Two days of competition in the mid-season showpiece Showdown event have flipped the form book on its head in both championships. After three races in both Nations Cup and Manufacturer Series we have two new championship leaders — though neither won on the day.
As is traditional, the Manufacturer Series was first up, with five brands making their season debut. Though the previous World Series rounds took the manufacturers from 2020’s World Final, the Showdown used the brand ranking from Online Season One, meaning Aston Martin, Dodge, Jaguar, Nissan, and Peugeot were all taking part for the first time.
Subaru entered the event leading the standings on four points from the two rounds so far, but were on the back foot in the first race only qualifying ninth. Instead it was Toyota on pole position, with 2019 champion Tomoaki Yamanaka setting the fastest lap of the Alsace circuit in the Gr.3 cars.
Yamanaka was the odd man out in the front half of the grid, using the softer tires for his first stint and streaking away at the head of the pack. The only other soft runner was Nissan’s Mario Straka, and by the time he made his way up to second – largely courtesy of pit stops from the medium-using pack ahead – Yamanaka was already seven seconds down the road.
With all the stops out of the way, Yamanaka’s advantage was just under three seconds, but it was a lead he wouldn’t surrender as the cars behind him battled with each other. Miroslaw Kravchenko was running second in the Mazda, but his slightly earlier stop left him vulnerable to Roberto Sternberg’s Volkswagen behind — with Sternberg making the pass on the final lap.
In fact the cars from second to fifth finished just under a second apart, as the Mazda’s slower pace in the final two laps backed Sternberg into Baptiste Beauvois’ Mercedes and the Jaguar of Adam Tapai. Tapai did manage to sneak past Beauvois for fourth at the line, but Kravchenko kept third by a whisker.
It was all about Volkswagen in the Gr.4 race though, as Hiroshi Okumoto set the pole position lap and then simply strode off into the distance. Again the gap came courtesy of an initial sprint away and then holding station through the cars behind losing time through fighting each other.
That was a race-long scrap too. Though Jeff Gallan was able to keep the Mazda in touch with the VW to start with, the gap began to widen ahead as it narrowed behind, with Jose Serrano’s Porsche and Coque Lopez in the Toyota closing in. It wasn’t until the final lap that this exploded into life, as the Mazda’s front tires were giving up the ghost.
Serrano passed on the penultimate tour, with Lopez sneaking through in a late-braking move in turn one of the final lap. However they couldn’t pull away from Gallan, and then tripped over each other in the final sector. That allowed the Canadian back through to take his second place back, while Lopez backed off at the line to give Serrano back the third-place spot.
With two races done, VW had the slight advantage over Toyota heading into the final double-points race, but it was Toyota — and double-champion Igor Fraga — on pole position for the Gr.3 race at Dragon Trail Gardens. Fraga then showed his championship credentials by immediately putting 2.5 seconds on the second-place car, the Peugeot of Quinten Jehoul — both running on soft tires — and keeping it.
The varying strategies made it difficult to say who was leading on-track until the closing stages, which saw Ryota Kokubun charging through the pack on the softest tires. After passing Takuma Miyazono — running an unusual final stint on mediums — Kokubun breezed past Jehoul with just over two laps remaining, and set off in pursuit of Fraga.
However he didn’t have quite enough laps left to finish the job, and despite clawing back two seconds in the final two laps wasn’t able to catch up. That left Toyota with the race win and the Showdown title, to claim the maximum 10 World Series points.
Kokubun’s fightback was good enough for second in the Showdown, for nine World Series points and the overall World Series lead, with Peugeot picking up third and eight points. Volkswagen’s Thomas Labouteley ran out of fuel on the final lap, but despite losing a handful of places the team finished fourth for seven points. Miyazono’s final race performance was good enough to see Subaru pick up five points to give the team nine overall and keep it in the podium spots for the championship.
- Mazda – 11 points
- Toyota – 10 points
- Subaru – 9 points
- Peugeot – 8 points
- Volkswagen – 7 points
- Jaguar – 6 points
- Aston Martin – 4 points
- Mercedes – 4 points
- Porsche – 3 points
- Honda – 3 points
- Dodge – 2 points
- Nissan – 0 points
While qualification for the Manufacturer Series was entirely through the online stage, Nations Cup was a combination. In total 30 players qualified, with 14 coming in from the first two World Series rounds (and the 2020 World Final), and 16 from the online stage. That would mean two semi-final stages of 15 drivers apiece, with the top eight qualifying for the Showdown final.
