Igor Fraga Clinches GT Sport Americas Nations Cup Finals in Las Vegas

EsportsGran Turismo Sport 1624 November 2, 2018 by

The third and final Gran Turismo Sport regional finals wrapped up in Las Vegas on Wednesday. Another 10 drivers locked in their spots in next month’s World Finals in Monaco, but it was 20-year old Igor Fraga (IOF_RACING17) that emerged at the top of the pile as the Americas champion.

Wednesday had started early for the 30 competitors, as all of the elimination, repechage, and final races were on the same day. That initial figure dropped to 24 remaining competitors after the initial three block races (Southern America, Canada-Central America, and USA), where the bottom two finishers ended their day. Two repechage races — which would go on to showcase some of the fiercest battles — is where the big cuts happened, as only four of the 18 drivers taking part would qualify for Worlds.

The Brazilian Fraga was a favorite to win heading into the event, even among his fellow drivers. He secured his World Finals spot in his debut race, joining nine other racers in the regional showdown. In the evening, inside the Marquee Club in Las Vegas, they duked it out across three races to determine the cream of the crop.

Race 1: Block A

The first race of the day was the South American block. All of the block races utilized the Gr.3 category of cars at different circuits. For the initial block, that meant Suzuka Circuit.

Fraga started on pole with the Soft compound of tire, the only one in the field on that rubber. His goal was to put clear air between himself and the pack early on. A first-lap fracas at the chicane certainly helped Fraga. After diving in late, Thiago Gonzaga (FT_Solid) rejoined the track in the middle of traffic, resulting in a multi-car tangle. Fellow countrymen Vinicius Neto (FT_hellZfirEJP) and Adriano Carrazza (CRT_Didico15) also suffered their own early-race setbacks.

Fraga pulled in on lap three to switch to Mediums, keeping his lead on the exit. By lap five he had built a 4.5 second buffer over second-place Nicolás Rubilar (FT_NicoR). Carrazza was the first to make his second pit stop on the same lap, swapping on a set of Hards. Fraga would follow suit a lap later, resulting in Chile’s Rubilar (FT_NicoR) inheriting the lead. Rubilar would need another pit stop, however.

With Fraga back in the lead for the final laps, Rubilar would come under fire from countryman and teammate Fabián Portilla (FT_Mcqueen91). In the end Rubilar crossed the line in second, earning him a guaranteed spot at Monaco alongside Fraga. Portilla would need to prove himself in the repechage round…

Race 2: Block B

The Canada-Central America batch was up next, moving to the Nurburgring GP circuit. Mexico’s Eduardo Trevino (sambygtr) and Costa Rica’s Bernal Valverde (FT_BernalV) found themselves in a sea of Canadians, with Jeffrey Gallan (FT_LLOYDZELITE) starting on pole in the Porsche 911 RSR. Interestingly, not a single driver in the block started on Softs.

Into the notoriously difficult first corner, Chris Gorski (beatin_the_odds) got wiggly in the big BMW M6, but held onto 7th, making steady progress to 6th by lap three. He moved up one more spot on lap three, as Valverde — a pro race driver back home in Costa Rica — was the first to pit. On a fresh set of Hards, Valverde would pass Gorski on his out lap, moving back into 5th.

Up front, Gallan was running in clean air, and a swap from Mediums to Hards wasn’t enough to dent his lead on lap five. Nobody saw his 911 for the rest of the race, leading to a fierce battle for the other guaranteed Monaco seat. It was a three-way scrap in the final laps of the race. Mark Pinnell (Turismo-lester) originally had the edge, but was on Medium tires. On the penultimate lap, he found Valverde and Andrew Brooks (deafsun96) hot on his tail, both on grippier Softs.

Pinnell put up a valiant fight, making his WRX wide at the Schumacher S. Unfortunately, he outbraked himself into the chicane a few corners later, clearing the road for a final-lap battle between Brooks and Valverde. It was close, but heading back into that chicane again for the last time, the Canadian held the advantage. Despite a small wiggle on exit, Brooks held on, and the fourth Worlds seat of the day went to him.

