We’re on the ground in Monaco ahead of this weekend’s inaugural Gran Turismo Sport FIA-Certified World Final. Yesterday we looked back at the three regional Nations Cup winners, and today we’re spotlighting the folks that could give them an upset here in Southern France.
First, a preface: yes, we realize it’s all a little strange to be referring to some of the fastest GTS drivers in the world as “dark horses” — including multiple GT Academy finalists, and even a winner! But that shows the sheer level of pace that these top-shelf players possess. Even a curve ball like a brand new circuit won’t be likely to slow them down.
Nevermind the three-way scrap that Ryota Kokubun (Akagi_1942mi), Mikail Hizal (TRL_LIGHTNING), and Igor Fraga (IOF_RACING17) will no doubt find themselves in. They’ll also have to keep an eye on some of the following drivers nipping at their heels.
This is the only region to be sending four drivers from a country (both Japan and Australia qualify).
While it may seem like a cop-out to pick the two drivers that filled out the Asia-Oceania podium alongside Kokubun as ones to watch, it’s justified. Japan’s Tomoaki Yamanaka (yamado_racing38) and Hong Kong’s Kai Hin Jonathan Wong (saika159-) both kept Kokubun honest throughout every race, and especially in the final three. Wong had the clear pit strategy advantage in race two for the win, while Yamanaka was a model of consistency near the top of the pack.
All three men proved insanely fast in Gr.1 — but as the only region to not get a Red Bull X2014 event, Yamanaka and Wong (as well as Kokubun) are unknown quantities in that car.
Our next underdog — yep, still feels weird to say it — is Shogo Yoshida (gilles_honda_v12). Yoshida didn’t spend much time in the spotlight in Japan, but his skillful run in the repechage race at Tsukuba earns him the spot here. A clean, courteous racer, his lack of mentions in the final two races of the Regional Final are in no way representative of his pace. Yoshida gets on with the task at hand, with minimum fuss — if he can maintain a low profile while slipping through the ranks, a podium finish is certainly within reach.
We’ve heard whispers amongst the ranks that some believe the Japanese drivers are better hotlappers than long-distance, wheel-to-wheel racers. Whether it’s true or not, we wouldn’t discount the Aussie contingent. Specifically, keep an eye out for Adam Wilk (Adam_2147). This is a man that wouldn’t let anything get between him and a trip to Monaco, including his own brother. If that isn’t dedication, what is?
There’s also the true wildcard of the whole event in the shape of Joseph de Jesus (Bass_71CKL). Subbing in for GT Academy grad Matthew Simmons, de Jesus wasn’t originally part of the ten-strong lineup set for the Worlds. Expect a strong showing from him to prove he deserves it as much as the other 29.
We start with the second region with Patrik Blazsán (TRL_Fuvaros). The Hungarian is not only a card-carrying member of the always-quick Team RedLine, but he’s already clinched the Nissan GT Sport Cup. There, a cunning pit strategy put him in front of teammate Hizal. He finished just off the podium at the EMEA Final later in the month, but we wouldn’t count him out yet.
Another driver present at Nissan’s event was Jorge Lopez (Williams_Coque14). The native was a fan favorite at both Catalunya for Nissan’s event, and Madrid Game Week. At the latter, during the EMEA Final, Lopez stood out as the only driver to pass Hizal out on the track. Unquestionably fast, Lopez had bouts of bad luck last month — if no accidents befall him, we expect him right at the pointy end of the field.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Giorgio Mangano (Giorgio_57). A consistent podium contender, he not only harried the Brits in his qualifier race, but then kept the pressure on in an insanely close repechage battle to earn his slot at Worlds. And boy did that pay off, as Mangano put in a mega recovery drive in the first EMEA Final race. An early race spin saw him in last, and yet he sliced through the pack to claim second. A third place finish in the EMEA Final championship is only a hint of his promise.
Ah, the Brits. Martin Grady (GTA_Tidgney) and Adam Suswillo (GTP_Aderrrm) are the dynamic duo of the region, with a friendship that stretches back to 2013 GT Academy Race Camp. Both qualified in their very first race for Worlds, and Suswillo kept the pressure on through the three-race Final to capture second on the podium. Had he not met a spot of bad luck in his races, Grady would’ve no doubt been up there too. The big question: when it’s all on the line in Monaco, will they work together, or is it every man for himself?
As befits the region, the Americas Final, held in Sin City, showcased the fastest and most furious racing of the three regions.
Up first is the Chilean duo of Fabián Portilla (FT_Mcqueen91) and Nicolás Rubilar (FT_NicoR). Both drivers are aggressive on track, unafraid to go for a gap that may or may not be there — Portilla’s Cobra-powered jump in the first regional final race is still fresh in our minds. Rubilar is certainly the type to pressure a competitor into a mistake, and he has the pace to capitalize on it. Had he not overshot Bathurst’s tricky pit exit, the Americas standings could’ve looked much different.
Another pair we can’t ignore is Canadian Jeff Gallan (FT_LLOYDZELITE) and American Andrew McCabe (TRL_doodle). Both have previously qualified for GT Academy Race Camp, and both put on possibly the best bit of racing the regional Final saw in Vegas. With only a few laps remaining around Interlagos in the notoriously tricky Red Bull X2014, Gallan kept McCabe behind him on Hard tires, while the American was on Softs. There was no dirt here, no unsportsmanlike behavior: just two drivers at the peak of their game giving it their all. While McCabe had the edge in the final points tally — and some clever tire strategy throughout the event — we wouldn’t be surprised by either man showing up on the podium.
That leaves one other Mc of the region: Nick McMillen (GumballCGT). A genuine GT Academy winner, McMillen brings real-world experience to the fold. As you’d expect, he’s mighty quick in tin-top racers, but can hold his own in the X2014. This weekend’s race schedule plays right into his hand then, with Gr.3 and Gr.4 races in the first day of racing, and an additional non-Red Bull race on Sunday offering more opportunities for him to bag valuable points. The 25-year-old Oregon native has the calm on-track demeanor of a veteran, and that could be a huge boon under the high-glitz spotlight of Monaco.