Race Report

Drama at Every Turn in the TOYOTA GAZOO Racing GT Cup 2022!

TOYOTA GAZOO Racing GT Cup 2022 - Grand Final

As the Gran Turismo World Series 2022 nears its epic climax at the World Finals in Monte Carlo, Monaco, the race weekend kicked off today with the TOYOTA GAZOO Racing GT Cup, where 24 drivers from around the world battled each other to lay claim to the coveted title of the fastest GT Cup driver on the planet. With three-time 24 Hours of Le Mans champion and current Vice Chairman of TOYOTA GAZOO Racing Europe, Kazuki Nakajima, in the audience for the second live race event of the GTWS 2022 Series—the first was the World Series Showdown in Salzburg, Austria—there was plenty of electricity in the air as the drivers prepared to kick off the eagerly anticipated weekend in grand style.

The day began with the Qualifying, which determined the starting order of two Semi-final races, where the drivers were separated into two groups. The top four finishers from each Semi-final race automatically advanced to the Grand Final, while positions five through ten received a second chance in the form of a Repechage race. The top four placers in the Repechage also punched a ticket to the Grand Final, where the points were worth double. And, as you will discover, the races were filled with so much drama that it made everyone wonder if this was a harbinger of things to come for the World Finals races scheduled for Saturday and Sunday.

Semi-final Group A: High Speed Ring

The two Semi-final races took place at the always exciting High Speed Ring, where 12 drivers virtually strapped themselves in Toyota GR Supra Racing Concepts, liveried in their country’s colors. For the 25-lap affairs, they were required to use both hard- and soft-compound tires, meaning at least one pitstop was necessary. For the first race, the always-quick José Serrano of Spain (TDG_JOSETE) sat on pole position, while 2018 Nations Cup champion, Brazilian Igor Fraga (IOF_RACING17), was lined up beside him in the No. 2 spot. The second row consisted of newcomer Will Murdoch (WiIIMurdoch) from the UK and 2020 Nations Cup champion Takuma Miyazono of Japan (Kerokkuma_ej20).

While the majority of the field opted to start the race on hard-compound tires, Fraga and Miyazono chose the soft-compound Michelins; their strategy was obvious, to pull away early and build and insurmountable lead. Exactly on cue, Fraga jumped into the lead as soon as the green lights flashed, taking advantage of the grip provided by his tires. Miyazono and Murdoch also made moves, leaving Serrano in 4th place before even reaching the second corner. At the end of the maiden lap, Fraga and Miyazono were positioned one-two and would take turns drafting each other for the next several laps to pull away from the field.

This meant that the battle for position in the early portion of the race was fought mid pack. And what a battle it was as Murdoch, Serrano, Italy’s Giorgio Mangano (Williams_Gio), and rookie sensation Kylian Drumont of France (PRiMA_Kylian19) went viciously at each other for 3rd place. The three swapped positions several times, drafting each other at every opportunity, but as they battled, Fraga and Miyazono opened up a 5.0-second lead by lap 7.

Lap 11 saw the first pitstop of the weekend when Drumont switched his hard-compound tires for the softs. A large pack of cars that included Serrano and Mangano followed suit the next two laps. Equipped with the stickier tires, they were now ready to hunt down the race leaders. Fraga pitted at the end of lap 13, but Miyazono chose to stay out for one more lap, trying to squeeze as much as he could out of his severely worn soft tires.

On lap 16, after all the cars had pitted, the running order was Miyazono, Fraga, who had a 6.0-second lead on Mangano, Kanata Kawakami of Japan (SG_Kawakana) and Serrano. But with nine laps remaining, would that lead be big enough?

The answer became obvious on lap 20 when Fraga and Miyazono’s lead was trimmed to less than 1.5 seconds. Then, on the next lap, Serrano overtook Miyazono on the front straight. Turn 2 saw Mangano overtake Fraga, while Miyazono reclaimed 2nd place after passing Serrano.

