VISSER GRABS EARLY W SERIES ESPORTS LEAGUE ADVANTAGE AT MONZA OPENER


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Beitske Visser stated her intentions early in the opening night of competition in the first-ever W Series eSports League, as she collected two wins from the three races at Monza to take the championship lead, while Emma Kimilainen would also taste success with race victory.

The new series follows in the footsteps of the real world championship, whose ethos is to help push, promote and develop talented female racing drivers by giving them a platform to thrive and showcase their talents as they bid to reach the top of the sport. After a successful first season in 2019 which saw Jamie Chadwick clinch the inaugural title, W Series had been set for an even bigger and better second season in 2020 before the unfortunate developments of the COVID-19 pandemic led to the decision to postpone the championship until 2021. However, those who were set to compete will still be able to race against one another in the first-ever W Series eSports League, which uses the iRacing platform and will see the drivers compete across ten different circuits in a three-race format.

The honour of the first-ever pole position went to Australian racer Caitlin Wood, as she was able to pinch the top spot from the vice-champion of 2019, Beitske Visser from The Netherlands, by just one-thousandth of a second. Nerea Marti from Spain was third fastest ahead of Ayla Agren from Norway, with Russan debutant Ira Sidorkova impressing many with the 5th fastest time. As for the British drivers, defending W Series champion Jamie Chadwick could only muster the 11th fastest time, with Sarah Moore and Alice Powell just behind her in 12th and 13th and Jessica Hawkins and Abbie Eaton, also making her series debut, starting together on the eighth row.

Caitlin Wood appeared to jump the start as the first race got underway, with Visser grabbing the lead exiting the first chicane while Sidorkova managed to move past Agren and Marti to take 3rd place in the opening few corners. Wood attempted to repass Visser on the outside of Parabolica before the end of Lap 1, but had to try again heading down the pit straight on the approach to the Rettifilio chicane, to no avail. Sidorkova, meanwhile, was already closing in on 2nd place and wasting no time in her efforts to mount a challenge, while behind the top three a battle was brewing between Martin, Tasmin Pepper from South Africa and Agren over 4th place. Agren’s efforts took a hit when a move from Gosia Rdest ended up forcing her to drop down the order, falling as low as 13th place.

Sidorkova was able to make a move for 2nd place on Wood, but Caitlin wasn’t prepared to give up the place so easy and tried to come back at the Russian heading into Ascari. Unable to repass, she tried again at Parabolica on the outside. Setting herself up for the pit straight, Wood was able to get her nose in front approaching the first chicane, but Sidorkova stood her ground and braked later to take the outside line, expertly taking the pace. The pair carried on battling up to Ascari once again, but this time Sidorkova elected to take the safe inside line while Wood dared to emulate the outside pass several corners earlier. However, carrying too much speed into the braking zone only led her to run across the gravel and drop down to 5th, leaving Marti to take up the challenge for 2nd place.

Visser, meanwhile, had the race under control heading into the last five minutes and remained unchallenged in the lead to make history as the first-ever W Series eSports League race winner, as well as clinching the fastest lap and the bonus point to go with it. Sidorkova drove superbly to earn 2nd place on her first night of racing, and likewise Nerea Marti as she filled out the podium in 3rd. Pepper took 4th ahead of Rdest in 5th, who managed to take another place away from Wood to push her down to 6th by the flag. An excellent effort from Jessica Hawkins saw her gain eight places to finish in 7th, followed by Marta Garcia, Jamie Chadwick and Belen Garcia.

The second race features a complete reverse grid, putting fast Finnish lady Emma Kimilainen on pole alongside Fabienne Wohlwend from Lichtenstein. The first corner ended up becoming a little chaotic as several cars ended up in incidents at the Rettifilio chicane, but when everyone got going again Kimilainen led from Wohlwend, Moore and incredibly Rdest, who had worked her way through to 4th place through the melee. Pepper and Visser would also spin in harmony at the Roggia chicane without making contact with each other, compromising their opening lap too. Rdest passed Moore before the end of Lap 1 to take 3rd place, but then skipped over the first chicane after out braking herself but retained the place.

