Thursday, July 18, 2024

New York Gran Turismo World Tour Championship concludes amidst controversy

Contention for ultimate victory ran red hot as Mercedes Benz wins the Manufacturers Cup and Igor Fraga cinches the Nations Cup.

It was previously mentioned that tires were not going to be the only thing heating up this past weekend. No one expected a raging inferno however as the climactic finish to a nail-biter of a championship caused sparks to fly. On and off the virtual track.

Gran Turismo’s World Tour Championships hits the apex in North America this weekend https://lostsummerdayz.com/2019/08/24/gran-turismos-world-tour-championships-hits-the/

Day 1 of the New York Gran Turismo World Tour, held in the Playstation Theater, hosted the Manufacturer Series. In this championship, drivers team up as they each represent a specific car manufacturer. Manufacturer’s like Hyundai, BMW, Toyota, Lexus, and Porsche were all represented. It was Subaru who would be the team to lead the pack as they qualified first for pole position.

The first race of the day was held at the Infield Circuit of the Blue Moon Bay Speedway. With the Infield Circuit known for its speedy yet tricky corners, the margin for error was slim. In this race and all of the other races during the Manufacturer’s Cup, all of the drivers were close enough to the point where the distance between the first and last place position was only a few meters.

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As quickly as Subaru set the pace with its qualifying laps, Subaru was sent down to the depths of the grid as the battle for first place concluded with Toyota on top, Porsche in second, and BMW in third respectively.

The second race was held at Maggiore, another fictional course made for Gran Turismo Sport. A more technical course, battles among the drivers were commonplace across the grid. At the end of the scuffle, Team Aston Martin won the second race with Mercedes Benz in second. Once again, BMW hung by a thread in third.

Shifting the scene from fictional to real world circuits, the semi-final was held at the Fuji International Speedway. A notoriously high speed circuit, cars designed for top speed showed off their power to great lengths. The two manufacturers that stood out the most were Aston Martin and Mercedes Benz. While they scuffled in previous races, it was this race that marked the beginning of the rivalry between the two racing teams. Mercedes and Aston Martin dueled to the very end as Aston Martin was sent to third position, with Lexus creeping up into second. Mercedes proved to be the victor this time around.

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The final and arguably most crucial race of the series was held in Brazil’s own Interlagos Circuit. With the iconic “Senna S” downhill series of corners, Interlagos is a short yet twisty circuit with consistent elevation changes. In this race, each team had to cycle through all three of their drivers via all three tire compounds. Placements matter more in this race than any other race prior as positions were granted double points. Thus, podium finishes can almost be cinched with a single race.

The requirement of tire compounds layered in a bit of strategy for the drivers. Tires can come in soft, medium, and hard. Ideally the softer the tires, the quicker they are prone to heating up. The faster the tires heat up, the more they grip to the road, which allows the driver to take turns quicker as their car is glued to the road. However, they are also prone to wearing out at a faster rate, which will cause the car to have an opposite effect. Hard tires are the inverse of this. They take a while to heat up which equates to less starting grip. The longer the race continues, however, the longer they are able to sustain the heat.

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In short, soft tires provide excellent starting grip at the cost of a faster loss of grip overtime. Hard tires are the slowest to burn, but provide long lasting grip the more they are used. Medium tires are in between. There is no right or wrong way to decide which tire compound is the best to start and end with. It all depends on the driver, what they are comfortable with, and what combination the other drivers will potentially use.

Due to the nature of the final race, intense battles transpired across the grid. Once again, Mercedes and Aston Martin engaged in battle as a lurking BMW approached. In the middle of the grid, Toyota, Hyundai, and Lexus were among the many manufacturers vying for those last chance positions. Mercedes and Aston Martin, even in the midst of the chaos behind them, fought to the death. When Mercedes trailed behind Aston Martin, Aston Martin drove as defensively as possible to ensure Mercedes was at a disadvantage. The same could be said when Mercedes fought back. Through usage of blocking and slipstreaming, the fate of the cup rest in the final laps of the final race.

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Ultimately, Team Mercedes was triumphant in the war as they would go on to win the final race and the Manufacturers Cup in New York. Aston Martin would take a close second. Lexus cinched third place by the skin of their teeth despite tying for points with BMW as they placed higher in the third race in comparison.

While the first day placed an emphasis on teamwork, the second day was every driver for themselves as the Nations Cup went underway. In the span of twenty-four hours, former teammates turn into fierce rivals. The drivers not only raced for glory, but also for a chance to secure a guaranteed spot at the Gran Turismo World Tour finals in Monaco in November.

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Gran Turismo fans lining up to play on GT Sport setups.

If every position mattered in the team Manufacturers Tournament, then every position in the Nations Cup was a life or death scenario. With the top 24 drivers in the Nations Cup, each of the two starting races is split between two twelve-person grids. The top four racers in each grid will move on to the Grand Final. Those who placed 11th and 12th are eliminated by default. Those who placed 5th to 10th in both races will battle it out in a last chance repechage race. Whoever places 1st to 4th in that race will round out the twelve man grid for the Final race in the tournament.

The first race of the second day kicked off in the Big Willow circuit of the Willow Springs International Speedway in California. Mastery of the elevation changes was crucial to the success of the drivers, especially in the high speed EF7 cars. German driver Mikal Hizal immediately made a statement in the lead of the pack, with Australia’s Latkovski, Japan’s Miyazono, and Spain’s Lopez rounding out the top four.

