Tiago Monteiro scored his first podium in the Pre-season Esports WTCR Championship, as he and Nestor Girolami both achieved top-three finishes on the virtual streets of Macau.
At the virtual version of the Macau Guia circuit, where he scored the first podium for a Honda Civic in the World Touring Car Championship in 2012, Tiago was rewarded for keeping the nose of his Civic Type R TCR clean in a wild second race by claiming third.
Having been an innocent victim of contact from a rival on the run to Lisboa in race one, which put him out on the spot, Tiago safely negotiated an incident on the opening lap – which eliminated his real-life 2020 ALL-INKL.DE Münnich Motorsport teammate Attila Tassi and ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport driver Esteban Guerrieri – of race two to jump from his 12th-place grid slot to run fourth.
Tiago spent the majority of the race thereafter putting up a stout defence of that position, but gained third when a car ahead stopped with a steering issue exiting the Melco hairpin on the penultimate lap.
The Portuguese driver then resisted pressure on the final lap to guarantee third, a result that means all four Honda Racing drivers have now scored podium finishes in the Esports campaign, which is being staged ahead of the start of the real 2020 WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup season.
It was also the second podium of the round for the virtual version of the Honda Civic Type R TCR, following Nestor’s own third-place finish in race one.
Nestor was one of two Honda Racing drivers, alongside Attila, to make it through to the superpole shootout session, and qualified third for the opening race.
He converted that into third off the line and maintained the position throughout the race to secure his third podium of the Esports campaign and, though he was also caught up in an incident in race two, still made it to the finish to bag an important second points score.
Attila, who had run right behind Nestor for the majority of race one, slipped a position but still bagged a strong top-five result.
The Macau round was a tough one for Esteban, the highest-placed Honda driver in the points standings.
Having qualified eighth, after opting not to try for a superpole slot in favour of maximising his opportunities from the partially reversed race-two grid, Esteban avoided trouble in race one and overtook one car on his way to seventh.
However, he was hit from behind at Police Bend as he attempted to overtake the second-placed car on the opening lap of race two, which triggered a multi-car pile-up and led to his and Attila’s elimination.
Esteban now sits fifth in the Championship standings, 27 points behind the leader, but is one of seven drivers – as well as Nestor and Attila – who will start next weekend’s final round with a mathematical chance of taking the title.
The omens are good for a strong result, too, as Esteban made history earlier this year by becoming the first real-life driver to beat sim-racing professionals on the RaceRoom platform when he won at the virtual Sepang, the circuit that will host the Esports WTCR finale.
Tiago Monteiro said: “I definitely wasn’t expecting a podium. Macau is a gamble in real life and it proved to be exactly the same here virtually – anything can happen, and you just have to be on track and in the right place. The first race was a disaster; I was pushed and I crashed on the way to Lisboa, and that was it. In the second race, I tried to be a bit more safe, but there were still so many crashes. Thankfully, this time I was able to go through them. The big gamble of Macau paid off this time; it’s been a tough time on the sim in this Championship, so I’m very happy with this podium.”
Nestor Girolami said: “I was really happy with the third place in race one, especially as I had a nice understanding with Attila – he was fighting with me for the position, but we were respectful of each other. We had the same pace, and we are still both fighting for the championship, so it felt like a very fair battle. The incident in race two was a big mess; I was behind the pack, where everybody had stopped, and thought I could make it past until somebody hit me from behind. Even so, I was lucky to be able to get out of it and continue, and went on to finish 11th. These could be crucial points for the Championship.”
Attila Tassi said: “I was happy to be the fastest Honda driver in first qualifying, but I made lots of small mistakes on my superpole lap, and maybe because of that I wanted to push too much in the penultimate corner and lost more time there. That meant I probably started slightly behind where I should have, when I could really have had a podium in race one, although fifth was still some good points towards the Championship. In race two I was a bit of a passenger; there was nothing I could do when the crash happened, and then my car was removed from the game.”
Esteban Guerrieri said: “A very difficult round. It was the first time I qualified with starting towards the front of the reversed grid in mind, but it ended up being the wrong decision. I was at least clear of a big crash at the start of race one, and then overtook one car, but already there was a big gap to the pack ahead and seventh was the limit. In race two it’s difficult to explain exactly what happened, but after attempting to overtake Thed Bjork I was hit from behind, involved in two shunts, and out of the race. This has put me on the back foot for the final round, but if there is one positive it makes the focus clearer for Sepang – I can only concentrate on achieving the best results possible to stay in contention.”