W Series Esports Title rivals share victories at Watkins Glen
Beitske Visser, Irina Sidorkova and Marta Garcia all shared victories at Watkins Glen, as the W Series Esports League enters the second half of the season with the closest competition yet.
Last week, the W Series Esports League's first ever simracing season reached its midway point, which coincided with a major turning point for the championship: Marta Garcia's first win.
After several rounds of commanding victories by Dutch racer Beitske Visser - and the rise of Russian teenager Irina Sidorkova - Spa Francorchamps finally promoted Marta Garcia to potential contender status, as the 19-year old from Valencia, Spain, could seal two victories out of the three races, denying Visser of a win for the first time.
For its sixth round, the fully-female championship headed to Watkins Glen, former home of the F1 US Grand Prix from 1961 to 1980. The epitome of the old-style racetrack, "The Glen" is a very fast and undulating track, composed of 11 corners with no hard braking spot, which presented the drivers with extra challenges to find a clear overtaking spot.
Very few W Series drivers have real-life experience of the American venue: both Ayla Agren and Bruna Tomaselli raced there in their Road to Indy programs a few years back, but again all the eyes had to be on Beitske Visser, who had put hours and hours and practice last week on her simulator.
With most of motorsport championships finally making their return to real racetracks, the virtual W Series grid was inevitably shortened even further this week, as Jamie Chadwick, Alice Powell, Emma Kimilainen, Gosia Rdest and Sabré Cook were all unavaibale due to previous commitments.
Beitske Visser immediately restored hierarchies in the first qualify, as she signed a 1:45.086 lap that gained her pole position ahead of Irina Sidorkova. Wood moved into third place in the closing seconds, demoting Nerea Marti to fourth.
As the lights went out, it was a Visser-Sidorkova wheel to wheel battle into turn one: Sidorkova went wide into the run-off and was caught by Marta Garcia and Nerea Marti, as the Spaniards had a great start off the line. Out of the fast first section, the three racers battled for position under braking at the Inner Loop chicane. Sidorkova and Garcia made contact and went off into the gravel, ruining their chances for the first race of the week.
Visser undoubtedly came out winner from the first lap incident and could gain a big advantage on the pursuers' group, led by Caitlin Wood, Tasmin Pepper and Nerea Marti.
The latter made a great move at the chicane on the second lap to overtake Pepper, but the South African was back ahead soon after. After the clash, Marta Garcia could recover quickly up until P11, while Sidorkova was stuck at the back of the field.
Naomi Schiff was also up to fifth in the opening stages but, after yet another convincing performance on pure pace, was spun around and into the guard rail at Turn 1 as she battled Marti and Eaton. She dropped to last and ultimately retired.
Vicky Piria had also a good first half of the race, before the Italian started to drop back when she was passed by Fabienne Wohlwend and Jessica Hawkins with 6 minutes left on the clock. When Belen Garcia started to put pressure on Piria as well, the two tangled at the exit of Turn 6, with Garcia having the worst out of it.
With Beitske Visser opening a gap of over six seconds ahead, the action in the midfield continued to provide entertainment throughout.
In the final laps, Ayla Agren went side-by-side with Sarah Moore on the Back Straight, but Moore initially held on. One lap later, the Scandinavian racer completed the successful move at the chicane and secured sixth place.
After the first 15 minutes, Visser won again in spectacular fashion, ahead of a very solid Caitlin Wood. Tasmin Pepper, after her maiden win at Spa, was again on the podium, keeping momentum. Marti and Eaton rounded out the top five.
"For race one I had a good lap in qualifying and managed to get pole position." - said Visser. "Ira [Sidorkova] had a better start than me but she ran a bit wide on the exit of Turn One which meant the gap down the straight was big enough for me to keep the lead. Then I saw them fighting behind me so immediately I had a bigger gap and could just drive it home from there."
Regarding the first lap incident, Sidorkova took the blame: "I had a good start in the first race but made a mistake at the first corner, locked my tyres and had to go straight at the chicane so had contact with Marta [Garcia]. It was my mistake because I was too fast in the first part, touched her front wing and we crashed."
Reserve driver Naomi Schiff - who so far has entered every round of the virtual season - started from reverse grid pole after her unfortunate crash in the first race. Alongside her, it was Belen Garcia. At the start, the Spanish rookie went straight into the lead, as Irina Sidorkova emerged in third place and attacked at the Inner Loop chicane Naomi Schiff, who had a slow start. The Russian was a bit more cautious compared to the previous race and backed off.
But, with the other championship rivals already up to fifth (Garcia) and sixth (Visser), Sidorkova set the ball rolling and overtook Schiff before the end of the first lap, advancing to second place.
