After eight months of racing across 2021, it’s time to find the best GT Sport drivers from around the globe with the annual World Final this weekend.
For the second year in a row, the showpiece event will be an online affair rather than the grand live events we saw in 2018 and 2019 in Monaco. That doesn’t make the competition any less fierce of course, as we’ve seen across the five World Series events this year — and the Olympic finals too — although the format is a little more complex than usual.
There’ll be three broadcasts in total, with the Toyota GR GT Cup to whet the appetite on December 3, followed by the team-based Manufacturer Series on December 4, and then finally the individual Nations Cup on December 5. Thankfully, due to this year’s long-running F1 season, the results won’t be spoiled by the FIA Prize Giving event!
We’ll be bringing you all three events, but here’s everything you need to know to keep up with the action.
Toyota Gazoo Racing GT Cup
Although not an official part of the FIA Online Championships, the Toyota event served as a curtain raiser last year, and will appear once again this season.
In each of the past two seasons, the winner of the Toyota event has gone on to claim the Nations Cup title, so it’s a pretty good indicator of form.
There’s 24 drivers in total, with 21 qualifying from the seven-round online qualification across the five regions, and three from a special event run by Toyota Gazoo Racing in Asia.
They’ll be divided into two groups to run two semi-finals with the same car/track combination: the GR Yaris at the Red Bull Ring. The top eight in each will qualify for the final, which will see them race the new GR86 in a six-lap race of Circuit de la Sarthe.
It’s a pretty stacked field, including World Series points leader and Olympic champion Valerio Gallo, defending Toyota GR champion Takuma Miyazono, and 2018 Nations Cup and 2019 Manufacturer Series champion Igor Fraga, among other well-known names.
The TGR Asia qualifiers are no pushovers either, with WRC 2020 world champion Sami-Joe Abi Nakhle likely to be in and around the top group.
It all gets underway at 1400 UTC on Friday, December 3.
The team-based Manufacturer Series returns with a slightly different look and complex format.
For much of 2021 we’ve seen only single drivers representing their brands — the highest-ranked individual driver from each — but it’ll be the three-driver event we’ve seen in previous seasons and at the World Series Showdown earlier in the season.
As driver swaps aren’t possible, the series will have three races on the night, with each representative from each manufacturer required to drive in one. There’ll be some tactics at play too, with the final race worth twice the points of the first two.
Unlike the Showdown, all three races will feature the Gr.3 cars rather than the tricky to balance Gr.4 machines. There’ll be a ten-lap race at the reverse Autodrome Lago Maggiore GP course, then another ten-lap race at Tokyo Expressway East Outer Loop — with the second race requiring a tire change from Medium to Soft or vice versa.
The final race will require all three racing tire compounds over the five laps of Nurburgring 24h, and we wonder if any squad will be brave enough to go for three on softs…
Each of the first two races gives 12 points for first, 10 for second, eight for third, and then a point less for every position down to one for tenth. These values double for the final race.
Defending champion Subaru will return with two of its three 2020 drivers: Takuma Miyazono and Daniel Solis. However the team sits only fourth in the table — effectively third as Peugeot has not qualified — going into the event, but with only a three-point deficit to the leaders anything is still possible.
Those leaders are Toyota and Mazda, on 13 points apiece. Previous champion Toyota is bringing a fairly fierce squad, with two of its 2019-winning squad, Igor Fraga and Tomoaki Yamanaka, joined by Coque Lopez. Mazda meanwhile has three-time World Tour/Series winner Ryota Kokubun, rapid German youngster Miroslav Kravchenko, and veteran Canadian Jeff Gallan.
With nine other manufacturers all sporting big-name GT Sport drivers it should be a close fight down to the wire again as with previous seasons. The broadcast starts at 1400 UTC on Saturday, December 4.
The main event will occupy its traditional final billing, as 32 drivers all go for the famous trophy. For this year the field consists of the 16 drivers who qualified through the World Series Showdown back in August and a cohort which made its way through Stage 2 of the online series this season.
As the drivers have been accumulating points across the World Series events this season, the field isn’t entirely level on the way in. While the drivers who are new to the finals events will start on zero, some of those who’ve been ever-present across the season are on double figures.
That of course includes Valerio Gallo, who’s won three of the four World Series rounds and placed second in the Showdown to sit on 18 points. He’s six ahead of Jose Serrano, with Ryota Kokubun in third on 10 thanks to his win at the Showdown.
However, the drivers will each race in a semi-final worth a maximum of 12 points, and the top 16 drivers will then head to a double-points final, so it’s by no means a foregone conclusion; a single mistake or contact in the semi-finals could change the picture entirely.
The three semi-finals will divide up the field by region. Firstly the ten Asia-Oceania drivers will race off for eight laps in the Mazda Roadster Touring Car at Mount Panorama, with the top five heading to the final. The 13 European drivers then face each other in the Gran Turismo F1500T-A for 15 laps of the Autodromo Nazionale Monza without the first chicane, and the top six will go through. Lastly it’s the nine drivers from the Americas gunning for five final spots in the 2017 Ford GT over 17 laps of Blue Moon Bay Speedway Infield A.
That leads into the final showdown using the Ford GT LM Spec II Test Car over 22 laps of Dragon Trail Seaside, with all three kinds of racing tire required during the race. The infamous Chicane of Death could well be the deciding factor!
As with 2020, the winner will be the driver with the most points across the entire World Series, rather than just the Finals. That won’t necessarily be the driver who takes the checkered flag first in the final, although the 24 points on offer will be a big step towards it!
You’ll be able to catch the races from 1400 UTC on Sunday, December 5.