Tense slipstreaming battles at Imola, as Rogers snatches Porsche TAG Heuer Esports Supercup lead

Thomas Harrison-Lord
Jousha Rogers leads Imola feature race, Porsche TAG Heuer Esports Supercup

One of iRacing’s premier esports championships, the Porsche TAG Heuer Esports Supercup, headed to the Emilia-Romagna countryside for round three of the 2021 season.

The iconic Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari, Imola, was the scene for close battles in the PESC, following on from Interlagos and Barcelona. With the professional esports competitors battling it out for a share of a $200,000 prize pot, race-face was enabled.

Former rallycross driver Mitchell deJong led the championship going into the Imola event, six points ahead of Joshua Rogers, and 17 in front of Dayne Warren.

PESC, Round 3, Qualifying

11 minutes of qualifying would set the grid for the upcoming sprint race, and of course, it featured ‘brake dragging’. A controversial topic, all drivers have agreed that they will do this now. Using 50% clutch and full throttle and brake at the same time, it will warm up your tyres for a hot lap.

In my opinion, it looks weird and eats away at the immersion of the broadcast. But, such is the competitive nature of iRacing, as soon as one driver starts doing it, everyone will follow.

As the clock wound down to zero, it was reigning champion Sebastian Job in his Red Bull-backed Porsche on pole position, nearly two-tenths ahead of 2019 champion Joshua Rogers in second. The second row was filled by Zac Campbell and Yohann Harth. In what was an incredibly close mid-field scrap, the top 20 were covered by just over six-tenths.

Title leader deJong was down in 15th place for the opening race.

PESC, Round 3, Sprint race

Sebastian Job, Porsche TAG Heuer Esports Supercup, Imola Sprint Race

As the lights when from red to green, a packed grid of 39 identical Porsche 911 GT3 Cup cars roared off the line and down into the first chicane.

Job was immediately on full attack, defending aggressively from Rogers and taking an early advantage. Behind, the rest of the pack was relatively well behaved, but Maxim Ramsteijn span on the exit of turn six. Further around the lap, Martin Krönke came unstuck at the Variante Alta chicane after contact with Alexander Thiebe.

Onto lap two, and more contact at the same series of tight corners, as Tuomas Tähtelä crunched into the barriers after a bump from teammate and compatriot Pekka Tuomainen.

Meanwhile, at the head of the field, Job was failing to get away, with Rogers, Campbell, Harth, Sánchez and Benecke in a queue for the lead. These positions remained static for the majority of the race, with the train joined by Collins and Ellis Jr. to make it an eight-car battle for the victory. Ellis Jr. in the reverse grid pole position spot had a sizeable gap back to a heated battle for ninth.

On the penultimate lap, Rogers got the closets he had so far to Job, with Sebastian taking a defensive line through the turn one kink in preparation for the potential overtaking zone into Traguardo. Rogers worked the alternative line perfectly, carrying additional speed through Tamburello to earn a cut-back as the cars raced down to the quick left-right at Villeneuve.

Through the left, Job clung on to the outside line, meaning he had the inside for the next right. But he clipped the inside curb, bouncing him into the side of Rogers, unsettling both cars. Despite this, Rogers clung on tenaciously to keep the inside line for the upcoming Tosa.

With Rogers in the lead, Job fought back immediately, and there looked to be contact between the two in the braking zone for Piratella. Rogers was forced wide onto the astroturf as Job slipped through. The positions back to where they were at the start of the lap – albeit Job now with a gap just over half a second.

Rogers wasn’t finished though, halving the gap to the lead during the first half of the final lap. Through the tricky chicane at the top of the track, Sánchez and Benecke made slight contact, Sánchez suffering from a half-spin and dropping back to eighth.

Job clung on though to cross the line for his second race win of the season, under two-tenths ahead of Rogers, with Campbell rounding out the podium and Sánchez somewhat fortuitously snagging the reverse grid pole for the feature race.

PESC, Round 3, Feature race

Joshua Rogers wins at Imola, feature race, Porsche TAG Heuer Esports Supercup

To the feature race then, with the top eight from race one reversed. That meant Alejandro Sánchez started on pole position, ahead of Ellis Jr., Collins and Benecke.

At the start of the 18-lap affair, the top three kept their starting positions through the first series of corners. At the Villeneuve chicane though, race one podium finishers Zac Campbell and Sebastian Job made contact and the 2020 champion was sent spinning into the gravel trap and down to very back of the pack.

