W Series Esports League: Round 10, preview
Three months after the start of the first ever fully-female simracing championship, W Series Esports League is rounding out its 2020 virtual-only season - with plenty of battles still to decide the championship standings.
Incredible how time flies - we said just a couple of days ago, at the one-year anniversary of the first ever W Series season finale at Brands Hatch. An event still perfectly inked in our memory, richly adorned by conversations, fragments of conversations, friendships. The post-race celebrations were flowing with tears - of happiness for the on-track successes and of sadness for that last-day-of-school feeling which marked the end of that boundary-breaking first journey. Little we knew that, one year after, the Brands Finale would remain the last on-track race until 2021.
As I entered the hospitality for one last time on Sunday evening one year ago, I said hello to Catherine Bond Muir, the series CEO, and thanked her one last time. "I hope to see you next year" - I said. "Of course you'll see us next year" - she replied, slightly confused. I - obviously - had not predicted the biggest global pandemic in over 100 years, I was rather thinking about our very own presence trackside. Nevertheless, those words cannot but feel a bit prophetic.
While we haven't had the chance to see the W Series Tatuus F3 cars going around the tracks in 2020, the series organization fully committed to a virtual edition of the championship: tackling gender imbalance in eSports, W Series again brought its core mission to the forefront and launched the W Series Esports League. With all its 18 official drivers announced on the starting grid of the iRacing-based championship, the first fully-female simracing league kicked off in June on the iconic and super fast Monza circuit, before heading - virtually - to some of the most historical venues in the world of motorsport - something that only the digital realm could have achieved.
And, week after week, the W Series Esports League felt less like an entertaining stand-in and more like a proper 2020 campaign. Nothing will ever replace a real race weekend in a real car - but in such unprecedented and unpredictable times, the W Series Esports League provided epic racing action and thrilling battles, and was also crucially able to convey to a broader audience the stories of the W Series drivers, which will be an essential starting point for the next real-life season.
With drivers entering the season on very different level of simracing experience, it was clear that an initial gap would be progressively reduced - giving the chance to more new faces to establish themselves as potential front-runners. Beitske Visser quickly built a significant point advantage over her rivals, but Irina Sidorkova and especially Marta Garcia were quickly up to pace and could take the title fight up until the highly-anticipated round of the Nürburgring Nordschleife.
Now the series heads to Silverstone, the home of British motorsport - and indeed birthplace of F1 - with a freshly crowned champion but not without many interesting points to solve.
25-year old Visser, who finished runner-up in the on-track W Series season in 2019, claimed 11 races out of 27 and started 12 times out of 18 on pole: a natural talent combined with many, many hours behind the simulator, the Flying Dutchwoman earned the edge over the rest of the field. And, if Marta Garcia is also mathematically certain of her second place in the standings, the battle for third will now be the main focus in this evening's season finale.
All the eyes will be on Irina Sidorkova: the Russian teenager, after a great start of the virtual season, endured a tougher second half of the championship - which also coincided with the start of her on-track commitments in the Russian Circuit Racing Series. Sidorkova, who is travelling around the Russian racetracks with her full simracing equipment, saw her competitive edge slowly shrinking and will have to defend her third overall position from a group of very combative competitors: 18-year old Nerea Marti, a consistent podium finisher, is now only 27 points behind Sidorkova, but also Tasmin Pepper and Caitlin Wood have realistic chances to end on the championship podium.
Furthermore, Sidorkova will have to squeeze every point out of the first race, as she would likely be unable to compete in the full Silverstone event: "I can only say with confidence that I will definitely have time to drive the first race, but race 2 and certainly race 3 are under a huge question." - she said. "I have a flight booked. So, the task is extremely simple - from the first race to make no mistakes!"
But more drama awaits: who's gonna take Beitske Visser's place on the top step of the podium? The new champion, in fact, will not be on the grid either - due to her new commitments in the European Le Mans Series.
Pressure will be on Marta Garcia now to secure the most victories in Silverstone, but Nerea Marti and Caitlin Wood will also look forward to top their best results.
The Nürburgring round saw the impressive rise of Gabriela Jilkova, also known as "Quick Gabi". With likely more drivers not making it to the grid due to the tight real-racing revised schedules, it would have been really interesting to see the experienced simracer chasing glory earlier in the season.
Ayla Agren and Belen Garcia are also equal on points in seventh and eight, with Sarah Moore not far behind and will certainly put up a good fight for the top-half of the standings.
After announcing a mouth-watering calendar which included racetracks such as Monza, Austin, Brands Hatch, Interlagos, Spa Francorchamps, Watkins Glen, Suzuka, Bathurst and the mighty Nürburgring Nordschleife, the W Series Esports League could not find a better venue for its season finale than Silverstone, the home of British motorsport.
Hosting the British GP and birthplace of the first F1 World Championship race in 1950, Silverstone is one of the most well known circuits worldwide, even despite the several layout changes.
“The Silverstone circuit has changed a lot over the past three-score-years-and-ten." - explained W Series Race Director Dave Ryan. "In 1950 it measured 2.9 miles [4.6km] in length and contained just eight turns: Woodcote, Copse, Maggotts, Becketts, Chapel, Stowe, Club and Abbey. The modern circuit is a bit longer – at 3.6 miles [5.8km] – but it’s infinitely more complex, comprising 18 turns, some of which share the names of those of the 1950 track but none of which have much else in common."
“It used to be an extremely fast lap and it’s still a pretty fast one – Lewis Hamilton once compared nailing a pole lap there to flying a fighter jet – and the Maggotts-Becketts sequence is one of the best corner combos in the world. Stowe is likely the best overtaking spot, while the fast right-hander at Copse is probably the corner that has changed least over the years."
“Silverstone is a fitting venue for the final races of the W Series Esports League, and I for one really couldn’t tell you which of our drivers will be the overall series winner by the time we’re all done and dusted there.”
The tenth and final round of the W Series Esports League will be broadcasted on the series official channels (Youtube, Twitch, Facebook) on Thursday 13th August, starting at 7pm BST (20:00 CET). UK-based viewers can also follow the three races across BBC iPlayer, BBC Red Button and on the BBC Sport website.