ESL R1 was a game-changer for sim racing esports. Naturally, the focus was on the amount of prize money on offer – €500,000 across both Spring and Fall seasons – but the sheer intensity of the competition between the best esports drivers in the world shone through, with entire grids often separated by just a tenth of a second.
All eight of the Fall Season’s rounds consist of four quarter-finals, two semi-finals and a final; each featuring a 20-minute knock-out race where the top six progress to the next stage, all on the as-yet-unreleased sim racing platform Rennsport.
So far, nothing has changed for the Fall Season. However, after criticisms of subdued top-six battles int he Spring Season, ESL R1 has introduced a points-based prize pool, incentivising drivers to race hard to win a €1,000 ‘Round Winner’ bonus.
The eventual winner of the Spring Season was R8G Esports’ Marcell Csincsik, with Team Redline claiming the team title, and they go into the Fall Season with a massive target on their backs ahead of the opening round at Monza.
Csincsik carries good form into the ‘Temple of Speed’ too; winning here three times in the recent Gamers8 esports competition, as well as claiming victory in ESL R1’s previous Spring Season visit, making him the man to beat.
The big shock from the quarter-final phase was Team Redline’s poor form, with only Kevin Siggy gaining a semi-final berth. Mercedes-AMG Williams and R8G Esports, on the other hand, got all four of its drivers through.
R8G’s quarter-final forms translated into pole position for Erhan Jajovski for semi-final 1, which he converted into the race lead for lap one before Williams’ Dáire McCormack slipstreamed past on lap two.
Further back, James Baldwin of Mercedes-AMG Petronas Esports, shoulder-barged Apex Racing Team’s (ART) Kevin Ellis Jr. exiting the first chicane – an indicator of battles to come.
Kevin Siggy was sitting just outside the qualifying spots in seventh, chasing down a frustrated Csincsik in sixth. A gaggle of cars formed all fighting for fourth place, with Dayne Warren, Tuomas Tähtelä, Csincsik and Siggy all vying for track position, eventually bumping Tähtelä down to seventh, and another altercation with Baldwin.
McCormack was home and hosed out front, with second-placed Jajovski battling intensely with MOUZ’s Maximilian Benecke. Csincsik maintained a watching brief in fourth, which became third when Benecke was punished for a needlessly aggressive move on Jajovski, dropping him out of the qualifying positions post-race.
With the battling settled it was Warren, Siggy and Williams’ Jakub Brzezinski progressing to the final.
The grid for semi-final 2 had a familiar look about it, with G2 Esports’ Sebastian Job on pole, with ESL R1 Spring Season front-runners Josh Rogers and Jiri Toman in second and third respectively.
Semi-final 2 turned out to be a more subdued affair, featuring much less contact than semi-final 1, with Job and Rogers duking it out at the front for victory.
Rogers assumed the lead on lap two but was reeled in by Job as the race wore on, with Toman and ART’s Yoann Harth watching on in third and fourth.
Jack Keithley secured fifth for Williams, while further back there was a monumental battle for the final qualifying spot between Caique Oliveira, Graham Carroll, Nikodem Wisniewski, Patrik Holzmann and Thibault Cazaubon.
Unfortunately, it would all come to nought for Holzmann as he drifted into Carrol’s Mercedes-AMG Petronas car at the Parabolica, dropping to the rear of the field. In the melee, Wisniewski was able to make a break and secure sixth place, ensuring Williams had all four of its drivers in the final.
On the final lap, Job went around the outside of Rogers at the Prima Variante chicane and held on to take the win, despite a late lunge from Rogers at the final corner.
Job continued his semi-final form by snatching pole position for the final just ahead of Dayne Warren, with Csincsik and McCormack in close contention behind. Josh Rogers was a frustrated 12th after a slow-down penalty on his flying lap.
Job made a terrific start, quickly moving ahead of Warren by half a second on the first lap – a comfortable gap by ESL R1 standards – while the pack behind sorted themselves out in relatively tidy fashion. On lap 5, Csincsik sent it down the inside of Warren for second, with the top five locked together in a fight for first.
Warren was particularly under severe pressure, losing third position to McCormack before aggressively defending to maintain fourth to the chequered flag. The Australian was hit with a post-race time penalty for his troubles, however, dropping him to stone last.
The top three meanwhile put on a show with an inch-perfect display of door handle-rubbing controlled aggression. Job, Csincski and McCormack were each vying for victory on the final lap, but Job held on through Parabolica to take the first round win of the Fall Season.
“I’ve changed my driving style completely,” said a calm and collected Job afterwards.
“It seems to be making a difference. The BMW is super-sensitive on its tyres and I wasn’t driving it the right way – I was using different car settings to everyone else [his team-mates]. I’ve just tried to emulate what the fastest people do,” he said modestly.
And his change in style is clearly working, as Job is the man to beat heading into Round 2 from Spa-Francorchamps on the 7th and 8th of September.
ESL R1 Fall Season Round 1 results
- Sebastian Job, G2 Esports, BMW M4 GT3, 16:05.918
- Dáire McCormack, Mercedes-AMG Williams Esports, Mercedes-AMG GT3, + 0.186s
- Marcell Csincsik, R8G Esports, Audi R8 LMS GT3 evo II, + 0.220s
- Jakub Brzezinski, Mercedes-AMG Williams Esports, Mercedes-AMG GT3, + 2.735s
- Erhan Jajovski, R8G Esports, Audi R8 LMS GT3 evo II, + 3.422s
- Jiri Toman, R8G Esports, Audi R8 LMS GT3 evo II, + 3.590s
- Josh Rogers, Porsche Coanda Esports, Porsche 911 GT3 R (992), + 4.418s
- Nikodem Wisniewski, Mercedes-AMG Williams Esports, Mercedes-AMG GT3, + 4.446s
- Kevin Siggy, Team Redline, BMW M4 GT3, + 5.983s
- Jack Keithley, Mercedes-AMG Williams Esports, Mercedes-AMG GT3, + 5.993s
- Yoann Harth, Apex Racing Team, Mercedes-AMG GT3, + 6.086s
- Dayne Warren, Porsche Coanda Esports, Porsche 911 GT3 R (992), + 7.590s
ESL R1 Fall Season 2023 calendar:
- Round 1: 31st August – 1st September, Monza
- Round 2: 7th-8th September, Spa-Francorchamps
- Round 3: 21st-22nd September, Hockenheimring
- Round 4: 28th-29th September, Nürburgring
- Round 5: 5th-6th October, Monza
- Round 6: 26th-27th October, TBA
- Round 7: 2nd-3rd November, TBA
- Round 8: 9th-10th November, TBA
- ESL R1 2023 Fall Major: 24th-26th November, TBA
Images courtesy of ESL R1