W Series Esports: Visser returns to victory in Bathurst
In W Series Esports League eighth round, Beitske Visser returned to victory after 5 races and extended her lead after Marta Garcia's misstep in Bathurst's feature race.
W Series Esports League entered the final three rounds with today's event at Mount Panorama, Bathurst, one of the most spectacular motor racing venues in the world and a seriously challenging tests for both real and virtual racers.
Beitske Visser, 51 points ahead of her main rival Marta Garcia before the start of the Bathurst round, looked increasingly under pressure from the Spaniard's recovery, who had overtaken Irina Sidorkova for second place in the points standings at Suzuka - the Russian having a ill-fated Japanese round.
Among the drivers with real-life knowledge of the mighty Bathurst Circuit, there was home hero Caitlin Wood, one of the fastest W Series Esports League driver not to have won a race so far - and certainly looking forward to overturn that stat on home soil.
Beitske Visser was fastest straight away in the opening qualifying session, as the Dutchwoman topped the leaderboard ahead of Caitlin Wood and Marta Garcia after the first round of banker laps. Garcia improved on her second lap and advanced into second, but then crashed out of Turn 18 on her last attempt, effectively handing over the first pole position to Visser.
At the race start, Beitske had a good getaway but immediately came under pressure from her rival Garcia when Marta had a better exit out of Hell Corner and the two rivals went side-by-side uphill towards Mountain Straight. Garcia made the move stick at Turn 2 and went into the lead - igniting yet again the fight for the championship.
With 17 drivers on track (Koyama, Piria, Chadwick, Hawkins were missing from today's grid) Emma Kimilainen was quickly involved in an incident, as well as Irina Sidorkova who dropped back after Turn 2. On the other hand, Gosia Rdest managed to climb the order in the opening stages and Nerea Marti passed Ayla Agren for fourth place.
After one lap, Marta Garcia led Visser by over a second, with the championship leader having to defend from the aggressive charge of both Wood and Marti. The Australian driver especially came very close to attempting a move on Visser, but had to be extra-cautious due to the tricky nature of the track, famous for leaving no room for error whatsoever.
Alice Powell - making her return to the virtual championship after a couple of rounds' hiatus - hit trouble and dropped to the back of the field after the Brit had passed Rdest and Wohlwend. The same fate occurred to Tasmin Pepper, who also saw her race compromised in the early stages.
But the action was all about the top-4: with Marta safely ahead, Visser had to fend off Wood and Marti until the leading group started to approach the backmarkers. Beitske navigated through the lapped cars despite losing a few seconds to Garcia, just as Caitlin Wood had to watch her mirrors from Nerea Marti for third place in the midst of the traffic.
In the final minutes, the closest battle was between Suzuka race 2 winner Belen Garcia and Ayla Agren: the Norwegian overtook Belen after the long Conrod Straight, but the Spaniard fought back at the last corner and ultimately held on to the fifth position.
After the first 15-minute race, Marta Garcia continued her winning streak and crossed the finish line to claim victory over three seconds ahead of her main title rival Beitske Visser. Dominant in the early part of the season, Visser started to see her points margin slowly shrink.
Caitlin Wood was third, beating Nerea Marti on the finish line for the final step of the podium. Behind Belen Garcia and Ayla Agren, Bruna Tomaselli enjoyed a very positive first race and led Sarah Moore, Naomi Schiff and Fabienne Wohlwend across the finish line.
"In the first race I had a good start but my exit at Turn One was not very good so Marta [Garcia] got past." - said Visser after the first race. "I tried not to make many mistakes but Marta was very fast so I couldn’t win that one."
"In race one I started second, had an OK start and on the straight I could overtake Beitske [Visser]. From there I managed to have good pace and won the race." - summed up the race winner Garcia.
"I was unlucky in the first race. I had a crash at the second corner and I’m not sure whose fault it was." - commented Sidorkova, who had again a nightmare of a first race. "That meant I had to start from pole position in the second race and my plan was the same as it has been over the last few rounds in the reverse-grid races – to get a good start and go from there without making mistakes."
And that's exactly what Irina did: after sharing the first row of the reverse-grid race with Gosia Rdest, the Russian teenager got off the line perfectly and sprinted away leaving her competitors fighting for second place behind. Emma Kimilainen attacked Rdest after Griffins Bend and Tasmin Pepper made an opportunistic move by following Emma up into P3. At Turn 10, though, Kimilainen went off-line and into the gravel, in one of the fastest sections up the hill. The two-times race winner lost her car as she rejoined the track and was collected by the unfortunated Alice Powell.
Starting from the back of the field due to the fully reverse-grid format, Marta Garcia recovered to eleventh, but was then spotted with a visibly bent front wing - heavily affecting her car's handling. On the other hand, Visser could make up more positions and was quickly in the top-10.
Race 1 podium finisher Caitlin Wood dropped back after an accident, just like Naomi Schiff, while a mistake from Gosia Rdest put the Polish racer hard in the wall and back into the path of Abbie Eaton, who was battling Wohlwend well within the top five.
After the first laps, Sidorkova led Pepper by over three seconds, with Fabienne Wohlwend in a solitary third.
