Brazil’s Igor Fraga has taken his second successive World Tour Nations Cup victory, after a highly controversial final race in New York. Fraga won the race by just over five seconds from Germany’s Mikail Hizal, but that margin was rendered much smaller thanks to a post-race penalty for the world champion.
Initial qualifying took place on GT Sport’s newest track, Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps. That produced a top six for a superpole race ahead of the evening’s proceedings.
Cody Latkovski had the initial advantage, with a 1:56.077 lap in qualifying, but couldn’t reproduce that form in the shootout. He ended up fifth, with Mikail Hizal taking the top time, from Igor Fraga and Takuma Miyazono in third. That set the final starting positions for the two semi-final races.
Race 1 – Semi-Final A, Willow Springs Big Willow/Fittipaldi EF7
The evening’s first race was the first semi-final, and in an unusual format for World Tour events. Rather than the mixed field we’ve seen previously, all players used the same car: the Fittipaldi EF7 Vision GT.
Fresh from his superpole lap, Hizal started at the front and on the softest tire option and showed the field a clean pair of tail lights — when they were even close enough to see them. With the German in a totally different class, the action was happening further back. In fact much further back; while Latkovski made short work of Miyazono, barely needing two corners to take the second place away, the top four didn’t actually change places beyond that.
Instead then the focus was on qualifying for the Repechage. Adam Suswillo was struggling on the hard tires, almost driving through the pit lane after running wide at the final turn. This lost him some ground to Manuel Rodriguez and Andrew Brooks, but eighth was still relatively safe.
That brought the cars into their pit stop windows, with Canadians Brooks and Mark Pinnell heading in first on lap four despite being on opposite strategies. With most drivers preferring to run the majority of the race on the medium tires, Brooks’s choice to be a little different (along with Daniel Solis, who pitted the following lap) looked like either genius or madness.
In fact as the laps ticked down, it rather looked like the latter. Suswillo, swapping to mediums, made up all the places he’d lost from his mild excursion earlier in the race to finish fifth. Brooks and Solis meanwhile were, along with Randall Haywood, scrapping for their continued participation. Indeed only a couple of penalties, for Pinnell and Alonso Regalado kept them from the elimination places.
Despite a very close finish, Pinnell and Regalado ended up in the drop zone, with Suswillo, Rodriguez, Baptiste Beauvois, Haywood, Solis and Brooks making it to the last-chance saloon.
Race 2 – Semi-Final B, Autopolis Short Course/Gr.B
The second semi-final was no less unusual than the first. We’ve seen the events using Gr.B race cars on dirt and on the wet surface at Red Bull Ring before, but a standard, dry track — and on sports tires no less — is something new.
Autopolis’s first corner is a little notorious online, but the drivers all managed to survive unscathed. Instead it was the second corner that proved the pain, with Salvatore Maraglino penalized for running into the side of second-place man Patrik Blazsan. With the Hungarian’s GT-R pushed out of the way, Nicolas Rubilar — the winner in Paris — moved up into second. There began a 17-lap tussle between champions, as the Chilean kept himself glued to the rear end of Igor Fraga’s WRX.
Like the previous race, the pit stop window proved to be key to much of the action. Fraga and Rubilar came into the pits practically nose-to-tail, and while almost everyone behind them had already made a stop, Benjamin Bader had not. The duo came out behind the Hungarian driver’s Hyundai, and this very rapidly backed them into Rayan Derrouiche’s charging Toyota 86.
When Bader did finally pit on lap 11, the trio engaged in a hammer and tongs battle for the lead. A comfortable lead over fourth essentially meant that the drivers were clear to have some fun and go for glory — within reason, of course.
That gap was made wider by an even bigger tussle for the last automatic qualification spot. Blazsan, on hard tires in the GT-R had the position, but the cars behind him had the speed. None could get past, although the car in fifth was changing practically on a corner-by-corner basis. First Ryota Kokubun took aim, then Jonathan Wong, then Anthony Felix.
The crucial moment came on that first turn on lap 16. Defending two lines at once, Blazsan managed to outbrake himself and took a trip into the gravel. Wong, on the inside, made precisely the same error, allowing Maraglino to take fourth… for all of one corner. The Italian was next to make an excursion into the sand, clearing a path for Kokubun.
With Fraga leading Rubilar and Derrouiche home, Kokubun took that fourth spot. Felix, Blazsan, Maraglino, Wong, Bader, and Adam Wilk had to settle for the Repechage, with Rick Kevelham and Ben Chou ending up in the elimination places.
Race 3 – Repechage, Blue Moon Bay Speedway/Super Formula Dallara SF19
It’s becoming a tradition now for the Repechage to be a die roll, and that took on a whole new form in New York. With the Super Formula cars — and their overtaking button — on a three-corner oval, this would be a slipstream battle and possibly come with a side serving of chaos.
While initially circumspect, the latter prediction soon proved true. Adam Suswillo started the race on pole position, but that lasted all of a lap (or 40 seconds) as drivers remembered a pre-race instruction not to bump-draft (tapping the car in front so as to provide more power to the same frontal area) and began to jockey for position.
The order wasn’t just changing corner by corner, but tenth by tenth. With cars running all but seven-wide through the final turn there wasn’t much room for planning lines. Cars running close to the wall were losing speed by scraping down it, while cars on the inside couldn’t maintain their pace on the tight lines.
