Review: Team UK celebrate first medals at 2022 FIA Motorsport Games
The curtain fell tonight on the 2022 FIA Motorsport Games, drawing to a close an event that yielded Team UK’s first medals and showcased the DNA of Britain’s vibrant motorsport community on the world stage.
The squad of 17 athletes across 10 disciplines touched down in the south of France on Wednesday, attending the opening ceremony at Marseille’s Mucem in the port, before making their way to one of three venues – Circuit Paul Ricard, Rally Saint Baume, or Autocross Veynois – to begin the competition.
Motorsport UK – one of over 70 ASNs to field a team in the FIA’s global celebration of the sport – ended the four-day competition with their first medals, in Esports and GT respectively, placing Team UK fifth in the final medal table.
Here’s a discipline-by-discipline round-up of the action:
Esports: Baldwin makes history with first Team UK Gold
As one of the pre-event favourites, there was always a chance that James Baldwin would be in the reckoning for Saturday evening’s Grand Final.
But the two-time SRO Esports Champion and British GT race winner went further than that, dominating qualifying and his subsequent quarter final to throw down an early marker to the rest of the 60-strong field on Friday.
Brazil’s Igor Rodrigues had been among those likely to challenge Baldwin for top spot, and their much-anticipated meeting on track came even sooner than expected, the pair drawn together on the front row for their semi-final.
25-year-old Baldwin was able to overhaul his rival from second and win, and then weathered race-long pressure from Chris Harteveld of the Netherlands in the main event to bring his McLaren 720S to the winner’s circle in the Final.
That marked a first ever Gold medal at the FIA Motorsport Games for Team UK, and an elated Baldwin was presented with his prize on the podium by 11-time Formula 1 ® Grand Prix winner, Felipe Massa.
“Wow, what a day,” exclaimed Baldwin after stepping from the rostrum. “I’m over the moon to bring back the Gold medal for Team UK at the FIA Motorsport Games.
“It was such an intense final race; I feel knackered now. Assetto Corsa Competizione is my favourite game, so it was really good to race on that. I hope to come back in the future.
“A huge thanks to everybody at Team UK, it’s been a fantastic event and I’ve really felt the support.”
GT: Loggie and Neary battle to the Bronze
Also on the medal-winning trail for Team UK were Ian Loggie and Sam Neary, the pair taking the Bronze medal amongst the GT runners.
2022 British GT Champion Loggie had been due to share the #93 RAM Racing-run Mercedes-AMG GT3 with Team UK’s Captain and experienced GT racer, Chris Froggatt, but illness shortly after arriving in France ruled the latter out of racing.
A replacement – British GT race winner Sam Neary – was flown in from the second practice session onwards, and the Motorsport UK Academy graduate rose to the challenge with aplomb.
Two solid qualifying races put the pairing fourth on the grid for the Final, and sixth on the road when Loggie pitted to hand over to Neary halfway through the contest.
From there, the 21-year-old was in superlative form, charging up to seize third before a late-race safety car neutralized the action, and enabled Neary to bring it home and spark celebrations in the garage.
“I’m absolutely over the moon to win the bronze medal for Team UK,” exclaimed Neary. “Ian had a mega stint, and we were able to bring it home from there. A huge thanks to the entire team, what a whirlwind of a few days it’s been!”
“I’m really pleased with the race, and our performance,” adds Loggie. “We didn’t quite have the pace to be right on the front, but we’ve hardly done any laps around here. I think it’s a great result, and Sam has flown in as a reserve and done fantastically well.”
Auto Slalom: King and Christmas just miss out on quarter final spot
Mark King and Laura Christmas battled valiantly to a last 16 slot in the Auto Slalom competition, and the Team UK pairing were unlucky to miss out on a quarter-final spot to the Israeli team.
The pair spent Thursday’s action getting to grips with the Rally eCorsa, and the two courses set up in one of the car parks at Paul Ricard. They then progressed through the first round as the contest was whittled down to 16 nations.
There was something of an air of misfortune about being drawn to face the higher-ranking Israeli side in the last 16 in the event format, but the pair rose to the occasion brilliantly, and led until the very last of the eight runs, eventually missing out by just 3.1 seconds.
“It was a fantastic opportunity to compete against the strongest Auto Slalom drivers from around the world,” reflects Christmas.
“It was a lovely atmosphere, and everyone was very supportive, both from Team UK and other nations. It was a tough competition, and the pressure was high to get through each knockout round.
