VCO esports held the opening round of its Spring Cup on Assetto Corsa Competizione at the Italian circuit of Misano, which was decided by public vote, taking a narrow win over Catalunya with 55 per cent of the ballot.
The ERL Spring Cup brought together over 25 teams all competing for a chance to qualify for the VCO World Cup and a share of the $50,000 prize pool.
Three heats, as well as a ‘second chance’ race, whittled the list down to 14 teams to take part in the quarter-final, narrowed down again to a six-team semi-final race, before the eventual finals where just two teams took part in a best-of-three format to see who will qualify to the VCO world cup.
In the first heat, inaugural VCO Esports Racing World Cup champions Team Redline dominated the race, Luka Berk from Jenson Buttons outfit Team Rocket was the only man to be close to the front row starters, with Arnarge Competition and Triton Racing being the other qualifying teams for the quarter-finals.
Unicorns of Love finished the second heat first, second, and third and were joined in this race by Romain Grosjean’s team R8G esports, Simware.pro by VDES and Team Fordzilla.
Heat three had more chaos than the previous races, which saw BS+ Competition take top honours, followed by Legions of Racers, Williams Esports, and Jean Alesi Esports Academy through to the quarter-finals.
The second chance race saw the remaining teams battle again in another 10-minute race for the remaining two spots left in the quarter-finals. Whilst the drivers fought valiantly to improve their standings, it was Veloce Esports and Yas Heat that came through to secure their progression in the first ERL Spring Cup round.
With 12 teams knocked out, 14 continued as the survivors and then entered another qualifying session. With 42 cars occupying the 4.2km track, it was crucial to find any available space.
Unicorns of Love secured three of the top four positions, Tobias Gronewold just 0.030s ahead of Michael Tauscher, Williams Esport’s Tinko van der Velde in the Unicorns’ party with Tobias Pfeffer in fourth, having made a small mistake on his final qualifying run.
With so many cars all pushing hard for the top spots, incidents were inevitable during the 15-minute race and the first to fall foul was Egor Ogorodnikov, ricocheting between several cars and tumbling down the field to 21st place.
Team Redline’s Kevin Siggy had made the most gains from the early madness and was up to fifth position by the start of lap two, and the Unicorn’s cars were now occupying the top three positions – although only the top two drivers will score points for any team.
Veloce Esports needed the second-chance race to make it this far, and alas their day got no better with Pejic facing the wrong way before his first lap had concluded.
Heat three winner Nils Naujoks from BS+ Competition was also an early victim of the first lap madness, dropping to 42nd place. By lap three, the Unicorns trio were 1.5 seconds ahead of Van der Velde, with Siggy, Malinowski, and Dáire McCormack in a tight conga line for fourth place.
Niklas Houben and Amir Hosseini were running well in 11th and 12th, keeping R8G esports’ hopes alive for a semi-final place.
Unicorns of love held on to the one-two-three, and once the stewards had unpicked everything going on, the teams joining the Unicorns were Williams Esports, Team Redline, Triton Racing, R8G Esports and Yas Heat Esports.
From 42 cars to 18 remaining, another qualifying session was required to decide the penultimate grid of the event.
Again, the Unicorns of Love had the front row, with Gronewald and Pfeffer, a surprise run from Erhan Jajovski put him in third alongside Siggy, Tauscher and McCormack on row three, Malinowski and Hosseinui on row four, Blajer and Houben completing the top 10.
Another 15 minutes of racing roared into life, and this time all drivers survived the first lap. McCormack flashed his lights at Tauscher halfway around the lap, making his feelings known about the UOL drivers defending. Meanwhile, George Boothby for Yas Heat moved up to 11th and Siggy up to third.
R8G Esports had Jajovski in fourth and Houben in ninth, which would have secured their place in the final with the spread of the other teams, so communication between the drivers was essential.
On the fourth lap, the R8G plan was undone as Tauscher capitalised on a small mistake from Jajovski to claim fourth, immediately followed by McCormack taking fifth.
With Jajovski losing two positions in one corner, it was Team Redline that now was holding a narrow advantage by the halfway stage in the race. Jajovski now had all the pressure in the world, heading a six-car snake and everyone behind needing to make a move to try to stake a claim to the second finale spot.
Punch and counterpunch, lap after lap, the snake behind Jajovski in fifth were still all determined to make their moves, but in the end, Unicorns of Love would not be denied their spot in the final. After all was calculated, it was Team Redline who had wrestled their way through to join them.
Unicorns of Love against Team Redline, the stage was set for an incredible finale for the opening round of the spring cup.
Six cars faced off in another qualifying session to decide the grid for the first 10-minute race. This time, Siggy managed to disrupt the Unicorns’ stranglehold of the event by taking pole for Team Redline.
Siggy and Gronewald broke away from the rest early on as the remaining four cars were having an incredible battle between themselves. Every position was critical, Tauscher and Bonito were side by side for the second half of the first lap.
Pfeffer had managed to get on the back of his teammate by lap two, and as much as Siggy had a lot of pressure to retain the lead, Bonito had just as much pressure on him to get past Tauscher for fourth, but towards the end of the lap, the Italian nudged the back of Tauscher and span the Unicorn driver.
While Bonito allowed Tauscher back into now fifth position, Rietveld went through to fourth, however this lined up Bonito for a penalty. Rietveld returned to sixth position to avoid penalties for Redline, so the pair of three-way battles resumed. Siggy was able to fend off Gronewald and Pfeffer for the race win, Bonito had to make the pass on Tauscher to give the points win to Redline, but to no avail. First blood went to Unicorns of Love.
The second race reversed the grid from the results of the first race, putting Rietveld on pole and Siggy in last. Rietveld must have felt that he was defending against the entire world, but this allowed Bonito to slip through on the opening lap.
Tauscher was looking to challenge Rietveld but ended up having a half-spin following contact from Siggy, and dropped to the back, giving Team Redline the front three positions. Pfeffer was not prepared to allow that, and went for third from Siggy, managing to dispatch of the race one winner.
Pfeffer was on a charge towards Rietveld for third, but the two came together and Pfeffer found the wall, dropping to the back. Siggy had earnt himself a penalty for the contact with Tauscher, and now Rietveld earnt himself a penalty, making Redline’s job harder to win the race, but win the race they did.
The three Redline cars crossed the line in the top three positions, and even penalty points couldn’t take the win away.
The tie-breaker race necessitated yet another qualifying session. This time, Bonito stepped up for Redline to take pole, but Siggy and Rietveld were at the back, and 10 minutes to see who was taking top honors.
Pfeffer went on the attack into turn one on Bonito, but ran wide and nearly ran into Tauscher when he rejoined the track. Into turn three, Gronewald and Rietveld came together and it was the Unicorn driver that ended up facing the wall, already putting the stewards to work and Gronewald parked his car in the pits.
All eyes were on Bonito as he had to win to keep Redline’s hope alive, especially if a penalty was looming. Bonito committed to every defensive line he could, Tauscher tried where he could to dislodge the Italian from the lead, and Siggy had closed in to make the trio a quartet for the final five minutes of the race. Siggy went for a move on Pfeffer for third, but a minor contact killed his momentum and Rietveld took fourth and put himself in position to attack the remaining Unicorns.
With less than two minutes remaining, a penalty was given to Team Redline for the collision that saw Gronewald retire, which meant that now UOL had the points lead and Rietveld would have to make the pass on Pfeffer for third to swap the points advantage back to Redline. Bonito did what he could to slow the pack to make the overtake possible.
Bonito came over the line first, but the points advantage remained with the Unicorns of Love