• Italian squad wins in style from 13th on the grid with #51 Ferrari line-up of Tonizza/De Salvo/Laurito
• Racing Line Motorsport second after perfect race with #191 Bentley, VRS Coanda Simsport third with #18 Porsche
• Qualifying | Result | Standings
FDA Esports Team has taken a resounding 24 Hours of Spa victory thanks to a metronomic display from the #51 Ferrari crew of David Tonizza, Giovanni De Salvo and Amos Laurito.
The third event on the GT World Challenge Europe Esports Endurance Series calendar saw the continent's leading sim racers tackle a twice-around-the-clock Assetto Corsa Competizione contest at the legendary Spa-Francorchamps. The FDA Esports entry was the acknowledged pre-race favourite thanks to a string of winning performances, so it was a surprise to see the #51 Ferrari qualify down in 13th spot on the 33-car grid.
The #14 Unicorns of Love Mercedes-AMG secured pole, only for Tobias Gronewald to be beaten away at the start by the quick reactions of Tobias Pfeffer, who led the bulk of a frantic opening hour in the #157 Saintéloc by R8G Audi. Pfeffer edged away early on, but Gronewald found his feet as the stint progressed and re-took the lead into the Bus Stop chicane shortly before the first round of pit stops.
A little further back, De Salvo was laying the foundations for a strong result with a phenomenal opening stint. He moved the #51 up to seventh position before the conclusion of the hour, after which Tonizza was released on to the rear of Gregor Schill (#62 BMW Motorsport SIM Racing G2 Esports). It wasn't long before a good run through Eau Rouge and Raidillon allowed the Italian driver to draw alongside the BMW and complete a pass before the braking zone for Les Combes.
By the three-hour mark the race had settled down considerably and the #51 Ferrari had moved into second position, though the #14 Unicorns of Love Mercedes-AMG was pulling clear at the head of the field. It looked capable of remaining there, but disaster struck shortly after the six-hour mark when a pit stop issue cost the crew a huge chunk of time. Once the #14 was back on-track it had slipped to third behind the FDA Esports machine and the #18 VRS Coanda Simsport Porsche.
With darkness falling the Ferrari flexed its muscles. Fast and error-free, the FDA Esports squad was able to pull over a minute clear by the 10-hour mark. De Salvo and Tonizza had run a relay for the opening half of the race but it was Laurito who did the heavy lifting during the night, getting his first turn behind the wheel at around 1am and then completing a 50-lap double stint between 3am and 5am.
It was during this period that rainfall rendered the circuit greasy, bringing the field in for wet weather tyres. This presented the FDA Esports Ferrari with its biggest challenge as the #18 Porsche ran longer on wets, helping the Coanda car to make significant gains and then complete a pass for the lead. Once the rain had cleared, however, the Ferrari's advantage was restored.
As daylight returned FDA Esports could see a clear path to victory. Once again it was Tonizza and De Salvo taking turns at the wheel, gradually edging away from their rivals and putting more and more cars a lap down. Laurito was installed for the final hour and, with a little over 20 minutes remaining, he completed the 600th lap of the race. The chequered flag flew shortly afterwards, wrapping up a commanding and highly professional win for the #51 FDA Esports Ferrari. The result bore remarkable similarity to last weekend's real-world TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa: in both cases, the #51 Ferrari was victorious after starting 13th on then grid.
Runner-up spot went to Racing Line Motorsport thanks to clean and fast showing from the #191 Bentley crew of Siclari/Schinz/Ratz/Batifoulier. The only Continental GT3 in the field rose from 11th on the grid to emerge as a serious podium contender by Sunday morning. It climbed to second when both VRS Coanda cars stopped to change brake pads and ran its own race to the flag, finishing 85 seconds behind the winning Ferrari.
VRS Coanda Simsport took third and fourth with its #18 and #88 Porsche entries following an eventful race for the German squad. Both were in the mix from the start, but their hopes were dented shortly after the four-hour mark when the #88 car made contact with a back marker and spun at Blanchimont. The sister #18 was running immediately behind and took avoiding action, clipping the barrier and subsequently spending time in the pits. Both had the pace to recover and fight for the podium, though realistically their hopes of beating the Ferrari had slipped away.
Fifth position went to the #22 GPX Racing by Rennwelten Porsche after an excellent recovery drive. Contact on the opening lap dropped the car from inside the top-10 to the rear of the 33-car field, but the crew of Hoeke/Ibraimi/Michel gradually moved back into contention. They were P5 by Sunday morning and eventually rose to fourth, splitting the Coanda cars, only for a late drive-through penalty for track limits infringements to cost the #22 a position. Nevertheless, fifth was considerably more than appeared possible after the opening lap.
The best of the Aston Martin entries were next, with the #1 Williams Esports crew (Gamil/Keithley/Stefanko/Wisniewski) beating the #96 FFS Racing (Simard/Kundakcioglu/R.Meenan/Franke) entry. YAS HEAT was eighth with its experienced line-up of Honzik/Murphy/Statsenko in the #149 McLaren, followed by the #14 Unicorns of Love Mercedes-AMG (Gronewald/Otocki/Kisser/Richter). It was a case of what might have been for the pole-winning car, which suffered several problems after its costly pit stop. Indeed, a clean run could have seen the #14 challenge the eventual winner. The top-10 was completed by the #23 Team Rocket RJN McLaren of Berk/McIntyre/Baldwin).
Two of the early front-runners ultimately fell out of contention for a strong result. The #157 Audi that led the opening hour with Pfeffer at the wheel suffered a series of problems and was ultimately classified 22nd, eight laps behind the winner. The #62 BMW started third on the grid and stayed there early on, but gradually dropped back and took the chequered flag in 13th position.
With points also awarded at 12 hours, FDA Esports has opened up a useful advantage at the top of the Endurance Series standings. The Italian outfit now has 80 points, 19 more than the #18 VRS Coanda Simsport squad. Racing Line has moved into third position with its #191 Bentley, though with a gap of 37 points to the leader it will require a near-perfect run to secure the title. Two more events remain on Endurance Series schedule: a six-hour contest at the Nürburgring (11 September) and a championship-deciding three-hour run at Circuit de Barcelona Catalunya (16 October).
Before that the Sprint Series will resume with a 60-minute Assetto Corsa Competizione race at Misano (10 September). Along with similar categories in Asia and America, GT World Challenge Europe Esports and the inaugural 24 Hours of Spa are organised by SRO Motorsports Group in partnership with Fanatec, Kunos Simulazioni, AK Esports, Pirelli and The Sim Grid.