Bence Bánki’s championship lead was controlling; the Slovakian was 32 points clear of closest challenger Gianmarco Fiduci. For the title to be close in any capacity come the fifth and final round, results needed to start weighing against him here.
The Guia Circuit was certainly a place for many to have hope whilst also reserving optimism. One of the most gruelling street tracks in the world, its Melco Hairpin offers an oddity in the racing world as a ‘no overtake zone’.
To win under such pressure you must simply survive first and foremost, a difficult task at the best of times in this particular discipline.
Proceedings certainly weren’t off to the best of starts for the chasing pack as Bánki netted pole position with a time almost as fast as that set by Fiduci on the official practice leaderboards. Gianmarco himself would be forced to accept third on the grid behind Petr Pliska.
Juan Manuel Gomez hoped for a return to form from fourth position. He would be keeping a wary eye over his shoulder at the M1RA Esports trio of David Nagy, Gergo Baldi and Martin Barna surrounding him on almost all sides.
Reigning champion Baldi lay fourth on the points table going into this round, but his campaign was as good as done just thirty seconds into the first contest. Contact from his own stablemate, Barna, sent him rear-first into the Mandarin wall igniting a chain reaction further back.
Whilst the midfield was still trying to make sense of where they now were, the third of the M1RA’s was on the move upward. Gomez, a little hesitant in these early stages, lost out to Nagy up St. Francisco Hill.
Required to put aside his involvement in Baldi’s downfall, Barna continued with strong intent. His move on Florian Hasse for seventh some ten minutes in was commendable, although sadly he would fall afoul of the tight walls one lap on. Meeting Maternity at a poor angle lost the Hungarian a place inside the top ten for the time being.
The top three, meanwhile, had continued to break away and remained tightly locked with only a second separating them all. Pliska’s pressure on the race leader finally paid off on the penultimate lap as Bánki hit the outside barrier of Turn 4. The Italian seized on the opening, as did Fiduci who relegated the Slovakian yet another position.
No further changes were on the horizon, Fiduci keen to maintain second place rather than go all in for victory. Pliska, therefore, achieved a second race victory of the season whilst Axel Vermeylen secured the reverse grid pole position.
ESPORTS WTCR 2023 – ROUND 3, RACE 1 RESULTS
- Petr Pliska – 27:10.451
- Gianmarco Fiduci +0.421
- Bence Bánki +0.982
- David Nagy +3.692
- Juan Manuel Gomez +4.046
- Alessandro Ottaviani +4.721
- Florian Hasse +11.821
- Adam Pinczes +14.087
- Martin Barna* +14.871
- Axel Vermeylen +15.259
* = Under Investigation Post-Race
If the beginning of Race 1 was a slight boilover, Race 2’s opening lap was the stove unattended. First up was the extraordinary sight of Leandro Werle truly taking off into the sky thanks to a pinch at Reservoir. Then came Vermeylen hitting the outside wall at Mandarin gifting Barna the lead. The Belgian would eventually settle in sixth.
As plenty more mistakes racked up over the 6.7 kilometres, Gomez was the pilot to impress the most having made his way up from sixth on the grid to second; well within striking distance of Barna. The following lap saw more smart moves. Florian Hasse worked his way into a podium spot past Adam Pinczes whilst Bánki moved ahead of Nagy for sixth, aided by Vermeylen who continued to drop like a stone.
Outside of the leading two, the top ten appeared in continuous flux as positions chopped and changed. Fiduci, now nine minutes into affairs, was keen not to lose track of Bánki and worked hard to get past a stubborn Nagy. Perhaps a little too stubborn was the M1RA driver who hindered Pliska after losing seventh.
Bánki and Fiduci would both pass Pinczes ultimately. Hasse would lose third in the end after a mistake into Lisboa invited Ottaviani to snatch away a podium. The real drama was yet to come.
Gomez had been biding his time and on the final lap completed one of the moves of the season. The Argentinian’s patience before switching back into Lisboa was astounding, catching Barna totally off guard. The Hungarian’s nose was then cut off into Turn 4 forcing him to brake late and costing him not one but two positions up the hill.
An extraordinary end to quite the barnstorming round. Gomez was the driver with the longest winless streak having taken part in the first-ever round of the eWTCC. On February 22nd 2023, the wait finally ended.
ESPORTS WTCR 2023 – ROUND 3, RACE 1 RESULTS
- Juan Manuel Gomez – 27:14.861
- Alessandro Ottaviani +1.100
- Florian Hasse +1.710
- Martin Barna +2.548
- Bence Bánki +2.956
- Gianmarco Fiduci +3.209
- Adam Pinczes +3.787
- David Nagy +6.309
- Petr Pliska +7.969
- Max Pfeifer +8.871
Images courtesy of Gianmarco Fiduci