Then the unthinkable occurred: On the short straight after Turn 2, Serrano bumped Miyazono as he passed him on the outside. This sent the Japanese driver in a spin and knocked him out of contention. For that move, Serrano was assessed a harsh 3.0-second penalty on the final lap of the race that dropped him out of contention!

This gave Giorgio Mangano a clear path to the checkered flag, which he took with ease. Igor Fraga was able to hold onto 2nd place, advancing to the Grand Final, as did 3rd-place finisher Kanata Kawakami and Will Murdoch who came in 4th.

Rank Driver Time
1 Giorgio Mangano Williams_Gio 28:32.030
2 Igor Fraga IOF_RACING17 +02.634
3 Kanata Kawakami SG_Kawakana +05.026
4 Will Murdoch WillMurdoch +05.041
5 José Serrano TDG_JOSETE +05.651
6 Takuma Miyazono Kerokkuma_ej20 +07.312
7 Thomas Labouteley Aphel-ion +11.218
8 Kylian Drumont PRiMA_Kylian19 +12.612
9 Nathayos Sirigaya PSC_themiang_FSR +12.989
10 Takuma Sasaki LG-TakuAn_ +19.100
11 Cyrus Cross STR_Cyrus +30.069
12 Quinten Jehoul R4M_Quinten +30.299

Semi-final Group B: High Speed Ring

The second race, also held at the High Speed Ring using the same format as the Semi-final Group A, featured another group of seasoned veterans, including 2021 Nations Cup champion Valerio Gallo of Italy (Williams_BRacer) and Brazil’s Lucas Bonelli (TGT_BONELLI) who sat on pole position. Another familiar name was Frenchman Baptiste Beauvois of France (R8G_TSUTSU) who had the No. 2 spot while American Robert Heck (Robby--Heck) and Brazil’s Adriano Carrazza (Didico__15) occupied the second row. Rikuto Kobayashi of Japan (TX3_tokari71), who started in the 11 spot was the only one to start the race on the soft-compound tires. With nearly the entire grid on the hard-compound tires, the battle for the lead commenced as soon as the race began.

After only the first corner, the running order had reshuffled completely, with Indonesian and first-time participant Andika Rama Maulana (LOR_RamStig) taking the surprising lead, followed by Beauvois, Bonelli, and Heck. To everyone’s surprise, Gallo had dropped to last place, but the race was far from over for him. Meanwhile, Kobayashi had worked his way up to P4 by the start of lap 2.

As the cars went five wide vying for the lead on Turn 2 of the third lap, mayhem broke loose, when Heck, Carrazza, and Bonelli ran into each other, taking several cars out, including Carrazza who fell to last place and Bonelli to 8th. Heck got away largely unscathed.

This handed the outright lead to Maulana, while Gallo, taking full advantage of the chaos, snuck into 2nd place. By the next lap, the running order changed again, when American Dean Heldt (PRiMA_Deano) grabbed the lead, followed by Kobayashi, Beauvois, and Maulana. On lap 5, Kobayashi finally took the overall lead, but as we saw in the previous race, he didn’t seem to have a large enough cushion to hold the others off after his tire change.

On lap 9, Gallo, who ran in P6, was the first to pit, swapping his hard-compound Michelins for the softs. Heldt and Beauvois came in the following lap. By lap 13, every driver had pitted, with the running order of Kobayashi, Beauvois, Maulana, Gallo, and Heldt, but now Kobayashi was the only one on the slower hard-compound tires.

Beauvois passed Kobayashi on lap 16 to take the overall lead, while Maulana overtook Kobayashi on lap 18. Two laps later, Heldt overtook Kobayashi to claim P3, so with five laps to go, Kobayashi needed to defend his 4th-place position to punch his ticket to the Grand Final, but Gallo was charging hard from behind. And the Italian did get by on lap 22, but his soft-compound tires were totally worn, making his car quite unstable. Then, on the penultimate lap, the unexpected happened yet again when a huge crash involving multiple cars initiated by Heldt dropped Gallo and Kobayashi down to 7th and 8th, respectively! This changed the running order for the final time, handing Beauvois the win, with Maulana in 2nd place, Bonelli in 3rd and Heck in 4th.

