The first round of the 2023 Alpine Esports Series powered by Binance is over, and the racing was dominated by Dennis Schöniger around the virtual version of the iconic French circuit of Paul Ricard.
Williams Esports driver Dennis Schöniger topped the timing sheets in the qualification for this event, followed by three other drivers in the same academy.
35 Alpine A110 GT4 cars would be battling it out around the 5.842km long track. But who would claim victory in the opening round of this exciting three-round sim racing series?
Here’s our much-anticipated race recap!
The highlights video will be included here in due course.
Sprint qualifying recap
The 35 drivers didn’t have a lot of time to set their flying laps, just five minutes to show their true pace.
First driver to set a representative time was second-fastest time trialist Vojtech Fiala, laying down the marker with a 2:02.832.
But Schöniger quickly took the reins, snatching provisional pole with a 2:02.542.
James Baldwin couldn’t quite claim pole, his second lap less than a tenth down to start alongside the Williams Esports driver for the Sprint race.
Less than a second separated the top 30 drivers, a testament to the quality of this year’s field.
Sprint race recap
Just 15 minutes for the Sprint race, with only the top eight drivers scoring points for the Championship. Everything to play for in the first race around Circuit Paul Ricard.
Fastest underway at the rolling start was Schöniger, but Baldwin almost managed a beautiful switchback on the polesitter at Turns 2 and 3. He eventually settled just behind, with Fiala stalking in P3.
Plenty of action further down the field, Luke Whitehead and Dominik Blajer switching positions in their battle for fifth position.
A few drivers fell foul of the stewards, with warnings for both Schöniger and Baldwin for contact and Lucas Müller receiving a ten-second time penalty for a similar violation.
With eight minutes remaining, the top four drivers were head to toe. Notably there was only four-tenths between the top two. One mistake would prove costly considering the tightness of the pack.
Unfortunately a collision between third-placed Fiala and Maciej Malinowski sent the former off the track, dropping him down to seventh place. Malinowski was subsequently handed a five second penalty.
As the race reached its final stages, Schöniger pulled out of slipstream range for Baldwin. The rest of the race was a simple one for the German driver, who went on to take the chequered flag first by over two seconds.
A brilliant move from Charlie Crossland for the final points-scoring position in eighth, around the outside of Kamil Pawlowski on the final lap.
Malinowski crossed the line on the podium, but was demoted to outside the points due to his earlier penalty.
Schöniger commented following the race on his win: “A perfect start, now I’m focussing on the main race.”
Main qualifying recap
10 minutes for the main qualifying session, allowing each driver multiple laps to perfect their lines and speed for the ideal lap time.
It was Schöniger again setting the benchmark lap time, a 2:02.042 over two tenths faster than Fiala in second.
An impressive lap from Tinko van der Velde was good enough to move into fourth. Not long after, Schöniger improved his time to a 2:01.892. Could anyone challenge the Sprint race winner for pole?
The answer was no, the German a class above the rest to take his second pole position of the day.
Main race recap
A longer second race, 25 minutes of action with the top ten scoring points.
Schöniger managed the start to perfection, keeping hold of first place.
Fiala was forced to maintain the inside line into Turn 1 in his defence of second from Baldwin. The Briton was all over the back of the Czech driver, and attempted a switchback manoeuvre later on the lap to no avail.
Schöniger was displaying a remarkable turn of pace yet again, pulling over a second ahead of Fiala by the end of the first lap.
Fiala was struggling to get away from Baldwin, and a train was beginning to form behind the second-placed driver. Less than five seconds separated Fiala from sixteenth-placed Mateusz Tyszkiewicz at the end of lap three.
Penalties galore throughout the field, Florian Hasse receiving five seconds for aggressive driving and the same penalty handed to Mattia Zampedri. Pawlowski unfortunately getting a drive-through penalty for multiple track limits violations.
12 minutes to go, and Schöniger opened up the gap to the rest of the field to three and a half seconds. An assured drive from the Williams Esports driver.
A decisive five second penalty for Whitehead in sixth, for contact with Michael Romagnoli deemed the fault of the British driver. Will he be able to maintain a position in the points?
Three wide between Fiala, Baldwin and van der Velde for second position, but the Czech driver holds on. Miraculous defending on full display.
Contact between van der Velde and Baldwin forced the latter out of position on track, allowing the Dutch driver to move up to third. All of the battling allowed Fiala to pull away and sit comfortably in second place.
The race win was firmly in Schöniger’s hands, as he crossed the line first over six seconds ahead of Fiala to dominate Round 1 of the 2023 Alpine Esports Series powered by Binance. Van der Velde held onto the final podium spot, with Baldwin in fourth.
Baldwin commented on the contact with van der Velde which took him out of a podium place: “Yeah it’s alright, I hope he gets a penalty for pushing me out of the way.”
Van der Velde responded: “What a battle, was really close, my car was fully stable. Sorry if I made contact with Baldwin.”
What’s next in the Alpine Esports Series?
The next round of the 2023 Alpine Esports Series will take place on May 11th at the legendary Silverstone Circuit. Make sure to check out our website, as well as our sister site simrace247.com at 19:30 BST to watch yet more sim racing action.