Bentley's Pepper wins GT Esports opener, Leclerc struggles

Bentley driver Jordan Pepper took victory in the opening SRO GT Series Esports event at a virtual Silverstone, as Ferrari Formula 1 star Charles Leclerc struggled.

A field of 49 professional racing drivers, including 2009 Formula 1 champion Jenson Button and  Leclerc, participated in a one-hour race in the first of five virtual GT rounds.

Fabrizio Crestani took a dominant pole position in a McLaren 720S GT3, with another McLaren driver, Ben Barnicoat joining him on the front row.

Barnicoat, who was representing Button’s team, wrestled the race lead from Crestani into Turn 1 on the opening lap. The duo led a tight three-way fight for the lead with the Bentley of Pepper close behind in third place.

Just 10 minutes into the race, the McLaren pair collided with Crestani being handed a drive-through penalty and Barnicoat falling to eighth place.

This left Pepper with the lead, and the 23-year-old South African racer was able to build a sizeable advantage and take a comfortable race win.

Jordan Pepper

Jordan Pepper

Photo by: K-PAX Racing

Formula 2 driver and Haas F1 test driver Louis Deletraz was promoted to second place, but he tumbled down the order when he was hit with a drive-through penalty for a collision with Crestani. He eventually recovered to finish ninth.

This should have handed Mercedes factory driver Raffaele Marciello second place, but the former Ferrari junior made a minor mistake and allowed Luigi Di Lorenzo (Aston Martin) to claim the position.  

Marciello harried Di Lorenzo for the rest of the race but was then demoted to fourth place at Brooklands by the recovering Barnicoat with just under 10 minutes to go.

Barnicoat’s late-race charged continued as he caught and passed Di Lorenzo at Vale just a couple of laps later to take second place. 

Marciello finally passed di Lorenzo with just a few minutes to go into Vale, but the forceful move earned him a two-second penalty and the positions were swapped. This meant karting graduate Di Lorenzo took third with Marciello fourth ahead of the leading Ferrari of David Perel and M-Sport Bentley’s Seb Morris.

Ferrari F1 ace Leclerc qualified 23rd and had risen to 17th in the opening laps, before he tangled twice with Formula 2 veteran Luca Ghiotto (Aston Martin), once at Stowe and then at Abbey.

Leclerc was judged to be at fault, and he received a drive-through penalty. Leclerc was 21st at the chequered flag.

Ghiotto was another to pick up the same penalty, but for a separate incident later in the race.

Button charged into the top 10 from 14th on the grid, but his race was ruined after a collision at Abbey whilst battling former Renault junior Arthur Rougier (Audi) and Perel. Button was forced to pit  and ended up well down the order.

The next round of the season will take place in two weeks' time at a virtual Spa-Francorchamps circuit.

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