The Mobileye GT World Challenge Europe Esports title will go to the wire next month after a dramatic Assetto Corsa Competizione race tonight at the Hungaroring.
It was clear from qualifying that this race would not follow the same script as the previous three, with Jordan Grant-Smith taking pole position in his Race Anywhere Simsport Porsche.
There was some normality with David Tonizza (Scuderia Ferrari Velas Esports Team) taking second, but championship leader Daire McCormack (Minster Rugby Gaming Bentley) started from a lowly 14th, one spot ahead of reigning champion James Baldwin (Veloce McLaren).
The start of the race was as wild as anything we have seen this season. The poleman made it through cleanly, but there was carnage behind as Tonizza was turned around and sent sliding into Nils Naujoks (BMW Team BS+COMPETITION). Tonizza was hit by several other cars, eliminating him from the race and seriously denting his championship aspirations.
Naujoks was very briefly dead last, but was able to continue without serious damage and then picked his way through another multi-car collision. Moments later there was yet more drama as McCormack's stricken car emerged from the dust, the championship leader's race over after just a few corners.
After this remarkably dramatic start there was relative calm. Out front Grant-Smith led from third-place starter Amir Hosseini (R8G eSports McLaren), who despite suffering from connectivity issues was able to stay within a few tenths of the Porsche.
Behind them Michael Tauscher (Unicorns of Love Porsche) held third, but was under increasing pressure from the BMW of Luca Losio (Mobileye x Jean Alesi Esports Academy)
This battle lasted for 10 minutes and was finally settled when Tauscher made a small mistake at the top of the hill. Losio didn't need asking twice and moved into third spot, but Tauscher was able to defend from the train of cars that had built up behind the BMW.
Arguably the biggest winner from the opening lap drama was Baldwin. Having qualified down the order, the Veloce McLaren driver picked his way through the chaos to emerge unscathed and in seventh position overall after the first lap and with two Silver cars running ahead.
But contending for victory was never on the cards as Grant-Smith and Hosseini made the race their own. Both elected to extend their stint until the final minutes of the pit window, with the Porsche ducking in first.
The decision may have been influenced by the lapped traffic that the leaders were approaching; regardless, it worked to perfection. When Hosseini and Losio stopped a lap later Grant-Smith's lead had increased.
Having maintained track position, the Porsche driver cruised to victory over Hosseini by a little under two seconds. Losio completed the podium, with all three drivers earning by far their best results of the 2022 campaign.
Baldwin was fourth among the Pro runners and banked a big haul of championship points on a disastrous day for his rivals. He passed Tauscher to claim the spot, though the Porsche driver had already been hit with the first of multiple drive-through penalties for track limits offences. Naujoks was also among those to be penalised, spoiling his strong recovery drive.
Kieran Prendergast (Rocket Simsport Honda) bagged Silver victory despite taking second on the road to Robbie Stapleford (BMW G2 Esports). The latter was deemed responsible for starting the lap 1 incident, receiving a 40-second post-race penalty for his involvement. This gave the win to Prendergast, who was followed by Dominik Blajer (TRITON Racing Bentley) and Egor Ogorodnikov (VDES Academy).
The 2022 Mobileye GT World Challenge Europe Esports championship finale will take place at the Monza on 3 August. McCormack still leads the way, but Baldwin has closed to within a few points of the Bentley driver while several others remain in the hunt. A grandstand finish is in store at the legendary Temple of Speed.