Just behind in 6th, Sidorkova had made more excellent progress through the field and was already high in the field by Lap 2, and she too was able to pass Moore on the approach to Parabolica to claim 5th as Moore slipped backwards. The Russian wasted no time in sailing onto the tail of Garcia in a bid to take 4th place, while Garcia was keeping pace with Rdest in front as the three cars circulated together in their efforts to claim the final podium place. Chadwick was also gaining time in 6th and kept a watching brief for any opportunity to insert herself into the fight. A mistake from Garcia allowed both Sidorkova and Chadwick to move up a place each, but this appeared to be where their progress would plateau as neither seemed to ultimately have enough pace left in the tank to catch and pass Rdest for the final podium place.

As the last couple of laps were reeled off, Kimilainen managed to stabilise the gap to the cars behind and drove on to collect her first win in the series, taking full advantage of the reverse grid format and taking the flag in first. Wohlwend was only just able to hold on for 2nd place as a late challenge from Rdest at Parabolica on the last lap forced her to defend hard before the sprint to the flag, forcing Rdest to settle for 3rd place. Sidorkova and Chadwick came next to round off the top 5 places, with Marta Garcia in 7th, Sarah Moore taking 8th, a strong drive through the field from Beitske Visser helping her climb to 9th place in the end, and Alice Powell ensuring three British drivers finished in the top 10 with 10th place.

A second qualifying session preceded the third and final race of the evening, and another storming lap from Wood allowed her to snatch pole position again from under Visser’s nose in the last couple of minutes. Agren and Marti were ready to go on the second row ahead of Sidorkova and Powell, while Race 2 winner Kimilainen would start outside of the top 10. An incident towards the rear of the field led to a couple of cars hitting strife before they’d even reach the start line, while at the head of the field a rocket start from Agren allowed her to get her nose in front before Marti pinched the position in quick succession. Heading to the first chicane, the leaders ran practically four abreast on approach but the top two remained in place with Visser demoted to 3rd ahead of a feisty Sidorkova. Visser immediately went on the attack for 2nd and made the pass into the Roggia chicane, before Agren spun out of 3rd exiting the first part of the complex and Wood entered the scene backwards after seemingly tangling with Powell and Pepper, but was able to rejoin across the run-off tarmac unscathed.

Marti led the opening lap followed by Visser, Sidorkova, Powell and Rdest, while outside the top five the British pair of Chadwick and Moore swapped places for 8th in what turned out to be a fascinating battle in the early laps. Back at the front, the top three were in a race of their own respectively, leaving the rest to scrap over 4th place with Rdest, Powell and Pepper the main protagonists; Pepper managed to dispose of both to claim the place. Visser, meanwhile, had caught up to the gearbox of leader Marti and began to apply pressure in the early laps and made the pass for the lead into the Roggia chicane before pushing on in a bid to extend a gap.

From here the race very much settled down, with the only close battle on track being that for 5th position between Rdest and Powell. Rdest lost the place when Powell made a move into Lesmo 1 but rebounded on the run to Ascari by braking later to reclaim the place. Powell immediately fought back approaching Parabolica but after backing out of a move, she tried again on the pit straight and the pressure forced Rdest to out-brake herself and cut across the chicane, handing the place to Powell on a plate.

Visser’s race remained uneventful as she ticked off the laps one by one and picked up her second win of the night in the process, claiming the points lead in the championship in the process. An impressive showing from Marti helped her earn 2nd place, while Sidorkova had also proved she had plenty of potential up her sleeve with 3rd. Pepper had managed to create a gap to the cars behind her to ensure 4th place was secure, with Powell completing the top 5 ahead of Rdest with Moore, Wood, Agren and Chadwick filling out the top 10.

Scott Woodwiss