W Series Esports: Visser leads after first Monza round
W Series delivered once again: at the first round of the fully-female Esports League, Beitske Visser takes the lead of the standings with two victories, as first-time simracer Kimilainen wins the reverse grid race and newcomers Martí and Sidorkova shine.
The second season of the fully-female W Series championship went underway at the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza. Sure, it wasn't on the real iconic Italian racetrack, but it definitely was a first entertaining round for the newly-launched iRacing based Esports League.
Series returnee Caitlin Wood took pole for the first race, followed by Beitske Visser and Spanish newcomer Nerea Martí. 2019 race driver Naomi Schiff, now reserve driver for the virtual championship, was immediately called into action in place of Miki Koyama.
At the start of Race 1, W Series reigning champion Jamie Chadwick suffered a computer freeze right as the lights went out, causing her to spin into the pitwall. She rejoined from the very back of the grid. Ahead, it was Australian Caitlin Wood that had to defend the lead at the hard braking of the first chicane, as Visser advanced to first place with a favourable line.
16-year old Irina Sidorkova brought herself up to third following an outstanding start, but after the first ever lap of the W Series Esports League, all the eyes were once again on the battle for the lead: on the straight leading to Parabolica, Wood and Visser went side by side, continuing their fight for a full lap before it was Visser to ultimately pull away in first.
Jamie Chadwick started an impressive recovery and was quickly up to eleventh place after the opening stages. She entered the top-ten for the first time on lap 3, with a flawless overtaking on Belen Garcia at Parabolica.
Just one lap later, there was more action at the front when Sidorkova passed pole-sitter Wood for second place. The Australian fought back at Ascari, but the young Russian came out on top again at Prima Variante. When their battle heated up again, an unfortunate mistake by Wood - who went off into the gravel at Ascari - paved the way to Nerea Martí and a very solid Tasmin Pepper.
In the meantime, Gosia Rdest moved past Wohlwend and advanced to sixth, before catching up and passing Wood as well. Further back, Alice Powell had an interesting all-British battle with Abbie Eaton and Sarah Moore in 13th, 14th and 15th place.
Visser, who has been practicing and racing a lot lately on the iRacing platform, opened a gap and crossed the finish line to win the first ever virtual W Series race, ahead of a surprising Sidorkova and Nerea Martí in third, who claimed her first podium in the series - albeit virtual.
Tasmin Pepper was fourth and Gosia Rdest fifth, with Caitlin Wood finishing sixth after her pole position effort. Jessica Hawkins was the biggest mover and finished P7 after starting from the 15th grid slot.
The second 15-minutes race featured a fully reversed grid based on Race 1 results, elevating W Series race winner Emma Kimilainen and Fabienne Wohlwend - who had dropped to the bottom end of the standings in the final lap of the previous race - to the first row.
It was a more chaotic start in the midfield, with a big accident ignited by a contact between Sarah Moore and Belen Garcia under braking at turn one. Garcia spun, collecting Sabré Cook and Jessica Hawkins.
With the top-finishers from the first race trying to make their way up the field, Emma Kimilainen managed to stay ahead untroubled, ahead of Wohlwend, Moore and Rdest - who miraculously avoided the first corner chaos. The recovering Visser and Pepper both spun at La Roggia chicane, as Sidorkova gained more positions to advance to seventh place already.
Moore dropped back, leaving Rdest in third and allowing both Sidorkova and Chadwick to move up to fifth and sixth places a few laps later.
The most exciting battle of the second race was probably for P13, as Pepper, Wood and Martí continuously exchanged positions, allowing Sabré Cook to join the action as well. Visser, after the first lap incident, recovered to ninth.
In the second half of the race, Sidorkova passed Marta Garcia in fourth, again towing Chadwick behind.
Probably one of the least experienced simracers on the grid, Emma Kimilainen held on to amazingly win Race 2 with a lights-to-flag victory ahead of Fabienne Wohlwend and Gosia Rdest, who briefly fought for the runner-up spot on the last corner of the race.
