W Series Esports League: Round 9, preview
The W Series Esports League title fight heads to Germany for the most anticipated round: the Nürburgring Nordschleife. Over 20km of pure challenges, two championship contenders and a guest entry - here's our preview.
The first fully-female simracing championship comes closer to its season finale - but not before making its highly anticipated appearance to one of the most legendary racetracks in the world, the Nürburgring Nordschleife - or "Green Hell", how the respected circuit is also widely known as. An operation that encapsulates the beauty of eSports: with simracing, a major championship such as W Series could bring back formula cars on the over 20 km-long track layout, which is today only open to GT races for obvious safety reasons.
An essential racetrack for every proper simracing platform, iRacing replicates the iconic venue with the utmost precision and will likely provide the drivers with the biggest challenge of the season. Given its monumental laptimes, qualifying won't leave much room for error, as drivers will possibly get one single shot.
"It’s a very different track because it’s so long." - explained championship leader Beitske Visser after last week's race. "In qualifying you normally try to put one lap together, but this will be like trying to put five laps together at once. Like Bathurst, the walls are very close so it’s going to be very tricky."
And on top of that, the closest pursuer Marta Garcia will also have the extra pressure of keeping alive the champioship fight: with only one more round to go next week, she can't afford another ill-fated round in Germany if she wants to keep her chances alive into the season finale at Silverstone.
It was a “mixed feelings" Australian round for Marta last week: "A great victory in race 1 and a good reaction to adversity in the following races, making the most out of the situation" - she commented. On the other hand, Visser comes out of Bathurst's third race with her first victory after a 5-races winless streak but, crucially, interrupting Garcia's progress in the points' tally. It was mainly a morale-boosting round for Beitske, after witnessing to her erlier-half-of-the-season's dominance slowly shrinking.
Now, 57 points ahead of the Spaniard, Visser could potentially have her first match point at the Nürburgring: she needs to extend her lead by 7 more points to be crowned W Series Esports League champion with one week in advance. But Marta Garcia will do everything in her power to avoid this scenario.
"I am still in the fight for the title in the W Series Esports League." - she said. "It seems that catching Beitske Visser is going to be difficult, but I am going to focus on training hard with the simulator and preparing thoroughly for the next appointment at the iconic Nordschleife in Germany."
Nerea Marti and Tasmin Pepper, both on the podium twice in Bathurst, will also look to further climb the standings following the latest difficult rounds for teenager Irina Sidorkova, who is combining the virtual season with her return to real-life racing in the SMP RSKG touring cars championship in her native Russia. Marti, only 36 points behind, has been a consistent front runner yet has not won a race so far. Can the 18-year old from Valencia find victory on the mighty Nordschleife?
It is often said that the simulator is the best tool to learn a track: a driver can more easily find the limit without worrying about the damage bill. But with only a week to practice, drivers with previous knowledge of the countless Green Hell secrets will likely maintain a competitive advantage: BMW works driver Beitske Visser, once again, has lapped many tours around the circuit, as she raced in last year's VLN championship.
Fabienne Wohlwend also entered the popular German endurance series - famously escaping a frightening accident last year.
And, coming from the now rebranded Nürburgring Langstrecken Serie, is this week's guest driver: W Series will welcome Charlie Martin on the grid for the ninth round.
Charlie, who was also part of Formula E's Race At Home Challenge during lockdown, made her debut to the former-VLN championship driving a BMW M240i.
"It’s such a rush driving there with all the traffic" - she said, "the series has 20 different classes, and 150 cars racing on a 25km circuit (it’s the Nordschleife and the GP circuit combined). It’s wild really. Racing there is like nothing else. There’s no margin for error."
Together with Charlie Martin, Hannah Grisham and Gabriela Jilkova will also make a second guest entry appearance after their debut at Suzuka.
2019 W Series champion Jamie Chadwick claimed here one of the most prestigious victories of her career so far - the Nürburgring 24 Hours at the wheel of the Aston Martin Vantage GT4 - but due to her Formula 3 Regional European Championship commitments it is unlikely that the British ace will make her return to the virtual series.
Widely famous even outside the motorsport community due to Niki Lauda's fiery crash in 1976, the Nürburgring Nordschleife hasn't hosted a F1 race ever since.
Its 170 corners through the Eifel mountains' forest - the Green Hell - feature some properly scary and exciting corners in motor racing.
From the fast and bumpy Quiddelbacher Höhe, which leads to the famous Flugplatz - literally "Airfield", to Aremberg, the super-fast Kesselchen and the slow banked hairpin of Karussell; from the very tricky downhill Pflanzgarten to the never-ending Döttinger Höhe straight, the Nürburgring Nordschleife will be the ultimate test for drivers and cars.
“Many manufacturers of high-speed road cars use the track for testing, and in recent years modern hypercars have recorded lap times of less than seven minutes. In July 2018 Marco Mapelli, an ex-racing driver now employed by Lamborghini as a test driver, and a noted Nordschleife expert, drove a Lamborghini Aventador LP770-4 SVJ around the famous track in 6min 44.970sec, but the car was running on non-standard Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R tyres designed specifically for track testing." - explains W Series racing director Dave Ryan.
"And it’s a seriously potent machine, its 759bhp V12 engine capable of propelling it to a maximum speed of 218mph: much faster than a W Series Tatuus race car."
“It will be interesting to see what kind of lap times our drivers will manage in the W Series Esports League: probably somewhere between seven and eight minutes, I reckon, but it’s hard to be sure at this stage.”
The ninth round of the W Series Esports League will be broadcasted on the series official channels (Youtube, Twitch, Facebook) on Thursday 6th 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.