However that was only part of the picture. Qualifying for the Showdown final also meant qualification for World Series 3 and 4 — and the chance to pick up more points — and those 16 players would also take half of the spots for the 2021 World Final, so there was rather a lot at stake.
There was an immediate upset in Semi-Final A though, as championship leader Patrik Blazsan and highly rated Baptiste Beauvois both qualified poorly. Blazsan never recovered in the hard-fought race, and ended up 13th and eliminated.
Perhaps as much of an upset came at the front, as some different tactics came into play to allow for a new race winner. Jose Serrano, Ryota Kokubun, and Angel Inostroza qualified as the front three and all used the soft tires for the early part, but it was Nikita Moysov’s undercut that was the star of the show.
Moysov ran in the lead pack for the first three laps before ducking in early for the soft tires. With clear air and nobody really behind to defend from, he was able to run at his own pace and took the lead when the front three pitted for mediums. His two-second advantage was never truly troubled as he took a debut win from Serrano and Kokubun behind.
Also making it through in the top eight were Adriano Carrazza, Inostroza, and three other debutants in Andrew Lee, Nicolas Romero, and Quinten Jehoul.
Semi-Final B was much more to the established form, with the front four on the grid — Igor Fraga, Valerio Gallo, Takuma Miyazono, and Tomoaki Yamanaka — all making it through, with only the two Japanese drivers changing places by the end.
Indeed the top eight qualifiers, which included Coque Lopez, Kanata Kawakami, Lucas Bonelli, and Adam Tapai, took the top eight places, with the remaining seven unable to make much of an impact. That unfortunately included Andrew Brooks, Jonathan Wong, Daniel Solis, and Randall Haywood, who will now all have to attempt to reach the World Final through online qualification.
The final itself was a novel experience, with the 16-car grid made up exclusively of the Ford Mark IV, a 1967 Le Mans machine, racing around the fearsome Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps — and it was packed with twists and turns.
Qualifying saw Fraga top the timesheets from Kokubun, with Gallo third ahead of Serrano, and it was Fraga who took the early lead while Gallo squeezed up into second at La Source — but all four, running the soft tires, were barely two seconds apart across the opening stint.
However disaster then struck for Fraga as he made a mistake in possibly the worst conceiveable place: pit entry. The Brazilian driver span and hit the outside barrier, allowing Serrano and Tapai past as they also pitted. That dropped him down to fifth on the road, and on a harder than those around him.
More drama came on the penultimate lap when Kokubun finally made the move for the lead. After an attempt the previous lap, Kokubun went for the overtake at Les Combes. It initially looked like Gallo braked too late, allowing Kokubun to take the place without too much fight, but replays showed a late defense towards the inside from Gallo caused Kokubun to run into the back of him; the stewards gave Gallo a warning for “illegal blocking”, but he’d already lost the place.
That left the Italian vulnerable to the very fast Serrano and Lopez behind him, and Serrano made a copycat move at Les Combes on the final lap. However it was far from over, as Serrano ran out of fuel within sight of the finish, allowing Gallo back past for second and Lopez — with evasive action — to run around the outside for third. That wasn’t enough though to get Lopez past Serrano on points in the Showdown.
Defending champion Miyazono was in the wars on the final lap, possibly from heavily worn soft tires, which saw Inostroza, Fraga, and finally Tapai to all pass him between Les Combes and the finish line — Tapai beating him out of the Bus Stop to nose ahead at the line.
With the checkered flag falling, Kokubun took the maximum 10 points — his first of the season in Nations Cup — while Gallo’s nine points good enough to move him top of the table on 12. Serrano and Lopez are tied for third on eight points (Serrano ahead due to a better highest score).
- Valerio Gallo (Italy) – 12 points
- Ryota Kokubun (Japan) – 10 points
- Jose Serrano (Spain) – 8 points
- Coque Lopez (Spain) – 8 points
- Igor Fraga (Brazil) – 6 points
- Patrik Blazsan (Hungary) – 5 points*
- Angel Inostroza (Chile) – 5 points
- Takuma Miyazono (Japan) – 4 points
- Adam Tapai (Hungary) – 3 points
- Tomoaki Yamanaka (Japan) – 2 points
- Nikita Moysov (Czech Republic) – 2 points
- Baptiste Beauvois (France) – 1 point*
- Adriano Carrazza (Brazil) – 1 point
The action now moves to World Series 3 and 4 in October and November with the same 16-driver and 12-manufacturer fields as the qualified drivers look to score as many World Series points as possible ahead of the World Final in December.
See more articles on 2021 FIA GT Championship.