W Series Esports League: Double Sidorkova victories in Brands Hatch
In this week's W Series Esports League event at Brands Hatch, Irina Sidorkova breaks Beitske Visser's dominance by claiming the second and third races after a stunning battle with the Dutch racer.
The iconic racetrack of Brands Hatch, home of the British Grand Prix between 1964 and 1986 - hosting the races in the even-numbered seasons - was the final chapter in last year's inaugural W Series championship. After the cancellation of the 2020 on-track season, the British circuit was this week the stage of the third round of the all-female virtual league.
A shorter track compared to last week's Circuit of the Americas, we expected closer gaps among the field at Brands Hatch: championship leader Beitske Visser was immediately competitive in the first qualifying, but was ultimately topped by Caitlin Wood, who once again showed implacable one-lap pace. Alice Powell, winner of the real-life race at Brands Hatch in 2019, was third fastest and took the start alongside Marta Garcia.
As the lights went out, Caitlin Wood had a good getaway but Visser tried and completed a daring move around the outside of the famous Paddock Hill bend. As Visser took the lead, her young championship contender, 16-year old Irina Sidorkova crashed into the inside wall going uphill towards Druids corner, in this week's first major turn of events.
Wood held on and tried to respond to Visser during the first lap, but she spun into the gravel as she carried too much speed and clipped the kerb on the entry of Sheene's corner.
After one lap, Visser led Alice Powell, Marta Garcia, Nerea Marti and Sarah Moore.
Both Emma Kimilainen and Vicky Piria made up several positions after a clean start despite starting towards the tail-end of the grid, but they then had to face the return of Wood, who made it back into the top-10 after two laps.
It was a good first half of the race for Belen Garcia as well, who recovered to ninth place and had a long battle with Fabienne Wohlwend. The Spanish racer continued to show improvements after her difficult Monza debut.
Sarah Moore, one of the five British drivers entering the series, quickly closed in on fourth-placed Nerea Marti. As it was the case in real-life, the local drivers maximised their experience of the Brands Hatch track: Moore continued within the top-5 for the whole race, matching her competitors' pace and followed by compatriot Jessica Hawkins, who also has been progressing significantly since the beginning of the championship.
It was a difficult race for Sidorkova throughout: the Russian teenager initially made up a few places, but then got stuck in the traffic of the back-end of the pack and was never fast enough to reach the points-scoring positions - maybe switching her focus straight to the second race.
With Visser never under threat, the most exciting action was in the midfield, with Vicky Piria having to defend very hard from the attacks of Abbie Eaton. After several laps of intense pressure, Eaton attempted a move which ended in a mistake. But soon after, Piria dropped as well from eleventh place, which would have been the Italian's best finish in the simracing world.
In the final stages - and with the top three essentially settled - Caitlin Wood passed Tasmin Pepper and advanced to eighth after her first lap mistake.
At the end of the first 15-minutes competition, Beitske Visser claimed her fifth victory out of seven races, extending her championship lead over Irina Sidorkova, only 18th at the finish line. Alice Powell was second, 4 seconds adrift and Marta Garcia finished third and again on the podium. Nerea Marti edged Moore for fourth, as Jessica Hawkins, Fabienne Wohlwend, Caitlin Wood, Tasmin Pepper and Belen Garcia rounded out the top ten.
Naomi Schiff, subbing in again for Jamie Chadwick, was eleventh, beating Eaton on the line.
The reverse-grid race saw Japanese Miki Koyama starting from pole following the race 1 results, with Irina Sidorkova lining up alongside her. The winner of all the previous reverse-grid races, Emma Kimilainen, started from eighth place after her P13 in race 1.
But it was Sidorkova to immediately establish herself as the main contender for a race victory, as she passed Koyama off the line despite some wheelspin.
Gosia Rdest crashed out of Turn 2, clipping the front wheel of Naomi Schiff and involving several other drivers. More carnage unfolded at Graham Hill Bend and on the Cooper Straight, with Vicky Piria spinning and igniting another multiple-car pile-up that sent Ayla Agren up in the air rolling. In the midst of the first lap chaos, Beitske Visser navigated through the field and avoided the carnage - after the first lap, the Dutch racer was already up to P7.