Visser continued to make up positions with relative ease, unlike Marta Garcia who was stuck in the midfield battles with Sarah Moore and Bruna Tomaselli - all of them lamenting front wing damages. Despite the issues, Garcia advanced to sixth after a precise move at The Chase on Moore, with the British driver temporarily switching back, before having to surrender the position to Marta.
In the final minutes, Pepper gained precious time on Sidorkova but could not get under the 2 seconds margin. The final lap, though, was all about Nerea Marti's charge for the podium: the 18-year old W Series newcomer completed a stunning move at The Chase on Wohlwend and claimed third by two tenths of a second - an overtaking maneuvre that gained her fourth place in the championship standings.
Visser was fifth across the line, one position ahead of Marta Garcia.
Just like three previous occasions, Irina Sidorkova won the reverse-grid race in dominant fashion, leading Tasmin Pepper under the chequered flag: "I had a perfect start and a five-second gap early on, which was good because Tasmin [Pepper] was going a little bit faster behind me but I had enough in hand to finish first.", said the 17-year old Russian.
"The last few rounds have been really tough because I’m also racing on-track in the Russian Touring Championship. That has limited my preparation time and impacted my lap times, but I’ll work as hard as I can to finish the W Series Esports League season off strongly."
The feature race's qualifying saw Marta Garcia taking provisional pole after the first flying laps, edging Beitske Visser by a little over one tenth of a second. In one of the most closely fought qualifying of the season, Visser and Garcia alternated at the top of the timesheets, before Visser could finally secure pole position on her third attempt thanks to a 2:06.232 lap.
Caitlin Wood was third and shared the second row with Nerea Marti - who beat Tasmin Pepper in the closing seconds.
As the lights went off, it was another good start for Beitske Visser but, just around the first corner, the Dutchwoman saw again the #19 car of Marta Garcia going side-by-side up towards Mountain Straight. This time, though, the Spaniard had to back off under braking at Turn 2 and Visser held on to the lead. Behind the leading pair, Marti had a slower getaway off the line and was passed by Tasmin Pepper, but Nerea quickly re-claimed fourth during the first lap. After she had closed in on Caitlin Wood, the third and fourth placed drivers tried again to join the battle for first place.
And, at the end of the first lap, Visser and Garcia's fight was again at its apex, with Marta attacking Beitske on the Conrod Straight. Under braking at The Chase, though, Garcia outbraked herself and went off into the gravel, rejoining in P10 and leaving Visser in the most favourable position.
Now unchallenged and in clear air, Visser led Nerea Marti, Tasmin Pepper and Caitlin Wood by over four seconds - with the increasing group of pursuers busy battling for positions. Pepper defended from Wood, allowing also Ayla Agren, Sarah Moore and Belen Garcia to join the action for the podium positions.
After her costly mistake, Marta Garcia found Irina Sidorkova on her path - a tough competitor that was never going to make the Spaniard's life easy in her comeback: the two drivers went wheel to wheel down the hill and they made contact just before The Chase, with Sidorkova spinning onto the grass at high speed.
With plenty of action throughout the field, the third race of the night was by far the most eventful and entertaining: Sarah Moore was temporarily up to fourth, just as Marta Garcia managed to find a way past Caitlin Wood when the only Aussie on the grid went a bit wide on the last corner after a four-wide battle at The Chase. Soon after, Wood crashed at Turn 2 while trying to defend from the attacks of Ayla Agren.
With ten minutes left on the clock, Visser held a comfortable lead over Nerea Marti and Tasmin Pepper, once again in a podium position. Garcia could find a way past Sarah Moore to move up to fourth place, while Irina Sidorkova was also making up more places at the expenses of Emma Kimilainen and Belen Garcia.
Marta, in damage-limitation mode, reduced her gap to Pepper and attacked the South African at the last corner: the two made contact and Garcia spun - then rejoining without losing positions.
After the 20-minute feature race, Beitske Visser returned to victory after a 5-race winless-streak and interrupting Garcia's best form in the championship so far. Nerea Marti and Tasmin Pepper were second and third, both claiming two podiums in Bathurst's races.
Visser could thus further extend her championship advantage over Marta Garcia, who was only fourth at the finish line.
Sarah Moore had a great third race and was P5, with Agren, Sidorkova, Kimilainen, Belen Garcia and Sabré Cook also finishing in the top ten.
With now two rounds left on the W Series Esports League calendar, Visser leads with 380 points, 57 points ahead of Garcia. Irina Sidorkova, third with 286 points, now will have to pay attention to Nerea Marti's progression (250), with also Tasmin Pepper climbing to fifth overall.
"Catching Beitske at the top of the W Series Esports League looks like it will be very difficult now, almost impossible." - commented Marta Garcia after the eighth round of the virtual season. "But I will keep trying my best to do that over the last two rounds. The first of those takes us to Nürburgring Nordschleife. I can’t wait to drive such an iconic circuit and will be practising hard on the sim next week so that I’m well prepared."
"The next round at Nürburgring Nordschleife is the one I’ve been most looking forward to." - said Beitske Visser, echoing most of the fans sentiments. "It’s a very different track because it’s so long. 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. It will be interesting to drive it in a Formula car too because in real life they don’t do that now, so I’ll need lots of time on the sim to get up to speed there."