“We were disappointed to not get into the top 8, but we’re proud to have placed 7th based on our times. It was definitely a challenge driving an electric, left-hand drive car that we had never driven before, but we did our best to adapt quickly and pulled out some competitive times. Overall, we had a great experience and feel proud to have represented the UK.”
“I’m coming away from the Games with a good understanding of how I place against drivers from the rest of the world,” adds King. “For two grassroots competitors who have little to no knowledge of left-hand drive, it was a learning curve but we hope we did everyone proud. It has been an amazing experience and a privilege – I’d do it all again in a heartbeat, if the team will have me!”
Karting Endurance: Heartbreak after Titanic effort from Team UK stars
Team UK fell agonisingly short of a medal in the Kart Endurance stakes, the quartet of Jack O’Neill, Rhianna Purcocks, Owen Jenman and Mike Philippou ending up fourth despite leading for a considerable stretch.
The Titan Motorsport quartet started third after a promising qualifying performance, and led after the first round of stops, before being called in to serve a penalty for an infringement during their first driver change.
That left the team third, and they rallied to fight back and pass Spain for second, before an exhaust failure threw caused another setback and, in an uncompetitive replacement kart, the team could only salvage fourth at the chequered flag.
“I’ve got to be honest,” says Martin O’Neill, Team Manager. “We’re all incredibly disappointed to not get a medal, I certainly believe we had the team to do that.”
“We’ve gone out there and done our very best in the machinery provided. I think we’ve been a little bit unlucky with some of the regulations. Even with all that against us, I don’t think other teams would have done as well.”
Rallying: Top ten outings for Team UK in Historics and Rally2
After 15 grueling stages split between Circuit Paul Ricard and the nearby roads of Saint Baume, Team UK scored a brace of top ten finishes in both the Historic Rally and Rally2 stakes.
Leading the Historic charge in their Chrysler Sunbeam were brothers Tim and Steve Jones, and the pair navigated their way to a commendable fifth-place finish. In the Rally2 stakes, Oliver Mellors and Ian Windress claimed tenth spot in their Proton Iriz R5.
CrossCar: Competing by hook or by Rooke, Padgett impresses in Juniors
Two hours north of Paul Ricard at the picturesque Autocross Veynois, Team UK’s CrossCar pairing of Dan Rooke (Sr) and Corey Padgett (Jr) prepared to tackle the tricky mud and gravel course, plus some of Europe’s pre-eminent names in the discipline.
2016 British Rallycross Champion Rooke was dealt an early blow after an engine failure on Friday morning. Undeterred, the team set about fitting a spare, and after blisteringly quick work, supported by mechanics from other nations, Rooke was out on track for a five-lap shakedown that same evening.
However, it was not to be. A repeat issue with the spare engine during Saturday morning’s warm-up consigned Rooke to the sidelines. In his stead amongst the Juniors, Corey Padgett battled well against some of the continent’s rising stars in CrossCar, and despite his relative lack of experience, advanced to the final to take eighth.
“This has been a fantastic opportunity, and one that I am so grateful for,” says Padgett. “It was surreal to race against the world’s best and claim the position that I did.
“It has helped me improve in all aspects of motorsport, as well as making friends for life. I am so lucky to be a part of the amazing family we call Team UK, and I hope I get this opportunity to race alongside them again!”
Touring Cars: Smiley shows fighting spirit with steady climb through the pack
After a tricky qualifying session on an unfamiliar Paul Ricard circuit left Chris Smiley on the eighth row of the grid, the 2022 TCR UK Champion showed his mettle with two battling drives in race trim.
On Sunday morning, the Northern Irishman climbed six positions to round out the top ten in the qualifying race, which then in turn set the grid for the final.
A strong start kept the one-time BTCC race winner in the mix, and Smiley would eventually scale two further positions to take the chequered flag eighth, soaking up race-long pressure from behind in the process.
“What an experience this weekend has been, representing Team UK,” said Smiley. “We came into it, at a circuit we’ve never been to, with a tyre that we’ve never used, and a new braking system on the car.
“We qualified 16th, which we were disappointed with, but we made it through to 8th in the main race. To gain those positions and get inside the top ten was a really big effort for me and the team. It was one of the hardest races I’ve ever had.”
Drifting: Richards takes it to the wire
Martin Richards comfortably breezed through as far as the last 16 in the Drifting category, but needed a third run in the judges’ eyes to settle his tie against Estonia’s Kevin Pesur.
Richards, one of the UK’s pre-eminent names in the discipline, made a slight error on board his iconic Nissan Skyline, which saw Pesur advance to the next stage of the competition.