.154
- L. Bonelli – BRAZIL – +3.382
- M. Marza – ARGENTINA – +6.697
- R. Haywood – USA – +6.704
Nations Cup Grand Final
The Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps and the Ford Mark IV – a historic combination for a historic Grand Final. After settling for second fiddle in Semi-Final B, Fraga would start the race for all the marbles on top spot with Kokubun and Gallo providing company around him.
Another standing start could not have gone better for Fraga whilst Gallo and Kokubun squabbled for second. The end of the lap could not have gone much worse however as locking brakes into the bus stop chicane paved the way for Gallo to take the lead. The alternate strategy leaders of López and Miyazono would also swap places through their pitstop phase as the Japanese pilot performed the undercut early on lap five.
First to pit at the sharp end were Gallo and Kokubun, taking destiny into their own hands. Aiding their cause was López and Miyazono extending their duel well into the race and wasting time in the process. The good news kept on coming as Fraga bizarrely spun into pitlane entry. Upon exit, the 2018 Nations Cup champion was fed straight into the warpath of the aforementioned soft tyred runners.
Into the closing stages, it was, rather aptly, a one v one duel between Gallo and Kokubun for Nations Cup Showdown glory. Disappointingly, the excitement was short-lived as Gallo shot himself in the foot; braking far too late on the defence into Les Combes. The pressure was now mounting from the Spanish pair of Serrano and a surging López.
Racing can be brutal sometimes and the Italian picked up a time penalty for good measure. His woes were certainly not as tragic as Serrano’s who ran out of fuel through the last corner and in the process losing a podium. A rather different image to Kokubun celebrating victory without worry.
- R. Kokubun – JAPAN – 17 Laps
- V. Gallo – ITALY – +3.422
- C. López – SPAIN – +3.664
- J. Serrano – SPAIN – +3.704
- A. Inostroza – CHILE – +10.933
- I. Fraga – BRAZIL – +12.202
- Á. Tápai – HUNGARY – +12.528
- T. Miyazono – JAPAN – +12.576
- L. Bonelli – BRAZIL – +17.202
- A. Carrazza – BRAZIL – +22.203