48 drivers attended the IEM Expo in Katowice to compete in the ESL R1 spring season opener, and many displayed impressive performances. Here are just five who we believe stood out.
Image credit: ESL R1
The first ever round of ESL’s brand new sim racing championship on Rennsport took place with all twelve teams gathering onsite at the Intel Extreme Masters Expo in Katowice, Poland. The event was held alongside some of ESL’s top esports series on StarCraft 2 and Counter Strike: Global Offensive as part of their Pro Tour.
ESL R1 is already being talked about as a landmark point in the grander scope of sim racing as a whole. It has positioned itself as a great connecting point between the world of racing and the world of esports. With its year round prize pool of €500,000, not only have big names from racing like Redline and Mercedes entered, but it has also tempted big name esports organisations like FURIA and FaZe Clan to start up sim racing divisions.
The spring season opener saw some amazing racing, and many drivers hit the ground running in their own ways. We believe that five such drivers came away having stood out from the pack. So, here are all the drivers who stood out in the inaugural rounds of ESL R1.
When it was announced that Max Benecke was leaving Redline back in January, many people were bewildered. If anybody was to leave the undisputed most successful sim racing team, it must be for a very lucrative offer from a team with major backing. As it turned out, Benecke was jumping ship to MOUZ, a professional gaming organisation with its roots in more mainstream esports.
They’ve made their intentions clear in the world of sim racing, and in their first ever sim racing event, they won. Max Benecke became ESL R1’s first ever winner in rather convincing fashion, taking pole and converting it into a win in the final.
Benecke has been a very known quantity in esports for many years, primarily on iRacing where he won the VRS GT iRacing World Championship and was runner-up in the first season of the Porsche TAG Heuer Esports Supercup. So perhaps it’s little surprise that he has adapted to Rennsport as quickly as he has.
But, it’s amazing for the sim racing scene as a whole to have a team coming from the more mainstream esports space and being as committed and competitive already. Bigger esports brands may convert their own fans to becoming fans of sim racing. Therefore, Benecke becoming the first ever round winner as part of an org like MOUZ has the potential to be hugely significant.
Of course, if one of the round winners was going to be on this list, the other one certainly was sure to be too. 2-time Porsche TAG Heuer Esports Supercup champion Josh Rogers is, like Benecke, one of the most renowned names in the entire scene. However, since Rogers became a works Porsche sim racer, we’ve seen very little of him.
Whilst the majority of big name sim racers compete in a wide variety of competitions, we’ve only seen Rogers competing in the Le Mans Virtual Series prior to ESL R1. That’s a bit of a shame, since he’s a proven winner across the entire space, but narrowing his focus seems to have paid off. After putting in an incredible pole lap in the 24 hours of Le Mans Virtual, he’s now impressed hugely in ESL R1 as well.
After salvaging as good a result as possible from a sub-par grid position in the day one final, Rogers completely aced day two. The Aussie won his quarter final, won his semi final and then he won the final. His remarkable level of consistency stands him in good stead for when the major rolls around in May with its unique format. It’s safe to assume that Rogers will be one of the 24 competing.
Porsche Coanda have a great roster with plenty of potential, but by being the only one of their drivers to make the finals both days and deliver on his promise, perhaps it’s not too much of a stretch to say that Rogers is the de facto team captain. Would it be too early for Porsche Coanda to start putting all their eggs in the Josh Rogers basket?
Whilst Benecke and Rogers stole the headlines, one of the R8G Esports drivers was a bit of a sleeper throughout. Jiri Toman was very unassuming and overlooked, perhaps seen to be in the shadow of his three teammates. But, on more than one occasion, he proved himself to be a real threat.
In day one’s Semi Final, he took pole position and withstood the pressure from Benecke to come away with the victory. It was then a complete role reversal in the final, where Toman pressured Benecke all the way to the end and made him sweat for the win.
Toman, like his teammates, is an rFactor 2 specialist. However, while the likes of Risto Kappet, Erhan Jajovski and Marcell Csincsik are the more prominent names in the likes of Formula Pro and the Le Mans Virtual Series, Toman is no slouch and perhaps will spring a surprise in future rounds.
Look out for Toman to keep sneaking his way to good results while everyone expects the superstars like James Baldwin, Enzo Bonito and Kevin Siggy to be the ones getting the victories.
Kevin Ellis Jr
In ESL R1, the sim racing platform being used is Rennsport and it’s brand new. As a result, no driver in this competition has a background on the sim and they’re coming from a wide range of games. The early consensus of the way Rennsport drives is that it’s similar to rFactor 2 and RaceRoom, so that makes the results achieved by our next standout driver even more impressive.
Kevin Ellis Jr is the reigning Porsche Esports Carrera Cup GB champion. Along with his Apex teammates, he has raced predominantly on iRacing. According to Ellis’ teammate Jamie Fluke when we interviewed him after the multi-platform Esports Racing World Cup, iRacing is the most distinct of all the mainstream sims.
Whilst Fluke and Yohann Harth have been Apex’s multi-platform aces, Peter Berryman and Ellis have both remained firmly planted on iRacing. So, considering the shift over to Rennsport, Ellis being the only Apex driver to make it into the finals on both days is certainly impressive.
Of course, he’s a professional sim racer that will have prepared very extensively. But still, being around drivers who may have their driving habits align closer to the way Rennsport drives and being so used to iRacing for so many years, it is worth highlighting. With more experience, keep a watchful eye on Ellis in the coming rounds, we all know how incredible of a driver he really is.
Final driver on this list perhaps had the biggest standout moment of the entire meeting. Tim Jarschel is the 2020 DTM Esports runner-up and has become one of the first sim racers for FaZe Clan, one of esports biggest organisations. Whilst the headlines were on his teammate Ian ‘Crimsix’ Porter swapping his guns for a steering wheel, Jarschel stole the show for FaZe.
In the Quarter Finals on day two, Jarschel set the fastest lap up until that point in all qualifying sessions. Nobody expected that, and what followed that was even more incredible.
In the race, Jarschel initially lost a position on lap one at the hairpin, but he sent it only a few corners later with a move that few would ever be brave enough to attempt from so far back. He then set off down the road building a gap and became the first ever race winner for FaZe Clan.
Jarschel couldn’t quite repeat that incredible lap in the semi final, but was on the cusp of the top six when he got caught up in an incident that sent him spinning. His charge was over but after none of FaZe’s drivers progressed from the quarter finals on day one, seeing one of their drivers taking a pole and victory was certainly special.
Which drivers impressed you the most in the ESL R1 spring season opener? Tell us on Twitter at @OverTake_gg or in the comments down below!