The best and brightest of the sim racing world shone at ESL R1 in Katowice, Poland, as Max Benecke emerged as winner for MOUZ.
A new era of sim racing has begun.
ESL R1 is underway, bringing the quickest sim racers on the planet together to battle it out for a share of a €500,000 total prize pool. It’s an unprecedented figure in racing esports, making ESL R1 a hot topic among the community.
Forming part of the Counter-Strike: Global Offensive ESL Pro Tour event in Katowice, Poland, ESL R1 is a series of on-site LAN races located in the Intel Extreme Masters (IEM) Expo Hall.
The organisers of ESL R1 have attracted the biggest esports teams in the world – and not just from sim racing.
FaZe Clan – perhaps the biggest name of all in esports – was on the grid, comprising three pro sim racers and, controversially, Pro Call of Duty player Ian “Crimsix” Porter. CS: GO teams FURIA, Heroic, and MOUZ were also signed up, joining traditional sim racing giants like Team Redline, Apex Racing Team and Mercedes-AMG Petronas Esports, among others.
New kids on the block
How the newcomers would cope against the established sim racing outfits was an intriguing sub-plot, and the fact the series uses a totally new sim in the form of RENNSPORT ensured everyone started on a level playing field.
Set-ups were fixed so teams would have to make the most of their package on the day, with the race taking place at Spa-Francorchamps. Sunday’s event would use Hockenheimring.
Each ESL R1 regular season event consists of four quarter-final races, two semi-finals and a final. Teams supply one driver for each quarter-final race meaning every race has 12 cars on the grid.
Only the top six from each race would qualify for the next round so 48 would be whittled quickly down to 24, before the last 12 duked it out for the win, making competition fierce.
RENNSPORT has pitched itself as an esports-focused sim, but still remains in the Alpha stages of development. For many observers, RENNSPORT is seen as an unknown quantity in terms of close, top line competition, but thanks to ESL R1 we’d soon find out.
The four quarter-finals saw impressive performances from Team Redline’s Jeffrey Rietveld, MOUZ’s Maximillian Benecke and Porsche Coanda Esports’ Joshua Rogers, who all dominated their races.
Apex Racing Team and R8G Esports seemed set for a good day, as all eight of their drivers made the Semi-Finals, opening up the prospect of employing team tactics to reach the final.
It was looking to be a tough day for Porsche Coanda Esports, however, until Joshua Rogers dominated Quarter-Final 4, with all its other drivers failing to reach the next stage.
The most notable absentee for Coanda would be Dayne Warren, who although possessing searing pace spun while batting for the lead with the BMW M4 GT3s of Robbie Stapleford and Luke Bennett. Contact when re-joining the action destroyed any hope he had of making the top six. Bennett would hold on to take the win.
The first semi-final saw an Audi 1-2-3 on the grid, as Löhner produced a sensational lap time to head the two R8G Esports cars of Erhan Jajovski and Marcell Csincsik respectively.
Away from the line, Löhner started well but was immediately under pressure along the Kemmel straight, with the R8G cars switching positions behind the MOUZ entry.
Further down the pack, Mercedes-AMG Williams Esports’ Dennis Schöniger and Furia’s Jeff Giassi came to blows on the opening lap, prompting Schöniger into a gravelly excursion and a five-second slow-down penalty to boot.
Back on the fringes of top six, Joni Törmälä of G2 Esports overshot the Bus Stop, allowing team-mate Robbie Stapleford and BMW stablemate Jeffrey Rietveld through into seventh and eighth respectively. This allowed the top six to break away, leading to a pedestrian conclusion to the race.
Löhner was safe out front and was followed home by Csincsik, Jajovski and Team Redline’s Luke Bennett. The two Apex Racing Team entries of Jamie Fluke and Kevin Ellis Jnr finished fifth and sixth, with Ellis Jnr coming under pressure from Redline’s Rietveld in the final lap thanks to a penalty for the Scotsman.
Jiri Toman held the early advantage in the second semi-final, with Josh Rogers and James Baldwin both on the front-foot, moving up the order. Baldwin, MOUZ’s Patrik Holzmann, Enzo Bonito and Rogers entered La Source on lap two together, with Holzmann coming off worse.
As in the first semi-final, this created a significant split in the order, with the top five breaking away by nearly three seconds, making the battle for sixth position the focal point of the action.
Mercedes-AMG Petronas Esports’ Baldwin received a five-second slow-down penalty for his part in the Turn 1 melee, dropping him down to ninth and promoting G2’s Isaac Price up to sixth.
As expected, there wasn’t much in the way of overtaking at the head of the field, the top five content to hold position knowing their place in the final was secure. Price impressively held off Redline’s Bonito to take the final qualification spot as big names like Baldwin, Nils Naujoks and Risto Kappet faltered behind.
At the front, Toman made it three out of four drivers in the final for R8G by taking the win, with Benecke, Apex’s Yohann Harth, Mercedes-AMG Williams Esports’ Wisniewski, Rogers and Price following.
The final was set then: Apex and R8G had three cars each and MOUZ had two. Redline, Williams, Coanda and G2 all had a single entry in the final.
In qualifying, it was Benecke who seized the early advantage, setting a blistering time of 2:14.493. It was the fastest time of the day, and the perfect time for the German MOUZ driver to peak.
In fact, the top five featured two Redline drivers, with Löhner fourth. R8G continued its dominant form by snatching second, third and fifth on the grid through Toman, Jajovski and Csincsik respectively. Tellingly, all of the top six were driving Audis, prompting some Balance of Performance (BoP) discussions behind the scenes.
As the race got underway there was immediate drama, as Löhner veered across into Jajovski, sending the R8G driver into a spin. Löhner received a five-second penalty, dropping him to eighth.
Out front, it was Benecke from Toman from Csincsik in the podium places, with Price, Harth and Rogers furiously battling for fourth. Too furiously in the case of Price, who received a one-place penalty.
Also battling aggressively was the trio of Wisniewski, Bennett and Ellis Jr, eighth place being their goal.
As was the case in the earlier races, the second half of the final was less intense, as Benecke, Toman, Csincsik and Rogers drove line astern until the end of the race. Löhner recovered to fifth, with Harth and Price following home in sixth and seventh.
The first ESL R1 race winner
But the man of the moment was a visibly emotional Max Benecke. He had just controlled the race against the best esports athletes in the world:
“When we came here, we knew it was going to be extremely close because it was a fixed set-up and people practiced a lot. So, qualifying was everything and we had good qualifying laps today and I was very happy with the last one obviously. It feels amazing,” he said, his voice breaking.
“I was struggling a bit in recent years, but I knew I was good in LAN events so this means a lot to me. I’m lost for words,” the MOUZ driver concluded joyfully.
So, the first race of ESL R1 was over, and it appeared to leave a positive impression among competitors and spectators alike. The racing was close, and at times aggressive, but race control was quick to apply penalties.
The teams new to racing esports sent a clear message to their competition, with MOUZ standing on the to step of the podium. RENNSPORT could feel satisfied with its performance too, as the sim ran with few technical hitches throughout the day.
A few drivers will be disappointed with their efforts today, including the likes of James Baldwin, Kevin Siggy and Dayne Warren, but there’s no time to dwell on poor results as ESL R1’s second round takes place tomorrow.
Can MOUZ and Audi continue their dominance, or will we see a different winner emerge? Tune in to ESL’s YouTube, Twitch and TikTok pages to follow all the action.
Did you watch the ESL R1 broadcast? What were your thoughts on the event? Let us know in the comments below.