Spain’s Pol Urra claimed a thrilling last-gasp victory in his maiden Gran Turismo World Finals appearance to take the Toyota Gazoo Racing GT Cup title in front of a passionate home crowd
Urra, who had been the top qualifier globally for the event, was one of five Spanish drivers being enthusiastically backed by the packed Barcelona stands and came through the initial qualifying session in third.
It was in fact veteran racer Ryota Kokubun who topped the timesheets, ahead of a gaggle of Spaniards headed by defending Nations Cup champion Coque Lopez, Urra, and Jose Serrano.
That put Kokubun and Urra at the front of the first semi-final, and Urra wasted no time in getting ahead of the Japanese driver midway through the first lap of Grand Valley.
With the top four spots guaranteeing a final spot, there was an entertaining battle over that all-important fourth. That was initially ignited by Guy Barbara’s unwise, cold-tire lunge on Takuma Miyazono, with the contact allowing Calen Roach past — and earning a penalty for the Australian.
Roach, Miyazono, and third-placed Adriano Carrazza subsequently had the scrap of the race, with Miyazono fighting back up to third briefly before dropping back behind the Brazilian. Perhaps surprisingly, the veteran also succumbed to Roach’s pressure on the very last lap, slipping down to fifth through the final chicane.
Despite late pressure from Kokubun, Urra ran out as victor, with Carrazza and Roach qualifying behind him.
The second semi-final was the battle of the Spaniards, as Coque Lopez and Jose Serrano led the pack while having their own battle for the victory. Martin Marza was initially the best of the rest before Alex Lopez Murillo made it a leading Spanish trio.
Further back Thomas Labouteley had a nightmare start, tagging Kanata Kawakami at the Deep Forest hairpin and earning a penalty that would slip him to the back of the field. Countryman Baptiste Beauvois was having a better time of it though, getting past Marza — who later dropped off due to a penalty — and almost up onto Alex Lopez by the flag.
A late penalty for Andika Rama Maulana following an off-screen incident with Daniel Penco dropped the Indonesian driver to last and elimination, while Serrano would squeak out a win from countryman Lopez.
That set up an, as usual, chaotic repechage race as the championship visited snow for the first time at the new Lake Louise course.
Miyazono was on pole position and it proved the ideal place to be as just about the only driver not involved in the first turn mayhem. Indeed the Japanese driver just plain checked out and was two seconds clear before anyone knew which way he’d gone.
Behind him, Barbara was proving a revelation on the snow as he started to pull out a gap on Lucas Bonelli behind, but pretty much everyone else was being beset by penalties.
Initially it looked like Marza had escaped the dreaded red dot, but come the penultimate lap he too picked up a penalty and that allowed Mehdi Hafidi in for the pass. Hafidi kept the spot to the finish to capture the last place in the final.
That would be a 23-lap run around the very local Catalunya circuit, with a highly Spanish sharp end of the grid which saw Urra starting on pole from Serrano, with Kokubun the interloper in third ahead of Coque Lopez.
With drivers required to use any two different tire grades, strategy would very much come into play and it was those who started on the soft tire — the front two, Carrazza, and Miyazono — that made the initial running.
In what would be the first sign of things to come, a small mistake from Urra at turn five allowed Serrano past, but the two drivers came into contact through turn two the next time round — nearly spinning Serrano off in the process — before resuming their apparent cooperation.
As the lead two pitted on extremely old softs they both opted for mediums and found themselves under immediate attack from Carrazza and Miyazono who’d gone for a second set of softs. However their own battle kept the Spanish drivers in it as they traded blows.
Out of almost nowhere, Coque Lopez joined the fray. He’d run very long on the initial stint on mediums to one-stop for softs, and as he joined his countrymen on the same piece of road the race-defining incident occurred.
An optimistic but telegraphed lunge saw Lopez pass both front-runners at once into turn one — courtesy of the tire advantage — but run a little deep. As he gathered it up, Urra had nowhere to go but into the side of Serrano which spat the long-time race leader out off the exit of turn two.
Lopez picked up a two-second penalty for it, bringing him back into the clutches of Urra and now Kokubun too, and it became a question of whose tires would last to the flag.
After a thrilling final couple of laps with the trio barely a half second apart, we got the answer and it wasn’t Lopez’s. He’d pushed the softs just too far and had a huge moment through turn two on the final lap as both Urra and Kokubun slipped past.
It wasn’t quite finished there though as the new leader had to fight off the experienced Kokubun with the softer — but also old — tires, keeping Lopez in the mix. The three would finish barely a couple of car lengths apart, with Urra the new champion.
Toyota Gazoo Racing GT Cup Final Results
- Pol Urra (Spain) – Toyota GR010 Hybrid – 23 laps
- Ryota Kokubun (Japan) – Toyota GR010 Hybrid – +0.258s
- Coque Lopez (Spain) – Toyota GR010 Hybrid – +0.817s
That sets up the Manufacturers Cup and Nations Cup rather nicely for the weekend. Every previous time that a driver has won their first title in the Toyota event, they’ve gone on to win one or the other the same weekend.
Urra races again in both, driving for Mazda in Manufacturers and the fearsome-looking Team Spain — consisting of the first-, third-, and fourth-place drivers here — in Nations.
Tune in from 1800UTC tomorrow to watch it all unfold!