Shane van Gisbergen completed a near-perfect run to win the opening round of the new World RX esports series at Yas Marina circuit.
The Supercars Championship driver, who is leading the Australian series’ own esports competition, swept the board in qualifying, then won the final ahead of fellow Peugeot driver Timmy Hansen by 3.485 seconds. A second-place finish in his semi-final was the only blot on van Gisbergen’s copybook.
Van Gisbergen and Hansen both had a clear run through the final, allowing them to take the top two spots unchallenged. Henrik Krogstad meanwhile secured third place after a hard-fought battle with Tom Blomqvist, son of World Rally Championship legend Stig, and the winner of the real-world 2019 Abu Dhabi World RX event Kevin Hansen.
Krogstad at the first corner on the opening lap made contact with Kevin Hansen – the boss of the YellowSquad team for which he competes in real life – all-but taking the latter out of contention for the race win. Both, along with Blomqvist then came together again on the dirt section as van Gisbergen and Timmy Hansen pulled out in front.
Both Krogstad and Blomqvist jokered on the first lap and, despite rolling, Krogstad was able to hold on to take third ahead of the BMW GT driver and Kevin Hansen.
For the esports series, only five drivers advanced to the final with the fastest third-placed driver from the semis – Timmy Hansen – among those progressing. That cost Rokas Baciuška a spot in the main game, his time being affected by a race-long fight with esports star FailRace and the advancing Krogstad.
Also missing out from the semi-final stage was GT racer Kelvin van der Linde, who’d won his Q1 heat, Fraser McConnell, a roll on the opening lap of his semi costing him dearly, and Martin Enlund who was deputizing for the absent Oliver Bennett.
With the five-car-per-race format, only the top 10 advanced to the semi-final stage from qualifying rather than the top 12 as is the case in the real-life World RX series. That meant Matvey Furazhkin and Ferrari Formula 1 star Charles Leclerc were qualifying’s first casualties.
Leclerc had an eventful virtual rallycross debut, being involved in a number of on-track incidents.
In his opening heat he missed his braking point going into turn one, and was later given a penalty for cutting that corner. He made a better start in Q2 and Q3 but twice had a half spin at the hairpin after contact with Timo Scheider and Tom Blomqvist respectively.
By Q4, when the rain had arrived, Leclerc had seemingly found his form, having a clean run to second place on the road after an intense fight with McConnell. He was later elevated to the heat win after Krogstad was given a penalty for jumping the start, the real-world RX2 driver being demoted to fifth.
While Leclerc’s inclusion in the event came amid much fanfare, he wasn’t the biggest casualty from qualifying as real-life World RX drivers Andreas Bakkerud and Scheider both failed to advance.
Contact with Baciuska in both Q1 and Q2 – the second resulting in a roll – put Bakkerud on the back foot. The pair came together again in Q3, but were apart in Q4. In what was a hotly-contested final Q4 heat, Bakkerud opted for a lap one joker to get some clean air but it wasn’t enough as he rounded out a tough qualifying session with a fourth-place finish on the road.
After a pair of second place finishes in his opening two heats, connection issues sidelined Scheider in Q3, all but ending his hopes of advancing. A fourth-place finish in his Q4 race compounded that disappointment.
Unlike the preceding two World RX esports invitational events, which took place on the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya and Portugal’s Montalegre circuit, esports professionals were mostly separated from one and other.
The esports final was won by Montalegre invitational winner Quentin Dall’olmo. Somewhat surprisingly, his final time was just under nine tenths of a second slower than van Gisbergen’s time in the real-life drivers’ race.
Dall’olmo headed home Lukáš Matěja, with World RX esports champion Killian Dall’olmo taking third.
Dirt Rally 2.0 development driver and real-world rally driver Jon Armstrong was fourth, with fellow Brit John Harris rounding out that field.