James Baldwin has retained his Mobileye GT World Challenge Europe Esports title, with a third-place finish at Monza giving the Veloce McLaren driver a second successive continental crown.
Heavy rain at the Italian track ensured that the finale was a tense affair. The stress levels rose another notch after qualifying, with championship leader Dáire McCormack mired down in 16th overall. Baldwin was a strong third, while dark horse Tobias Gronewald (Mercedes-AMG E-Sports Team UOL) fared even better by taking second on the grid.
Kevin Siclari started the 60-minute Assetto Corsa Competizione race from pole, but the Mkers Mercedes-AMG driver was instantly relegated to second by Gronewald and then fell behind Baldwin, making contact with both title aspirants through the Rettifilo chicane. Siclari never recovered: within 10 minutes he had clashed with Robbie Stapleford (BMW G2 Esports) and was subsequently handed a drive-through penalty, wrecking a race that had begun with such promise.
An even greater disaster befell McCormack. Starting mid-pack in wet conditions always represents a major risk, and so it proved this time. The Munster Rugby Gaming Bentley was among several cars caught up an incident, dropping the championship leader outside the top-30 and leaving his titles hopes in tatters.
Up front Gronewald was doing what he needed to snatch the crown and soon got some help from fellow Mercedes-AMG racer Dennis Schoeniger (Mercedes-AMG E-Sports Team HRT), who relegated Baldwin to third. When Jordan Sherratt (Automobili Lamborghini Esports Team) also passed the McLaren, dropping Baldwin to fourth, Gronewald was in title-winning position.
With all of the front-runners electing to go deep into the pit window, the race was in a holding pattern until shortly before the 45-minute mark. Schoeniger was the first of the lead pack to stop, followed shortly after by Gronewald. It didn’t work out as intended for the latter, who emerged from the pit lane behind his fellow Mercedes-AMG man. This was not a disaster – Schoeniger was likely to allow Gronewald past – but there were far greater problems lurking just around the corner.
First, Baldwin completed a quick stop and exited pit lane right behind Gronewald. But while he could potentially fight off the charging McLaren, Gronewald could not argue with race control when it handed him a drive-through for track limits violations. Serving this penalty dropped the Mercedes-AMG Team UOL driver down the order and out of title contention.
Baldwin was now in the box seat, but there was still the small matter of the race win. Sherratt exited the pits alongside Schoeniger and the two ran side-by-side up to turn 1. There was slight contact, causing the Mercedes-AMG to use the run-off while the Lamborghini had a huge sideways moment through the first chicane.
Schoeniger was chased all the way to the chequered flag by Sherratt in the works Lamborghini, but held on to score his first win of the season. A little further back, Baldwin was in no mood to get involved with the fight at the front. He cruised to third and, in doing so, collected more than enough points to vault him above McCormack in the standings. Baldwin had not previously occupied top spot in the championship, but he was there when it mattered most.
Nils Naujoks came home fourth after stalking Baldwin for the final few laps without quite getting close enough to make a move on the McLaren. Mike Nobel was fifth to take his and the Honda NSX’s best finish of the 2022 season, while championship outsider David Tonizza (Scuderia Ferrari Velas Esports Team) finished in sixth. McCormack and Gronewald were classified 11th and 12th respectively among the Pro runners.
Dominik Blajer bagged a fourth Silver class win from five races to secure a title that has looked destined to be his since the opening race. The TRITON Bentley driver’s day started down the order, with championship rival Robbie Stapleford on class pole, but the young BMW driver was delayed by his clash with Siclari. Blajer made forward progress and ultimately passed Marcello Bonaccorsi (VSR by Ballas eSport), the Italian enjoying by far his best run of 2022. Behind them, Stapleford recovered to finish third.
In the Pro class, the final championship standings put Baldwin on 113 points. McCormack finishes as runner-up with 98 followed by Tonizza (90) and Gronewald (81). In the Silver category, Blajer is champion with a mighty 168-point total, while Stapleford takes runner-up on 134 and third-place Kieran Prendergast (Rocket Simsport) is some way back on 78 points.
With the European season complete, many of the field will now focus on the deciding rounds of the Intercontinental GT Challenge Esports Championship Powered by Mobileye. Their next encounter will be a 10-hour race at Suzuka (27 August), followed by the Kyalami 9 Hour (10 September) and the 24 Hours of Spa (22 October).
Organised by SRO Motorsports Group and Ak Esports in partnership with Mobileye, Fanatec, Kunos Simulazioni, Pirelli and The Sim Grid, Mobileye GT World Challenge Europe Esports utilises the unmatched simulation of Assetto Corsa Competizione. It runs alongside similar continental series in Asia and America, as well as IGTC Esports Powered by Mobileye and the pioneering Fanatec Esports GT Pro Series.
ESPORTS: Baldwin emerges from rain-soaked Monza finale as two-time Mobileye GT World Challenge Europe Esports champion 3 August 2022, ESPORTS: Baldwin emerges from rain-soaked Monza finale as two-time Mobileye GT World Challenge Europe Esports champion | Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS (gt-world-challenge-europe.com)