Braking downhill for the two Rivazza corners on lap one, two cars speared off at high speed – Ricardo Rico and Alexander Wolters ending up backwards in the gravel. In the meantime, at the front, there was a slipstream train forming behind the leader.

On lap two, Charlie Collins bobbled over the large curbs at turn six, bowled a wide, and slipped down to tenth from third. This created a small window of opportunity for the top two to eke out a small gap.

Then the chasing pack also started to fragment a little, as Harth ran wide and let Rogers slip through for fourth, in turn giving Benecke in third a little breathing room. But this was only brief, as he out braked himself into Rivazza, handing Rogers third, Harth fourth and slipping down to fifth. All this battling meant that second place was nearly two seconds clear of third at this stage.

As the laps ticked by, the top two had a fierce battle, but there wasn’t a decisive move by either. All the while, Rogers had successfully broken the tow of his pursuers in third and was slowly but surely creeping back into contention for the victory. By the start of lap eight, it was now a three-way battle at the top.

As we neared the halfway point, Joshua Rogers dived past the Scot Ellis Jr. for second with a cutthroat move under braking. A lap later, the same move, the same result. Rogers now led from Sánchez and Ellis Jr. With the long straight at Imola, though, pulling away from the draft is quite the challenge.

The top three remained close for lap after lap, and on the penultimate lap, Sánchez tried to grab the lead. Rogers, however, was wise to the move, positioning his car on a defensive line into the opening sequence of corners. The two ran next to each other through the left, a right and left again on the exit of Tamburello, then again through the next corner, before Rogers has the superior line into the tight left-hander that is Tosa.

Onto the last lap, and the first three were still inseparable. This time around, Rogers in first locked up slowing into Tosa, missed the apex, but still got the car rotated sufficiently not to lose a position. The Australian kept his composure and with a rapid run through the tricky Variante Alta switchback, took the victory. Sánchez and Ellis Jr. rounded out the podium, with Benecke holding on, after race-long pressure, in fourth.

Thanks to two strong results in this third round of the championship, feature race winner Joshua Rogers steals the points lead from DeJong, who had two steady points finishes.

The series now returns on 6th February at Silverstone. For more Porsche TAG Heuer Esports Supercup race reports, be sure to check back and let us know your thoughts about the Imola races via social media or the comments section below.

PESC, Round 3, results

Sprint race

  1. Sebastian Job (GB/Red Bull Racing Esports)
  2. Joshua Rogers (AUS/Virtual Racing School)
  3. Zac Campbell (USA/Rahal Letterman Lanigan Esports)
  4. Yohann Harth (F/Apex Racing Team)
  5. Maximilian Benecke (D/Team Redline)
  6. Charlie Collins (GB/Virtual Racing School)
  7. Kevin Ellis Jr. (GB/Rahal Letterman Lanigan Esports)
  8. Alejandro Sánchez (E/MSI eSports)
  9. Dayne Warren (AUS/DirectForce Pro)
  10. Jamie Fluke (NI/Apex Racing team)

Main race

  1. Joshua Rogers (AUS/Virtual Racing School)
  2. Alejandro Sánchez (E/MSI eSports)
  3. Kevin Ellis Jr. (UK/Rahal Letterman Lanigan Esports)
  4. Maximilian Benecke (D/Team Redline)
  5. Zac Campbell (USA/Rahal Letterman Lanigan Esports)
  6. Jamie Fluke (NI/Apex Racing team)
  7. Mitchell deJong (USA/Virtual Racing School)
  8. Dayne Warren (AUS/DirectForce Pro)
  9. Yohann Harth (FR/Apex Racing Team
  10. Jeff Giassi (BRA/Apex Racing Team)

Points’ standings after 3/10 championship rounds

  1. Joshua Rogers (AUS/Virtual Racing School), 198 points
  2. Mitchell deJong (USA/Virtual Racing School), 161 points
  3. Dayne Warren (AUS/DirectForce Pro), 145 points
  4. Maximilian Benecke (D/Team Redline), 136 points
  5. Kevin Ellis Jr (GB/Rahal Letterman Lanigan Esports), 127 points
  6. Alejandro Sánchez (E/MSI eSports), 126 points
  7. Sebastian Job (GB/Red Bull Racing Esports), 109 points
  8. Zac Campbell (USA/Rahal Letterman Lanigan Esports), 108 points
  9. Charlie Collins (GB/Virtual Racing School), 106 points
  10. Sindre Setsaas (NO/Sindre Setsaas), 84 points

Images provided by Porsche Newsroom media portal

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