Sidorkova led Koyama and Sabré Cook, who emerged after the start in the leading group.
Nerea Marti, 17th at the start, had also avoided major incidents and followed Visser closely until a mistake in the tricky last corner, which sent her into a spin and forced the 18-year old Spanish rookie to a desperate recovery.
Just as Sabré Cook advanced to second demoting Miki Koyama, Visser continued her charge and passed Abbie Eaton for sixth, before starting the pursuit of Tasmin Pepper. The South African, meanwhile, found a way past Jessica Hawkins for fourth, as Visser opted to be extra-cautious in a three-cars battle and took her time to pass Hawkins.
The battles behind the podium positions went further on when Pepper made a small mistake and went wide on the astroturf, allowing Visser to close in. Tasmin fought back, but had to ultimately surrender the position to the Flying Dutchwoman.
Meanwhile, Sidorkova had already signed off and extended her lead by over eight seconds from Sabré Cook. Visser now had Koyama in sight, with five minutes left on the clock.
It wasn't long before the championship leader stripped Koyama of her third place: Miki lost the momentum and also dropped behind Pepper, Hawkins, Eaton and Wood.
With three minutes to go, Cook started to look into her mirrors to check for Visser's relentless charge, hoping to hold on and claim her maiden W Series Esports podium.
Beitske's pace in clear air was enough to quickly close the gap though, and she gained one more position completing a seriously remarkable recovery from the back of the grid.
Sidorkova took the chequered flag to win her first W Series race, becoming only the third winner this season with a dominant performance: "The reverse-grid race was quite easy because I only had to have a good start and I did, so after the first corner I was in first and could just go." - explained Sidorkova after her race-winning drive.
Visser was second, ahead of Sabré Cook who indeed clinched her first podium in simracing.
"In the reverse-grid race I got an OK start and just tried to be very gentle through Turn One to maintain position." - said Cook. "After that I was hunting down Miki [Koyama] and eventually passed her. From then I was trying to minimise mistakes and bring it home in third because I really needed those points."
"Beitske [Visser] is quite fast so I didn’t fight her too much – I try to learn as much as I can whenever I’m around her on track. I’m very new to simracing so I’m trying to put in as much time as possible to be more consistent and catch up. It’s hard because you don’t have the feeling through your body, and you’re very reliant on your vision so it’s just getting used to that."
Tasmin Pepper confirmed herself as a solid front-runner and finished fourth, edging Hawkins, Eaton and Wood. Nerea Marti recovered to eighth after her spin, while Emma Kimilainen and Gosia Rdest finished in the top-ten. Powell, now third in the standings, was eleventh just ahead of Miki Koyama.
The third race's qualifying saw again the usual suspects topping the timesheets: Beitske Visser, Caitlin Wood, Nerea Marti and Irina Sidorkova led the classify after the first flying-runs, all within few tenths of a second of each other. Sidorkova improved to second but was edged by Marta Garcia in the closing minutes, but nobody could better Beistke's laptime, as the championship dominator again took pole position for the final race at Brands Hatch.
Miki Koyama suffered hardware issues and was out of the race altogether, while Alice Powell also had difficulties and was forced to start from the back.
At the race start, Visser had a difficult start and almost spun off the line, allowing Marta Garcia to take the lead. Visser held on to second, with Sidorkova, Wood and Marti behind.
Nerea was immediately caught up in an accident that sent the Spaniard to the back, effectively compromising her race.
Powell, despite some damage to her front wing, was able to move up quickly through the field and closed the first lap in P12.
But surely the third Brands Hatch's race will be remembered for the hectic and exciting battle for the top three positions: Garcia, Visser and Sidorkova disappeared into distance, leaving Wood and Pepper to fight for fourth place.
Visser put pressure on Garcia, but only attempted a move around the half-way point of the race: when she tried to go around the outside of Paddock Hill Bend, Irina saw a gap and dived on the inside and took second away from her main championship rival at Druids.
