No one can walk away from RaceRoom Racing Experience’s first major series of 2022 and say it wasn’t entertaining.
After Högfeldt’s early season domination, the Swede was gradually reeled in over mid-season before eventually losing the championship lead. However, after a podium and win last time out, he was back ahead of the experienced Slovakian with a clear margin.
Also to be decided was the inaugural Teams’ championship, in which two outfits looked most likely to claim the crown. Dörr Esports led into the final two races by just six points ahead of the consistent yet unspectacular Williams Esports cars of Jack Keithley and Jakub Brzezinski.
Originally conceived as a LAN Event finale, the evening of the 19th April didn’t require a live setting to convey how intense the action would be. That said, nothing could quite prepare anyone for how it would unfold.
Sprint Race Qualifying
On the night where it mattered most, Bánki was on it from the get-go. His first pole position of the season came at the best time and was further enhanced by teammate Leonard Krippner’s presence beside him on the front row.
Outgoing champion, Moritz Löhner, ensured his own Dörr contingent’s presence in the top five by claiming third on the grid ahead of Högfeldt – the man with a target on his back.
Neither Keithley or Brzezinski were able to set a time good enough for the top ten, giving Dörr Esports an open net to score in the Teams’ battle.
Team tactics appeared sooner than anyone thought as Krippner evidently took a disadvantageous position off the start to assist Löhner in protecting the pole sitter. It isn’t usually a race around the ‘Temple of Speed’ without one car facing the wrong way at the Rettifilo chicane, and sadly on this occasion that was Florian Hasse.
Krippner sold himself a little short into the della Roggia chicane, going too deep and conceding third place to Nikodem Wisniewski. The Pole had already overtaken Högfeldt by this point, but the Swede wasn’t long for fifth, sweeping around the outside of Krippner at the start of lap two.
After his early pass, Wisniewski was about to become Högfeldt’s best friend. By hassling Löhner for second, the German suffered a messy della Roggia, allowing TX3’s lead pilot to opportunistically throw himself up the inside of both Lesmos.
It was a bold call but one that paid off. The best was yet to come. That second chicane was providing the goods as Wisniewski was brushed aside by Löhner thanks to a beautiful piece of late braking.
The championship leader would find reprieve for the remaining time available thanks to Wisniewski and Löhner scrapping amongst themselves. Although Bánki had taken victory, Högfeldt had performed the best damage limitation possible in very difficult circumstances.
Feature Race Qualifying
Said circumstances off the start would look almost identical in the Feature Race but for one difference. Leon Rüdinger sat where Löhner lay for the Sprint behind Bánki and Krippner. Directly behind Högfeldt this time was Kevin Siggy and Florian Hasse, who had contrasting fortunes in the penultimate race of the season.
Sadly for Wisniewski, he would join his Williams stablemates outside of the top ten. Unless there was to be a huge turnaround, Dörr Esports looked set to win the first ever Teams’ championship.
A huge crash at the rear of the field was of no concern to Högfeldt who got to work immediately. Rüdinger was helpless sat on the inside of the first corner, while Krippner appeared to shoot himself in the foot again with bizarre positioning off the formation lap. He ended the opening lap behind the championship rivals and the German.
Krippner, to no one’s surprise, was in early to try and regain some of the time lost, yet eyes were drawn to the first corner instead. After sitting in Bánki’s shadow for a couple of minutes, Högfeldt tried to force the issue, almost sending both cars into the gravel in an incident not too dissimilar to Max Vertsappen and Lewis Hamilton’s during the 2021 Italian Grand Prix.
Högfeldt was swift to respond to Krippner’s undercut threat, heading onto pitroad the following lap. Little did any of us know that just moments later Högfeldt would lose the 2022 title.
Högfeldt’s BMW clearly crossed the white line denoting the pit exit lane into the first corner – in contravention of the official rulebook. As discovered post-race, this was distinctly labelled as a ‘do not do’ scenario for Monza in the Drivers’ Briefing, and somehow this crucial information was missed.
Whether Bánki was aware or otherwise, the race leader still wanted a double victory for the evening. The Slovakian pitted with twenty minutes to go, and was perhaps reminded of his pitlane incident at Silverstone thanks to Rüdinger arriving behind very hot on the brakes.
The German’s efficient, if scary, pit entry actually set up an fascinating scenario with Högfeldt. After initially looking like an overcut had been pulled off, for the second time that race the TX3 BMW swooped down the inside of the della Roggia chicane and back into net first.
After some nervy moments on defence Högfeldt began to pull away from the third place warzone with Rüdinger still at its head. Astoundingly, so much was the seven car train holding itself up that both Emre Cihan and Jakub Brzezinski were able to perform overcuts on the entire group.
The pace differential to the leading duo was stark, yet only after going three wide with the long-running Fordzilla and Williams cars did Högfeldt lose second place. With Cihan scampering away, the nerves were clearly getting to the Swede, whose defence against Brzezinski became more and more desperate.
In hindsight, this too might have cost him the championship thanks to the sheer amount of time dropped to those in the fight for fifth.
Despite late pressure from the excellent Cihan, Bánki crossed the line to take a clean sweep of results at Monza. Eventually, some time after the result was called, he would learn that his late-season dash of form had clinched the 2022 ADAC GT Masters Esports championship.
The icing on the cake? Dörr Esports blew the competition out of the water to become the inaugural Teams’ champions.
Speaking to the RaceRoom Racing Experience commentary team, the occasion was overwhelming emotional for both drivers. Told live on air of his penalty, Christopher Högfeldt looked utterly crestfallen. Bence Bánki meanwhile was overcome with emotions as well;
“I did, really, everything I could do. I just put my heart on the track for the team; for myself they did the same. We really did it right.”
It transpired that Bence was informed of his rival’s potential penalty, but this didn’t play into his mind much.
“I just decided to push, focus on my own thing and have no regrets about it because I really didn’t want to do anything unfair against Christopher. We had a great rivalry and he’s a really respectable person. I had no reason to drive dirty.”
However, pending a review, the final result is still up in the air.
“On Tuesday evening, the 32 fastest sim racers in Europe started the ADAC GT Masters eSports Championship powered by EnBW Mobility+ 2022 final. However, after two exciting runs in virtual Monza, the close title race between Christopher Högfeldt (Virtualdrivers by TX3) and Bence Bánki (Dörr Esports) now goes into overtime,” read a statement from the ADAC.
“Due to various protests against different participants following the final race, the title decision is a pending case. Various incidents during the final race are being investigated by the stewards. The decision will be communicated immediately after the investigation is completed.”
Once the verdict is delivered, we shall let you know.
Sprint Race Results
- Bence Bánki 19:40.233
- Christopher Högfeldt +3.722
- Nikodem Wisniewski +6.144
- Moritz Löhner +6.259
- Max Pfeifer +6.527
- Leonard Krippner +6.868
- Kevin Siggy +8.022
- Jakub Brzezinski +8.484
- Alexander Dornieden +8.803
- Gianmarco Fiduci +9.643
Feature Race Results
- Bence Bánki 33:06.161
- Emre Cihan +0.261
- Christopher Högfeldt* +4.394
- Jakub Brzezinski +4.558
- Leon Rüdinger +4.880
- Max Pfeifer +5.326
- Kevin Siggy +5.646
- Tim Jarschel +6.173
- Leonard Krippner +7.483
- Michael Rächl +7.572
*Before post-race penalty applied