Team Toyota — Igor Fraga, Coque Lopez, and Tomoaki Yamanaka — put in a perfect performance to win the 2021 FIA Certified Gran Turismo Online Championship Manufacturer Series, winning back the title it took in 2019.
Every member of the Toyota squad won their race on the day which meant that, as the team already leading the championship jointly with Mazda, there was nothing anyone else could do to prevent the brand from winning the trophy. In doing so, Toyota also becomes the only marque to have won the Manufacturer Series twice.
The event consisted of three races in the brands’ Gr.3 cars, with each of the three drivers required to run one race. With the final race worth double-points, that meant some tactical decisions about each team member’s relative strength — many saving their strongest driver for the final race.
Not that you’d have known from race one qualifying, which saw Coque Lopez outqualify countryman Jose Serrano’s Porsche to take pole position; for reference that’s the drivers sitting second and fourth in the Nations Cup standings.
That left joint leader Mazda on the back foot, with Miroslav Kravchenko only able to qualify the RX-Vision in tenth, while defending champion Subaru was in seventh through Thomas Scibilia.
Kravchenko was one of four drivers who opted for an early pitstop, and a strong undercut propelled him up to seventh on the road — though it was Nissan’s Shota Sato who benefitted the most, leaping up to fourth, only just behind Lopez who stopped a lap later.
Serrano’s decision to run longer initially cost him, losing 1.4 seconds through the pit stop. However he was able to claw back some time near the end of the race with slightly fresher tires, but not quite enough to make any serious attempt at taking the lead.
That would mean Toyota took an eight-point lead, over Mazda and Porsche now tied on 17 apiece, with Nissan’s podium spot giving the brand its first points of 2021.
With each race determining the start order for the next, it would be newly crowned Toyota GR GT Cup champion Tomoaki Yamanaka starting on pole position, ahead of Tatsuya Sugawara’s Porsche, and Ethan Lim in the Nissan.
Toyota seemed to be thinking of a different race to everyone else, as the only car to start on the soft tires, with the rest of the grid on mediums. It seemed an unusual choice on a slipstream-heavy track, but it was clearly Yamanaka’s goal to drive away at the front of the field and build up enough of an advantage that when he switched in the pits he couldn’t be caught.
While it didn’t initially look to be working, an incident late on lap one helped Toyota to just stretch enough of a lead to break the tow. Thomas Labouteley miscalculated his braking for the hairpin, skittling the Porsche and Honda ahead, and with Lim driving in his mirrors, Yamanaka just about got away.
Jeff Gallan was the man on the move though in the Mazda. In part assisted by the incidents ahead, the Canadian had dragged the rotary-engined car up to second by the end of lap three and, post pit-stops, he’d be leading the charge to catch the Toyota.
However, he’d also be dragging three other cars with him, with Sugawara still in the mix, along with Lucas Bonelli in the Mercedes and Andrew Brooks making a leap up the order in the Jaguar following an early pit stop.
Ultimately the squabbling among this pack of four, and a little slide at the wrong time, that prevented them from catching Yamanaka, who came home over a second clear in the end. Bonelli saved his best until last, pipping Gallan by 0.035s at the line for second.
Toyota then would extend its lead even further, to 12 points, over second-placed Mazda, but it could have still been almost anyone’s event with 24 points on the line for the final.
However there’s one combination nobody wants to be chasing in GT Sport, and that’s Igor Fraga driving at the Nurburgring 24h starting from pole. Unfortunately for everyone else, that was exactly what was up next and, to make matters worse, Fraga would start on the fastest soft tires.
The three cars immediately behind him — Baptiste Beauvois in the Mercedes, Ryota Kokubun in the Mazda, and Adam Tapai in the Jaguar — would all opt for the same rubber, but to no avail. Fraga was already four seconds up by the end of the first lap, with Kokubun making a rather forceful pass on Beauvois to get the Mazda into prime position for any mistakes from the 2018 world champion.
As you’d expect, they never came. Fraga controlled the pace to the finish, running out nearly eight seconds ahead of Kokubun — who himself was the same gap ahead of Beauvois in third — in a race where we barely even saw him on the stream.
The fight then became about that third place, with Angel Inostroza needing to finish no worse than seventh to deny Mercedes’ late claim to the podium. That led to a feisty finish which saw Inostroza pinged for a second’s penalty by the stewards after an unnecessary contact with Roberto Sternberg’s Volkswagen while scrapping with Tapai, Miyazono, and Gallo.
Though that resulted in him dropping back down the order down Dottinger Hohe, he was able to scrape seventh, allowing Porsche to hold onto the final podium spot.
- 1st – Toyota – 61 points
- 2nd – Mazda – 45 points
- 3rd – Porsche – 31 points
- 4th – Mercedes – 30 points
- 5th – Nissan – 24 points
- 6th – Jaguar – 24 points
- 7th – BMW – 22 points
- 8th – Volkswagen – 19 points
- 9th – Jaguar – 17 points
- 10th – Subaru – 15 points
- 11th – Peugeot – 10 points
- 12th – Aston Martin – 9 points
- 13th – Dodge – 3 points
- 14th – Hyundai – 1 point