Jordan Pepper took a comfortable victory in the first round of the SRO E-Sport GT Series Pro class to give K-Pax Racing and Bentley first honours in the new virtual championship.
The Bathurst 12 Hour winner started in the top five after a strong qualifying session in sunny conditions at the British circuit but was initially powerless to stop Teo Martin McLaren driver Fabrizio Crestani and 2Seas Motorsport’s Ben Barnicoat from powering clear of the 49-strong chasing pack and taking the first two places, with Pepper settling for third.
That’s how the top three stayed for the first ten minutes of the one-hour race, until an off-camera tangle between the 720Ss of Barnicoat and Crestani took them both out of the lead. Barnicoat fell from the lead to 8th, while Crestani recovered to 15th – ultimately finishing 18th.
Their misfortune promoted Pepper up to first and Porsche racer Louis Deletraz into second with Mercedes-AMG GT3 driver Raffaele Marciello pushed into third. Even then, that order didn’t last too long as Formula 2 racer Deletraz was deemed to have played a part in Barnicoat and Crestani’s crash as both he and Crestani were given drive-through penalties which dropped them to the lower reaches of the top 20.
Losing his closest rival gave Pepper the breathing space to calmly pull away from the squabbling bunch behind, which was being led by young karting star Luigi Di Lorenzo in a Modena Kart ASD Aston Martin Vantage GT3.
Di Lorenzo held second for a while, but as the race reached its final quarter he found himself under pressure from Barnicoat, who powered his way back up the top ten and was challenging for the podium. First, he made a textbook move up the inside of Marciello at Brooklands – having a slight tyre advantage over the Italian – and quickly put the Aston Martin driver under pressure.
Barnicoat’s move for second was another classic bit of Silverstone overtaking as he carried more speed through Stowe and moved to the inside at the following Vale corner, before getting a better launch down the Wing Pit Straight to pull clear of Di Lorenzo.
Despite carrying on his rapid pace, the McLaren factory driver couldn’t catch up with Pepper – who was able to take care of fuel and tyres at the front – and finished second to the South African, more than seven seconds behind.
Marciello took third on-track but a two-second post-race penalty for tapping Di Lorenzo off-track at Vale pushed him back behind his countryman and into fourth. However a post race appeal was upheld and the penalty was rescinded handing P3 back to Marciello.
Fifth went to David Perel, who finished just ahead of former British GT champion Seb Morris in a Bentley Team M-Sport Continental. Indeed Morris was involved in a captivating mid-race battle with 2009 Formula One champion Jenson Button – in one of his own Jenson Team Rocket RJN McLarens – and Audi driver Arthur Rougier. The trio were battling fiercely over sixth, seventh and eighth but the battle came apart after contact between Button and Rougier sent them spinning off track.
While Rougier could recover ultimately to 10th at the flag, Button was forced to pit to fix damage and finished outside the top 30. The benefit of that contact went to Perel – who went from ninth to fifth, and held off a late charge from Morris.
Phoenix Racing’s Ivan Pareras took seventh for Audi after a relatively quiet race for the Spaniard. Alex Buncombe took 8th having pushed up from the lower end of the top 20 with a series of solid overtakes in his Bentley. He held on from a recovering Deletraz who himself pulled off a number of decent moves in his GP Extreme Porsche 911 GT3.R to take ninth.
Elsewhere, the F1 field wasn’t just represented by Button as Ferrari star Charles Leclerc finished 21st on his GT debut after a drive-through penalty for second lap contact – and then being spun by R-Motorsport’s Luca Ghiotto – cost him a number of positions.
The next round of the SRO E-Sport Championship will be at Spa on May 10.
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