The Nissan squad of Mehdi Hafidi, Ryota Kokubun, and Mateo Estevez took a smart victory in the Gran Turismo World Series Manufacturers Cup Final to claim a first world title for the brand — five years after agonisingly missing out.
Nissan came out on top at the end of a five-lap, mixed conditions race at the Nurburgring 24hr circuit, the very same location that saw the “dream team” of Igor Fraga, Mikail Hizal, and Kokubun run out of fuel with only a few hundred yards remaining in the first Grand Final in 2018.
However it was Toyota that initially set the pace at the same circuit in qualifying, as youngester Rikuto Kobayashi sneaked the Supra ahead of strongly fancied defending champion squad Subaru. That aside it was an unexpected grid, as BMW lined up third ahead of Nissan, with McLaren and Genesis rounding out the top six.
That set the grid for the eight-lap qualifying race at the nearby Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, and it was the front two that made the best of it as they quickly pulled away from the cars behind. The gap was made larger as Nissan and BMW scrapped over third, with Estevez initally sending the GT-R up onto the podium.
McLaren though was going the other way, dropping down the order fairly rapidly, while a collision between Porsche, Honda, and Mercedes at Turn 10 was judged to be the fault of Serrano in the 911 and earned the car a two-second penalty.
After a race-long defense of third, the Nissan’s resolve was finally broken with a brave turn one overtake from Seiya Suzuki to claim the spot on the last lap. Toyota’s Coque Lopez just about held off Takuma Miyazono despite a sustained final lap attack, but they were in their own private race five seconds up the road.
The finishing order set the grid for the final which started with a small surprise: rain. Given the conditions, all 12 cars opted for Intermediate tires to start the race, but they were treacherous as Toyota’s Kobayashi soon found out.
After managing to hold off Miyazono through the opening half lap, Kobayashi dropped the Supra through the Karussell and fell from first to last. He wasn’t the only driver having an issue with the rain either, as Randall Haywood slithered the Lamborghini off at Adenauer, but staged an extraordinary fightback to climb back to third again by the end of the lap.
Miyazono’s lead was short-lived too, as Hafidi’s Nissan simply strolled past on Dottinger Hohe, but amazingly he wasn’t there for long either as some bold moves from Haywood — around the outside of the hairpin — sent the Lamborghini into the lead before the cars made their was back onto the Nordschleife.
With the track drying and the drivers all reaching the end of their two-lap stint maximums, everyone dived in for slicks and that precipitated probably the pivotal moment of the race.
On cold tires and the damp pit exit, Nicolas Romero slid into the back of the Lamborghini, undoing all of Haywood’s great work and picking up a second’s penalty. More importantly, it gave Kokubun in the Nissan some breathing room from the pressure behind, more so when Sternberg was caught out in a similar fashion and all-but ended the Subaru’s challenge for two in a row.
Some strategy then came into play as just under half the field opted for a one-lap stint, leaving Mazda as the leading car among those that no longer needed to take a trip through the pit lane — but Kokubun was making hay while the sun shone and had a 30-second advantage over the rotary by the time he came in for the Nissan’s final stop.
Indeed it was now the AMG that was the closest challenger on the single lap sprint to the checkered flag, but Baptiste Beauvois had over eight seconds to catch up on Estevez in the Nissan and — despite carving out chunks to get the GT-R within sight — it was just too much time in too little race as the Argentinian driver came home just under two seconds clear and was mobbed by his team-mates.
The final corners were also notable for a significant multi-car pile-up as the Honda and BMW came to blows, spinning the M6 out and through both the Mazda and Toyota. Romero in the Genesis was in the right place at the right time to pick through the carnage and score the Korean brand’s best ever World Finals finish in third, on the same day it unveiled its Vision GT car.
GT World Series Manufacturers Cup Final Results
- Nissan (Estevez, Hafidi, Kokubun) – Nissan GT-R Gr.3 – 5 laps
- Mercedes-AMG (Beauvois, Bonelli, Yamanaka) –Mercedes-AMG GT3 – +1.761s
- Genesis (Heldt, Romero, Sasaki) – Genesis X Gr.3 – +5.107s
With two events down there’s just one to go with the new-look Nations Cup final coming tomorrow, Sunday December 3. This new team format will see three winners crowned, with an extremely strong Spanish team looking to claim the title on home ground here in Barcelona.
Tune in from 1500UTC to see all the action!