Drama is never too far away from the Esports World Touring Car Cup battlefield. 2023’s opening salvo, located at the Nordschleife, delivered some thrilling races although major results were amended post-race.
Jack Keithley, who thought he had returned to winning ways after a so-so Shoot Out mini-season, had his first race win of the season stripped due to contact with Bence Bánki. Further incidents in the second race landed him with a qualifying ban for the second round at Spa-Francorchamps.
There was some irony in this as Bánki now led the early championship table from Gergo Baldi and fresh victor Petr Pliska. That said, with only five points six points separating the top three, it was hardly an immediate worry for the chasing pack.
Second on the grid would be a concern. Bánki’s strong lap laid a good foundation for the two races ahead, although he was outdone to pole position by a strong effort from Max Pfeifer. Then came a ‘Noah’s Ark’ of Italians and Hungarians as Gergo Baldi followed Alessandro Ottaviani and David Nagy followed Gianmarco Fiduci.
Fiduci, in particular, would have a point to prove almost one week on from his Team Fordzilla exit.
No love was on show between the two leading Dörr Esports representatives – the pair exchanging paint and positions. They wouldn’t be the only ones with almost everyone inside the top fifteen losing or gaining a place across a feisty opening lap.
It was always going to boil over and so it came to be at the Bus Stop Chicane; Juan Manuel Gomez came off worse and spun to the back of the field.
Through the carnage had flown James Montgomery, the pilot from Jersey who had quickly won over the hearts of commentators and viewers alike. From the midfield, he had reached the dizzying heights of eighth before a mistake at Pouhon lost him some ground.
This landed him in a melee including Maritn Barna, newcomer Kodi Nikola Latkovski and the slow-down stricken Nagy.
The entire race could be categorised as messy. Many overtakes were achieved by the simple virtue of keeping your car on the straight and narrow. That is exactly what Bánki did for the duration, even surviving a last-gasp charge from Pfeifer. More excellent points were bagged for the stablemates whilst Ottaviani held off Baldi for the final podium spot.
ESPORTS WTCR 2023 – ROUND 2, RACE 1 RESULTS
- Bence Bánki – 25:14.083
- Max Pfeifer – +0.155
- Alessandro Ottaviani – +2.173
- Gergo Baldi – +2.718
- Gianmarco Fiduci – +4.334
- Petr Pliska – +5.094
- Axel Vermeylen – +5.400
- Adam Pinczes – +9.458
- Martin Barna – +10.512
- James Montgomery – +11.476
Montgomery had endured a stern test in Race 1, his reward a start at the front of the queue for Race 2. A rare experience it may have been but ‘Jersey James’ took his launch in stride, leading for an entire lap without much duress.
Barna, joining the pole sitter on the front row, was always going to be the favoured driver long-term and so he proved to be. By the end of the Kemmel Straight on Lap 2, the race leader was dragging Adam Pinczes along for the ride.
Pliska was next up but could not keep his eagerness in check. A first-time race winner two weeks prior, the Italian first lost fourth to a rapid Baldi before losing control at the Bus Stop Chicane.
An eWTCR story as old as time – ‘From Hero to Zero’. Baldi was clipped in this incident which Fiduci pounced upon. Not that Gianmarco wouldn’t have another chance as the reigning champion picked up a slow-down penalty just corners later.
Expressing plenty more patience than his compatriot, Fiduci would relieve Montgomery of third. This move left him with fifteen minutes to undo the two-second gap which Barna and Pinczes had built for themselves. Fate rarely plays nice though. Bánki and Pfeifer had navigated their way to within striking distance of the lone wolf.
The pair had enjoyed this event hand-in-hand for the large majority but would be split apart for the first time as Bánki made his way through into third position. Pfeifer attempted to rattle Fiduci with some audacious manoeuvres; manoeuvres which the Italian did not respond to kindly.
As tempers flared, Bánki scurried away to lock in a podium but was too distant to stake a claim for the win. That honour would fall to Pinczes who, at the proverbial eleventh hour, sent it and stuck the landing into the final two corners of the race. It was elation for the Arnage Competition driver and heartbreak for Barna.
Behind, the aforementioned fourth-fifth-place warzone had concluded as one might expect. Fiduci found himself escorted off the road losing him multiple positions. Both he and Pfeifer had plenty to explain to the stewards.
ESPORTS WTCR 2023 – ROUND 2, RACE 2 RESULTS
- Adam Pinczes – 25:15.603
- Martin Barna – +0.045
- Bence Bánki – +1.798
- Max Pfeifer* – +4.897
- Alessandro Ottaviani – +5.174
- Florian Hasse – +5.703
- Gianmarco Fiduci* – +5.815
- Axel Vermeylen – +5.839
- James Montgomery – +6.376
- Pavel Mukonin – +10.163
- = Under Investigation Post-Race
Images courtesy of Gianmarco Fiduci