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Great Racing and an Unpredictable Finish in the First Day of Competition
2020 Series Nations Cup - Regional Finals (EMEA)

The pandemic has had a profound effect on everyone this year, and as we all continue to deal with the hardships that it brings, sporting events around the world have resumed, albeit without live audiences. Such is the case with the FIA Gran Turismo Championships, which kicked off this month with all the contestants participating via video. But we discovered that despite the absence of crowds and cheers of past FIA GT Championship events, the races have so far have been intense and exciting as ever.

The format has been slightly revised for 2020. With three main regions—the Americas, Asia-Oceania, and the EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa)—each one consists of the top 12 ranked racers of that region and four additional players who earned their way in by way of the Extra Stage, for a total of 16 competitors. They will compete in three races, with the top eight finishers in the EMEA region advancing to the World Finals. (Note: Only the top four will qualify from the Americas and three will represent the Asia-Oceania region, excluding defending champion Takuma Miyazono of Japan who gets an automatic bid for winning it all last year). The starting grids for all the races are determined by a 10-minute qualifying round, with points awarded to the top 10 finishers in each race. So, without further ado, let’s go racing!

Race 1

The venue for the first race of the 2020 Series was the fast Autodromo Lago Maggiore, with the players piloting Gr.3 race machines for a total of seven laps. All the cars started on hard-compound tyres (no tyre changes or fuel stops for this race). Italy’s Valerio Gallo (Williams_BRacer) in the Honda NSX sat on pole while top-ranked Baptiste Beauvois (PRIMA_Tsu Tsu) of France, in the McLaren 650S, took the No. 2 spot. Spaniard Jose Serrano (PR1_JOSETE) and his Audi LMS started 3rd and The Netherlands’ Rick Kevelham (HRG_RIK23) in a Renault Sport R.S. 01 rounded out the top four. It proved to be a competitive starting grip with the top 15 drivers qualifying within a second of each other.

The rolling-start format allowed the racers to get away cleanly, and they took the first corner in a single-file formation. No aggressive moves or passing maneuvers just yet as they no doubt wanted to wait for their tyres to warm up before making their moves. Sensing that his Michelins were ready go at the end of Lap 1, Coque López of Spain decided to make the day’s first major move. He took his Peugeot RCZ to the outside of Kevelham’s Renault, looking to overtake, but the Dutchman defended his position brilliantly. Still, López was not to be denied as he passed Kevelham through Turn 1 of the following lap, claiming P4. Then, Italy’s Giorgio Mangano (Williams_Gio) climbed all over Kevelham, who dropped his pace, seemingly feeling the pressure of the moment.

While P4 to P6 were battling amongst themselves, the top three cars—driven by Gallo, Beauvois and Serrano—gradually pulled away from the pack. At the halfway point of the race, the running order was Gallo, Beauvois, Serrano, López and Kevelham. Things got interesting on Lap 5 when Mangano’s Porsche 911 RSR passed Kevelham’s Renault for 5th place. Then, with the racecars reaching 245 km/h on the back straight, a battle broke out in the middle of the field between Finland’s Marcus Kononen (maatu79), Adam Tapai (TRL_ADAM18) of Hungary, Sweden’s Christian Malki (PR1_FIRE) and the Czech Republic’s Nikita Moysov (ERM_Nick).

By Lap 6, Moysov in his Ford GT was stuck to the rear bumper of Tapai’s Citroën GT, but the Hungarian drove brilliantly fending off the late charge and ultimately holding his position. All the while, Gallo and Beauvois had built up a commanding lead and cruised across the finish line one-two, with Spaniards Serrano and López in 3rd and 4th.

Rank Driver Time
1 Valerio Gallo Williams_BRacer 13:44:352
2 Baptiste Beauvois PRiMA_TsuTsu +01.342
3 Jose Serrano PR1_JOSETE +04.808
4 Coque López Williams_Coque14 +05.795
5 Giorgio Mangano Williams_Gio +06.261
6 Rick Kevelham HRG_RK23 +08.465
7 Markus Kononen maatu79 +08.924
8 Ádám Tápai TRL_ADAM18 +10.296
9 Nikita Moysov ERM_Nick +10.673
10 Christian Malki PR1_Fire +12.037
11 Adam Suswillo Williams_Adam41 +12.733
12 Manuel Rodríguez TRL_MANURODRY +15.914
13 Patrik Blazsán Williams_Fuvaros +16.303
14 Salvatore Maraglino PR1_PIRATA666 +16.315
15 Carlos Salazar pcm_stj +19.228
16 Marcin Świderek SRC_SVDR +19.787

Race 2

Unlike the traditional format, the grid order was not determined by the finishing order of the previous race, but by a another 10-minute qualifying session, meaning that those who didn’t perform up to par in Race 1 could still find their way to the top of the grid for Race 2, a 10-lap contest around the Autodromo Nazional Monza (with no chicanes) in Gr.1 race cars. All that said, it didn’t much matter for Valerio Gallo (Italy) whose Peugeot 908 gave him his second pole position of the day. Behind him was Jose Serrano of Spain, followed by France’s Baptiste Beauvois.

