9 October 2023
Naujoks Victorious in chaotic Barcelona season finale but Harteveld and Ferrari claim SRO Esports SIM Pro Series Powered by RAFA Racing Club title
Nils Naujoks and BMW claimed an emphatic victory at Barcelona in the fifth and final SRO Esports SIM Pro Series Powered by RAFA Racing event, but it was Chris Harteveld and the Scuderia Ferrari Esports Team who clinched the inaugural championship title in a dramatic season finale.
While Naujoks and BMW M Team BS+COMPETITION secured a lights-to-flag triumph from pole position inside the Fanatec Arena, Harteveld took advantage when an incident-strewn opening lap eliminated the two title contenders ahead of him – Unicorns of Love Racing’s Tobias Gronewald and his nearest rival David Tonizza.
An intense Qualifying session in the build-up to the one-hour race at the Circuit de Catalunya ended with the top four cars covered by less than a tenth of a second, as Nils Naujoks planted his M4 GT3 on pole position by the narrowest of margins from Harteveld – just 0.020s separating the pair.
Championshp leader Gronewald could only muster 10th on the grid for the Unicorns of Love Mercedes AMG Esports squad, and had work to do along with his closest title contender Tonizza, the latter lining up fifth in his Lamborghini Huracan as he aimed to trim the seven-point deficit in the championship fight.
An incident-strewn opening lap threw the title battle wide open however. While Naujoks and Harteveld held on at the head of the field despite the Ferrari 296 GT3 driver taking to the escape road at Turn One after slight contact from behind, chaos broke out in their mirrors as the sister Ferrari of Jordan Sherratt nudged Tonizza into the Mercedes of Williams Esports driver Dáire McCormack entering Turn Five.
Both McCormack and Tonizza spun in the pack, sparking carnage as others piled into the accident. Among those, more dramatically, was the championship-leading Mercedes of Gronewald, which was spat off the road and into retirement along with his closest rival Tonizza, throwing the title open to the main spoilers nipping at their heels.
This opened the opportunity for second-placed Harteveld to take the advantage, and he locked his Ferrari to the rear bumper of the leading BMW of Naujoks in the first half of the race with team-mate Sherratt hanging on. The Ferrari squad were not out of trouble however as Sherratt would be handed a drive-through penalty for his part in the first lap incident, while Harteveld received a scare in the early phase of the race after earning a five-second time penalty for track limits.
The speed of the top two was relentless however, Naujoks upping the pace to extend his margain after the mandatory pit stops to a comfortable 14 seconds to put his rivals well out of reach, and confirm a brilliant victory for the BMW squad in Spain.
Harteveld kept the Ferrari’s nose clean behind though to be sure of his and the Scuderia Esports team’s destiny, taking the chequered flag in second place to clinch the SRO Esports SIM Pro Series Powered by RAFA Racing championship title – having entered the final event in fourth in the points. Second in the standings would be BMW M Team BS+COMPETITION thanks to the heroics of Naujoks, third going to the recovering McCormick who enjoyed a spirited recovery drive.
The fight to hang onto second in the race was tense until the flag finally fell, as the VS Racing by Ballas Lamborghini of Dario Iemmulo became glued to the back of Harteveld’s car in the closing minutes. He would not be able to usurp his opponent but grabbed a popular podium finish in third, while an inspired drive from Ar Muhammad Aleef warranteed fourth place for Flash Axle Sports ahead of Maciej Malinowski’s McLaren 720S.
Ferrari driver Aleef started a lowly 20th position but showed impressive pace throughout the race after climbing 11 places on the opening two laps, later pulling off some bold overtaking efforts to move into the top five. A dive inside Luca Losio’s Automobili Lamborghini at the first corner confirmed fourth place, Losio falling to sixth behind Malinowski while McCormack recovered in style to finish seventh in a titanic fight over the remaining spots inside the top 10.
Kieran Prendergast also shone for the Brabham Esports Powered By O-Rouge outfit, his Ferrari almost disposing of Losio late on. He instead got eased out at Turn Three and finished eighth, the top 10 rounded out by Vojtech Fiala – on his first outing for Williams Esports – and Kamil Pawlowski in the ITB Sainteloc Racing Audi.