Esteban Guerrieri was controversially denied a historic Esports WTCR victory six corners from the finish of the second Ningbo race, but still scored an outstanding second place as he continued to upstage the series’ sim racing regulars.
Following a breakthrough event at the virtual Slovakiaring a fortnight ago, during which he became the first real-life FIA WTCR – World Touring Car Cup driver to register a top-10 finish, Esteban maintained his form and qualified a hugely impressive fifth for the Ningbo opener, one tenth away from pole.
Having run with the leading sim racers in the opening stages of race one, Esteban briefly fell to 10th when he went off-track but was able to haul his virtual Honda Civic Type R TCR back up the order – making up two positions before the finish to claim a fine eighth place.
That gave Esteban a third-place starting position on the partially reversed race-two grid, which he immediately converted into second off the line. A daring move on the brakes into Turn 2 almost rewarded him with the lead, but the 2019 WTCR runner-up backed off and settled for second after contact with the leading Honda of sim racer Nestor Garcia.
The Argentinian soon set about reeling in Garcia and, though he couldn’t quite take the position off the Turn 10/11 hairpin on lap four, he made a move stick the following lap by diving for the inside at the Turn 17 left-hand hairpin to claim the lead.
Ending up in a head-to-head battle for victory with 2019 Esports WTCR champion Gergo Baldi, Esteban was passed with just over five minutes of the race remaining, only to exhibit the determination that earned him four WTCR victories last season with an exquisite switchback move at Turns 10/11 to reclaim the lead.
Esteban held firm during the remaining three laps and appeared destined to claim a landmark first win, only to be hit from behind on the approach to Turn 17 – a move that sent him wide and allowed his assailant through for the win.
It was nevertheless a formidable performance from Esteban, whose points haul elevated him to seventh in the Esports WTCR standings with one more event – at the virtual Sepang in two weeks’ time – still to run, and made up for a frustrating evening for the other Honda Racing drivers.
For a second event in succession, Attila Tassi’s evening was cut disappointingly short due to internet connection dramas.
A fortnight after he lost server connection during the opening Slovakiaring race, which meant he could not rejoin that event, Attila showed strong pace in the build-up to the Ningbo races by setting the 22nd-best time in pre-qualifying – placing him second only to Esteban among the real-life WTCR contenders at a track where he secured a sixth-place finish in 2019.
However, a connection issue in the half hour before the event prevented him from joining the session altogether – a cruel turn of fate following a dedicated programme of preparation.
Nestor Girolami also had high hopes of a strong showing, having trained hard with compatriot and 2019 ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport team-mate Esteban ahead of the Ningbo races. However, having qualified 23rd despite connectivity issues of his own, Nestor’s connection dropped out altogether early in race one.
Tiago Monteiro, who took part in the opening two rounds of the series, was unable to participate in the Ningbo event.
Esteban Guerrieri said: “I’m trying to cool down because I finished quite heated up! In race one I was in the pack but I made a mistake on braking and lost the rear, so I rejoined 10th and finished eighth – but I knew with the reversed grid it was possible to go for a win. I had a good start; I did touch the Honda in front of me in Turn 2 on the first lap, but I slowed down to let him by again. I stayed in second until mid-race, then I made the move, but Baldi also came with me, so we were basically going for the win until the last lap. When he overtook me and I overtook him back, they were very fair moves, but unfortunately on the last lap he hit me from behind and that one was not fair. I closed the door to stop him diving in, but he went too deep, hit me and got by in the last few corners. I’m pretty sure he didn’t do it on purpose, but still, it’s not the spirit of the sport to hit from behind.”
Attila Tassi said: “Once again, I was so unlucky. It was the first time I practiced in full, and it was obvious from the pre-qualifying result how much of a difference that made because I was very competitive, but half an hour before the race my internet just went – there was nothing. I had some internet connection, but I didn’t have any connection to the game. Other networks were working fine, but unfortunately ours was not. I’m really disappointed as I think I could have achieved a very good result, but this poor internet connection really cost me – it caused two weeks of practice to go to nothing.”
Nestor Girolami said: “It’s really frustrating when bad things happen with the connection because there’s nothing you can do! We are in the middle of nowhere here in Argentina, and the connection is not good for sim racing. I tried my best, I did free practice and qualifying, but in qualifying I was removed from the server, so I was able to do only one lap – and with this lap I qualified in front of two or three WTCR drivers. Next week I will come back to Europe and I will have the chance to use my simulator with my set-up and good internet for the final round. Congratulations to Esteban, and I’m sorry for my connection problems, but we will be back stronger.”