Equipped with hard-compound Michelins, the racecars approached the start line in a single file, when Serrano’s Audi R18 Hybrid shot past Gallo’s Peugeot to grab the lead as soon as the green flag dropped. With the cars reaching 310 km/h on the back straight, Coque López of Spain in a Jaguar XJR-9 quickly moved up two positions to 5th place, getting by Nikita Moysov (Czech Republic) and Marcin Świderek of Poland.

At the start of Lap 2, Gallo grabbed the lead back from Serrano, saying to all that he was the one to beat that day. On Lap 3, Salvatore Maraglino of Italy began charging hard, moving up from 11th place all the way to 6th, passing Świderek’s McLaren VGT in the process, but the Pole showed tremendous fight as he took back P6 from the Italian through the Curva Grande sweeper.

Lap 4 saw a good battle at the front of the field with Beauvois getting past Serrano for 2nd place, but they were already more than 2.0 seconds behind race leader Gallo, who was totally dialed into his Peugeot race machine. In contrast, Serrano seemed to be having grip issues with his Audi hybrid, dropping yet another position when Hungary’s Adam Tapai got past him. It was a surreal sight as the four-rotor 1991 Mazda 787B overtook the 2012 Audi R18 Hybrid, race cars separated by more than 20 years. Only in the world of Gran Turismo!

At the halfway point of the race, the running order was: Gallo, Beauvois, Tapai and López, who had just passed Serrano, followed by the Italian duo of Giorgio Mangano in a Nissan R92, and Salvatore Maraglino (PR1_PIRATA666) and his Peugeot L750R Hybrid.

Lap 7 and 8 saw no major drama, with all the drivers settling into a comfortable rhythm, expect perhaps Świderek, who dropped down to 11th place after starting the race in P5. But the man of the hour was definitely Gallo, who extended his lead to more than 3.5 seconds over 2nd-place Beauvois. Meanwhile, Serrano pressed his countryman for 4th place, but in the end, his Audi just didn’t have the straight-line prowess to get past López’s Jaguar.

The race ended with Gallo crossing the finish line first for the second time of the day, earning another 12 points in dominating fashion for a total of 24 going into the Grand Final. Beauvois also had another strong showing, while Tapai, López, and Serrano rounded out the top five.

Rank Driver Time
1 Valerio Gallo Williams_BRacer 14:08.687
2 Baptiste Beauvois PRiMA_TsuTsu +04.026
3 Ádám Tápai TRL_ADAM18 +05.995
4 Coque López Williams_Coque14 +07.775
5 Jose Serrano PR1_JOSETE +08.107
6 Giorgio Mangano Williams_Gio +10.522
7 Salvatore Maraglino PR1_PIRATA666 +10.540
8 Nikita Moysov ERM_Nick +11.785
9 Patrik Blazsán Williams_Fuvaros +13.209
10 Adam Suswillo Williams_Adam41 +14.808
11 Marcin Świderek SRC_SVDR +15.166
12 Manuel Rodríguez TRL_MANURODRY +18.179
13 Rick Kevelham HRG_RK23 +18.757
14 Markus Kononen maatu79 +19.187
15 Carlos Salazar pcm_stj +20.373
16 Christian Malki PR1_Fire +21.718

Grand Final

With the grid set for the Grand Final, a 20-lap contest around the legendary Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, the players strapped themselves (virtually) into the extraordinarily fast Red Bull X2019 Competition machines, with the requirement to use all three compound tyres (soft, medium, hard) for a minimum of one lap, meaning the race could be won or lost on pitstop strategy. Also, because the Grand Final awarded double points, it was almost anybody’s championship to claim if points-leaders Valerio Gallo (Italy) and Baptiste Beauvois (France) experienced problems.

Even before the race started, we were ensured that it would be an unpredictable finish to an exciting day, as Gallo did not qualify well and found himself all the way down in 10th position on the starting grid. The odds now heavily favored Beauvois to pull off the comeback as he sat on pole, with Spain’s Jose Serrano in the No. 2 position and Adam Suswillo of the U.K, who struggled in the first two races, in the 3rd spot.

Serrano, Rick Kevelham (The Netherlands) starting in 4th and Coque López of Spain in 5th all started on soft-compound tyres, looking to grab the early lead over Beauvois and Suswillo who were on the slower medium-compound tyres.

