With the Alpine Esports Series underway way in 2023, many would have expected reigning champion James Baldwin to have shot into an early lead. Yet pundits were left astounded by the breakout performance of Dennis Schöniger, who totally dominated the first round’s Sprint and Feature Races.
Collecting maximum points at Circuit Paul Ricard, the German would be hoping to keep the ball rolling in Baldwin’s own backyard. Silverstone Circuit awaited and for the chasing pack – including the Brit, his compatriot Luke Whitehead and Dutchman Tinko van der Velde – the United Kingdom’s sly conditions offered up an exciting first bout of qualifying action.
Rain emerged from the clouds above meaning that plenty of the best times were completed earlier in the session. This could not have suited Baldwin better as someone who generally gets up to speed rapidly. His fastest time was good enough for pole position, one-tenth in hand over Dominik Blajer who could also count himself amongst the championship contenders.
In fact, Schöniger was caught out a little. The championship leader would start from sixth; not terrible but requiring plenty of work to do in the Sprint. Between himself and the front row lay Vojtech Fiala, Marko Pejic seeing a return to form and the aforementioned van der Velde.
Whitehead was surely to be the most disappointed; he could not even make the top ten.
Poor Michael Romagnoli appeared to be the previously agreed upon punching bag of the Alpine Esports Series based on the evidence of Round 1 and this opening lap. He could not catch a break, continually being sent off line until finally he settled into fourteenth place from inside the points. Fiala also lost out early which was great news for Schöniger.
Every point mattered for the German in this fifteen minute dash so to gain one position across one lap looked golden. Unfortunately, his next overtake would not arrive until over half the race later. This time it was a Pejic mistake down at Brooklands which paved the way, although, by this point, Baldwin and Blajer were well out of reach for the entire group.
Blajer’s last hurrah came into Village but was silenced by a huge helping of snap oversteer. This gave Baldwin a modicum of comfort to cross the line first with van der Velde completing the podium.
Alpine Esports 2023, Round 2, Sprint Race results
- James Baldwin – 7 Laps
- Dominik Blajer – +0.834
- Tinko van der Velde – +4.139
- Dennis Schöniger – +4.824
- Marko Pejic – +5.768
- Lukas Mateja – +6.327
- Vojtech Fiala – +7.130
- Luke Whitehead – +10.307
- Kamil Pawlowski – +11.054
- Mathias Kuhn – +13.787
The clouds parted for everyone in Feature Race qualifying which meant a dry circuit at last. Theoretically, this would put more power into the palms of those fastest in the wet. Baldwin proved otherwise. Only eighth place was disastrous, especially given the developing storyline up front.
Van der Velde and Blajer were not content with watching the title fight unfold out of reach. The Dutchman laid down a phenomenal lap to deny Dominik a pole position though the Pole pilot still had a great shot at victory from a second consecutive front-row start.
Schöniger fared better this time around sitting in fourth position behind Fiala. Mateusz Tyskiewicz upsetting the established balance through a thrilling performance worthy of getting underway from within the top five.
‘Punchy’ would be the word best used to describe Schöniger’s opening lap. He had breezed past Fiala through Copse having reacted faster at the lights, and laid a mighty assault on Blajer for second. No attempted move was without its flaws – running his opponent off-track, going deep – and thus he would be forced to settle in third for now.
As far as a three-way lead battles went? This one was thrilling. Van der Velde was defending masterfully, Blajer was forced to juggle between offensive pokes and keeping Schöniger at bay. The tides swung against Blajer midway through the race as Schöniger’s optimism in capturing his second place grew. That optimism was well-founded as on the stroke of six minutes remaining, he was through at Brooklands.
By this point, however, van der Velde had broken free. His gap had grown to 1.5 seconds leaving him with the task of keeping his laptimes consistent. That advantage grew naturally as the two-way fight for second had ballooned to a six-way war.
Despite the threat of tears, everyone remained respectful of each other. Van der Velde coasted home in luxury as behind Schöniger and Blajer locked in strong podium points. Baldwin could only make his way up to sixth ensuring a truly tantalising fight for the championship going into the final round.
Alpine Esports 2023, Round 2, Feature Race results
- Tinko van der Velde – 12 Laps
- Dennis Schöniger – +2.252
- Dominik Blajer – +2.858
- Vojtech Fiala – +3.272
- Mateusz Tyszkiewicz – +4.680
- James Baldwin – +4.757
- Lukas Mateja – +4.972
- Marko Pejic – +5.820
- Isaac Gillissen- +6.897
- Mathias Kuhn – +8.273