Race 3: Block C

The home team race saw 10 American drivers descend on Dragon Trail for 12 laps. Andrew McCabe (TRL_doodle) started on pole, with Eddie Gomez (Wardez) and Nick McMillen (GumballCGT) behind him. The long drag down to the first chicane favoured Gomez’s Lexus, letting him slip past McCabe’s Toyota for the lead. McCabe would hold off GT Academy winner McMillen’s rampaging Beetle until the final corner of lap one, and it wasn’t going to get easier for him: the top six drivers were all within one second of each other throughout the second lap.

McMillen and Gomez swapped spots at the hairpin on lap three, only for Gomez to fire himself out of the following chicane and back in front. Further back, Anthony Felix (FT_Ant) was impressively holding onto 4th place, despite running on Hards. He stayed out as McMillen, Gomez, McCabe, and Armen Aghakhan (TRC_Stagger) all pit on lap four.

The mayhem kicked off a lap later, as Bayless made a long dive on McMillen. Even stranger, he pitted twice in two laps, only spending a single full lap on Hards.

Up front, Gomez continued a clean drive. There’s a McBattle for second, with McCabe and McMillen swapping spots on laps seven and eight. McCabe dove into the pits when his FT-1 began getting wiggly. McMillen wasn’t in the clear, as he was forced to make the Beetle wide in the face of a hard-charging Felix. They both pitted on the tenth lap for Softs, but the fighting made McCabe’s undercut a success, as they emerged behind him.

Disaster struck for Gomez on the penultimate lap. Fresh on Softs, he made an error in the chicane. The wreck cost him dearly, and he found himself on the bubble not for Monaco, but for first-round elimination, down in 8th. He pushed to 7th, and would get another chance in repechage. This handed the lead to McCabe, who just held onto it out of the final corner against McMillen.

Race 4: Repechage A

A level playing field in identical Ford F-150s at Willow Springs was the setting for the next round of eliminations. Two nine-driver races would take place, and only the top two finishers in each would make it to Worlds.

The Turn 3-4 complex proved a danger zone in the fourth race of the day. As the slowest part of the lap it offered one of few passing opportunities, and the evenly-matched trucks saw the drivers bunched up around there. Trevino was the first victim, knocked off on the opening lap, losing fifth. A lap later the same fate befell Pinell, who had started third.

Jay Szkoruda (Z28) kept his nose clean up front, focusing on consistency. A determined Jacob Goertz (JGOERTZ5) muscled past on lap three for the lead. Valverde couldn’t catch a break, falling to 4th on lap four only to be punted off mid-lap, down further to 6th. Meanwhile Jamal Khan (RacingKing89674) was a man possessed, finding his groove in the most unlikely of racing vehicles. After starting 7th, he put the moves on Szkoruda on lap five, finding himself in second (and on the bubble for Monaco).

Valverde followed Khan’s lead, threading the Raptor through the field and into 3rd by lap seven. The two were so evenly matched in fact, that their fastest laps of the race were one-thousandth apart (the fastest, a 1:29.240, came from Felix).

The final lap was chaos. Our note book even has a hastily scribbled “entire pack into T1”, and you can see what we mean in that image above. The combo of big, slow trucks and slipstreaming meant it was anybody’s race. With only so much space and eight Raptors all within a second of each other, something had to give.

Khan ran wide into T1 and forced Valverde into the dirt. The 20-year-old Canadian found himself in 2nd, but the stewards hit him with a two-second penalty in the final corner, forcing him to slow in the dedicated penalty zone on the front straight, handing the position (and trip to Monaco) to Szkoruda.

If ever there was a message that consistency matters, consider this: the two drivers that earned seats in the World Finals were the only two to not set 1:29s in the race…

Race 5: Repechage B

After the sheer edge-of-your-seat mania of the previous race’s final lap, the second repechage race felt comparatively sedate.

