Igor Fraga takes victory in the 2022 Toyota Gazoo Racing GT Cup, which raises the curtain on the World Finals.
In each of the past three seasons, Toyota’s success has heralded success at the World Finals itself, with all previous winners winning the Nations Cup, the Manufacturers’ Cup, or both. Thus, Fraga’s victory bodes well for the 2018 Nations and 2019 and 2021 Manufacturers’ Championships this weekend.
But Fraga had to settle for third place in qualifying, behind compatriot Lucas Bonelli and faster player Jose Serrano. This meant Fraga would be placed in the A semi-final behind Serrano and on a tough looking field that included the 2020 triple champion Takuma Miyazono and 2022 Kylian Drumont.
Several drivers, including Drumont, did not set a time due to errors around the High Speed Ring – with the stewards keeping a close eye for anything contact with barriers.
With both drivers required to use the soft and hard tires during the 25-lap race at High Speed RIng, it was surprising to see only two – Fraga and Miyazono – start on the soft option. Despite early interest from Will Murdoch, the two rookies pulled away from the pack.
This was mitigated somewhat by a massive crash on the first lap, where Takuma Sasaki forced the outside barrier into the core and made a throw across the track. That was responsible for Sasaki, Thomas Labotelli, Quentin Jehol and Cyrus Cross in one fell swoop.
Drumont was next to hit the wrong way, as a collision with unlucky Kanata Kawakami in the high-speed banking round collected the Frenchman. Kawakami scored a two-second penalty for the incident.
With the shift between tire grades mid-race, the six-second gap between Fraga, Miyazono, and chasers Giorgio Mangano and Jose Serrano began to close very quickly. It was actually quite fast, as all four cars soon found themselves on the same piece of road.
Had they worked together – with the top four making it to the final – there would have been no problem, but the inevitable happened. Coming into the second round, Serrano and Miyazono combined, sending the former Japanese champion into a spin and earning Serrano a three-second penalty.
This allowed Mangano to escape Faraga, while Kawakami and Murdoch would fight for third and fourth place.
If Semi-Final A was a bit of a mess, then Semi-Final B was a mess.
This time only Rikuto Kobayashi started to play, trying to make up some places from a mediocre start in 11th place. At first the plan worked, as Kobayashi sprinted to the leading duo of Andika Rama Maulana and Lucas Bonelli.
However, the race was decided by a major crash on the third lap, involving half the field. Heading straight into turn two, Robert Hick caught Bonelli’s back, sparking a chain reaction that engulfed the back six and ended the post of hapless Adriano Carza.
Kobayashi hit the lead and eventually broke the draft, but with a mid-race tire change he was a sitting duck. First Beauvois, then Maulana passed the Japanese driver with just over a quarter of the race remaining.
That lifted Dean Heldt and Valerio Gallo onto Kobayashi’s rear wing, and while the three battled against the worn tyres, Heck and Bonelli were back in action again. This led to the second largest accident in the race.
Gallo’s reaction seemed too late to cover the inside of Banks and she grabbed Heldt’s nose. Spinning Nations Cup champion Kobayashi also collected, and an extensive post-race investigation eventually concluded that the Italian was at fault.
With the way clear, Bonelli and Hick were able to finish third and fourth after the early race, behind winner Baptiste Beauvois who put up a controlled race to keep Moulana on the line.
This created a last chance playoff, with drivers finishing fifth and tenth in each of the semi-final races for four final positions. No tire strategies were required, with a sprint with only 12 laps to go in the Super Formula cars for the four positions.
This time the drama didn’t wait until the race started. Heldt jumped the start from second place, while an equipment issue meant Gallo never got off the line – immediately shaking up the order.
Miyazono, who was off to a great start, soon found himself last on the road after an accident in the container section. Laabouteley was next to lap, and bumped into Drumont after aiming for a space that wasn’t there, but only ended up finishing seventh in a seven-car group all interchange places.
Seven became three when Sasaki and Kobayashi collided at the final corner – with help from Labotelli. That allowed Drummont, Marco Busnelli and Heldt to pull clear.
The dramatic last half of the lap saw Sasaki use the push to pass him to pull the front three and, under pressure from behind, Heldt tagged Drummont into the hairpin. Drumon was able to shrug it off to beat the American driver to the end, but it turned out to be academic as the stewards awarded Heldt a one-second penalty.
This moved Sasaki up to second, and Posnelli to third, but Heldt would still qualify in the top four.
The grand finale
After all the tight racing, the final itself was noticeably one-sided. Starting on soft tyres, Fraga hit the lead just before the end of the first lap of the 30-lap Grand Final, and placed on a professional level.
Aided in part by an early penalty for the only other car with soft shocks, Heldt, Fraga built a massive 14-second lead before switching media. Remarkably, that was up to 20 seconds by the time everyone made their first pit stop, and although that was scaled back a bit as Fraga eventually mounted the hard tyres, it was still 14 seconds clear – And no one could walk the roads.
That would be maintained to the finish line – and actually increase again – despite frame imperfections, in one of the most dominant performances we’ve seen in a World Finals event; Drumone would score second, almost 16 seconds down, with Sasaki grabbing the final podium spot on the final lap from Beuvois.
With a Toyota event always producing a World Championship champion in the same year, Fraga’s devastating pace in the final will make him a favorite to win one or both championships next weekend.
See more articles about the Gazoo Racing GT Cup and Gran Turismo World Series.