Race report: Esports WTCR ace Bánki gets his break at Spa
Bence Bánki boosted his hopes of winning the Esports WTCR title from RaceRoom Racing Experience courtesy of two strong race results at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps.
Driving for Dörr Esports, Hungary-born Slovakian Bánki took the Race 1 victory ahead of team-mate Max Pfeifer before he completed the Race 2 podium on the back of another strong showing by the Audi driver.
But while Bánki was able to celebrate his impressive Race 1 performance, Adam Pinczes could reflect on a fine final-corner move that was just enough to beat Martin Barna to first place in Race 2 after the Hungarians had circulated in formation for much of the 10-lap counter during their lead battle.
Meanwhile, there was a first current Esports WTCR Championship podium for Italy’s Alessandro Ottaviani, who placed third in Race 1 ahead of multiple champion Gergo Baldi from Hungary.
It was a tough race night for Jack Keithley and Petr Pliska, who shared the wins in the Esports WTCR season-opening event on the Nürburgring Nordschleife last month.
Retrospective driving penalties not only demoted Keithley (Williams Esports) down the order in the first race of round one and hand victory to Bánki in the process, the Briton was also prevented from taking part in Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps qualifying and was forced to start at the back of the pack in the first Spa race.
Having posted the fastest leaderboard time with a 2m29.501s the frustration was obvious. Nevertheless, he charged through from P32 to P13 in Race 1 before taking P12 in Race 2 after twice being penalised.
After finishing sixth in Race 1, Team Fordzilla driver Pliska crashed out of Race 2 following contact with Baldi at the Bus Stop chicane, with Baldi being dropped down the finishing order as a result of a penalty.
Pfeifer tries hard but can’t keep team-mate Bánki at bay in opening contest
Max Pfeifer made his intentions known by claiming pole with a 2m29.639s best lap for Dörr Esports. But Bence Bánki made the better getaway from the front row of the grid and capitalised on his inside line at La Source to snatch the lead from his team-mate as Gergo Baldi and Alessandro Ottaviani battled for third.
Pfeifer briefly got back ahead of Bánki exiting Les Combes on the opening lap and Baldi also attempted to gain a position, clashing with Ottaviani on the entry to the Bruxelles right-hander where Bánki managed to repass Pfeifer for top spot. Elsewhere, Petr Pliska and Dávid Nagy were in a fight for sixth, while Ottaviani briefly edged into second at Pfeifer’s expense exiting the Bus Stop chicane but couldn’t make the move count as contact sent Juan Manuel Gomez into a spin.
With Pfeifer and Ottaviani battling for second, Bánki seized his opportunity to make a break out front, although with Ottaviani under pressure from Baldi on lap two, it wasn’t long before Pfeifer was back in the chase for first position as Gianmarco Fiduci joined the battle for third in fifth place.
Pfeiffer continued to put Bánki under big pressure and squeezed ahead at the Bus Stop chicane on lap nine, only for Bánki to respond and retake the lead at La Source starting the last lap. Pfeifer gave his all at the Bus Stop for the final time of asking, having set the fastest lap during his race-long charge, but Bánki held on for victory. Ottaviani took third ahead of Baldi with Fiducci a distant fifth ahead of Pliska.
Axel Vermeylen finished seventh followed by Adam Pinczes in eighth and Martin Barna ninth following contact with Kodi Nikola Latkovski at the Bus Stop on lap two.
James Montgomery completed the top 10 to secure pole position for the partially-reverse-grid second race. The British driver had been eighth but slipped to P10 at Pouhon on lap three before a mid-race battle with Latkovski developed. Meanwhile a slow-down penalty restricted Nagy to P11 as Latkovski settled for P12.
Pinczes leaves it late to beat Barna to top spot in Race 2
James Montgomery took full advantage of his pole position to lead Martin Barna and Adam Pinczes into La Source. Petr Pliska demoted Axel Vermeylen for fourth at Bruxelles while Gianmarco Fiduci and Gergo Baldi battled for position as Dávid Nagy dropped back during a frantic opening lap.
Barna drew alongside Montgomery at La Source on lap two with Pinczes and Pliska running side by side down the hill to Eau Rouge. Although Montgomery remained in front through Raidillion and onto the Kemmel straight, he couldn’t fend off his Hungarian rival for much longer and the lead was Barna’s before the leading pack reached Les Combes with Pinczes following through into second.
With Montgomery and Pliska scrapping for third, Baldi was able to close up and demoted Pliska for fourth on the charge to Blanchimont. But just as Baldi was sizing up Montgomery for third at the Bus Stop, contact between him and Pliska sent the latter skating off track. Baldi’s exit was compromised and Fiduci seized his opportunity to move into fourth behind Montgomery with Baldi fifth and Bence Bánki up to sixth from 10th on the grid.
Montgomery’s tenure of third lasted until lap four when Fiduci got by heading to the Bus Stop chicane and the Jersey driver would fall to sixth behind Bánki and Max Pfeifer on lap five. A slow-down penalty would leave Baldi outside the top 15.
Not content with fourth, Bánki now started to close on Fiduci for third with Pfeifer in tow to create a big battle for the final podium spot on lap six. The charging Bánki snatched third from Fiduci at Les Combes on lap seven but an attempt by Pfeifer to demote Fiduci failed.
Fiduci fought back, however, and, by lap eighth, was putting the pressure on third-placed Bánki. He made a move for the position at La Source on lap nine but Bánki resisted. Pfeifer then tried to get ahead of Fiduci at the Bus Stop at the end of the lap. Despite contact, Fiduci stayed in front until La Source on the final lap as Pfeifer got ahead.
But Fiduci wasn’t done and pulled off a spectacular move for fourth on the inside through Eau Rouge only for Pfeifer to reverse the positions at Malmedy. However, when the German ran wide exiting the right-hander, further contact followed approaching Bruxelles where Fiduci reclaimed fourth.
Out front, the battle was similarly intense between Barna and Pinczes. Pinczes made his move entering the Bus Stop on the final lap. Although he appeared to run too deep, the Arnage Competition driver was able to recover and beat Barna (M1RA Esports) for victory in a sensational drag race to the line.
Bánki took a fine third ahead of Pfeifer, who collided with Fiduci at the final turn. That left Alessandro Ottaviani to claim fifth ahead of Florian Hasse. Fiduci took the flag in seventh but a penalty dropped him to ninth behind Vermeylen and Montgomery with Pavel Mukonin P10.
Macau’s legendary Circuito da Guia street track hosts the third Esports WTCR race night from 19h30 CET on Wednesday February 22. For more on Esports WTCR, including the provisional standings, go to: https://www.wtcr-esports.com
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