Almost two months ago, twenty drivers locked in their permanent spots for the 2023 Esports World Touring Car Cup season.
The series’ return is an oddity in itself. First, the sudden nature surrounding its re-emergence complete with a €10,000 prize pool. Second, the fact that its real-world inspiration no longer exists.
In spite of its somewhat ethereal vibe, many of us are simply thrilled that we get to witness another season of one of RaceRoom Racing Experience’s flagship competitions. Names such as Bence Bánki, Gergo Baldi and Jack Keithley are well-recognised and form a small part of one of sim racing’s most brutally close grids.
The calendar for 2023 is certainly raising eyebrows. A community-voted final round is preceded by trips to Suzuka, Macau and Spa-Francorchamps. Its opening round, however, would throw the field into a Green Hell.
Qualifying times around the Nordschleife usually tend to steer away from the closeness we are accustomed to in eWTCR.
Not so much this time as Dörr Esports driver Bánki netted pole position by just two-hundredths ahead of Juan Manuel Gomez’s outstanding effort. A prize for most pole positions is on the table in 2023 alongside one for the most ‘supertime’ fastest laps; hence this achievement meaning all the more.
Keithley, Gianmarco Fiduci and Baldi made up the rest of the top five which was perhaps a little surprising. The Italian was an expected force for the title fight where as the Brit and Hungarian delivered unconvincing results across 2022’s Shoot-Outs.
Fiduci would ultimately fail to make good on his starting position as Baldi’s launch was superior. Navigating the Grand Prix circuit, the Fordzilla pilot would continue to lose touch with his starting position with the front four breaking away.
Gomez looked set to make the first major play for the lead down the Döttinger Höhe but was unconvincing under braking.
Martin Barna, two-times race winner in the Shoot-Outs, had started his season very poorly with a woeful lap in qualifying. He would pull off the move of the race on his way up the order, sweeping around the outside of Sebastian Reeh through Schwedenkreuz before completing the pass for sixteenth into Aremberg.
Another lap and along came Gomez’s second chance to pass Bánki at lap’s end. Bizarrely, he appeared hesitant to commit which gave Keithley all the incentive needed to snatch second for himself. The wily veteran was not done just yet, using this momentum to stake a claim for first into the Yokohama-S. Side-by-side they would fight for many corners before Bánki had to concede into Warsteiner-Kurve.
From there, Keithley continued to extend his gap until the chequered flag arrived. It was a classic drive from a master of this circuit, leading home Bánki and Baldi who had also capitalised on Gomez’ error.
Esports WTCR 2023 – Round 1, Race 1 results
- Jack Keithley – 25:54.786
- Bence Bánki – +0.534
- Gergo Baldi – +0.791
- Juan Manuel Gomez – +0.981
- Gianmarco Fiduci – +1.419
- Alessandro Ottaviani – +2.902
- David Nagy – +3.225
- Petr Pliska – +3.624
- Florian Hasse – +5.519
- Tim Jarschel – +5.809
Whether pre-planned or otherwise, the Dörr Esports front row exchanged places heading onto the Nordschleife for the first time. Florian Hasse now led Tim Jarschel whilst behind Fiduci and Keithley both made up a position each.
It was a particularly important move for the Italian specifically as, much like the first race, a leading group began to split away from the pack. Alessandro Ottaviani being the proverbial cork in the bottle defending sixth.
More switches were to come. Baldi was quick to dispatch Ottaviani just prior to the Karussell allowing him to chase down the two-second gap that had expanded over just half a lap. Pliska, further up the road, found life a little more controversial passing Jarschel for second.
Was the contact innocuous or careless? A decision for the stewards to make.
Not that the Italian had time to think about the repercussions. From one Dörr driver to another, Hasse was minced meat down the Döttinger Höhe; a mere spectator to Pliska’s lead-securing overtake.
David Nagy was looking lively, threatening Jarschel for a solid lap by the time Race 2’s final tour arrived. Into the Yokohama-S the two went, the German aided immensely by some tactically astute defending courtesy of Hasse who had dropped back from Pliska.
The Hungarian’s determination to make the pass was his undoing; Fiduci all too accepting of an undercut into the Warsteiner-Kurve.
His teammate now immediately behind him, Nagy cracked under the pressure for a second time. This time, the Hungarian broke too late into Adenauer Forst seeing Baldi assert control of the M1RA stable once again.
Late drama dominated the closing stages. Fiduci and Jarschel found each other flying at full speed down the Döttinger Höhe for the final time and the German came off much worse. Only a career-best save allowed Jarschel to maintain fourth whilst Fiduci, provisionally at the very least, would take third in his stead.
Pliska would also be facing a nervy wait but would likely be facing a points penalty if found guilty in his incident. Hence, now was a time to celebrate – he had just taken his first eWTCR victory.
Esports WTCR 2023 – Round 1, Race 2 results
- Petr Pliska* – 25:54.933
- Florian Hasse – +2.754
- Gianmarco Fiduci* – +3.067
- Tim Jarschel – +3.767
- Gergo Baldi – +3.858
- David Nagy – +5.187
- Bence Bánki – +5.485
- Alessandro Ottaviani – +5.660
- Martin Barna – +5.905
- Jack Keithley – +6.009
*Under investigation post-race