W Series Esports League: Visser and Kimilainen win again at COTA
After three action-packed races at COTA, the second round of the W Series Esports League saw Beitske Visser and Emma Kimilainen taking victories again, as Marta Garcia, Alice Powell and Caitlin Wood claimed their first podiums.
After last week's inaugural round, W Series Esports League made its return to the Circuit of the Americas, Austin, for its second event.
Home of the F1 US Grand Prix since 2012, COTA is a very different circuit from Monza, where the first races were held last week. Fast flowing, technical and with big elevation changes, the Austin track proved also particularly challenging for track limits, both in qualifying and in the races. Yet, the results from the two events proved surprisingly similar.
The first two races featured 19 drivers, as both 2019 W Series reigning champion Jamie Chadwick and Miki Koyama missed the first heats, with Koyama entering the third race.
Chadwick is currently in Italy testing in the Formula Regional European Championship for Prema Powerteam, after she announced her entry in the highly competitive championship earlier this week. She was replaced by reserve driver Naomi Schiff, who had raced in Monza as well subbing in for Koyama.
The first 10-minutes qualifying was topped by championship leader Beitske Visser: the Dutchwoman clocked an impressive 2:04.468 lap, four tenths faster than two-times polesitter Caitlin Wood, who once again showed amazing one-lap speed.
Marta Garcia lined up in third alongside compatriot Nerea Martí, followed by strong performances by Tasmin Pepper and Alice Powell.
It was drama straight from qualifying for the opening round's star, 16-year old Irina Sidorkova: the young Russian driver could not complete a clean lap within track limits and was forced to start from the back of the grid.
As the lights went out, Visser had a slight hesitation that allowed both Marta Garcia and Caitlin Wood to jump the pole-sitter. But after the tricky first corner, it was a Spanish 1-2, with Marta Garcia leading Nerea Martí, who found a favorable line on the inside.
There was action all over the field, with drivers quickly gaining positions – such as Gosia Rdest, Emma Kimilainen and Jessica Hawkins – while others had to regroup and push extra hard to recover from a difficult start, like Tasmin Pepper.
During the first lap fierce battles, 18-year old Martí ran wide at Turn 12 but was able to hang on, only to surrender her second place a few laps later to the charging Visser under braking at the same corner.
Sidorkova quickly moved up to tenth place but got stuck in the midfield action: as she tried to pass Kimilainen, Sarah Moore completed an opportunistic move and advanced to tenth.
Cleared Martí, Visser had to close a 1.2 seconds gap on race leader Marta Garcia: the Dutch racer prepared the move out of Turn 11, got a good tow on the long straight and finally attacked Garcia at Turn 12, as the pack lapped a struggling Vicky Piria. Visser moved into the lead, just as Martí came under pressure from Caitlin Wood: the two swapped positions on a couple of occasions, but soon the Australian had to watch her mirrors from Alice Powell.
The Brit passed Wood, allowing Martí to breath. But, as time went by, Nerea's pace slightly dropped, allowing Powell to close in with three minutes left on the clock.
Sarah Moore dropped back, while both Emma Kimilainen and Belen Garcia showed great improvements compared to last week and engaged in an entertaining duel for seventh and eighth place. More action animated the midfield, with Gosia Rdest, Naomi Schiff and Tasmin Pepper all fighting for a place in the top-10.
After the first 15-minutes race, Beitske Visser took her third race victory out of four races, with Marta Garcia finishing in second after a great drive, one place ahead of Nerea Martí, who managed to keep Alice Powell at bay and claimed her second virtual W Series podium.
Caitlin Wood was fifth, with Jessica Hawkins having a very solid first race in sixth, ahead of Emma Kimilainen, Belen Garcia, Irina Sidorkova and Naomi Schiff rounding out the top ten.
In the fully-reversed grid race, Italian Vicky Piria shared the front row with Bruna Tomaselli.
It was a great start for Piria, who survived the first uphill hairpin, with the whole pack battling behind.
Making the most of the slipstream on the long straight leading to Turn 12, Ayla Agren quickly closed in on the race leader but all hell broke loose when Gosia Rdest crashed into Agren, who took out Piria. More cars were involved in the first lap incident, which confirmed the dangers of the reverse-grid race.
From the carnage, Bruna Tomaselli emerged out in front, ahead of Abbie Eaton and Emma Kimilainen. The Finn, who had started from the 13th grid slot, grabbed the lead soon after, with more hectic positions changes right behind her: Belen Garcia and Jessica Hawkins survived the chaos to emerge on top of the pursuing group, with also Schiff on their tails.
As several cars went four or five-wide on the straights, both W Series newcomers Irina Sidorkova and Nerea Martí charged through the field: Sidorkova was already up to sixth when Visser was caught in a couple of contacts in the midfield, while young Spanish ace Martí passed her opponents one after the other, gaining second place.