A stunning battle unfolded, with Visser and Sidorkova completing a full lap around the 3.908 km long Brands Hatch circuit side-by-side. The Russian re-claimed second at the end of the main straight, but Visser was back ahead at Druids. This allowed Marta Garcia to open a small gap and a some breathing space - but soon after, the Spaniard was again checking her mirrors from the return of Visser.
Despite the Dutch driver's faster pace, Sidorkova waited patiently for her next opportunity, as soon as her opponent had closed in on Garcia again.
And, just as a few laps earlier, Sidorkova saw a gap at Paddock Hill Bend and surprised both Visser and Garcia, taking the lead. Garcia dropped to third with four minutes to go, as the fight for the lead reached its climax.
Incredibly, Beitske Visser made a rare mistake - just as she was trying to put pressure on her rookie competitor - and went hard into the wall at Stirling's Bend, picking up major damage.
The crash deprived us of a potentially amazing final laps for the victory between the two current championship contenders and allowed Sidorkova to open a 1.5 second gap on Marta Garcia. Irina crossed the finish line and claimed her second victory in the W Series Esports League after what was arguably the most intense race of the virtual season.
"The third race was harder because I had some overtakes." - said Sidorkova.
"In the first few laps I didn’t want to overtake Beitske [Visser] or Marta [Garcia] because I just wanted to put in some good laps, but after that we had a great battle. I was delighted to win two W Series Esports League races – it’s great to be competing with the other W Series drivers and even better to be winning already!"
Garcia finished another strong race in second, preceding Caitlin Wood in third.
"The third race was really hard." - explained Marta Garcia after yet another podium finish that puts her fifth in the standings.
"I had a good start in that race, keeping myself in first place, but it was already difficult because Beitske [Visser] was pushing hard and then I saw Irina [Sidorkova] and she was fast too. I did not have the pace in that race and it was difficult to hold Irina. Maybe I could have done better in the first corner, but she did a good job in overtaking."
Visser rejoined in fourth and held on, but had to defend from the attacks of Tasmin Pepper during the closing lap.
"In the third race, I qualified on pole, messed up my start and had a really long fight with Marta [Garcia] and Ira until unfortunately I hit the wall. It was cool to fight with them and hopefully we can have more of that." - added Visser.
Behind the top-6, it was another fierce battle between Jessica Hawkins, Naomi Schiff, Fabienne Wohlwend and Ayla Agren. During a heated exchange of positions, Schiff and Agren made contact, allowing Wohlwend and Hawkins to finish seventh and eighth respectively.
Hawkins claimed 3 top-ten finishes at Brands Hatch and made huge progresses in the points standings: "I really needed to bag some points after an iffy start at Monza followed by a slightly better, but still not great, performance at Austin, so that’s what I tried to do."
"A couple of times I could have held a position for longer but it may have cost me a few places later on in that race. In race two, when Beitske [Visser] was coming up behind me, I didn’t want to let her go but I also wasn’t going to make it difficult because I wanted to bag some points. It was a case of losing one position rather than risking a crash and losing a lot of points which would have been detrimental to my W Series Esports League position."
"I’m putting in hours upon hours on the sim – I think my eyes are going to turn square soon! I’ve really struggled to get to grips with it, but I’ll keep working hard and hope I’m somewhere near Beitske soon."
Alice Powell finished ninth despite her qualifying problems, one place ahead of Vicky Piria who finished for the first time within the top-10.
After three rounds, Beitske Visser leads the standings with 153 points, 27 points clear of Sidorkova (126). Caitlin Wood moves up to third (88) by just one point over Alice Powell.
Tasmin Pepper also advances to sixth thanks to more solid results (79 points), passing Nerea Marti (78) who drops to seventh after an unlucky round.
W Series Esports League will be back on the virtual racetrack next Thurdsay, as the 20 ladies will compete on the equally challenging Interlagos circuit.
In Irina's words:
"It’s great to be competing with the other W Series drivers and even better to be winning already!"