As soon as the race started, Serrano made his move, getting past Beauvois through Raidillon (Turn 3), while López nabbed P4 from Kevelham and the claimed P3 from Suswillo. At the end of Lap 1, the drivers on hard-compound tyres, which included Gallo, dove into the pits fulfilling their requirement. When Gallo exited, there was an 11-second gap to the car in front, meaning he had a clear track in ahead of him. In the meantime, López quietly passed Beauvois for 2nd place. And things went from bad to worse for the Frenchman when he lost control of his Red Bull X2019 coming out of Les Combs (Turn 9), hitting the wall and dropping him to 7th in the blink of the eye, right in front of 8th-place Gallo, who probably couldn’t believe what he was seeing. But the Italian was assessed a 1.0-second penalty, giving the advantage back to Beauvois in the race for the championship.

On Lap 6, López took the lead from Serrano, passing him on the Kemmel Straight at 315 km/h, before diving into the pits to change to soft tyres again, giving the lead back to his countryman. The Flying Dutchman, Kevelham, on softs, made a hard charge, working his way to 2nd place, getting past Serrano and sitting right behind the race-leader López. Serrano was also passed by Italian Giorgio Mangano, who made his way up from 7th place to 3rd.

At the halfway point of the race, the running order was: López, Kevelham, Mangano and Serrano, with Gallo in 7th and Beauvois all the way down in 11th. And by Lap 12, López had opened up a 5.0-second lead. A López win and a 7th-place finish by Gallo would hand the Spaniard the championship, but he still had a stint left on the medium- and hard-compound tyres. When López pitted for fuel and a tyre change, he again opted to go for softs, meaning he was employing a unique four-stop strategy. Many felt that this was unwise, as the others all employed a three-stop plan.

On Lap 14, Patrik Blazán of Hungary got past Serrano for 4th, while López built up a 14-second lead, trying to give himself an adequate cushion for two more pitstops. When he decided to pit on Lap 18, he had a massive 19-second cushion, which by simple calculations would be enough to allow him to hold on to the lead with two more pitstops... but barely. Meanwhile Beauvois still had some fight left him in, working his way up to 8th place.

López made a pitstop to change to mediums, followed by the final pitstop for his required stint on the hard-compound tyres, getting out back on the race track in front of Kevelham and 3rd-place Blazán for the final lap. Then, Blazán passed Kevelham for 2nd place, but the writing on the wall was clear. Coque López, in a daring pitstop strategy, did the unthinkable, not just winning the race, but stealing the championship away from Gallo. He ended up with a total of 38 points, putting him in front of Gallo, who finished the race in 13th place, by 14 points.

Rank Driver Time
1 Coque López Williams_Coque14 39:16.154
2 Patrik Blazsán Williams_Fuvaros +02.489
3 Jose Serrano PR1_JOSETE +04.461
4 Rick Kevelham HRG_RK23 +04.866
5 Ádám Tápai TRL_ADAM18 +10.759
6 Salvatore Maraglino PR1_PIRATA666 +14.343
7 Baptiste Beauvois PRiMA_TsuTsu +14.956
8 Giorgio Mangano Williams_Gio +16.997
9 Manuel Rodríguez TRL_MANURODRY +17.057
10 Adam Suswillo Williams_Adam41 +18.205
11 Nikita Moysov ERM_Nick +20.497
12 Markus Kononen maatu79 +23.396
13 Valerio Gallo Williams_BRacer +23.492
14 Christian Malki PR1_Fire +26.160
15 Marcin Świderek SRC_SVDR +31.157
16 Carlos Salazar pcm_stj +31.684

“It’s an amazing feeling,” the new EMEA champion, Coque López, said. “I knew I had to win this race and get lucky, with Valerio (Gallo) missing the podium. Although I feel for him, I am happy that I won. As for the pitstop strategy, when I was in the lead and found myself ahead by more than the time needed for a pitstop, I decided to change from three stops to four stops to spend more time with the soft tyres.”

2020 Series Nations Cup - Regional Finals (EMEA) Results

Rank Driver Race 1 Race 2 Grand Final Total Points
1 Coque López Williams_Coque14 7 7 24 38
2 Jose Serrano PR1_JOSETE 8 6 16 30
3 Baptiste Beauvois PRiMA_TsuTsu 10 10 8 28
4 Valerio Gallo Williams_BRacer 12 12 0 24
5 Ádám Tápai TRL_ADAM18 3 8 12 23
6 Patrik Blazsán Williams_Fuvaros 0 2 20 22
7 Rick Kevelham HRG_RK23 5 0 14 19
8 Giorgio Mangano Williams_Gio 6 5 6 17
9 Salvatore Maraglino PR1_PIRATA666 0 4 10 14
10 Nikita Moysov ERM_Nick 2 3 0 5
11 Markus Kononen maatu79 4 0 0 4
11 Manuel Rodríguez TRL_MANURODRY 0 0 4 4
13 Adam Suswillo Williams_Adam41 0 1 2 3
14 Christian Malki PR1_Fire 1 0 0 1
15 Carlos Salazar pcm_stj 0 0 0 0
15 Marcin Świderek SRC_SVDR 0 0 0 0
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