James Baldwin (McLaren Shadow) made it two Sprint Series wins in a row and firmly established his 2021 title credentials as the GT World Challenge Europe Esports season resumed at Misano.
The British driver led a McLaren one-two at the 4.2km Adriatic track, beating fellow 720S pilot Eamonn Murphy (YAS HEAT) to victory in the 60-minute contest. David Tonizza (FDA Esports Ferrari) secured third, limiting the damage to his championships advantage, but the momentum is now clearly with Baldwin following back-to-back wins.
The McLaren Shadow driver snatched pole with a late 1m32.031s lap that edged out Murphy by just 0.075s, while Tonizza lined up third with a 1m32.148s. In a typically close-fought session, the top-32 drivers on the 40-car grid were covered by less than one second.
Baldwin aced the start and instantly broke free from Murphy, leading the YAS HEAT driver by half a second at the conclusion of the opening lap. Realistically this was the only opportunity for a position swap between the two McLarens and with Baldwin in front they maintained a consistent pace at the head of the field.
Tonizza could do little about the leaders and faced pressure from behind as young Irish racer Dáire McCormack produced another fine performance in the Williams Esports Mercedes-AMG, closing to within a second of the Ferrari ace. Kevin Siggy ran fifth during the opening stint after a good start vaulted the Team Redline McLaren from seventh on the grid.
There was no change among the top-five during the second half of the race, with Baldwin and Murphy progressively easing away from Tonizza. The McLaren Shadow car beat the YAS HEAT entry by 2.1 seconds after leading all 39 laps, while the FDA Esports Ferrari was third. McCormack scored the best result this season for a Mercedes-AMG – bettering the benchmark of sixth he set at Brands Hatch – while Siggy rounded out the top-five.
Although there was no signifiant movement between the front-runners, the battle for sixth was intense. Sam Bagnall (Indigo Lime Racing Porsche) emerged on top after a nose-to-tail contest with the Mercedes of Luke Whitehead (SDL eSports By Logitech G) and Tiziano Brioni (MCW Racing Team). The latter had been pushing Bagnall hard with a few minute left on the clock, only for Whitehead to spot a gap and slip through to take the position.
Juri Petrichenko (AJAR Simracing Team Porsche) was ninth despite receiving a 10-second time penalty for track limits offences, while Gregor Schill completed the top-10 for BMW SIM Racing G2 Esports after climbing from 17th on the grid. Darren King narrowly missed out on scoring for the first time since the season opener, moving up eight spots from his 19th-place grid position in the Dalking Community Team Honda.
The race produced plenty more drama outside the top-10. Notably, Aenore Rose (Jean Alesi Esports Academy Ferrari) was involved in a number of exciting battles as she fought her way forwards from 20th on the grid to 15th at the flag. A duel with Nils Naujoks was especially intense, though the experienced BMW SIM Racing G2 Esports driver managed to hold firm.
Tonight's result cuts Tonizza's championship advantage over Baldwin to 24 points with four races still to run. It appears to now be a two-horse race for the Sprint Series crown, with Siggy 41 points adrift in third and Josh Rogers (VRS Coanda Simsport Porsche) a further 10 back after missing tonight's event.
Tomorrow it will be the turn of the GT World Challenge Europe Esports Endurance Series, which heads to the Nürburgring for its fourth event of the campaign. The six-hour race will be streamed live and in full on the SRO YouTube and Twitch channels, as well as the SRO Esports Facebook page. Coverage begins at 15:00 CEST on Saturday, allowing for 10 minutes of build-up before the six-hour contest goes green at 15:10.
The Sprint Series will be back in action in two weeks' time with a 60-minute contest at the Nürburgring (24 September). Hot lap qualifying for what could be a crucial event in the story of the championship will be open from 13-19 September, with tonight's top-five finishers already assured of a spot on the grid.