W Series Esports League: Round 4, preview
It was a breathtaking third round in Brands Hatch. W Series Esports League now heads to Interlagos for its fourth event, as the championship fight comes alive. Here's our preview.
While the hype for the return of real-life racing is growing, the enthusiasm for the W Series Esports League is certainly not decreasing: the first ever fully-female virtual championship has so far provided plenty of exciting racing and has highlighted stories of drivers that would have probably had less exposure in a traditional season.
W Series - as it was the case for last year's opening rounds - took onboard the fans' suggestions and actively acted upon them, significantly improving the product on a weekly basis. After the third championship round, the quality of the broadcast has skyrocketed, with more realistic camera angles, onboards, timing gaps embedded in the graphics and the much desired replays. Also, Billy Monger in the commentary team has been a very welcomed addition.
Despite Beitske Visser extending her championship lead after the highly-spectacular Brands Hatch round, young Russian Irina Sidorkova is increasingly emerging as the main title contender. Last week, Ira managed to break Visser's dominance in the "traditional" races, winning the third heat on the difficult British racetrack after a breathtaking battle with the Dutch rival and with Marta Garcia. Sidorkova, who turned 17 a few days ago, became the third race winner of the virtual season so far, after only Emma Kimilainen had managed to deny Visser the top podium position in the reverse-grid races at Monza and COTA.
Beitske remains the most experienced simracer on the W Series grid and her iRacing skills will probably put her once again ahead of the predictions in Interlagos. But Sidorkova's most recent victory might give her a significant confidence boost: the teenager rookie not only endured the pressure of a three-way battle on the fast and tricky Brands Hatch circuit, but also pushed the most experienced opponent to a rare mistake in the closing minutes.
Visser, on the other hand, has certainly put in hours of practice on the sim this past week, working on her race starts which made her vulnerable in the first laps of the races in a couple of occasions. Caitlin Wood, now third in the standings and the only racer close to Visser in pure one-lap pace, will be eager to finally convert her pole positions into race victories and close the points gap that separates her from the leading pair.
Alice Powell, despite a couple unfortunate events, is another serious front-runner, just as Spanish Marta Garcia, who has been really impressive starting from the Austin round.
“All I can say is that it was a lot of fun to run these races at Brands Hatch!" - said Marta after the third event. "Race 3 has been super intense, one of the best to date in this championship. I could almost touch victory with my fingertips, so let's pick up the pace and hopefully that moment will come in Brazil!”
Just like in the past W Series season, Tasmin Pepper has emerged as one of the most consistent drivers always capable of a top-10 and currently sits sixth in the standings, but is still waiting to score her first podium (both real and virtual) in the series. Will she achieve that in Interlagos? One point separates the South African to another Esports League revelation, 18-year old Nerea Marti. The young Spaniard has the potential to win races and great qualifying speed, but hit trouble in the latest round, leaving too many points on the table. A natural talent on the simulator, we can surely expect Nerea to come back to the higher-part of the leaderboard soon.
Among the drivers that made most progresses throughout this first part of the championship is Jessica Hawkins. "I had such a bad round at Monza and was on the back foot straight away." - she explained. "Since then, I’ve been trying hard to avoid crashes and keep my nose clean, and that has helped me in the last two rounds at COTA and Brands Hatch. I’m not playing it safe, but I’m focusing on getting decent, consistent results that will pay dividends in the long run."
"I’m proud of the improvement I’ve made. I’m not as quick as the frontrunners yet, but most of them have been sim-racing for a long time so I’m playing catch up." - Jess added.
"My eyes are turning square from the hours I’m putting in, so hopefully I can keep working my way to the front. The next round is at Interlagos and I cannot wait!"
As Sabré Cook clinched her first podium in the reverse-grid race, other drivers that showed some good progresses were reserve driver Naomi Schiff - who has contested every race so far and will likely keep racing in place of Jamie Chadwick in Brazil - and Belen Garcia, despite the latter hasn't yet translated her pace into noteworthy results due to various contacts.
Home of the Brazilian Grand Prix, the Autodromo Carlos Pace in São Paulo is one of the drivers' favourites and always provides some of the most spectacular races on the calendar.
Despite its shortened version compared to the pre-1989 layout, Interlagos - literally "between the lakes" - remains a very challenging circuit, with its iconic corners such as the S-do Senna opening chicane. A great passing opportunity, the downhill left-right handers of turn 1 and 2, followed by the fast Curva do Sol, lead to the back-traight of Reta Oposta.
Turn 5 and 6 form the Descida do Lago, another overtaking spot that precedes the twisty section of Turn 8, 9 and 11 - composed of slow hairpins where traction is essential.
Finally, the fast and technical downhill left-hander of Mergulho leads to Junção, which is the last potential overtaking opportunity before the long uphill main straight, the Subida do Boxes, where tows will certainly play an important role throughout the races.
“The circuit means a hell of a lot to all Brazilian drivers, and I well remember how thrilled Ayrton Senna was when he won there for us [McLaren] in 1991 and again in 1993." - explained Dave Ryan, former sporting director of the McLaren F1 team and current Racing Director of W Series.
“W Series’ one Brazilian driver, Bruna Tomaselli, has big boots to fill!”
The fourth round of the W Series Esports League will be broadcasted on the series official channels (Youtube, Twitch, Facebook) on Thursday 2nd July, starting at 7pm BST (20:00 CET). UK-based viewers can also follow the three races acress BBC BBC iPlayer, BBC Red Button and on the BBC Sport website.