The fourth round of ESL R1 took place once again at Spa-Francorchamps. There, Audi dominated proceedings, with seven of the top 10 finishers representing the Ingolstadt brand, leaving its rival manufacturers floundering.
MOUZ’s Maximilian Benecke took top honours in ESL R1’s first visit to the Belgian venue, so would be hoping to bounce back strongly after a tough third round.
In fact, with both Porsche and BMW claiming Rounds 2 and 3 respectively, it was Mercedes-AMG who remained winless in new platform Rennsport’s debut championship, adding extra pressure to the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Esports and Mercedes-AMG Williams Esports teams heading into Round 4.
The question was, could the Stuttgart marque get its title challenge back on track?
The quarter-finals got off to a tricky start for the Mercedes-AMG teams as James Baldwin exited the competition in the first race, finishing just outside the qualifying spots in seventh. He was joined by team-mates Graham Carroll and Bono Huis on the sidelines, as only Marko Pejic made it through for Mercedes-AMG Petronas Esports.
Williams Esports fared much better, getting three drivers through to the semi-finals. Jakub Brezinski, Dáire McCormack and Dennis Schöniger all made it through, with Nikodem Wisniewski unfortunate just to miss out.
BMW M Team BS+Competition’s Nils Naujoks, Kevin Siggy of Team Redline and R8G Esports’ Marcell Csincsik all impressed on their way to quarter-final wins, with G2 Sim Racing’s Robbie Stapleford unlucky to exit his quarter-final after a game crash.
Championship leader Joshua Rogers of Porsche Coanda Esports also won his quarter-final, continuing his impressive start to the season.
Enzo Bonito started from pole position for Team Redline alongside Naujoks, with Csincsik and McCormack behind respectively. The top four settled into an early rhythm and remained in this order to the chequered flag.’ The action was set to heat up behind, however.
Apex Racing Team’s Kevin Ellis Jr. had thus far been the only driver to reach all three ESL R1 Finals. However, after finding himself off the front-running pace in the first semi-final, the Scot made a clumsy move down the inside of HEROIC’s Tuomas Tähtelä on lap four, spinning out G2’s Joni Törmälä in the process.
The shuffling allowed Caique Oliveira and Lasse Sorensen of FURIA eSports’ to snatch fifth and sixth – and qualification to the final.
Team Redline continued its excellent form in Round 4 with Round 3 winner Luke Bennett taking pole position for semi-final two, with team-mate Kevin Siggy in third. They went one better in the race, as Siggy moved up to second place.
Coanda’s Rogers qualified in seventh place and was in the mix for the qualifying positions when Marko Pejic thundered into the Australian under braking for the final chicane – ironically becoming the third Mercedes-AMG car involved in an incident after team-mates Carrol and Huis in earlier races.
A drivethrough penalty was the result, meaning the official Mercedes esports team’s day was done. The Stuttgart’s hopes lay with Williams Esports’ McCormack in the final.
R8G’s Jiri Toman finished third, with MOUZ’s Moritz Löhner in fourth, followed by Apex’s Jamie Fluke and FaZe Clan’s Ulas Ozyildrum in the final qualifying positions, gaining the esport giant’s very first ESL R1 final appearance. Rogers recovered to ninth, but his day was done.
Surprisingly, McCormack took pole in qualifying thanks to the fastest lap seen around Spa in ESL R1. The sole Mercedes-AMG left in the competition held off the Audi of Toman on the front row, with the BMWs of Siggy, Naujoks and Bonito following closely behind.
Siggy snatched second from Toman off the line and set his sights on McCormack. However, the Irishman held firm on the first lap and eased out a small gap. Siggy was now under pressure from Toman, who launched a successful attack down the inside of La Source on lap six (with some door banging through Eau Rouge for good measure).
Frustrated, the Slovenian made a mistake and lost touch with Toman completely ahead of the final lap, while McCormack and Toman calmly headed to finish first and second respectively. Siggy regrouped to third, just ahead of team-mate Bonito, with Naujoks a subdued fifth. Csincsik finished sixth, cementing second place in the championship standings.
Toman now heads the Drivers’ championship with a comfortable 23-point lead over R8G stablemate Csincsik, with Rogers dropping to third. McCormack climbs to 10th overall, helping Williams jump up to fifth in the Teams’ standings.
“I’m over the moon,” said an ecsatic McCormack afterwards.
“The qualie lap was one of the best laps I’ve ever done – even from practise. I didn’t want to choke like I did at the Nürburgring!”
Choke he certainly did not, and it will be interesting to see whether this result gives the Mercedes-AMG teams a fillip to kick-start their ESL R1 championship challenge at Round 5 on the 10th of April.
ESL R1, SPRING SEASON, ROUND 4 FINAL RESULTS
- Dáire McCormack – Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo – Mercedes-AMG Williams Esports 15:54.195
- Jiri Toman – Audi R8 LMS GT3 evo II – R8G Esports + 0.493s
- Kevin Siggy, BMW M4 GT3 – Team Redline + 2.066s
- Enzo Bonito, BMW M4 GT3 – Team Redline + 2.516s
- Nils Naujoks – BMW M4 GT3 – BMW M Team BS+ Competition + 3.043s
- Marcell Csincsik – Audi R8 LMS GT3 evo II – R8G Esports + 3.217s
DRIVER CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS AFTER ROUND 4
- Jiri Toman – Audi R8 LMS GT3 evo II – R8G Esports, 181 points
- Marcell Csincsik – Audi R8 LMS GT3 evo II – R8G Esports, 158 points
- Josh Rogers – Porsche 911 GT3R (992) – Porsche Coanda Esports, 140 points
- Moritz Löhner – Audi R8 LMS GT3 evo II – MOUZ – 131 points
- Kevin Ellis Jr. – Audi R8 LMS GT3 evo II – Apex Racing Team, 130 points
TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS AFTER ROUND 4
- R8G Esports, 440 points
- Team Redline, 371points
- MOUZ, 301 points
- Apex Racing Team, 271 points
- Mercedes-AMG Williams Esports, 267 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
Images courtesy of ESL R1