Rowe and out: Verhagen scores big in thrilling Fanatec Esports GT Pro Series contest at Circuit Paul Ricard

Rowe and out: Verhagen scores big in thrilling Fanatec Esports GT Pro Series contest at Circuit Paul Ricard

In one of the tightest races ever witnessed within the Fanatec Arena, Neil Verhagen held his nerve to fend off K-Pax Racing’s Sandy Mitchell to score victory in the second round of the Fanatec Esports GT Pro Series at Circuit Paul Ricard.

Along with the honour of the race win, and the healthy cheque for €10,000, Verhagen also netted the maximum five-point championship boost for Rowe Racing to be applied to the Fanatec GT World Challenge Powered by AWS Teams’ Championship.

While the race boiled down to a straight fight between Verhagen and Mitchell, the battles behind were just as thrilling as Fabrizio Crestani put in a superb drive to win the Silver class in his GRT Grasser Lamborghini Huracan, and Calan Williams recovered from a difficult start to score big in Gold aboard Team WRT's BMW M4.

Verhagen keeps his cool in stormy second round

As a thunderstorm swept across the Circuit Paul Ricard paddock, the action inside the Fanatec Arena became just as electric as Verhagen and Mitchell put on a masterclass of sim racing, with both drivers fighting flat-out for the entirety of the race.

Verhagen’s BMW stole pole ahead of Mitchell’s Lamborghini by a fraction, and the American driver then claimed the inside line into turn one to keep Mitchell at bay, despite the Scotsman showing the Huracan’s nose at every opportunity around the first lap.

But Verhagen struggled to pull away, with Mitchell simply able to draft back into striking distance around Ricard’s long straights. By the time the pit window opened, Verhagen held just over a one-second advantage when he completed his mandatory stop.

Mitchell ran long into the race, hoping to overcut his rival, but when he made his stop right at the end of the window, the Lamborghini rejoined still in the BMW’s wake. That set up a breathless finish, where Mitchell continually attacked for the lead down both the Mistral Straight and through Signes, forcing Verhagen to produce some superb defence. Mitchell appeared to be sizing up for one final move, but the contest was settled when he took too much kerb through Verrerie, putting his car into a huge slide. Mitchell held on, but it cost him too much time and finally ensured Verhagen’s victory.

While the top two ran clear, the fight for third was superb. Crestani held the place for much of the race until a brilliantly timed dive from Dries Vanthoor’s Team WRT BMW helped him scrape past. Vanthoor managed to close in on Mitchell in the late stages after his moment, but fell short of stealing second. Crestani took fourth, and the Silver class victory.

Nicklas Nielsen was fifth in AF Corse’s Ferrari 296 GT3, ahead of Alex Aka’s Tresor Attempto Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo II.

Calan Williams was a star of qualifying, lining up third in WRT’s second BMW, but he was pinched down to sixth after the first turn traffic jam, and then dropped as low as 11th before the tyres on his BMW eventually came to life. Williams then lapped consistently and pulled off some great passes to bring himself back up to seventh and seal the Gold laurels well clear of closest class rival, Marius Zug’s Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG back in 10th, who struggled with the extra success ballast the car received after finishing second in round one at Monza.

It was a tough race for two other Monza stars too, with round one winner Alexey Nesov and third-placed Jordan Pepper both enduring tough outings. With full ballast, Nesov could only qualify 10th and was then tipped into a spin at turn one. He spent much of the race in a brilliant battle with Pepper’s Iron Lynx Lamborghini, until contact between the two sent Nesov around a second time. Sportingly, Pepper waited for his rival to recover before continuing to his own 14th place. Nesov was eventually classified 19th after also picking up a drive-through penalty.

The next round of the Fanatec Esports GT Pro Series takes place alongside the legendary Crowdstrike 24 Hours of Spa, June 29-July 2.