After a promising start at the on-site LAN event in Katowice, Poland, ESL R1 moves onto its third round. This time, however, competitors went head-to-head from the luxury of their own rigs, giving the net code of new sim racing platform Rennsport a stern workout in the process.
All the action was set to take place at the Nürburgring Grand Prix circuit, a track announced just last month and a mainstay of GT3 competition in both the virtual and real worlds.
Once again 48 drivers would be whittled down to 12 via four quarter and two semi-finals, before the final decided the overall winner of Round 3. Team and driver points are on the line for finishing positions across the board, however, incentivising drivers to battle hard throughout the field.
The quarter-finals took place on Friday the 10th of March and played host to several surprising early departures. Mercedes-AMG Petronas Esports endured a torrid time as Bono Huis, James Baldwin and Marko Pejic all exited the competition early. Mitigation arrived in the form of Graham Carroll’s qualification.
Kevin Siggy of Team Redline succumbed to a self-inflicted spin in his quarter-final; a disappointing end after showing a promising turn of pace during Round 2.
Winners from Rounds 1 and 2 respectively, Maximilian Benecke and Josh Rogers, both eased through to the semi-final stage, while Isaac Price and Yoann Harth – both impressive performers from Katowice – faltered.
Porsche Coanda Esports’ Dayne Warren had another eventful time. His pace was without question at Spa-Francorchamps, but clumsy moves undid his hopes. At the Nürburgring, the Australian showed speed but again missed out after an aggressive battle with former team-mate – and fellow Porsche driver – Tommy Østgaard.
Nils Naujoks continued his upturn in ESL R1 form by taking pole from an impressive Kevin Ellis Jr, driving for Apex Racing Team. The race panned out similarly too, with BMW M Team BS+ Competition‘s Naujoks and Ellis Jr. streaking away from third-placed Eamonn Murphy.
The race was a cagey affair with little movement up front. That is, until the beginning of the final lap when MOUZ’s Moritz Löhner sent a move down the inside of Marcell Csincsik in the crucial battle for the final qualifying position.
Löhner couldn’t unseat Csinsik’s R8G Esports team-mate Erhan Jajovski for sixth position, however, so the German – who sat third in the standings after Katowice – had to settle for seventh. Csinsik himself lay second in the championship before Round 3, becoming another shock early departure.
Joining Jajovski in the Final were Naujoks, Ellis Jr, Murphy, Dáire McCormack and Joni Törmälä; finishing first through fifth respectively.
Round 1 winner Benecke started seventh for the second semi-final, with arch-rival Rogers sixth alongside team-mate Mack Bakkum. Team Redline’s hopes hinged on 17-year-old Luke Bennett, who qualified second. FURIA eSport’s Felipe Baptista took a surprise pole.
Bennett took an early lead while Mercedes-AMG Williams Esports’ Nikodem Wisniewski pulled off a brave move around the outside of Jiri Toman’s R8G Audi to cement third.
The real excitement happened behind, however, with Rogers and Benecke battling hard for the last qualifying spot. Benecke pushed on valiantly but fell just short, a moment on the exit of the final corner demoting him to eighth behind Carroll.
Bennett took an assured win ahead of Baptista, with Toman, Wisniewski, Bakkum and Rogers also qualifying for the final.
This meant that R8G, G2 Esports Sim Racing, Williams and Porsche Coanda all had two representatives in the final, with one each from BS+, Apex, Redline and FURIA.
Final – Qualifying
Bennett continued his imperious form to take pole position in the final, with Naujoks a strong second place – the front row ironically consisting of the youngest and oldest competitors in the final.
They were followed on the second row by Ellis Jr. and Toman, with Wisniewski and Murphy fifth and sixth. Both McCormack and Baptista had received slow-down penalties on their laps, relegating them to the back of the field when they looked set to be at the sharp end. Rogers on the other hand found himself down in 10th. He was just three-tenths off pole, highlighting the competitiveness of the field.
Final – Race
The front pair got off the line cleanly while Toman started poorly, dropping three positions by Turn 3. He didn’t fare as badly as Rogers, however, who jumped the start. The Australian served a drivethrough penalty at the end of the opening lap, relegating the championship leader to the back of the pack.