Behind, Caitlin Wood and Tasmin Pepper could not repeat their race 1 performances and were caught in the midst of the reverse grid chaos. Together with Jessica Hawkins, they soon had to came back to the pits for repairs.
Ahead, Sidorkova closed in on Belen Garcia, but the race leader defended well. Ultimately, Sidorkova could find a way past and clinched the lead, just as Marta Garcia was charging through the field, having passed Wohlwend for fourth. After some close fights, Schiff was seen spinning at the chicane, as Garcia dropped back behind Wohlwend. At the same time Visser could avoid the incidents and moved ahead of Tomaselli in P5.
Marta Garcia was fully committed to claim back her podium position though, and she completed an aggressive move at Inner Loop that dropped Liecthenstein's fastest ever racing driver in the clutches of the championship leader Beitske Visser, watching closely the action and ready to pick up the pieces.
Again, the battles for the lower-step of the podium allowed Sidorkova and Belen Garcia to sign-off, gaining a vital six-second margin that gave Irina Sidorkova her fourth victory in the series, ahead of an ever-improving Belen Garcia who finally could prove her speed in a trouble-free race.
With no time to catch up with her compatriot, Marta Garcia was third, as she mostly controlled the final laps from Visser's comeback.
"In the reverse-grid race I approached it really calmly at the start because the exit of Turn One and the aggressive kerbs at the chicane meant there could be some crashes." - explained Beitske. "But I managed to avoid them and just kept pushing to overtake as many cars as I could."
Fabienne Wohlwend crossed the line in P5, just ahead of Bruna Tomaselli, who claimed her best result of the season so far with sixth.
Nerea Marti made some quality moves in the midfield, but could only recover to eighth.
With the third race featuring again a conventional qualifying format, Beitske Visser was back on top of the leaderboard since her first flying lap and remained there to claim another commanding pole position by over four tenths of a second. Caitlin Wood found again her familiar one-lap speed and slotted into second place, ahead of Marta Garcia and Irina Sidorkova.
As the lights went green, Wood had a slow getaway and Visser sprinted into Turn one into the lead. It could have been another Sunday's stroll for the Flying Dutchwoman if it wasn't for the outstanding comeback of Marta Garcia: the Spaniard had a great exit out of the first tricky corner and went side-by-side with the leader on the Back Straight, ultimately making the move for first place at the chicane. Wood was down to fourth, promoting Sidorkova right behind the leading duo.
As the whole field battled for positions, nobody could quite keep up the pace with Garcia and Visser. 15 minutes into the race, though, Beitske saw a gap at the chicane and went for it - ultimately failing to stop her car and ending up in the gravel and against the outside wall.
In another dramatic turn of events, Visser dropped to P15 and Marta Garcia was left in a solitary, yet privileged, position.
It was a slightly less hectic race throughout, likely due to the circuit layout which features mainly fast-flowing sections.
Yet the midfield provided some good action, such as the fights between Ayla Agren, Fabienne Wohlwend, Tasmin Pepper, Sarah Moore and Naomi Schiff for the top ten.
After the mid-race mark, Pepper was putting pressure on Schiff but struggled to find her way past, when Ayla Agren joined the group and hit Schiff under braking.
Abbie Eaton was also out of the race for an unrelated accident.
In the second half of the race, Ira Sidorkova dropped more than three seconds behind Marta Garcia and had to watch her mirrors from the return of Caitlin Wood in the last laps.
At the end of the 20-minutes race, Marta Garcia took the chequered flag to win her third race in two-weeks, while Sidorkova held on to second. Australian Caitlin Wood was third and again on the podium at The Glen, after another convincing race.
"In the last race I started third, had a good start and overtook Beitske [Visser] on the first lap with the tow on the straight." - commented race winner Marta Garcia. "She fought back and tried to overtake but she made a bit of a mistake and after that my pace was good and I could get the win."
Nerea Marti finished fourth, with Jessica Hawkins claiming a top five finish ahead of Belen Garcia and Bruna Tomaselli. Beitske Visser, who had rejoined the track after her costly mistake, was P11 at the finish line but could nonetheless bank the extra points for the fastest lap of the race - just as in the previous two heats.
"Maybe I should have been more patient but I just wanted to attack." - said Visser. "Unfortunately it didn’t pay off and I hit the wall. From there I just kept pushing to regain as many places and points as I could."
With the W Series Esports League now entering its final four weeks of racing, Visser leads the standings 51 points clear of Irina Sidorkova (240) and 68 from Marta Garcia (223).
With today's two podium finishes, Caitlin Wood extends her gap to fourth-placed Tasmin Pepper by 11 points.
Next up will be another world-renowned racetrack, the eight-shaped Suzuka Circuit, in one week time.