When it comes to real world motorsport influences from the world of simracing, you can’t get much more direct an impact than the Fanatec Esports GT Pro Series. How so? Because the points earned in this virtual championship using Assetto Corsa Competzione go towards the GT World Championship Endurance Cup Teams’ tussle.
The rules for the second season of the Fanatec Esports GT Pro Series are slightly modified but largely recognisable. Every team is allowed one entry in each event, with hot lap qualifying determining 12 Pro and 12 Silver entrants per round.
From there, the official Qualifying session precedes an hour-long race where the top five score points. The maximum amount of points available to accrue, for both categories, has increased to 25 from 15.
Making its debut this year, Imola played host to the first round of the season on Saturday evening (2nd April 2022).
The Pro class reigned supreme in Imola Qualifying with only three Silver drivers featuring inside the top ten. Of these, Vincenzo Sospiri’s Yuki Nemoto and Attempto’s Alex Aka showed great quality to line up second and third respectively.
Neil Verhagen of Rowe Racing claimed a debut pole position for the BMW M4 GT3, added to the car rostrum this year alongside the Audi R8 LMS Evo II. Dani Juncadella would take fourth for AKKODIS ASP, while the most successful pilot of 2021, Arthur Rougier, took Emil Frey Racing into the top five once again.
The third of the Silver class runners, Brendon Leitch, lay P10 overall for Leipert Motorsport.
Before the cars had even hit the grid there was intrigue, with Rougier’s Lamborghini heading into the pitlane. No matter the reason, eyes were to the front, with the front of the pack making it through Tamburello unscathed. Those behind were not so lucky, as Leitch found out to his dismay, falling right to the back. Juncadella made the best of a conservative Aka, and rose to third.
Aka would not not hold onto fourth for long, as the roaring V8 Aston Martin of Nicki Thiim cruised up to his rear wing. The Dane swooped down the inside at Tamburello on lap two to demote the German another position. The Silver class’ third podium slot was hotly contested by both Ezequiel Perez Companc and Tommaso Mosca. After a mistake through Acque Minerali, Companc simply had to concede into Alta.
Bad news was headed the way of the Italian however, with stewards slapping a fifteen second time penalty for first lap negligence. Though this no doubt peaked the ears of the recently overtaken Companc, it would do eighth-placed Dries Vanthoor no good as a Pro class competitor.
The Dutchman found a pass easily thanks to Mosca’s poor penultimate corner. The day would go from bad to worse for AKKODIS’ Silver entrant with his penalty increasing to a drive-through for track cuts, leading to disqualification after failing to serve it.
Helped in part by the numerous retirements by this point, Leitch had put together a tidy recovery drive and was first to pit from just outside the top ten. In the Fanatec Esports GT Pro Series, drivers have a ten-minute window in which to take a mandatory stop. Sadly, for Silver class leader Nemoto, this stop would end up severely hampering his fantastic outing, as rig issues forced him to briefly halt at pit exit.
This unfortunate circumstance left the top three on track – Pro class competitor Verhagen not breaking sweat thanks to the sizable gap back to Juncadella. The good news would continue to roll in for Verhagen with the Spaniard picking up a pit lane speeding penalty; a penalty he would not serve leading to another disqualification.
After his stuttering start, Aka now led Silver class ahead of Perez Companc with Vanthoor in between the two.
In spite of his technical gremlins, Nemoto was on the charge heading into the final twenty minutes. His immediate target would be fellow victim of circumstance Leitch, running third in Silver class. The Lamborghini duel saw the Japanese pilot come out on top. Unfortunately, with such little time to work with, this would be the most Nemoto could recover.
Utter domination then from the debutant at the debut track in the debut car. Verhagen smashed the rest of the field, with Thiim and the anonymous Juuso Puhakka claiming podium bragging rights in the Pro class. Aka will no doubt be feeling a little lucky after picking up the first available Silver class win, but strong drives from Perez Companc and Nemoto earned them good points too.
- Neil Verhagen – Rowe Racing/BMW M4 GT3 – 1st – 60:00.000 (time not shown on stream)
- Nicki Thiim – Beechdean AMR/Aston Martin Vantage AMR GT3 – 2nd – +26.037
- Juuso Puhakka – Attempto Racing/Audi R8 LMS Evo II – 3rd – +30.795
- Dries Vanthoor – Team WRT/Audi R8 LMS Evo II – 5th – +37.104
- Nicklas Nielsen – Iron Lynx/Ferrari 488 GT3 Evo – 7th – +50.917
- Alex Aka – Attempto Racing/Audi R8 LMS Evo II – 4th – +35.432
- Ezequiel Perez Companc – Madpanda Motorsport/Mercedes-AMG GT3 2020 – 6th – +47.261
- Yuki Nemoto – Vincenzo Sospiri Racing/Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo – 8th – +56.019
- Brendon Leitch – Leipert Motorsport/Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo – 10th – +59.020
- Lorenzo Patrese – Tresor by Car Collection/Audi R8 LMS Evo II – 11th – + 1 Lap