Rank Driver Time
1 Baptiste Beauvois R8G_TSUTSU 28:35.138
2 Andika Rama Maulana LOR_RamStig +00.732
3 Lucas Bonelli TGT_BONELLI +05.610
4 Robert Heck Robby--Heck +07.116
5 Dean Heldt PRiMA_Deano +07.144
6 Valerio Gallo Williams_BRacer +16.107
7 Marco Busnelli TDG_MARKUS +16.165
8 Guy Barbara Dstinct_Twitchy +16.240
9 Matthew McEwen AE_McEwen +16.285
10 Rikuto Kobayashi TX3_tokari71 +19.834
11 Khalid Al Maraghi Khalid_Almaraghi +23.406
12 Adriano Carrazza Didico__15 +33.884

Repechage: Tokyo Expressway - South

The Repechage, which included the 5th- to 10th-place finishers from the two Semi-final races, featured a number of seasoned drivers, including pole-sitter José Serrano, Takuma Miyazono, and Valerio Gallo. The top four finishers for this 12-lap sprint would be the final entrants of the Grand Final. The drivers piloted the Dallara SF19 Super Formula race machines on the Tokyo Expressway Circuit, making for a surreal image of cars reaching 320 km/h on the narrow streets of Tokyo. The drama began even before the green lights flashed when Heldt jumped the standing start and Gallo remained stuck on the grid because of mechanical issues, forcing him to retire before his race had even begun. Miyazono and Frenchman Thomas Labouteley (Aphel-ion) took advantage of the confusion and jumped to the front of the field.

The lead changed several times during the first half of the race, as the cars battled hard for position, desperate to finish in the top four and win a ticket to the Grand Final. At the mid-point of the race, the running order was Rikuto Kobayashi in the lead, followed by Kylian Drumont, Japan’s Takuma Sasaki (LG-TakuAn_) and Marco Busnelli of Italy (TDG_MARKUS). But the cars were constantly shuffling, as they drafted each other on the straights, with only about a second separating the top seven cars.

At the end of lap 7, Labouteley bumped Sasaki from behind, who ended up hitting Serrano and Kobayashi, causing a chain reaction that dropped Serrano to 9th and out of contention. Sasaki remained in 4th place, while Kobayashi avoided disaster and managed to keep his car in 6th. Meanwhile Drumont took over P1, followed by Heldt and Busnelli.

The race ended with Drumont surviving a furious last-second charge by Heldt and taking the checkered flag. He along with Heldt, Sasaki, and Busnelli advanced to the Grand Final.

Rank Driver Time
1 Kylian Drumont PRiMA_Kylian19 18:43.872
2 Takuma Sasaki LG-TakuAn_ +00.546
3 Marco Busnelli TDG_MARKUS +00.596
4 Dean Heldt PRiMA_Deano +01.083
5 Rikuto Kobayashi TX3_tokari71 +02.297
6 Takuma Miyazono Kerokkuma_ej20 +02.854
7 José Serrano TDG_JOSETE +03.501
8 Guy Barbara Dstinct_Twitchy +04.890
9 Matthew McEwen AE_McEwen +07.139
10 Nathayos Sirigaya PSC_themiang_FSR +09.805
11 Thomas Labouteley Aphel-ionj + 3Lap
12 Valerio Gallo Williams_BRacer + 11Lap

Grand Final: Fuji International Speedway

Because of his excellent performance in the Semi-final, Giorgio Mangano started the Grand Final on pole position, with Baptiste Beauvois, the winner of the other Semi-final, lined up in the No. 2 position. The second row was occupied by Igor Fraga and the day’s surprise racer, Andika Rama Maulana. The venue was the historic Fuji International Speedway, where the players were required to use all three compound tires (soft, medium, and hard) on their 2021 Toyota GR010 HYBRID for the 30-lap race. Everything was at stake here because the points were worth double for this grand finale.

