If this season of the Esports World Touring Car Cup has proven anything, it is that you should never trifle with Bence Bánki’s consistency. A multiple-race winner in his own right before 2023, the Slovakian lay a healthy 28 points clear of his nearest rivals heading into the final two rounds of the season.
A trio of Italians nipped at his heels; Alessandro Ottaviani, Gianmarco Fiduci and Petr Pliska all having suffered highs and lows. The general feeling among the crowd was that it would require an unlikely non-score from the championship leader before any hope of a true title fight could be rekindled.
For the first time in series history, the historic Suzuka Circuit would play host to a round. Nobody could have foreseen how much of a landslide qualifying would turn out to be as Bánki demolished the competition by just shy of three-tenths.
It was a truly ominous benchmark that Fiduci simply had to push aside starting alongside the points leader. Dörr Esports had struck gold with their set-up work as both Florian Hasse and Max Pfeifer would be able to support their team leader from the second row.
Pliska and Ottaviani found themselves isolated in fifth and seventh respectively.
ESPORTS WTCR 2023 – Round 4, Race 1
The usual antics associated with the opening corners at Suzuka were nowhere to be seen as a very well-behaved grid navigated their way through the first stages comfortably. The only major overtake of note lay at the bottom of the top ten where Martin Barna muscled his way past Axel Vermeylen for ninth out of the Casio Triangle.
An early trend for the evening was set between Ottaviani and the Fordzillas who were, evidently, not in each other’s good books. The Italian collided with Juan Manual Gomez through First Turn before the former barged through the latter into Turn 5, grabbing sixth position.
Disaster struck Pfeifer just moments later; a mechanical issue forced him into an early retirement from fourth. This brought Adam Pinczes into the top ten before a mistake from Vermeylen ahead (albeit ten minutes later) gifted him ninth place. Meanwhile, Ottaviani had been eyeing up Pliska for fourth – a plan that ultimately ended with success.
Fiduci waved off a mid-race challenge from Hasse before laying siege to Bánki for the final few minutes. All would come to nothing and the rich only continued to get richer; this was to be Bence’s third win of the season.
ESPORTS WTCR 2023 – Round 4, Race 1 results
- Bence Bánki – 26:18.586
- Gianmarco Fiduci – +0.177
- Florian Hasse – +3.216
- Alessandro Ottaviani – +7.649
- Petr Pliska – +7.910
- Juan Manuel Gomez – +8.053
- Martin Barna – +10.099
- David Nagy – +10.329
- Adam Pinczes – +10.640
- Axel Vermeylen – +12.156
ESPORTS WTCR 2023 – Round 4, Race 2
Vermeylen had the rare pleasure of enjoying a second consecutive reverse grid pole position. He would hope this time would bear more fruit after a miserable time in Macau.
The Belgian’s launch wasn’t stellar, forcing him onto the defensive immediately. Pinczes was not able to capitalise, leaving him and the rest of the field to maintain the status quo for the opening corners. Hasse would break the mould simply by braking too late into the Hairpin, dropping behind Fiduci and Bánki.
Just shy of ten minutes to run, Pinczes finally got creative in his attempts to take the race lead. This backfired almost immediately thanks to a staunch defence from Vermeylen at the Casio Triangle. A knock-on effect was initiated; both Nagy and Barna slipping through to relegate their compatriot to fourth.
Next to get caught out would be Nagy, who found out exactly why Pinczes struggled so much with his attempted Casio Triangle overtake. This time only one driver leapt past the second-placed man, that being M1RA stablemate Barna. Twice a winner in the shootouts, he seemed like the best bet going forward.
Unfortunately, he too would fall afoul of the stubborn Belgian albeit in much more dubious circumstances. Heading onto the final lap, Barna’s overspeed forced Vermeylen into an ultra defensive line down the home straight. As Vermeylen strayed back across the track, he did so too much.
Barna was spat out onto the grass and did well to recover without hitting the Armco barrier. By the time he did return to the track, however, he had fallen to fifth with more places lost by the chequered flag.
So, Vermeylen managed to hang on and take his first-ever win in the eWTCR. He would do so with a penalty undoubtedly on its way.
ESPORTS WTCR 2023 – Round 4, Race 2 results
- Axel Vermeylen* – 26:27.258
- David Nagy – +0.539
- Adam Pinczes – +0.847
- Juan Manuel Gomez – +0.927
- Petr Pliska – +2.307
- Alessandro Ottaviani – +2.802
- Martin Barna – +2.807
- Gianmarco Fiduci – +3.314
- Bence Bánki – +3.581
- Florian Hasse – +3.857
* = Under Investigation Post-Race
Images courtesy of Gianmarco Fiduci