Following on from the hard racing of the team-based Manufacturer Series on Friday, Saturday was the solo event. The Nations Cup is every man for himself, with the 24 fastest GT Sport drivers in the world fighting for 12 spots in the final, and one automatic qualification for the World Final.
Four drivers would qualify from each of two semi-finals, with the next six drivers in each race heading to the second-chance “repechage”. That would be an exciting challenge at the game’s new wet-weather Red Bull Ring track, to find four more qualifiers for the final. From there it was one final shootout for the trophy and the place in the World Final.
Semi-Final A: Nurburgring GP, N300
Like Monza, the Nurburgring’s first corner is the end of many a race before it even starts. However, the drivers all seemed to be on their best behavior, which allowed for some opportunism from Manuel Rodriguez in the NSX. The Spaniard took advantage of a little hesitancy to move his car from 7th to that vital 4th place in one move.
Up at the front, Igor Fraga and Coque Lopez seemed to be having their own private battle. The Brazilian’s TT had the straight line and corner exit advantage, while the Spaniard’s Supra was quicker in the bends and better on the brakes. The two were stretching their lead — and safety — until a braking misjudgement put Fraga into the side of the Supra. The stewards were quick to act, giving the world champion a second’s penalty.
Although Fraga didn’t suffer much, that acted like a concertina on the field. Fraga and Lopez did soon escape from the pack, with Fraga taking the lead eventually. However Markus Kononen fell into the clutches of Rodriguez in the NSX, slipping to fourth. Ultimately these four drivers made the line, and the final, so the story was all about the repechage qualification.
One driver definitely not making it was GR Supra GT Cup winner Salvatore Maraglino. Although not shown on-screen, he suffered an incident in the A80 Supra which dropped him 15s off the pack. Home favorite Mikail Hizal was in danger of falling into the second elimination spot too — the Tuscan seemed not to suit him, and a collision in the hairpin with Daniel Solis in the WRX (for which both drivers felt at fault) left him open to cars behind him and dropping him to tenth.
Hizal fought back from 10th and cemented his repechage spot with a spectacular move into the Kumho corner, passing Ryota Kokubun and Baptiste Beauvois in one go. That left Kevan Pounder to fill the unlucky 11th spot.
Semi-Final B: Goodwood Circuit, N400
Having made its series bow a month ago, Goodwood Circuit also made its first appearance at a World Tour event with this race for some of the game’s classics. Giorgio Mangano in the 25th Anniversary Lamborghini Countach and Cody Latkovski in the Shelby Cobra quickly made their huge tires count, springing into the top two positions.
With those two free and clear, it was all about the remaining two qualifying spots, and that quickly became a four-way fight. Pole-sitter Tatsuya Sugawara, in the original Countach, fell back into the clutches of Rayan Derrouiche in the new-to-game Camaro Z28. The duo were keeping station just ahead of Jonathan Wong in the Mustang Mach 1 and Andrew Brooks in the Corvette C3.
Further back, Kin Long Li and Rick Kevelham were struggling with the Ferrari 512BB and De Tomaso Pantera respectively, and looked set to fill the two elimination spots. This left the pack from 7th to 10th safe, although they certainly weren’t racing like it. Matt Simmons was sliding the E-Type around practically every corner, which is the only way to drive Goodwood in the Jag.
The race-defining incident happened as the cars reached the end of the penultimate lap. With the last direct qualification spot on the table, Sugawara got a slide on in the Countach in Woodcote. That allowed Brooks alongside and the two headed to the chicane together. A race-ending disaster was all but inevitable at that point, and both drivers came off worst. The lurking Wong slipped through into fourth, and kept it to the finish. Sugawara and Brooks had to settle for the repechage, along with Patrik Blazsan, Benjamin Bader, Fabian Portilla and Simmons.
Repechage: Red Bull Ring (Wet), Gr.B
Four drivers would get their second chance to make the final, in the traditional chaos of the repechage. The race took its usual format, but with one highly unusual twist: rain.
This didn’t bother the pole sitter, Adam Suswillo, one bit. The Brit seemed totally at home in the wet conditions and in short order disappeared up the road and into the final. That left three more places and, sadly for the home crowd, Hizal was not going to be among them.
Coming into the uphill braking zone for the second corner, Hizal missed his braking spot and ploughed through the corner. Despite letting everyone back past, the stewards also gave him a three-second penalty and that was his event over.
Although that incident shook the order up a bit, with Nicolas Rubilar — the Paris World Tour winner — holding onto second from the twin GT86s of Beauvois and Brooks, the race quickly settled down. The mayhem didn’t happen until close to three-quarter race distance, and with one seemingly innocuous spark: Rubilar picked up a 0.5s track limit penalty.
That moved the GT86s up to second and third, with Fujiwara also scything past the Ford and the other Focus of Simmons soon joined in for a five-way scrap. Rubilar, possibly distracted, completely missed his braking point for the Schlossgold corner and parked his Ford into the side of birthday boy Brook’s Toyota. Sugawara and Simmons — who had started last — slipped through to complete the top four and held station to the end of the race.
Final: Sardegna A, X2019 Competition
All that stood between the finalists and the World Final now were 11 other drivers, 20 laps of Sardegna and three sets of racing tires. Fraga and Coque, who’d had a coming-together in the first semi-final, were the only drivers to pick the soft tire for their first stint and immediately set about building their gap. By the time Fraga pitted at the end of lap 7, they’d established a seven second margin over third-place Latkovski.
Following the first round of pit stops, Fraga lead from Coque again, this time on mediums. Latkovski, who had been third, opted for hard tires and ended up being jumped by Sugawara on the soft rubber. With all drivers keeping their noses clean, the lead three began to bunch up, briefly covered by only a couple of tenths approaching the second and final pit stop.
Sugawara soon fell away, as he needed more fuel in the last stop than his rivals. That put Lopez — who took the lead in the pit stops — and Fraga into what seemed like a straight fight for the win. However Latkovski had managed to stay in touch, and on the soft tires was much faster in the closing stages. It was all rather reminiscent of the Manufacturer Series event the previous day.
Sure enough, four seconds became none at all, and Latkovski caught Fraga napping into the final turn of the penultimate lap. That left what looked like a 90-second, two-way charge to the finish. But two corners from home Fraga took his second place back. Lopez was slow in the tight left-hander, Latkovski caught the rear of the X2019 and had a big slide.
It still wasn’t all over though; Latkovski recovered and the same situation happened at the final corner. This time however, Lopez took a heavy hit, and Fraga was able to pass both cars due to the incident. This left the Brazilian free to run to the line, by a fine margin from the Australian.
However, just like yesterday it went to the stewards’ office. They determined that the touch in the second-last corner was Fraga’s doing and gave him a second’s penalty. That didn’t promote Latkovski to the win, as they also gave him five seconds for his role in the final corner fracas. Lopez meanwhile ran out of fuel, dropping to sixth, so Derrouiche — who finished 5.3s behind Latkovski — took the last podium step.
This means that we now have two confirmed finalists for the World Final in November, and both are South American: Igor Fraga and Nicolas Rubilar. The next World Tour takes place in New York in August, and we’ll find out who can join them.