R8G team-mates Jajovski and Toman both made forceful moves on Murphy to move up to fifth and sixth respectively, while at the sharp end Bennett eased away from Naujoks.
The second half of the race was much less dramatic, with the top six remaining static apart from a five-second slowdown for Toman thanks to contact with Bakkum. The penalty elevated Baptista into the top six – an impressive return considering his back-row starting position. He and Toman had their positions reversed by the race stewards after the race, however.
Bennett held on from a charging Naujoks at the chequered flag, with Wisniewski completing the podium in his Mercedes-AMG.
“I’m speechless. I didn’t think I’d win something like this and I have – it’s kind of unreal… I can’t wipe the smile off my face” said an elated Bennett afterwards.
“I still need a big points haul… [I need to] consistently get points, get us up there in the teams’ championship and hopefully get somewhere in the drivers’ championship to fight for the overall win in Munich,” he concluded, reflecting on his sluggish start to the season.
That’s three rounds gone in ESL R1, with three different drivers taking the wins for three different manufacturers (Mercedes-AMG is the only winless brand).
The championship is looking tight too, with Rogers still sitting top of the pile, albeit just one point ahead of Toman with the ultra-consistent Ellis Jr. a further three points adrift.
With the next round taking place on the 27th of March, Josh Rogers and Maximilian Benecke will be looking to bounce back to maintain their championship hopes.
ESL R1, SPRING SEASON, ROUND 3 FINAL RESULTS
- Luke Bennett – BMW M4 GT3 – Team Redline 15:17.291
- Nils Naujoks – BMW M4 GT3 – BMW M Team BS+ Competition + 0.444s
- Nikodem Wisniewski – Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo – Mercedes-AMG Williams Esports + 1.679s
- Kevin Ellis Jr. – Audi R8 LMS GT3 evo II – Apex Racing Team + + 2.337s
- Erhan Jajovski – Audi R8 LMS GT3 evo II – R8G Esports + 2.835s
- Jiri Toman – Audi R8 LMS GT3 evo II – R8G Esports + 6.636s
- Felipe Baptista – BMW M4 GT3 – FURIA eSports + 7.072s
- Mack Bakkum – Porsche 911 GT3R (992) – Porsche Coanda Esports + 7.074s
- Eamonn Murphy – BMW M4 GT3 – G2 Sim Racing +8.604s
- Joni Törmälä – BMW M4 GT3 – G2 Sim Racing + 8.783s
- Dáire McCormack – Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo – Mercedes-AMG Williams Esports + 9.184s
- Josh Rogers – Porsche 911 GT3R (992) – Porsche Coanda Esports + 29.547
DRIVER CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS AFTER ROUND 3
- Josh Rogers – Porsche 911 GT3R (992) – Porsche Coanda Esports, 127 points
- Jiri Toman – Audi R8 LMS GT3 evo II – R8G Esports, 126 points
- Kevin Ellis Jr. – Audi R8 LMS GT3 evo II – Apex Racing Team, 123 points
- Marcell Csincsik – Audi R8 LMS GT3 evo II – R8G Esports, 119 points
- Maximilian Benecke – Audi R8 LMS GT3 evo II – MOUZ, 112 points
TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS AFTER ROUND 3
- R8G Esports, 334 points
- MOUZ, 252 points
- Team Redline, 247 points
- Apex Racing Team, 226 points
- Porsche Coanda Esports, 210 points
ESL R1 2023, SPRING SEASON CALENDAR
Round 1, IEM Expo Katowice, Poland, ESL Pro Tour – 11th February 2023 Round 2, IEM Expo Katowice, Poland, ESL Pro Tour – 12th February 2023 Round 3, online – 13th March 2023
- Round 4, online – 27th March 2023
- Round 5, online – 10th April 2023
- Round 6, online – 17th April 2023
- Round 7, online – 24th April 2023
- Round 8, online – 8th May 2023
- ESL R1 Spring Major, Rennsport Summit, Munich, Germany – 27th-28th May 2023