The final regular season round of ESL R1 should have answered the question of who was best placed to claim the ESL R1 Spring Major in Munich nearly three weeks later.
Both drivers had won twice before already – the only drivers to win more than one round in ESL R1 – with Rogers looking to continue the imperious form he showed at the previous round at Spa-Francorchamps.
The spotlight was on who would qualify for the Spring Major, however; only the top 24 in the points table were eligible to make the trip to Munich – a chance to earn themselves and their teams big money.
But there was still the honour of coming top of the regular season driver and team standings to fight for, with Team Redline looking unbeatable in the latter and its young charge Luke Bennett maintaining a stranglehold on the former. Would this trend continue in Round 8?
One of the big names on the cusp of qualifying endured a terrible start to Round 8. Porsche Coanda’s Dayne Warren spun out of contention on lap one after content with Redline’s Enzo Bonito, effectively ending his Major hopes.
Sitting outside the top 24 ahead of Round 8, Tommy Østgaard did his chances of progression no harm at all by claiming pole position and victory in quarter-final 3, followed just behind by erstwhile championship leaders Jiri Toman and Josh Rogers.
FaZe Clan’s Ian Porter – former Call of Duty professional and sim racing newbie – enjoyed his most competitive showing yet, securing ninth place after post-race penalties were applied.
Championship protagonists Marcell Csincsik and Luke Bennett convincingly won their quarter-final races too, keeping the regular season championship battle alive heading into the semis.
Sebastian Job qualified first on the grid for the first semi-final race, the Brit revelling in his role as G2 Sim Racing’s super-sub. He was closely followed by Moritz Löhner, Csincsik and James Baldwin; all barely half a tenth behind.
Drama unfolded at the end of lap one as Nils Naujoks ambitiously divebombed top-24 chaser Tuomas Tähtelä at the penultimate corner, both ultimately collecting the pitwall after protracted contact. It was a retaliatory attack by Naujoks after an aggressive move by Tähtelä at the Sachs hairpin; neither driver covered themselves in glory.
Up front, Job took a solid victory, with the rest of the top six finishing as they started; Löhner, Csincsik, Baldwin, Mitchell deJong and Bennett.
If qualifying for semi-final 1 was close, the spread in semi-final 2 could be measured in millimetres; the top six were separated by just 0.056s. Mercedes-AMG Petronas Esports’ Marko Pejic would start first, with Caique Oliveira a shock second-place for FURIA.
Josh Rogers put his Porsche 911 GT3R into fifth and would finish the race there. In the fight for the qualifying spots, Isaac Price was battling the sister BMWs of Redline’s Kevin Siggy and Jeffrey Rietveld, the trio exchanging paint while remaining respectful.
Just like semi-final 1, the top six finished as they started; Pejic, Oliveira, Erhan Jajovski, Joni Törmälä, Rogers and Yuri Kasdorp respectively.
Csincsik took pole by just 0.05s from Bennett in the final race of Round 8, with fellow championship protagonist Rogers in sixth. Sebastian Job was now on the bubble for making the top 24 – remarkably after deputising for G2’s Robbie Stapleford at just three rounds – but would need to move up from seventh on the grid to do so.
Rogers blinked first at the green flag, the Australian jumping the start gaining a drivethrough penalty. Csincsik strolled off leaving Bennett and a fast-starting Baldwin to duke it out for second position.
Baldwin passed Bennett – who was under instruction from his manager to let his opponent through – and set after Csincsik ahead, closing to within half a second at the chequered flag.
The result ensured Bennett and Team Redline secured first place in the regular season standings, with Csincsik and his R8G Esports outfit cementing second.
The field now looks ahead to the ESL R1 Spring Major across the 3rd and 4th of June, where the destination of the biggest prize pool in sim racing history will be decided.
ESL R1, SPRING SEASON, ROUND 8 FINAL RESULTS
- Marcell Csincsik – Audi R8 LMS GT3 evo II – R8G Esports 16:14.867
- James Baldwin – Mercedes-AMG GT3 – Mercedes-AMG Petronas Esports +0.537s
- Luke Bennett – BMW M4 GT3 – Team Redline +2.464s
- Marko Pejic – Mercedes-AMG GT3 – Mercedes-AMG Petronas Esports + 2.967s
- Joni Törmälä – BMW M4 GT3 – G2 Sim Racing +3.431s
- Sebastian Job – BMW M4 GT3 – G2 Sim Racing +3.949s
- Erhan Jajovski – Audi R8 LMS GT3 evo II – R8G Esports +4.378s
- Moritz Löhner – Audi R8 LMS GT3 evo II – MOUZ +4.907s
- Mitchell deJong – Porsche 911 GT3R (992) – Porsche Coanda Esports +6.043s
- Yuri Kasdorp – Audi R8 LMS GT3 evo II – MOUZ +6.585s
- Caique Oliveira – BMW M4 GT3 – FURIA + 9.236s
- Joshua Rogers – Porsche 911 GT3R (992) – Porsche Coanda Esports + 22.179s
ESL R1, SPRING SEASON, DRIVER STANDINGS AFTER ROUND 8
- Luke Bennett – BMW M4 GT3 – Team Redline, 290 points
- Marcell Csincsik – Audi R8 LMS GT3 evo II – R8G Esports, 278 points
- Josh Rogers – Porsche 911 GT3R (992) – Porsche Coanda Esports, 255 points
- James Baldwin – Mercedes-AMG GT3 – Mercedes-AMG Petronas Esports, 214 points
- Erhan Jajovski – Audi R8 LMS GT3 evo II – R8G Esports, 212 points
ESL R1, SPRING SEASON, TEAM STANDINGS AFTER ROUND 8
- Team Redline, 758 points
- R8G Esports, 728 points
- Porsche Coanda, 560 points
- MOUZ, 508 points
- Mercedes-AMG Petronas Esports, 502 points
Spring Major qualifiers
- Luke Bennett
- Marcell Csincsik
- Josh Rogers
- James Baldwin
- Erhan Jajovski
- Jiri Toman
- Moritz Löhner
- Dáire McCormack
- Joni Törmälä
- Kevin Siggy
- Maximilian Benecke
- Marko Pejic
- Enzo Bonito
- Kevin Ellis Jr.
- Nikodem Wisniewski
- Mitchell deJong
- Nils Naujoks
- Jeffrey Rietveld
- Caique Oliveira
- Jakub Brzezinski
- Yuri Kasdorp
- Tommy Østgaard
- Eamonn Murphy
- Mack Bakkum
ESL R1 2023, SPRING SEASON – UPDATED SCHEDULE
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 – 15th May 2023 (updated)
- ESL R1 Spring Major, Rennsport Summit, Munich, Germany – 3rd-4th June 2023 (updated)
Images courtesy of ESL R1