Dennis Schöniger only took up sim racing two years ago but has already risen to the highest level of the scene, competing this season for Williams Esports in the all-new ESL R1 competition.
We asked Dennis to take a look back at the first round of the Rennsport-utilising championship in Poland and tell us everything about his experience from a driver’s viewpoint.
On Thursday I had an eight-hour trip as I headed to Krakow airport from Germany for the first ESL R1 event. On arrival, we were picked up by a shuttle which drove us to our hotel, where we met some familiar sim racing faces and had some nice chats.
We couldn’t head into the venue just yet, but everyone was talking about how cool the stage looked at the IEM Katowice and I couldn’t wait to see it.
The team got up early to leave the hotel in preparation for the media day, which was also the first practice session of the event.
Arriving at the arena and seeing what was inside, I was speechless because I did not expect something so spectacular!
It was the most professional event I had ever seen in sim racing and the way in which the drivers were positioned in a circle added intensity to the proceedings.
Then the events of the day kicked off, which included photoshoots, quick-fire interviews, team questions and games – all of which were brand new to me. The production was clearly of a very high standard and it was great to spend time with my team-mates.
Friday was also our first chance to use the provided sim rigs. As it was a LAN event, we were not able to bring any of our own equipment from home, so it was an intense session to try and get up to speed, making sure we had the right set-up ahead of Saturday’s first round.
In my practice, we went through three sessions to get used to the rig. One around Hockenheim and two at Spa, with a mixture of qualifying and race simulations.
Katowice was absolutely freezing so it was lucky that after the event, we were provided with shuttles that took us back to the hotel!
When we got there, it was another chance to catch up with friends, competitors and commentators. I had some nice chats with Lewis McGlade, Enzo Bonito and Luke Crane, to name just a few.
I woke up feeling the adrenaline pumping through my body. Today was the day that mattered, my first LAN event for Williams Esports.
On arrival, we had to attend a drivers’ briefing ahead of the day’s proceedings, and amusingly it was at the Nintendo Stand at the Expo, where people were joking around and playing Mario Kart!
I felt a bit like a catwalk model as we ran through multiple tests on how to do the stage entrance for the livestream and where we should stand.
To ensure a level playing field, the 12 rigs on stage were randomly assigned on the day of the event to ensure that no one team was getting an unfair advantage. After the walk-in and driver presentation, we set up our rigs, jumped in for a short practice and then went straight into nerve-wracking one-shot qualifying.
You had to sit there watching your countdown tick down as each car would be split by around 10 seconds to ensure you each had a fair shot at the track and as soon as your timer hit zero, it was “go, go, go!”
I was really happy with my lap, especially as I believe the Balance of Performance for the Mercedes-AMG was slightly worse than some of the other cars and headed into the race in fourth.
When sitting on the starting grid and waiting for the lights to go out, adrenaline hit once more. Preparing the electronics of the car in order to get a proper launch off the line and trying to focus to get a good start kept me occupied.
All lights went out and I managed to get the car into third. Following the R8G car of Marcell Csincsik, my main aim was to save the tyres, which is crucial in Rennsport.
Lap six of the nine lap race started with my engineer telling me I was the fastest car on track. I got close to the back of Marcel which got me into the dirty air effect, something that causes big issues on this particular platform.
Following that, I experienced problems getting the car stopped and fell back down to fourth. Knowing that the top six advanced into the next race I tucked in behind and followed till the race was over.
After a quick debrief with my engineer on what to do better next race, I had a break for about three to four hours.
Going into the semi-final I was quite optimistic to advance into the final, but sadly I made a crucial mistake in qualifying which penalised me with a slow-down penalty and left me at the back of the grid.
After a good start and having moved up to 10th I was optimistic to make up more positions. However, I got into a fight with the next car ahead that would cost us the connection to the main field.
I was gutted with the result in the semi-final, but focused on cheering on Niko and hardening my mindset for Day 3.
Going into Sunday and Hockenheim I was more confident that I was at Spa after a solid first round had calmed my nerves.
Going into the first quarter-final, I was pretty confident I could advance. Despite a decent first two sectors in qualifying, I made a major mistake in sector three, meaning I was ninth instead of fourth.
Now feeling the pressure, I decided to go aggressive because the others around me definitely would as we saw in Round 1.
With a good start into seventh after the opening corner, I was looking forward to attacking for sixth. Contact at the exit of Turn 2 dropped me back to ninth and another contact, which sent me spinning, sadly meant it was game over for me.
Despite the disappointing end, it was one of the best and definitely the most competitive LAN events I have ever competed in across my two years of sim racing.
Having watched the rest of my team compete, we got the chance to go and watch part of the CS:GO finals live, a unique experience and one that got me even more excited for the future of ESL R1. The size and scale of the event was massive, and to have that many people cheering you on is something that I hope sim racing can achieve in the coming years.
As we headed back to the hotel, all the drivers chatted about the amazing experience at this first event and discussed how much we wanted this to happen more often. Since Covid-19, we have spent so much time racing people online that actually seeing people and interacting with them was a brilliant experience.
Overall I can say that the LAN event of ESL R1 was the best way to kick off this huge new series. My focus is now on the online rounds and I’m excited to take on the rest of the season.