After weeks of anticipation, driver and team announcements, round one of ESL R1 got underway at IEM Expo, Katowice on Saturday. The drivers battled through qualifying and the brutal sudden death format to decide who would be the early championship contenders at Spa-Francorchamps.
Aussies Dayne Warren and Josh Rogers were selected to drive in Quarter-Final 2 and Quarter-Final 4 respectively.
First up, Dayne Warren could not have started any better with pole position in just the second ESL R1 race with a 2:14.542 — a tenth and a half clear of MOUZ’s Moritz Lohner.
But after some early rubbing and an early penalty, Warren fell to third in the running behind G2’s Robbie Stapleford and Redline’s Luke Bennett.
It would all fall apart for Warren on the start of lap 7. The Porsche driver was caught out by a slightly early braking Bennett into the La Source hairpin, making contact with race leader Stapleford and spinning around, dropping to the rear of the field where he would stay.
Next up was Josh Rogers for his first showing in ESL R1. The Goodwood Hillclimb winner from last year’s RENNSPORT Summit put it on pole for the 20 minute sprint race with a 2:14.800, beating Redline’s Enzo Benito by just 38 thousandths of a second.
Rogers held off an outside attack from Benito into the La Source hairpin for the first time, opening up a seven tenth lead by the end of the first lap.
Rogers controlled the race from that point on, building the gap out over four seconds between himself and Benito when the chequered flag dropped.
Unfortunately for Porsche Coanda Esports, Josh Rogers was the only one of their drivers to qualify for the semi-finals with Warren, Mitchell de Jong and Mack Bakkum knocked out in their races.
While Rogers’ qualifying lap for his semi-final was a slight improvement over his quarter-final lap, it was only good enough for fifth, just 0.132s off R8G’s Jiri Toman’s pole time.
A slow start from the Porsche driver left him back in sixth coming out of the La Source hairpin but a last of the late breakers move around the outside of MOUZ’s Patrik Holzmann into the bus stop chicane at the end of the first lap put the last surviving Aussie back into fifth.
An incident between Holzmann, Redline’s Enzo Benito and Mercedes driver James Baldwin into La Source on the following lap meant a large gap emerged between the top five and the drivers behind meaning that Rogers, along with Jiri Toman, Maximilian Benecke, Yohann Harth and Nikodem Wisniewski all cruised into the final. The final spot in the was claimed by Issac Price.
Another 2:14.7 for Rogers in the final qualifying session was only good enough for seventh leaving the Porsche driver three tenths off Maximilian Benecke’s pole time and a lot of work to do in the race.
An incident off the start between MOUZ’s Moritz Lohner and R8G’s Erhan Jajovski sent the R8G driver spinning, gifting the Aussie sixth almost immediately. A penalty for the contact to Lohner meant another easy position for Rogers.
Next on the list for the Aussie was Apex Racing’s Yohann Harth. A battle ensued between the two with Rogers making the move into the Les Combe chicane but not completing the move until Rivage.
A penalty for Harth meant Rogers was free to chase after Marcell Csincsik. The R8G Esports driver simply had too much pace for Rogers to close the gap meaning he had to settle for fourth.
MOUZ’s Maximilian Benecke controlled the final from pole position and looked never in doubt across the opening round, winning by seven tenths over Jiri Toman with Csincsik in third.
Round two of ESL R1’s opening weekend begins tonight at 10pm AEDT, with Germany’s Hockenheimring this time the course to navigate.