Argentina’s Facundo Dudulec (JIM_FacuDudu) started up front, with Portilla second. Portilla wasted little time letting Dudulec know he was there, gluing himself to the lead Raptor’s bumper. He gave it a slight tap heading into T3 on the second lap, enough to gain the advantage (and the lead). Carrazza found his way past the Argentinian soon after, nudging Portilla in the final sweeper on lap four, but remaining in 2nd.

The two couldn’t avoid trading paint on lap five, and the argy-bargy Thanos’d the clear air between them and the rest of the pack. After his error cost him a seat in the opening round, Gomez used this opportunity to climb his way up the ranks. By lap seven he found himself in 4th, with 3rd-place Bayless receiving a penalty. Now was his chance.

Unfortunately for the Las Vegas native, it wasn’t to be. With just over a lap remaining, Dudulec ran wide into T3, and this put him on a collision course with Gomez, who was trying to avoid the carnage around the outside of T4. The hit put Gomez into the dirt, and his chances of a seat in the evening races to bed. Portilla held on for the win, with Carrazza sealing up the 10th and final World Finals spot.

Portilla deserves special mention for easily having the most amped-up response to earning his seat!

Drivers qualified to World Final

  • Igor Fraga – IOF_RACING17 – Brazil
  • Nicolás Rubilar – FT_NicoR – Chile
  • Jeffrey Gallan – FT_LLOYDZELITE – Canada
  • Andrew Brooks – deafsun96 – Canada
  • Andrew McCabe – TRL_doodle – USA
  • Nick McMillen – GumballCGT – USA
  • Jacob Goertz – JGOERTZ5 – Canada
  • Jay Szkoruda – Z28 – USA
  • Fabián Portilla – FT_Mcqueen91 – Chile
  • Adriano Carrazza – CRT-Didico15 – Brazil

Race 6: Americas Final R1

The Americas Finals were the usual three-race affair, with two class-based races and a final, one-make race worth double the points. The action began at the deceptively technical Blue Moon Bay Infield A circuit, with a varied N500 field making up everything from a Subaru WRX, a tuner S2000, and the mighty Shelby Cobra. To make matters more interesting, the driver/car combos were randomized.

Fraga qualified up front in the Corvette C7, with Rubilar (Ford GT), Gallan (Subaru WRX), McCabe (Amuse S2000), and Portilla (Shelby Cobra) making up the top five. All but McMillen (7th, Dodge Viper GTS) and Carrazza (8th, Nismo GT-R) started on Softs, with one tire swap needed during the 11 laps.

In a rare instance, Fraga was caught with a slow start when the lights went out, giving up the lead to Rubilar’s GT before T1. Gallan’s Scooby was a tire-eater, forcing the Canadian to reign it in or risk burning through the rubber too quickly. This gave McCabe’s agile S2000 an easy move into 3rd early on, and the sheer power of the Cobra pushed Portilla past on lap three.

All four of the front-runners bunched right up heading into T1 on the fifth lap. Portilla made a daring lunge up the inside into T2, which actually resulted in teammate Rubilar’s GT grazing in the grass around the outside. Portilla remained in third, as McCabe snuck past during the contact. The S2000 got unruly a few corners later however, opening the door for Portilla to snatch 2nd, and then 1st on the straight as Fraga pit.

A lap after the incident, the stewards handed Portilla a slow down penalty for the contact with Rubilar. This moved McCabe into the lead until he pitted on lap eight. Amazingly, Portilla stayed out one lap longer, far after the rest of the field had swapped rubber.

Even more impressive, the Chilean came out still ahead, if only slightly. He held onto it too, forcing McCabe and Rubilar to round out the podium of race one in 2nd and 3rd, respectively. Fraga finished 4th.

Race 7: Americas Final R2

Race two moved across the globe to Mount Panorama in Australia. Back up in the familiar Gr.3 cars, it was a seven lap race. The entire field started on Mediums, save 3rd-place Rubilar in the Viper (Softs) and Szkoruda’s Mazda in 10th (Hards).

With little time to make the most of those Softs, Rubilar dove late into T2, running McCabe so wide he grazed the wall. The American would fall to 6th by the start of the second lap.

