A final chance to accrue points before the new year’s VCO World Cup, the Esports Racing League’s Fall Cup was well underway.
Despite a dominant Summer Masters performance, however, Team Redline was pipped to the post on their first attempt to lock in a victory. In their home territory of iRacing, no less, one of sim racing’s greatest forces fell to the stubbornness of Apex Racing Team; repeating its heroics from a month earlier.
For Round 2, the action moved over to Assetto Corsa Competizione. It was a platform which saw Redline drop before the semi-finals in the Summer Cup – ultimately becoming the only round where they did not reach the finals. With an air of redemption in the air, the juggernaut was not to be discounted.
GTWR won on that Summer Cup day, but disappointingly fell during the quarter-finals time around. Apex Racing Team were runners-up on that Summer Cup day and performed better, helping knock out its previous opponents.
It was back into the tin tops for the second round with a sublime car/track combination deployed by league organisers. Circuit Zolder provided an exciting test for the drivers featuring sweeping curves and brave overtaking zones.
Joining ART would be the aforementioned Redline, fellow winners Unicorns of Love alongside sibling teams Veloce Esports and YAS HEAT. TRITON Racing rounded off the top six besting the likes of Williams and Fordzilla in its quarters group.
In the BMW M2, the action up until this point has been a treat to watch. Redline was looking very strong indeed as Kevin Siggy and Enzo Bonito locked out the front row heading into a rolling start.
Their roadblocking tactics usually worked, but the Heat’s George Boothby had plenty of other ideas. A veteran of the Alpine Esports Series, his campaign had suffered thanks to ill health and not featured much of his wheel-to-wheel racecraft. That was on full display here; sizing up second-placed Siggy before slicing down the inside of Sterrenwacht.
Whilst Boothby’s teammate, Martin Statsenko, was moving his way up through a dogged midfield scrap nicely, Apex’s Jamie Fluke was only moving backwards. A bold move through Lucien Bianchi paid off handsomely by the Kleine Chicane for Tobias Gronewald; much to the chagrin of Fluke who dropped behind Jeffrey Rietveld also.
As is to be expected by this stage of the competition, some attempted manoeuvres looked better in the heads of pilots than in reality.
Such was the case as Marko Pejic dived in on Fluke, bludgeoning the Northern Irishman through Bolder without much grace. Veloce teammate Eamonn Murphy slipped through into the vacated sixth position as Pejic attempted to right the wrong. Statsenko saw the chance for a double overtake into Jackie Ickx but was very clumsy, knocking Pejic into the grass.
The saving factor playing into the Heat’s hands was the number of penalty points set to go against other drivers.
Boothby’s second place to Bonito’s first was more than enough to secure a place in the Finals with Redline making it two appearances in a row for their Fall Cup endeavours.
Finals – Race 1
Form can be a fickle beast sometimes yet it was all coming together for Boothby who claimed pole position ahead of the Team Redline trio for Race 1 of the Finals.
With strong pace shown around the Belgian circuit, the Englishman would be hoping for one of his two teammates to break down the back wall into the top four consisting of Siggy and Bonito.
Almost immediately this task was ticked off thanks to another poor couple of opening corners for Siggy. Seeing the chance to strike early, Statsenko passed the Austro-Slovenian through that second turn just as Boothby had done in the Semi-Finals.
So unsettled was Siggy that he would end up propping up the field thanks to persistence into the Kleine Chicane from third Yas HEAT driver Maciej Malinowski.
Many minutes later, Siggy would finally re-pass Malinowski but found himself two and a half seconds away from his true target. Statsenko made absolutely sure of the Heat’s win with an overtake on Bonito before Redline fully conceded; Rietveld dropped behind the pair to guarantee a preferable reverse starting grid for Race 2.
Finals – Race 2
Despite Redline’s advantage, Yas HEAT’s starting strategy was executed to perfection. Though contact was involved, it was not severe enough to punish either Boothby or Statsenko as they escorted Bonito out of the podium places. The Italian was antsy and his car’s body language suggested an attempt to repass was inevitable.
The effort came with three and a half minutes remaining. A great run through the Kleine Chicane set up for a move into Gilles Villeneuve, but it all went wrong as the two vehicles tangled. Statsenko came off best, remaining in third, but Malinowski slipped through to create a new buffer stop in fourth.
Last lap drama ensued as Siggy aimed to punish a poor first sector by the Polish driver. He managed to pass through the Kleine Chicane but not without taking to the gravel trap.
Before any judgement could be thrown by race control, Malinowski sent a ‘Hail Mary’ into Bolder which earned him the position back – albeit with contact.
Rietveld had won the race handily from Boothby but there was to be no nervy wait for the official call. An all-clear was given and Yas HEAT had denied Team Redline with a hardy 2-0 performance.
All images courtesy of VCO Esports