Valerio Gallo has become the fourth Gran Turismo World Champion with a stunning performance at the 2021 World Final.
The Italian driver, already leading on points heading into the final, won both of his races to confirm his title, in a remarkable season where he’s won seven of the 11 top tier races he’s taken part in.
With 32 qualified drivers in the Nations Cup — consisting of the 16 drivers from the World Series Showdown who raced in World Series 3 and World Series 4, and a group of 16 qualifiers from Online Stage 2 — there needed to be some whittling ahead of the grand final.
The field was therefore split into three regional groups, with the 10 Asia-Oceania finalists racing in Semi-Final A for five final spots, the 13 European drivers in Semi-Final B for six, and the 9 Americas representatives in Semi-Final C for the last five places.
In the Asia-Oceania zone semi it was an all-Japanese front row as Ryota Kokubun took pole position ahead of defending champion Takuma Miyazono. However Miyazono would sweep around the outside of Hell Corner to take the lead right off the line.
The early, and pretty feisty, stages saw Kanata Kawakami joing his compatriots alongside Andrew Lee and Guy Barbara from Australia in a front pack of five cars in a constant state of flux. That meant that the man who’d won both titles so far this weekend, Tomoaki Yamanaka, was out of the qualification spots.
It soon looked like the pressure of elimination got to Yamanaka, with an unwise move into The Cutting which saw him tip Barbara into the outside wall. The stewards would give the Japanese driver a two-second penalty, and that pretty much ended both drivers’ participation.
Beneficiary of all this was New Zealand’s Matthew McEwen, who sneaked into fifth and, with a piece of opportunism, slipped up into third as the front four and both Soma Iseri and Tatsuhiko Kato squabbled through The Chase and Murrays on the penultimate lap.
That set up a barnstormer of a final lap, which saw Miyazono grab the lead down Conrod Straight, and McEwen steal second from Lee right on the finish line, by 0.002s. Kawakami took fourth from Kokubun by 0.08s, with Kato the unlucky sixth place driver just 0.09s behind.
The European — technically encompassing the Middle East and Africa too — zone qualifying saw the returning one-time points leader Patrik Blazsan stick his car on pole position, with Jose Serrano lining up alongside. That was bad news for Gallo, with Serrano his nearest rival in the championship.
One curious point of note came by way of Coque Lopez. Unlike the first race, this one would involve a tire change with drivers required to start on a different tire to their qualifying grade. Lopez qualified in 12th on the hard compound, in order to start on the softer medium option.
The method behind the Spanish driver’s madness soon became apparent. As the tightly packed cars ahead tripped over one another in the first chicane — actually the della Roggia chicane, with the Rettifilo missed out on this layout — Lopez was able to pick through the pack and emerge in fifth.
With almost all of the field, bar Nikita Moysov, peeling into the pits at the end of lap one to ditch the hard tires, that gave Lopez a more than 20-second lead at the front, while Serrano now led from Gallo at the lead of the stopped cars.
That turned the race into a waiting game, to see which strategy was the best. However the vital front six was all-but decided at that point. The early exchanges had left a reasonable gap between Blazsan — now in sixth — and Spain’s Nico Romero behind him, breaking the much-needed slipstream.
In the end, the gamble from Lopez didn’t quite pay off, but he did emerge from his penultimate lap pit stop in third, between Gallo and Mangano. Gallo though wasn’t going to settle for second, and put the move on Serrano into Curva Grande. A robust defense through Parabolica saw the Italian take the win by 0.03s from his rival, with Lopez on the podium. Baptiste Beauvoid, Mangano, and Blazsan made up the final qualifiers.
The Americas zone saw some of the feistiest action yet as five drivers scrapped over one qualifying spot. It was quite a contrast to the relatively serene action at the front, which saw Lucas Bonelli take pole position from Angel Inostroza, with 2018 champion Igor Fraga lining up third alongside Juan Hernandez — the first ever qualifier from Guatemala.
Cars and penalties were flying in among the back five, with Andrew Brooks, Adriano Carrazza, and Joao Pessoa all involved in early contacts, while Daniel Solis and Randall Haywood were also in the mix. However Solis opted for a very early stop to get rid of the hard tires, aiming to run long on the mediums.
That squabbling all rather let the lead pack get away, with a three-second gap separating the two groups by lap five when they all pitted for new mediums.
The major action all came late on in the race. Firstly it was Brooks in the rear pack, passing Carrazza and Haywood in quick succession to his the front of the pack on the penultimate lap. He’d never relinquish this spot, earning a place in the final as a result.
Fraga followed suit soon after, skipping past Inostroza to take second as they started the last lap. However Bonelli proved too tough a nut to crack, and took the win ahead of his championship-winning countryman. Inostroza remained third, with Hernandez also qualifying for the final at his first ever appearance.
The points accumulated through the semi-finals made the calculations of who needed what pretty plain. Gallo was now sitting on 30 points, with Serrano his nearest challenger on 22. Then came Fraga on 17, and a fearsome trio of Lopez, Miyazono, and Kokubun all on 16. It ultimately meant that Gallo could come home in fourth and still take the title if anyone but Serrano won, and second would be enough to be sure of it.
Qualifying seemed to set that up pretty much exactly, with Serrano taking pole position ahead of the champion-in-waiting, with Bonelli leading the second row in front of Miyazono — still in with a shot of retaining his crown.
That almost immediately turned on its head, as Serrano ran too deep into the first chicane, allowing Gallo to hit the front. Miyazono, running a harder tire compound was slipping down the order, with Bonelli and Lopez ahead of him on the same compound.
These races, requiring drivers to use all three different tire compounds tend to get a little chaotic in the middle as all of the various strategies start to unfold, and that soon became the case here. While the back 11 cars all spent one or two laps (except Blazsan who ran to lap five) on hards, the front five using mediums went much further into the race before swapping.
At one point that left Mangano leading the way, while Gallo emerged from his stop between Miyazono and Kokubun, with all three drivers having stopped once and all using the soft tire — though the Japanese drivers’ rubber was a few laps older. Serrano’s choice to run a short middle stint on hards saw him drop to sixth, while Beauvois was heading the opposite direction having started last to lead the hard-to-medium group in eighth.
Once all of the stops had been completed, the picture was even less clear. Gallo was leading the way on new hard tires, with Miyazono just behind on old mediums, and Beauvois gaining on both on very old softs.
At first it looked like Gallo had no answer for Miyazono, but the Japanese driver clipped the Chicane of Death, allowing Beauvois to creep up into second. Beauvois then made the move for the lead — driving from last on lap 1 and lap 12 into first on lap 21 in a world final — but then with the finish line almost in sight he too fell victim to the chicane, giving Gallo the lead back again.
The Italian then held on around the last corner to secure the win, and the championship, as Serrano crossed the line fourth to hold onto second ahead of Miyazono in third and third.
After the race, seven-time world champion Sir Lewis Hamilton was on hand to offer his congratulations to Valerio Gallo in a pretty special moment that clearly caught the Gran Turismo champion by surprise — and Hamilton also expressed his hope that the Gran Turismo live events can return soon.
With Gallo taking the title in 2021 it means that in four years of GT Sport, four different drivers from four different countries have become the world champion. Gran Turismo 7 should take over FIA duties next season, and we wonder what it has in store!
Congratulations to Valerio Gallo, and all the drivers who’ve participated in the championships over the last four years!