All the Grand Prix Virtual World Championship’s series concluded for 2020 last week, and for the top tier that meant a lot of controversy regarding how it ended and who won the drivers’ championship.
The 16 race Superleague season went down to the wire as only two points separated the top two drivers heading into the finale.
While a GPVWC title may be less prestigious than some other simracing accolades, drivers put a year-long commitment into their season and it can launch participants towards bigger things – for instance, inaugural World’s Fastest Gamer winner Rudy van Buren won the Superleague drivers’ championship in 2017.
This season the title was between Evolution Motorsports’ Jannick Bock and Edonis Engineering’s Adam Maguire.
Ahead of the decider, defending champion Bock led the standings by two points over Maguire, with the Irishman returning to simracing this year after a nearly two-year-long break.
In qualifying for the final round, which took place at the Interlagos circuit, Maguire took pole position with his title rival Bock in third place.
However, what was poised to be a closely fought championship-deciding race soon turned into something far uglier.
On the fourth lap, Maguire’s team-mate Liam de Waal went for a late dive on Bock at the tight Bico de Pato corner on the infield, which ended with him hitting Bock and spinning him around.
Upon rejoining the track Bock pulled out in front of another car which took off his front wing and effectively ended any chance of him winning the race or championship.
Naturally, the teammate of one championship challenging team taking out the other contender does raise some questions over if the contact was deliberate, something which Maguire denies.
“Of course it was a mistake,” Maguire told The Race. “I think Liam went for a gap probably knowing Jannick Bock was driving extra careful, but he closed it quite quickly.
“Liam did come from a long way back and was alongside but it’s really up to the race stewards – I doubt it’s much good for Liam though.
“It was a really poor moment in our call, I even questioned waiting for Jannick until I heard he had a bad rejoin and lost his wing.”
From that point, the race became a grudge match between Evolution and Edonis, with the battle for the race win happening cleanly and silently up at the front.
Maguire was firmly in connection to win the final race of the season, until Bock’s team-mate Dennis Jordan took it upon himself to rescue his team-mate’s championship chances.
During the pit stop phase, Jordan fitted soft tyres while those around him went for harder compounds, allowing Jordan to catch up and overtake Maguire.
From there he slowed and held up Maguire by dropping his pace and aggressively defending his position whenever Maguire went to pass him.
Jordan let other drivers who were behind him through unchallenged, with the intention being to let Bock catch back up to Maguire.
The race ended with Maguire in 11th and Bock 14th, and with the top 15 scoring that meant Maguire took the title by one point.
Despite ending the season victorious, Maguire was still far from pleased about how the final race played out.
“Honestly I am beyond embarrassed about the racing in Brazil, a possible Edonis 1-2 finish absolutely ruined by Dennis Jordan blocking me about two to three seconds a lap,” he said.
“I have lost all respect for Dennis Jordan since this situation and it’s a real shame he conducted himself like this.
“Me and Jannick Bock were both innocent in all this, which is the most frustrating part as we couldn’t truly fight for the championship on track.
“Dennis cutting chicanes to stay ahead of me, hitting me on re-entry, brake testing me on the straight – this is not racing and I couldn’t even enjoy winning the title as a result.”
Ultimately Maguire found his way back through when his team-mate de Waal pitted for a second scheduled stop, but then dropped back and sacrificed his own race to help Maguire out.
Jordan went to the outside on entry to the first corner, with de Waal going to the inside of him and Maguire hugged the apex of the corner to go up the inside and pass both of them.
To keep ahead of the pair Jordan cut across the Senna ‘S’ section but gave up fighting and dropped behind them shortly afterwards.
By the standards of any real-world racing series and most serious simracing championships, these actions wouldn’t be tolerated at all, but Jordan claims he was operating within GPVWC’s rules.
“No one knows how the race would have gone if it would not have been for the early incident, but it’s not a secret that Jannick would have had at least a slightly better chance to win it,” Jordan told The Race.
“Was it unfair? I think in most competitions it would have been easy to agree on that, but you do need to accept each competition’s way of dealing with these things.
“I think in this case, it was in line with that, so it’s hard to call it unfair based on that.”
“From slowing down a lot in pace, questionable divebombs, not accelerating out of corners, to cutting a corner when even slightly forced to do so, all of these things were previously deemed legal by the GPVWC Disciplinary Committee when practised by other teams.
“Should it be like that? Definitely not, but it is an issue that comes from higher levels.
“There was nothing else to gain for me in the race, nor championship. I could have either parked the car or try to help him, so it was a simple decision.”
GPVWC’s incident review system is entirely driver dictated, as the stewards only investigate what the drivers formally bring to their attention.
Unlike in real-world motorsports, having acting race stewards to make on the fly decisions and give drivers penalties mid-race in esports often isn’t done and that’s assuming the game in question even has the facility to do that.
Instead, most esports competitions and sim racing leagues opt to award penalties after the end of each race, with GPVWC, in particular, carrying penalties over to the following round.
Drivers across multiple platforms have recently been calling for live stewarding in races, something which Maguire believes would help prevent what happened in Brazil from occurring again.
“When it gets dangerous and erratic driving comes into play drivers need to be shown a warning or possible penalties during the race,” Maguire said.
“So maybe a live stewards system? Black and white flags etc.
“I hope it won’t happen again in the future, can be said it was a good 15 rounds, nothing like this has happened all season so let’s hope it was a one-off.”
In a bid to ensure consistently clean and fair racing GPVWC has firmed up its rules and applied them more harshly than it did in previous seasons.
Despite that, the actions of some of the drivers do expose areas of the regulations where they can be exploited.
In light of how the Superleague season ended, GPVWC is looking into how it can improve its rules to prevent overly aggressive driving and questionable tactics from deciding a championship battle.
“At GPVWC SimRacing, we take the quality and cleanliness of our racing very seriously and we do not tolerate any on- or off-track behaviour that affects it negatively,” Will Ponissi, managing director of GPVWC, told The Race.
“As always, we will carefully review all the incidents from this race and apply any necessary penalties to those who broke the rules.
“Our regulations themselves are constantly under review: we not only have rules about on-track incidents but also about gamesmanship and we will not be afraid to strengthen them if necessary.”