Brooks’ NSX got away from him as he descended the mountain shortly after, moving McMillen up within striking distance of McCabe. Meanwhile up front, Rubilar’s grippier Viper took the lead into The Chase.

Portilla wasn’t about to give the top spot up without a fight, and tried a brave move around the outside of T2 on lap three. It didn’t stick, and the resulting error actually put Fraga on his bumper. Fraga made the pass on the climb up the mountain, and then slashed Rubilar’s lead to within a car length. The Viper’s tires noticeably worn, Rubilar aimed for the pits…

But he overshot. The Viper missed the tight left for the pits, Rubilar watching as any advantage he might’ve built up on the Softs melted away. To make matters even worse, 8th-place Goertz ran right into him just before he could get into the pit proper.

With clean air in front and the Hard-tired Portilla a few seconds downwind, Fraga simply kept extending his lead for the rest of the race. Further down the pack, Rubilar was keen to not lose any more time, aggressively blocking off Carrazza on multiple occasions. He got greedy however, and a three-second penalty effectively ended his championship run as he dropped down to 8th.

Meanwhile, McMillen — one of the few drivers to stay out of trouble all race — put his Porsche ahead of McCabe’s Lexus on the long Conrod Straight for the last lap, holding off his countryman for 3rd. Gallan finished behind them in 5th.

Race 8: Americas Final R3

The pace shifted up another few levels for the final: a 22-lap mini endurance around Brazil’s Interlagos circuit, in the manic Red Bull X2014.

Like the first race of the night, Fraga started on pole. He also was the only one to start on Softs, guaranteeing a healthy gap early on.

Gallan made a clean move up the inside on McCabe in the opening lap, slotting himself into 4th behind Portilla (2nd) and McMillen (3rd). Unfortunately it was short-lived. Heading into the start of the second lap, Portilla made a late inside block on McMillen, forcing the American to the outside. As he swung to the right, he just caught Gallan, who then speared straight at the corner. He was down to 8th, but as we’d soon see, he wasn’t out.

Portilla’s hyper-aggressive driving earned him a penalty, which he served on lap four. This promoted McMillen to 2nd, only for the GT Academy champ to lose the rear of the tricky Red Bull a few corners later.

By lap six,, and with plenty of real-world experience at Interlagos, Fraga was already 13 seconds up the road from the pack, as a five-way battle between Carrazza, Rubilar, Portilla, McCabe, and Gallan showed no signs of cooling.

The first round of pit stops began on lap seven, with McCabe, Portilla, and Gallan coming in. While they were swapping tires, Rubilar put his X2014 into the barrier coming out of the Senna S. This put Carrazza and McMillen in second and third, though neither had pitted yet.

Fraga started lap nine on a fresh set of Mediums, and still had a sizeable lead. Cottoning onto the leader’s ways, Gallan and Carrazza swapped onto sets of Softs, and began their own quest to build a gap before the final stint. Nonetheless, Igor continued to gap them both, as the race for second cost the Brazilian and Canadian time, until Carrazza over-corrected on lap 13, promoting Portilla to a (distant) 3rd.

McCabe came in for Softs a lap later, and begun his hunt for second — barring any serious errors, Fraga was simply uncatchable by now. By the start of lap 17, McCabe was 6.2 seconds down from Gallan on Hards. Three laps later, it was a single second.

What followed was just over two laps of the best racing of the day. On the harder compounds, Gallan displayed impeccable defensive driving, making the Red Bull extra-wide against McCabe. No hits, no last-second blocking — just expert lines and a back-and-forth from two drivers at the top of their game.

In the end, 22 laps was just enough for the Canadian to keep 2nd place, crossing the line only 0.045 seconds ahead of McCabe. Fraga’s dominant performance gave him the series win, with the added bonus of it being on his home track!

While it was an inspired performance by Gallan, it wasn’t enough for him to earn a place on the podium overall. After three races, McCabe pipped him by a single point for 3rd, with Portilla in 2nd.

Congratulations to all, and we’ll see you in Monaco!

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