The majority of the drivers started the race on medium-compound tires, while Fraga and Dean Heldt opted to go with the soft-compound Michelins. It was a familiar strategy for the Brazilian, and although it wasn’t successful enough to hand him the win in the Semi-final, he was intent on making it work this time around.

The leaders got through Turn 1 cleanly, but at the back of the field, drama unfolded with Kanata Kawakami going off the track and Dean Heldt finding himself the beneficiary, moving from P12 to P4 in the blink of an eye. Maulana, as with Valerio Gallo previously, experienced a mechanical problem and couldn’t even pull away from the start line, marking the premature end to his day and the championship. It was a heartbreaking development for the Indonesian, for he had shown amazing speed and promise in the earlier race.

Back on the track, Fraga managed to overtake Mangano for the race lead on penultimate corner of lap 1. It was now time for him to charge hard and distance himself from the field, taking full advantage of his stickier tires. Will his strategy work this time? We would find out sooner rather than later. Lap 2 saw Heldt move in P2; his tire strategy was succeeding better than he could ever have imagined.

With the majestic Mt. Fuji looming in the background, and the GR010 race machines reaching 330 km/h on the front straight, Fraga began pulling away decisively by lap 5 while Heldt, Mangano, Beauvois, and Lucas Bonelli scrapped for 2nd place. Their constant battling allowed Fraga to extend his lead, which grew to a massive 12 seconds by lap 8. Fraga came in for his pitstop at the end of lap 9, taking on the medium-compound tires and returning to the track in 3rd place, behind Beauvois and Mangano, both of whom had yet to pit.

When the two leaders did make their pitstops on lap 12, Fraga was in total control of the race, as he found himself with a comfortable 19.0-second lead. What’s more, his pace hardly slowed on the medium-compound tires. Meanwhile, Bonelli, who was unceremoniously punted off the track earlier, regrouped and worked his way back up to 2nd place, ahead of Beauvois and Mangano. Kylian Drumont and Takuma Sasaki began making their move, as they took over P4 and P5.

At the halfway point of the race, it was clearly Fraga’s race to lose, as his lead increased to 20 seconds. Unless he made a huge mistake, the race now was essentially for 2nd place, with Bonelli, Drumont, Beauvois, Sasaki, and Will Murdoch in contention.

After all the drivers made their second pitstops on lap 23, the running order was Fraga, who maintained a 14.7-second lead over the field, Bonelli, Drumont, and Murdoch. Despite being on the hard-compound tires, no one was able to catch the Brazilian, as he cruised to the checkered flag all alone. Kylian Drumont proved to everyone that his win in the World Series Showdown was no fluke, taking 2nd place, while Takuma Sasaki made a hard charge at the end of the race to grab the final spot on the podium. But as impressive as their performances were, the day belonged to Fraga, who showed complete domination in the Grand Final.

Fraga said after the race: “I wanted to get out early and stay away from the pack, so I started on the soft-compound tires. The cars behind me were fighting each other very hard at the beginning, and that allowed me to open up a large gap. I was very happy for the win and how things worked out all the way until the end.”

TOYOTA GAZOO Racing GT Cup 2022 - Grand Final

Rank Driver Time
1 Igor Fraga IOF_RACING17 44:28.252
2 Kylian Drumont PRiMA_Kylian19 +16.249
3 Takuma Sasaki LG-TakuAn_ +19.742
4 Baptiste Beauvois R8G_TSUTSU +20.968
5 Will Murdoch WiIIMurdoch +21.503
6 Marco Busnelli TDG_MARKUS +21.856
7 Giorgio Mangano Williams_Gio +24.904
8 Kanata Kawakami SG_Kawakana +29.024
9 Lucas Bonelli TGT_BONELLI +37.024
10 Robert Heck Robby--Heck +40.220
11 Dean Heldt PRiMA_Deano +45.914
12 Andika Rama Maulana LOR_RamStig DNF