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Round 2 slowed things down a tad bit as we go to the other side of the world in Japan’s Autopolis International Racing Course. With the slower “Group B classification” cars and a technical circuit, dogfights were one in many. Igor Fraga, last year’s World Tour Finals winner, maintained an early lead as the fight for the remaining qualifying positions grew intense until the last lap. Ultimately, Chile’s Rubilar, France’s Derroucihe, and Japan’s Kokubun would join Brazil’s Fraga in the final race.

With the top eight racers decided and seeded, the remaining drivers were left in a do-or-die all-or-nothing repechage race. Returning to the Blue Moon Bay Speedway, the course configuration was on the oval circuit.  With the cars all Super Formula tier Toyotas, this high speed course paired with high speed cars plus twelve hungry drivers served as a recipe for an all-out brawl.

As the lead constantly shifted with the distance between the first and last position almost nonexistent, it was impossible to determine who would be a clear winner. At one point, one driver was in the lead for half a lap only to drop down close to last place. In the end, it would be Rodriguez, Brooks, Wong, and the sole American-crowd-favorite Solis to round out the final 12.

The Final was a commemorative race as it was the first time in Gran Turismo Sport’s lifespan that the Spa Circuit was introduced. The iconic Spa Circuit is a fan favorite Belgium race track for motorsports fans. While it has only been a part of Gran Turismo since 5 as downloadable content, fans of Gran Turismo waited with bated breath for its inclusion in Sport. After all, what’s a game based around the racing eSport without having such a circuit that is world renown? A lot of it stemmed from licensing, yet with teasing from Gran Turismo’s official twitter a few days before the World Tour event, news was imminent. What better way to show off such a course than with twelve of the best drivers in a winner take all scenario?

Much like the final race in the Manufacturers Cup, each driver must go through a tire compound once during the 25 laps of Spa. With each driver behind the wheel of the conceptualized Red Bull X2019 Competition car, adorned with the livery of their nation’s flag, the final race went underway. Careful maneuverability of a high class car in one of the most notoriously technical circuits in the world was paramount in one’s success, and Fraga pulled ahead of the pack for most of the race.

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Perhaps one of the biggest underdogs of the race was Miyazono, who started the race in hard compound tires. Immediately after the first lap, he swapped to medium compound tires. This was a peculiar strategy but it was understood. Going back to how hard tires are “slower” than soft and medium tires, his strategy was to fulfil the requirement of running hard tires once. After he completed a lap, he switched to medium compound for the majority of the race.

With this strategy, suddenly he was in contention to overtake Fraga who, up until the midsection of the race, had no competition. After Miyazono switched to soft tires, thus fulfilling his last required pit stop, he went from almost dead last to leading the charge. This persisted for several laps tragedy struck. It was revealed through the radios that Miyazono was running low on fuel which would mean he would have to make an emergency pit. This, of course, took him not only out of first place but also out of contention, thus costing him the race banking on a bold strategy.

For the remainder of the race, Hizal, who was the winner of the first race, and Fraga, the victor of the second, dueled for first place. The trophy and the coveted placement for the Monaco spot was within anyone’s reach.

That was, until a high controversial play by Fraga cemented his victory.

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With less than ten laps remaining and the looming threat of Hizal taking away Fraga’s lead, especially with Hizal on the better tire compound, Fraga utilized quick yet dirty thinking to maintain his lead. Knowing that Hizal was a few corners away from taking the lead, Fraga deliberately blocks Hizal at one of the pivotal corners of the map. This forced Hizal to take a rather awkward line, yet it was enough to give him the momentary lead.

A play by play of the controversial move can be seen here.

However, giving Hizal the lead was planned as due to Fraga’s brake check, Hizal emerged from the corner in a less than stellar angle at a sub-optimal speed. This was enough for Fraga to use Hizal’s slipstream to slingshot past Hizal on the lead straightaway.

What made this tactic controversial, as expressed by the commentators, was the sudden braking that threw his competitor off guard. Luckily Hizal was able to adjust, however, it fell right into Fraga’s hands. Hizal would be out of contention after this as he was forced to preserve his fuel due to the harsh braking point he was forced into.

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Needless to say, while Fraga was victorious, Hizal was not happy. After an official ruling, Fraga was penalized five seconds for said dirty play. It wouldn’t matter as Fraga would still win the Cup as the penalty was more a “warning” or a “slap on the wrist.”

For more information on the logistics behind the controversial play, the result, and Hizal’s unleaded anger through it all, the post-race interview goes into more detail on what went through each driver’s head as it happened. Perhaps a blessing in disguise, third place winner Lopez, who sat in between both Hizal and Fraga to separate them, provided his light hearted thoughts in the midst of a volcanic eruption.

Despite the sour finish, or rather because of the finish, the Gran Turismo World Tour weekend in New York exhibited the racing sport in all of its glory. The glory of triumph, the glory of well thought out strategies, the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat. Sometimes the most entertaining races stem from rivalries on the track, whether it be a virtual one or a real one. When the stakes are high and a well played match can crumble down in the blink of an eye, these are the stories that are best written themselves.