W Series Esports League: Round 5, preview
The 2020 W Series Esports League reaches its halfway point on the drivers-favourite Spa Francorchamps circuit. Who's gonna stop Beitske Visser?
When W Series announced the cancellation of its 2020 on-track season, the idea of waiting for 2021 to see the ladies of the all-female championship back racing together seemed overwhelming. Now, five weeks into the newly-launched W Series Esports League, the virtual championship has provided plenty of entertainment and has given the drivers a new platform where to convey their stories to a bigger audience - making the wait a lot more bearable.
With ten rounds scheduled on the calendar, we are already reaching the mid-point of the first ever women-only simracing league and, despite real-life motorsport championships are slowly making their return to the tracks, the hype for the virtual title fight is building.
After her mistake in Brands Hatch's third race, Beitske Visser's perfect round at Interlagos was a big signal to her young rivals: Beitske is more focused than ever and keen on extending her winning streak to the very end of the season at Silverstone.
Irina Sidorkova managed to win again the reverse-grid race after an unfortunate accident in the very opening stages of the first race in Interlagos, which prevented her to potentially prolong her battle with Visser. The Dutch racer - leaving her relentless race pace aside - is also proving the importance of a fundamental simracing skill: navigating through the grid avoiding the crashes ahead. In the last few rounds, Visser has in fact gained many points over her competitors in the second races - although she never won one. Her consistency and patience is making the difference.
17-year old Sidorkova is surely one of the stars of this championship but, since the COTA round, Marta Garcia has also made significant progresses and has emerged as Sidorkova's main contender in the pursuit of Visser.
"I am happy to have proven myself as one of the most consistent drivers in the W
Series Esports League." - commented Garcia. "Every week we are improving and climbing positions! The Championship is very long but this third overall place indicates that we are progressing. I can't wait to start the next event, which is again another great circuit like Spa-Francorchamps!”
The young Spaniard has shown great speed and was protagonist of flawless starts. After her first round in Monza, Garcia has also been very consistent in avoiding the carnage and could well be the next driver to deny Visser a race vistory.
Tasmin Pepper claimed her first podium in Brazil and, just like in real-life, it is no more a surprise to see her in the top-5. Her exciting battle with Nerea Marti in the latest race could be extended to the points standings, as the two racers are separated by only 10 points.
After a very unfortunate round, Nerea will surely look forward to recover the points left on the table with a strong result. Always fast in qualifying, Nerea had impressive races in Monza - a high speed circuit just like the Belgian venue.
Just like during last year's real W Series season, an initial gap in experience among the entrants is being reduced race after race. The result is an-ever improving and more competitive midfield. The third Interlagos race was all about the midfield and some battles proved how all of the drivers could have made it into the top-10.
Jessica Hawkins is continuing her climb to the higher part of the classify; Gosia Rdest has appeared again in the top five, just as Ayla Agren has claimed her best result with a P4. Abbie Eaton and Naomi Schiff have also shown good speed, but have been caught in the midst of chaos more than they would have liked.
“Ask most Formula 1 drivers to name their favourite circuit and the majority of them will answer with one short syllable – Spa – and it’s easy to see why." - commented Dave Ryan, former sporting director of McLaren F1 and current race director of W Series.
The home of the Belgian Grand Prix and one of the most historical racetracks in the world, Spa Francorchamps is the longest circuit on the F1 calendar, but won't be the longest on the W Series Esports League schedule.
Its fast and undulating nature comes from its setting over a Belgian hillside and in the middle of the Ardennes forest.
Its corners are truly legendary and have witnessed to all the great motorsport heroes since 1922, when Spa hosted its first race.
“The list of past Formula 1 winners is a veritable Who’s Who of racing royalty – Rudolf Caracciola, Hermann Lang, Juan Manuel Fangio, Alberto Ascari, Jack Brabham, Jim Clark, John Surtees, Dan Gurney, Bruce McLaren, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Nigel Mansell, Michael Schumacher, Mika Häkkinen and of course W Series’ own David Coulthard, who won there in 1999, a great day for us McLaren guys that I remember very fondly." - added Ryan. "More recently, Jenson Button, Kimi Räikkönen, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton have all won there too."
After a quite-short main straight, the first tricky corner of La Source always provides great action after the race starts: a slow right-hander hairpin which it will be vital to escape unscathed.
A downhill section leads to arguably the most famous corners in all motorsport: the left-right-left sequence of Eau Rouge and Radillon, an unbelievably steep uphill combination of fast corners. The long Kemmel straight follows, where slipstream will certainly create passing opportunities under braking at the Les Combes chicane.
The slow Rivage - now Bruxelles - corner leads to another fast sector: the double-apex Pouhon left-hander, one of the most challenging bends of the circuit.
After the quick chicane Les Fagnes, drivers enter the last sector: first is Stavelot, then a very long straight that leads to the full-speed Blanchimont corner and then to another key overtaking spot, the Bus Stop chicane.
Almost-home racer Beitske Visser is probably the W Series driver that has the most real-life experience of this legendary racetrack, having raced on both formula and GT cars. Fabienne Wohlwend claimed a class victory in the Ferrari Challenge, while both Alice Powell and Vicky Piria raced there in the GP3 series. But all of the drivers will be particularly keen to do well here, as the championship enters its second half.
The fifth round of the W Series Esports League will be broadcasted on the series official channels (Youtube, Twitch, Facebook) on Thursday 9th July, starting at 7pm BST (20:00 CET). UK-based viewers can also follow the three races acress BBC iPlayer, BBC Red Button and on the BBC Sport website.