Lap four saw a new leader, as Haywood took the place from Rodriguez (with a little help from Felix), before scraping the wall. That quickly changed the order back to a European top four as Rodriguez hit the front again from Maraglino, Suswillo, and Beauvois.
At 60% race distance all the cars were still covered by just about a second but despite the position changes down the order one thing remained constant: somehow Rodriguez was keeping the lead. Gradually, and conforming to stereotype, the American drivers were making their way up the field. Felix had been in contention throughout much of the race, but Solis was now joining him.
Naturally this didn’t last long, as Wong made his way into fourth behind Maraglino and Beauvois, but with two laps remaining it seemed everyone was saving their killing move until the last moment so as not to be a sitting duck at the front.
This didn’t seem to bother Rodriguez much, as he kept hold of the lead he’d had almost unbroken since lap two to take the checkered flag. Brooks and Solis made the most of their overtake buttons to cross the line just behind, with Wong taking the final spot. Unlucky fifth was Beauvois, just 0.18s behind the winner.
Race 4 – Final, Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps/Red Bull X2019 Competition
With the 12 finalists decided, the action moved to the traditional Red Bull X2019s, at GT Sport’s newest track: Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps. This was the circuit all the drivers had qualified on earlier, and although Latkovski had the fastest time overall, it had been Hizal who took the superpole. They started first and third, due to their results in Race A, with Fraga between them.
It was Rubilar on soft tires who made the best start from fourth, but he and Fraga — also on soft tires — came together in the La Source hairpin, with the Chilean running wide and losing places. Fraga then made the soft tires count as he dragged up behind Hizal through Eau Rouge and Raidillon to take a lead which he set about building over the next few laps.
Most notable was Miyazono’s first lap. It initially appeared he’d come together with Latkovski at the Bus Stop chicane and ended up in the pits, but the Japanese driver later confirmed he’d always planned to ditch the slow hard tire immediately to get it out of the way. Other drivers who’d started on hards did follow, but on later laps: lap two for Derrouiche and Solis, and lap three for Brooks.
Over the next few laps it seemed to be business as usual. Hizal and Latkovski were locked together, with a gap of around 1.5s between them, but Fraga was scampering away at the front to the tune of two seconds a lap or more. Lopez, also on softs, found himself tucked in behind Latkovski — not helped by a one-second track limit penalty.
Miyazono further confounded expectation by making his second stop on lap seven. This put him onto the third of his three required tire grades, but with the cars only able to run eleven laps on fuel he’d surely need to pit again before the end.
The chess game of pit stops continued to unfold through the middle of the race. Fraga, Hizal, and Latkovski were all now on the unfavored hard tire, and the large 18s gap at the head of the field was neutralized. Latkovski chose to stop on successive laps — nine and ten — to move to the soft tires, while Hizal and Fraga both did an out-lap and an in-lap. Crucially though, Hizal had taken on some fuel on both stops, while Fraga had to sit still for an age refueling at his second stop, wiping 14s off his advantage.
Then came the first of the major incidents. Miyazono pitted again, on lap 13, for a second set of soft tires. This let Fraga and Hizal through to fight for the lead again, but it was an incident affecting Miyazono himself that brought the wrath of the stewards.
Latkovski, in a very solo rare driving error, dropped the X2019 leaving No Name. He recovered to the track and the racing line but then seemed to move into the fast-approaching Miyazono’s path, sending the Japanese driver spearing off into the barriers outside Pouhon. After review, the stewards gave Latkovski the largest penalty we’ve yet seen at one of these events, with a 10s slowdown.
The real controversy though came as Hizal caught Fraga, with a tire advantage flipped about from that at the start of the race. Caught up in the Brazilian’s turbulent wake, the German driver couldn’t make headway through the middle of the track, and needed to rely on the slipstream on the long run from La Source to Les Combes to make the pass. On lap 16 Fraga, realizing this, backed off to allow Hizal past before using the slipstream to his own advantage. He scythed past into the chicane to restore the position.
Hizal wasn’t going to be caught out a second time and on lap 17 he stayed behind Fraga at the hairpin. With the pass surely on, Fraga tried a different tactic: lifting at the summit of Raidillon. With the huge closing speed, this acted like a brake-check and destroyed Hizal’s momentum. Without the overspeed into Les Combes, the pass was all but impossible.
Following these two incidents, Hizal seemed to give up somewhat. He later explained that he had spent so much fuel fighting Fraga that he had to conserve it in order to finish. The drivers finished in that order, with Fraga 5.6s ahead, and Lopez — after his own heartbreak in Germany — rounding out the podium just ahead of Miyazono.
However, it was far from over. The race officials called a pause on announcing the race result as they examined the lap 17 incidents — while the drivers themselves also appeared on the stream to examine Fraga’s actions.
After what seemed like an age, the stewards agreed Fraga had acted unfairly and issued a post-race penalty of five seconds. This left the order unchanged, and resulted in a somewhat tense podium ceremony with the two former team-mates for the Nissan team in last year’s World Final unable to even look in each other’s direction.
A post-race interview with the commentators and podium drivers was no more comfortable — not least for Lopez, seated between them. While Fraga commented that his intention was to break Hizal’s rhythm rather than cause a collision, feeling the penalty was harsh on that basis, Hizal had some far stronger words for the situation. We’re sure that the incident and its outcome will have some repercussions — not least with the Salzburg World Tour event just three weeks away.
You can watch GTPlanet’s own interviews with the drivers later in the week.