Friday, 3rd December, marked the beginning of the Gran Turismo 2021 World Championships, a three-day mega event bringing to a close the season as a whole.
Friday’s action was very much the starter of the feast as the Toyota GAZOO Racing GT Cup ran ahead of the FIA Manufacturers and Nations competitions. It was a chance for experienced racers to add to their trophy cabinet and newer faces to get in competitive laps against the best.
Two semi-finals in the feisty Toyota GR Yaris would be followed by a final showdown in GR86s at the Circuit de la Sarthe.
Conditions were miserable at the Red Bull Ring for the first group of pilots though Tomoaki Yamanaka was happy enough to be leading through Niki Lauda Kurve after securing pole position. Behind lay Olympic Virtual champion Valerio Gallo who has been in searing Nations Cup form of late.
The battle for the final podium spot was highlighted early on as Giorgio Mangano, Luca Bonelli, Igor Fraga and Coque López vied for position. The Spaniard, by the fourth lap, occupied sixth with the top eight finishers securing their places in the evening’s final race. Nevertheless, gaining positions here and now was essential; the higher you placed, the higher you would start at Le Mans.
Gallo looked like he had pace in reserve the majority of his time sitting behind Yamanaka. The Italian showed his hand on the eighth lap, diving up the inside at Remus. The following tour would be a little messier as Mangano missed his braking point. The resulting congestion really left Yamanaka out to dry with Bonelli benefitting hugely up to second.
It would also aid Gallo, who had much less to worry about cruising home to first. His countryman would pick up a late-game penalty for his transgression and lose two positions in the slowing down process.
- V. Gallo – 10 Laps
- L. Bonelli – +0.585
- T. Yamanaka – +0.839
- C. López – +2.339
- I. Fraga – +2.811
- G. Mangano – +3.137
- T. Sasaki – +3.261
- N. Sirigaya – +6.960
- P. Kandanoleon – +10.248
- Q. Vilasco +14.343
- M. Kravchenko – +14.580
- D. Solis – +30.685
An all-Japanese front row in Semi-Final B was rather apt for the Toyota GR GT Cup, though a bigger story developed at the back of the grid where Baptiste Beavois lay. The Frenchman was expected to make it through to the Finals and would have to work for it from P11.
Rikuto Kobayashi had a tall order off the line with 2020 double champion Takuma Miyazono in his wing mirrors. Jose Serrano helped ease that pressure significantly with a bold lunge into Schlossgold on Lap 1. One completed cleanly, I might add.
It wouldn’t be unfair to say that the entertainment value up to the ninth lap was remarkably low. However, the battle for the final qualification spot eventually heated up. Beauvois had been chipping away at the timesheets and, lying in 10th with Kevin Pounder just one second ahead in eighth, he launched an outrageous move around the outside of a similarly struggling Andres Inostroza at Turn 4.
The final rotation of the Red Bull Ring was intense with Pounder and Beauvois exchanging paint plenty of times. The American just about held on as did Kobayashi to win.
- R. Kobayashi – 10 Laps
- J. Serrano – +0.116
- T. Miyazono – +0.318
- T. Labouteley – +0.493
- B. Chou – +1.140
- A. Lee – +1.290
- C. Salazar – +1.706
- K. Pounder – +6.082
- B. Beauvois – +6.119
- A. Inostroza – +7.740
- S. Abinakhle – +14.080
- D. Heldt – +14.796
With the young Kobayashi on pole position, the field got away cleanly for six laps of Le Mans. As he and Gallo endeavoured to break away early, third-placed Serrano was placed under the microscope of Bonelli. Thankfully for the Spaniard, the huge straights on the way to Mulsanne saved his grace due to the slipstream.
With a mandatory pitstop on the cards, the predicted strategy for most was to split the race into two equal halves. Mired in the midfield, López chose to be bold by heading in at the end of the first lap. If the tyre degradation could be managed, clean air (in theory) was a big advantage for the Spaniard.
Unfortunately, despite a manic battle for eighth place unfolding, many responded to this throw of the dice with only the top four and Takuma Sasaki remaining out and on course for their preferred strategies. López had, seemingly, only gained two places at most. Speaking of the leading pack, Gallo had called time on chasing. The Italian led out of Mulsanne.
Against what was expected, these five would go round another lap. Kobayashi would retake the lead before being joined by Bonelli in the pit lane leaving just Gallo, Serrano and Sasaki left to stop. Incredibly, the young man leading into the pits didn’t even net-lead on exit as both Miyazono and Yamanaka raced on through albeit with older tyres. Bonelli would rejoin behind López.
The writing was on the wall for Gallo and Serrano who fed back out into the midfield warzone upon pit exit. López meanwhile was laughing, now up in fourth position. He was hoping for drama between the Japanese top three with Yamanaka making the first claim for victory before the PlayStation Chicane.
Miyazono retaliated at the Michelin Chicane before Yamanaka pulled a spectacular Hail Mary around the outside of the entrance to Indianapolis. This would be the death knell for Miyazono who couldn’t respond. A Japanese 1-2-3 in a Toyota championship was led home by Tomoaki Yamanaka.
- T. Yamanaka – 6 Laps
- T. Miyazono – +0.362
- R. Kobayashi – +0.445
- C. López – +1.171
- V. Gallo – +2.003
- L. Bonelli – +2.262
- T. Labouteley – +2.685
- G. Mangano – +10.149
- J. Serrano – +10.624
- I. Fraga – +14.599