The FIA Certified Gran Turismo Championships enjoyed an exciting start to the 2020 Series with a World Tour event staged in Sydney, Australia. A strong field of 24 Gran Turismo racers represented 14 countries, but with the absence of both former Nations Cup Champions there were no clear favorites.
Two Semi-finals narrowed the field to 12 racers taking part in the Grand Final run around the popular Gran Turismo Dragon Trail Seaside circuit in the bespoke-liveried Red Bull X2019 Competition cars. After thirty thrilling laps only 0.03 seconds could separate Japanese driver Takuma Miyazono from home-favorite Cody Nikola Latkovski. Hong Kong China’s Jonathan Wong completed the podium – the pole-sitter unable to match his one-lap pace for the entire race distance.
World Tour Sydney took place in front of an enthusiastic 600-strong live audience in the Big Top, Luna Park, just across the bay from the famous Opera House. The World Tour win guarantees Miyazono-san a place in the World Finals later in the year as well as three points that carry into the World Finals point table.
“I was expecting a truly epic day of racing today, as the entire field are competitors who possess the highest levels of skill and race knowledge and I was not disappointed. It was an exciting moment as well as our 2018 Champion, Igor Fraga, set the tone of the day for us by winning the Castrol Toyota Racing Series in nearby New Zealand. The air here in our Luna Park venue was electric,” Gran Turismo creator Kazunori Yamauchi said.
The first race of the day was held at Kyoto Driving Park – Yamagiwa, a fast 15-corner track located in rural Japan. Strapped into the Amemiya Mazda FD3S RX-7, the drivers were required to use every compound tire (soft, medium, hard) during their 13-lap sprint. Sitting on pole was Takuma Miyazono of Japan, followed by the UK’s Adam Suswillo and Baptiste Beauvois of France. Miyazono and Suswillo started the race on soft-compound tires, while those in P3 through P6 chose the mediums.
Once the green flag dropped, the two race leaders sped off, trying to build as much of a lead while on the soft-compound Michelins. At the end of the first lap, as predicted, the cars on the hard-compound tires dove into the pits, while Miyazono and Suswillo broke away from the pack. By Lap 4, they opened up a 3-second lead over the rest of the field.
Making a big move during the opening laps of the race was Fabian Portilla of Chile who, because of visa issues, arrived Saturday morning, missing the qualifying session. Starting from 12th, he picked off three drivers, moving quickly to 8th place. As the rotary-powered sports cars reached 240 km/h on the straights, the action heated up on Lap 5 when P3 to P5—Beauvois, Salvatore Maraglino of Italy, and Coque López of Spain—all pitted, switching their medium-compound Michelins for the hard stuff, saving their soft tires for a sprint to the finish.
Meanwhile Portilla rose to 5th…not bad for a guy suffering from jet lag. The next lap saw the race leaders, Miyazono and Suswillo make their mandatory stops, going to the medium tires and leaving the slowest hard-compound rubber for the end of the race. The question was could they build up a large enough lead to hold off the competition?
While Miyazono was able to return to the track with the lead, Suswillo came out behind Canada’s Mark Pinnell, who had yet to pit. Not wanting to allow Miyazono to get away, the Brit got a bit too aggressive trying to get around Pinnell and bumped him hard. This resulted in a 1-second penalty, dropping the Brit all the way down to 5th place, giving Miyazono a comfortable 10.5-sec cushion over the rest of the field.
When Miyazono pitted on Lap 11, his final pit stop, Beauvois had been putting in lightning-fast lap times on the soft-compound tires. In fact, he was so quick that when Miyazono came out of the pits, he found himself behind the Frenchman, with no real chance of catching him. In fact, the other Frenchman, Rayan Derrouiche was now all over Miyazono, trying to wrest away 2nd place. In the end, it was Beauvois who crossed the finish line first, followed by Miyazono, Derrouiche, Maraglino, and López, while Suswillo squeaked into the finals with a 6th-place finish.
The second Qualifying race of the day was held at the historic Brands Hatch Grand Prix Course in Great Britain. Appropriately, the designated race car was the Aston Martin DBR9, in which the drivers were required to complete 17 laps, using all three compound tires. On pole for this race was Hong Kong’s Jonathan Wong, who was the fastest driver in general qualifying. Behind him was hometown favorite Cody Nikola Latkovski, followed by Rick Kevelham of the Netherlands and American Daniel Solis.
After a clean start, Latkovski, who started the race on medium-compound Michelins, was immediately under pressure from Kevelham who ran on the softs. With the Australian holding up the rest of the pack, Wong was able to open up a gap of 2-seconds by the second lap.
Lap 3 saw some exciting passing action as Japan’s Tatsuya Sugawara took his 12-cylinder racecar past Kevelham and Latkovski to take over 2nd place. Meanwhile, fan favorite and winner of the previous day’s Manufacture Series races, Nico Rubilar of Chile, was assessed a massive 5.0-second penalty for ignoring the pit-lane lines, dropping him out of the race and the competition.
Lap 5 saw Kevelham finally get around Latkovski to take 3rd, but by this time, Wong had built his lead up to 4.0-seconds. On Lap 8, Wong and Sugawara, the race leaders, made their first pitstops, both going to medium-compound tires, while Latkovski and Hungary’s Patrik Blazsan went to the hard rubber, saving the fastest soft-compound Michelins for the end of the race.