Just as Martí looked fast enough to catch Kimilainen, she took the way of the pitlane together with Belen Garcia, as more cars pitted to fix damages from the earlier collisions.
This turn of events left Emma Kimilainen in free air, as the Finnish racer signed off and expanded her lead to over nine seconds with under 10 minutes to go.
In a thoroughly hectic race, Jessica Hawkins came under increasing pressure from Sidorkova and, a couple of laps later, the Russian teenager made a stunning move with locked wheels into Turn 1, completing perhaps the best overtaking move of the day. Demoted to third, Hawkins had to defend from the fast Alice Powell, who made a move stick at Turn 12 despite going too deep under braking.
Sidorkova was able to significantly reduce the gap to Kimilainen but, with a handful of minutes left on the clock, it wasn't ultimately enough to deny Emma of her second victory: with a 2 seconds advantage, Kimilainen added 20 more points to her championship count.
"I don’t know how I keep winning the reverse-grid race!” - she said after the race. “I was nervous and shaking because every time I brake is a mystery. I don’t have consistency, but I saw a few good places to overtake, had some luck and managed to get a big lead. I’m happy and shocked that I won.”
Sidorkova was second and confirmed herself a clear title contender, with Alice Powell finishing for the first time on the podium – a significant improvement from the season opener – and Jessica Hawkins in an equally remarkable fourth position.
Schiff was fifth and claimed the additional point for the fastest lap, ahead of points-leader Visser in sixth. Wohlwend, Moore, Cook and Wood closed the top-ten.
The second qualifying saw a last-minute battle for pole between Beitske Visser and Tasmin Pepper, with Visser edging the South African on her second flying run. Wood was third fastest and started alongside the always competitive Nerea Martí. Miki Koyama made her first appearance in the series and lined-up at the back of the grid.
Learning from her first race mistake, Visser had a perfect getaway and safely held the lead into Turn 1. Behind her, Pepper found a way around the outside to beat Wood and Sidorkova for second place, just as Martí emerged in third.
But a costly mistake from Tasmin dropped her to sixth at the last corner of the first lap, when she clipped too much kerb and spun on the main straight.
After a wheel-to-wheel battle on the 1.0 km long straight, Sidorkova outbraked herself and Wood held on to third, before the Autralian started to close in on Martí. The Spanish tried to break the tow and defended hard, allowing Visser to sign off.
The battle for second continued throughout the first half of the race, until Wood made contact with Martí at Turn 13, sending Nerea's car into a spin that costed her three positions.
Ayla Agren and Gosia Rdest had a similar incident in the same turn, both damaging their front wings. Sarah Moore picked up more damages and had to pit with a bent front suspension, while Abbie Eaton crashed during an overtaking attempt on Bruna Tomaselli, who enjoyed a better run.
Despite the closely-fought midfield, Alice Powell managed to recover to eighth place after an early pitstop.
In a carbon-copy of the first event, Beitske Visser crossed the finish line to claim the 20-minutes race victory and the fastest lap, leading Wood and Sidorkova.
With her third place, Irina maintains the second place in the championship standings, 14 points behind Visser.
"Hopefully I can keep winning, that’s the aim, but everyone else will be practising hard as well. Brands Hatch is a shorter track, so I expect everyone to be closer." - commented Beitske, who reached 100 points thanks to four race wins in the first two rounds.
Despite her first lap mistake, Tasmin Pepper finished fourth to claim her best result this season: "In the last race I started on the front row and the nerves kicked in. I made a mistake, ran off the track and got a penalty so I had to slow down. At the last corner I took too much kerb and half spun so I went back to seventh.”
“In sim-racing I get more nervous than in the actual car which is weird because it’s a game, but we take it seriously. It’s a different technique on the sim because you’re just depending on the steering wheel for feedback. Doing more laps will help me get faster, but I have a day job so I can’t do as much. I need to stop making mistakes and getting so nervous to catch Beitske [Visser] and Caitlin [Wood]."
Nerea Martí was again fifth and continued her streak of positive results.
“Two P5 at Austin Circuit, we maintain fourth place in the driver standings.” - she commented. “I’m very happy with the work done and next week we will give it our all to get back on the podium at Brands Hatch Circuit.”
Marta Garcia scored again with a sixth place finish, ahead of Naomi Schiff and Alice Powell.
"I have no idea why I’ve improved since Monza” - said Alice. “I wish I knew because I did the same amount of practise. Staying out of trouble is huge and I managed that in the first two races at COTA. The final race I thought was going to be a disaster and it was. I was in the pits getting a repair, came out last and managed to get up to eighth.”
“Someone needs to stop Beitske and hopefully I can do that at Brands Hatch.”
The third round of the W Series Esports League will in fact be held on the iconic British racetrack, which was the stage of last year's history-making W Series season finale. Alice Powell took home the victory, and many drivers will now try to emulate her in this year's virtual championship stand-in.
In Beitske's words:
"Hopefully I can keep winning, that’s the aim, but everyone else will be practising hard as well."