SRO E-Sport GT Series AM Championship | Round 1: Silverstone (Review)
The opening round of the SRO E-Sport GT Series AM Championship produced plenty of adrenaline fuelled action, with an unexpected early conclusion. After all the drama, it would be HW Racing Team Bentley driver Nizar Sahraoui who crossed the chequed flag first in what was a thrilling race.
An esport debut for Fifth Gear presenter Vicki Butler-Henderson, the awesome voice of WTCC legend Martin Haven calling the action, 45 drivers pushing to the absolute limit of what their GT3 machines are capable of delivering and 60 (ok, 50 in the end) intense minutes of action on track that included overtakes, passing and crashes throughout the field – this weekend was an incredible showcase of the racing skills within our sim racing community.
As the SRO E-Sport GT Series is now a competitive championship season, rather than the standalone qualification events of 2019, you could easily be fooled into thinking that the 45 drivers who sat on the gird for the opening round would be content to adopt a safety first approach for the Silverstone race, bagging solid points and getting their championship campaign off to a solid start. Well, you would be wrong!
With only 60 minutes of racing scheduled following a brief 15 minute qualification period, the field were energised to make up time and places from the very first corner, with racecraft coming to the fore for many of the drivers, and the odd opening lap skirmish doing little to dampen the party atmosphere that surrounds an opening race weekend event.
With qualifying over and done, Nizar Sahraoui would be the man to start from Pole Position, the 35-year-old Spanish driver putting in a sublime performance in his HW Racing Team Bentley Continental GT3 to head a gaggle of Porsches in positions 2 – 6, with Paolo Muià acting as the McLaren meat in the Porsche sandwich, winding up P7 ahead of a further four 911 RSR GT3Rs come the green flag.
As the field headed into their opening formation lap, the question on everybody’s lips was; could Sahraoui keep at bay his potentially quicker Porsche rivals during the opening laps of the race, and would the big Bentley have enough outright pace to pull away at the front?
Once the green flag dropped, Sahraoui did exactly what needed to be done from the front of the grid, maintaining his composure to quickly build up a + 1 second lead over the chasing pack, as both Michele Nerbi and Alex Turato engaged in a lively battle for the final podium places. Further down the field, many of the 45 drivers managed to stay out of trouble despite what appeared to be a rather ambitious attempt at taking Stowe five wide on the opening lap.. thankfully everyone managed to stay clear of trouble, and the drivers quickly settled into a rhythm as they jockeyed for racing room and track position.
With Sahraoui initially looking likely to check out up front, the chasing pack of Porsches appeared to warm their tyres slightly quicker than the larger and more compliant Bentley, with Michele Nerbi rapidly closing down the early race leader and looking keen to find a way past the #138 Bentley.
(image credit: James Magill)
Keeping a cool head and placing his car in exactly the right place at the right time, Sahraoui proved more than equal to the task of defending his race lead, gradually easing ahead by a tenth here and a tenth there, before taking significant time out of the rest of the field as they began the nerve wracking task of lapping traffic later in the race.
Sadly for the Lamborghini runners, the Italian brand had a difficult weekend at Silverstone, with none of the five drivers ever looking remotely like troubling the top 20 all race, and finding themselves involved in incidents (often with each other) at the rear of the field.
With the front three drivers pretty much locked in after the opening exchanges, attention would soon turn to what was a fierce fight for sixth position between Arnaud Lacombe and Tim Jarschel in the Virtualdrivers by TX3 and EURONICS Gaming Audi R8 LMS Evo machines, with both drivers producing a gratifying display of skill and awareness as they fought tooth and nail for the same piece of tarmac. Lacombe would have to draw on all of his experience to keep the quick German behind him, with much of the action centred around Vale as the two drivers showed precision driving to pass and re-pass at the difficult section of track.
SRO E-Sport GT Series 2019 Silver driver Gianfranco Giglioli would have a quiet race as he came home an uneventful ninth, the Italian lacking some of the outright pace we have seen last season, eventually failing to overcome the Paolo Muià Team Racing oN3 McLaren 720s as he picked up a useful couple of points from this opening encounter.
In the final points paying places would be Maxime Batifoulier in the second Virtualdrivers by TX3 Audi R8, the 26-year-old Frenchman having enjoyed a tight battle with his Russian Porsche rival Egor Ogorodnikov, eventually classifying just over a second clear of the previously delayed LADA Sport ROSNEFT eRacing Team star.
Early front runner Daniel Savini would have a torrid opening event in the Rebel Racing Team Porsche, the 22-year-old Italian showed impressive pace in qualifying to line up in the midst of the Porsche contingent in fourth, however things would quickly unravel for the driver as he became involved in an awkward incident with Cesare Penco, running out of track once again at the Vale section and collecting his Porsche rival and earning a drive-through for his troubles.
Sadly things would go from bad to worse for Penco, as the GTWR Racing Team driver would himself pick up a drive through penalty for unsafely rejoining the circuit, collecting an innocent Audi in his haste to get back into the midst of the fight following his accident. The incident and following penalties would relegate Savini to 28th overall, with Penco a further three places in arrears in 31st position.
Unfortunately, the race wouldn’t quite make the fully scheduled 60 minute duration, as sever issues at the event organiser side brought out the red flag with just under 8 minutes left on the clock. Having already completed in excess of 75% race distance, the decision was quickly made to call the final race result, sadly bringing to a close several potentially interesting battles developing as the race entered its final few minutes.
With some great racing, and incredible pace at the front and plenty of close fights, the SRO E-Sport GT Series AM Championship has very quickly proven itself to be right at the very top of the pile when it comes to quality – and in just six days time we will be doing it all over again at the legendary Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium – stay tuned to the RaceDepartment Twitch channel for all the action, and the chance to win some amazing prizes for both drivers and viewers alike!
Thanks to our incredible broadcast sponsors for this race, we are proud to have the opportunity to reward both our viewers and drivers during the course of the season ahead.
During the opening round at Silverstone on Saturday, Twitch user @Mike nolan 1985 won the viewer competition and earned himself an epic 35″ widescreen gaming monitor from Benq, while it was Nizar Sahraoui who came good in the driver competition, taking home the beautiful GT Omega ART racing cockpit and seat! Congratulations to both Mike and Nizar on their wins! For those of you who missed out this time, don’t forget we have plenty more chances to win incredible prizes during each of the upcoming broadcasts – so don’t forget to follow RaceDepartment on Twitch, tune in for Round 2 from Spa on May 23rd, and enjoy some classic esport racing action!
SRO E-Sport GT Series AM Championship: Round One Results
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