On Lap 10, Solis, on soft-compound tires, made a daring pass through Turn 6 to take away 3rd place from Kevelham and then passed 2nd-place Sugawara on the following lap; however, by this time Wong was long gone, having built up a 7.0-second lead.
When the many of the race leaders pitted, Latkovski found himself in 2nd place on the final lap—his pit strategy worked well, but it wasn’t enough to take the race from Wong. But the story here was the duel between Benjamin Bader (Hungary) and hometown hero Matthew Simmons vying for that all-important 6th place that would take one of them to the Grand Final.
In the end and to the delight of the crowd, it was the Simmons who came through. With a near-flawless drive, Wong took the checkered flag, followed by Latkovski, Blazsan, Solis and Sugawara. The stage was now set for the climax of the weekend, the Grand Final.
Cody Nikola LatkovskiNik_Makozi
It was the moment the hundreds in attendance at Luna Park, as well as hundreds of thousands of viewers around the world, had been waiting for: the Grand Final of the first Nations Cup. The venue was 30 laps around the tricky Dragon Trail Seaside track in the super-fast Red Bull X2019 Competition, a virtual race car without any restrictions whatsoever.
Jonathan Wong sat on pole and was clearly the favorite. Joining him on the front row was Baptiste Beauvois. Cody Nikola Latkovski started in P3 and Takuma Miyazono, the only one in the top 10 to start the race on hard-compound tires, in P4.
After a clean start, Latkovski made everyone aware that he meant business by overtaking Beauvois through Turn 4, and although Miyazono made his way to 3rd place, he dove into the pits at the end of Lap 1 to get off of the hard compound tires. Was this wise, as he was running near the top of the pack? Time would tell. Meanwhile, Daniel Solis made his way from P7 to 4th place and Rayan Derrouiche worked his way up to 3rd from 6th place.
Wong and Latkovski were absolutely flying, opening up a 3-second lead by Lap 3 and stretched that to 7 seconds by Lap 5. Then, Miyazono, who was running in 9th, shocked everyone when he dove into the pits on Lap 8 to take on the soft-compound tires, after running only seven laps on the mediums. He had another good three to four laps left on the tires, and there was no way the soft-compound tires would last to the end of the race, making people wonder if he was employing a three-stop strategy. The move dropped his position to among the last spots in the running order.
The other Japanese driver, Tatsuya Sugawara, followed a more traditional strategy and had worked his way up from 12th to 5th. At the halfway point of the race, Latkovski led the field, followed by Wong, Patrik Blazsán, and Salvatore Maraglino, who all had yet to pit. But further back in the field, Miyazono was quietly charging hard, throwing down lap times that were 2 seconds faster than anyone else. With the Red Bull X2019 race cars reaching 300 km/h on the straights, Latkovski finally came in at the end of Lap 15, going to the hard-compound tires, which he would swap for mediums in a pit stop the following lap. Blazsán, Maraglino, and Sugawara chose the same strategy, while Wong surprisingly took on the soft-compound tires, hoping to build up an insurmountable lead before he had to take on the harder, slower rubber.
Lap 17 saw Latkovski and Sugawara switch to the soft tires for a fast, hard run to the end of the race. And by Lap 18, Miyazono, in a display of remarkable driving, inconceivably took the overall lead, but he had to make one more stop.
He found himself with an 11-second lead after Beauvois pitted, but would it be enough to hold off the hard-charging Latkovski after another pit stop? We soon found out as Miyazono dove into the pits for another tire change (softs again) and fuel. When he came out, he ran in 8th place, meaning he had 12 laps to work his way up the field. In two crazy-fast laps, he moved up four positions to 4th place. There were doubters, but some were wondering if he could actually pull this off.
With ten laps to go, the running order was Wong, Solis, Latkovski, and Miyazono. This changed the following lap when Wong and Solis made their last pit stops. With those two virtually eliminated from contention, it was now a three-horse race to the finish, with Latkovski leading Blazsán and Miyazono. It was clear that Latkovski’s soft tires were beginning to wear as the Japanese and Hungarian drivers closed in on the Australian with every lap – creating huge drama with a crowd full of Aussies. How the race would end was still anyone’s guess.
Then, on Lap 26, the unthinkable happened when Blazsán lost control of his car and went off, dropping him to the latter half of the grid. It was a total driver error caused by his eagerness to pass Miyazono, but that’s what we love about the Hungarian driver: it was all or nothing for him. Now, it was a two-car race, as Miyazono was riding Latkovski’s rear bumper through every turn. The Japanese driver made his move on Lap 29, Miyazono finally overtaking the Australian through Turn 2, but Latkovski was far from throwing in the towel. In a display of amazing speed, he not only hung with Miyazono, he looked to pass him, making a last-ditch move on the final corner of the track (and the race). They came side by side towards the finish line and seemed as if they had crossed the line together.
It was a classic photo finish, with Miyazono taking the race by a mere 0.03 seconds! The victory marked the first ever win for the always-fast and consistent Japanese driver who reinforced his reputation as a master strategist, while Latkovski suffered another heart-breaking 2nd place finish. Joining the two on the podium was Wong.
Miyazono said after the race: “It was a long time coming, but I am so happy right now. It’s the happiest moment in my life. I knew I could win if I just drove my race, so that belief kept me from panicking or getting nervous, even with Cody really pushing me hard. Coming into this race, I considered Cody my main rival, and although I’m happy I won, I feel a bit bad for the Australian fans who were rooting for him today. But this will always be a special place for me, and I’d like to thank everyone here for their support.”