"I was blown away that I could actually win it, cause this is completely new to me, I've never ever done any kind of gaming or simulator or anything" - commented Kimilainen, who only received her sim rig last week and found some time to practice in between her hectic family schedule. "I just got this amazing equipment like a week ago and I've been able to do an hour there and an hour here in the evenings, outside of family time. I've been asking a lot of questions to the other girls, how can I improve...We have such an amazing group, it's crazy how everyone is supportive and nice" - concluded the Finn.
With the third race again featuring a qualifying session, it was a second pole position for Australian Caitlin Wood, who really showed strong pace on the single lap performance.
Visser was second fastest, while Ayla Agren and Nerea Martí shared the second row.
When the lights went off for the final time in Monza, Wood suffered from too much wheelspin and had to defend from Visser and Agren. But it was a lightning start for Martí, who claimed the race lead with a decisive move under braking at turn one and disappeared into distance.
A shunt on the main straight immediately compromised Schiff's race and forced the back of the pack to take evasive action.
While Martí gained some free air, Agren spun out at the second chicane and dropped back as she fought Visser for second place. Wood also had to take the runoff area at La Roggia, but rejoined in fifth.
Tasmin Pepper moved up to fourth overtaking Rdest; the Polish racer then started an outstanding battle with Alice Powell that carried on for several laps and was maybe the real highlight of the first championship round. Rdest had to defend hard her fifth place on the long Monza straights, swapping positions with Powell several times due to the heavy slipstream effect. Powell made a great move stick at Lesmo 1, but Rdest switched back at Ascari. Gosia ultimately had to back off after going slightly wide at Prima Variante, opening the door to Powell.
With 13 minutes to go, Visser closed in on Martí and went into the lead, leaving the 18-year old Spanish driver to check her mirrors from the recovering Sidorkova.
After 20 minutes, the chequered flag declared the end of the inaugural virtual W Series competition, as Beitske Visser claimed the second victory of the evening. Nerea Martí was second and again on the podium, followed by an impressive Irina Sidorkova.
Pepper completed another race in the top five, ahead of Alice Powell, Gosia Rdest and Sarah Moore. Caitlin Wood did not capitalize on her two pole positions and finished 8th, with Ayla Agren and Abbie Eaton rounding out the top-10.
Dutch Beitske Visser presented herself as the new reference point in the W Series Esports League. But the real surprises of the opening round were series newcomers Irina Sidorkova and Nerea Martí, who now sit second and fourth respectively in the championship standings.
The additional points for the fastest laps went to Visser (race 1 and 3) and to Sidorkova, with the Russian teenager now separated by only three points from the 2019 W Series vice-champion.
“In the first race I got off to a good start, got into the lead and pulled away." - explained Visser. "The second race was more chaotic. I had to line up last on the grid and didn’t have a very good start. I had damage so I wasn’t very fast, but I managed to get some points. In the last race, Caitlin [Wood] out-qualified me again so I have to work on that. We both messed up the start and were five-wide into turn one, but luckily we survived. In the first few laps Nerea [Martí] was very fast but then I could catch up, overtake her and pull away. The aim is to maintain this form in Austin and hopefully survive the reverse-grid race a bit better.” - she concluded.
Unlike Visser, Sidorkova wasn't massively involved in simracing in the past months, yet she seems like the closest championship contented right now: “I’m not used to racing on the sim, so it was great to see all the drivers on the grid and I’m very happy with the results." - said Irina. "Before the races in Austin I’ll prepare hard to be a winner, but I know all the girls will do the same so it will be difficult."
For Gosia Rdest it was her first W Series podium, even if not claimed on a real racetrack:
"I’m super-happy. I enjoyed the opportunity to be back racing with the other girls. My pace was OK but there’s still room for improvement. I need to spend more time on the sim, familiarising myself with the equipment and tracks, as a few of them are new to me, and I need to polish my braking technique – that’s where I’m slightly missing out.” - she said after the race.
Also Nerea Martí might have imagined her W Series podium to be slightly different. But she takes this season as an opportunity to learn and improve looking towards her debut in a real car next year. "I’m really happy with the opportunity W Series has given me." - added the young Spaniard. "I’m happy too with a second and a third and I had great pace during the event. I think I can go one better and win in Austin, so I’ll prepare a lot and I can’t wait to do the next races.”
The W Series Esports League will in fact return for its second round next Thursday, when the 20 racers will fight for more points and race victories on Austin's Circuit of the Americas.