Lad and Deslandes split the victories at action-packed Esports opener

Josh Lad (Munster Gaming Rugby) was quickest out of the blocks in the 2022 ROKiT British F4 Esports Championship season opener at Donington Park tonight [14 October], taking an early four-point lead in the standings over fellow race winner Stanley Deslandes (Apex Racing Academy).

Photo: RC Sim Photography

Britain’s FIA Formula 4 series returned to the esports arena with a competitive, 23-strong field of iRacing IR-04 single seaters.

Having qualified eighth, Lad quietly picked his way through the top ten in the opening race. He eventually found himself in the thick of a blockbuster, six-car battle for the victory in the closing laps, the lead having changed hands corner-on-corner for much of the 25 minutes prior, which brought the chasing pack back into play.

After his Munster team-mate Alx Spetz tried – and failed – to pass race leader Ted Bradbury (Arden YRDA) around the outside of Coppice, Lad used his initiative to take second spot on the inside.

Although an opportunity to pass Bradbury never materialised, a last-lap penalty for the latter for exceeding the set incident limit promoted Lad to the race victory, and team-mate Spetz to second to complete a 1-2 finish for the team.

Spetz in turn was forced on the defensive into the Roberts chicane on the final tour, as a hard-charging Luke McKeown (Apex Racing Academy) tried to force a mistake with a lunge on the brakes. Ultimately, however, he had to settle for the final spot on the podium.

Peter Berryman, Jamie Fluke and Deslandes made it all four Apex-branded cars in the top six, the trio finishing in that order for fourth, fifth and sixth at the chequered flag.

JHR Developments’ James Armstrong was the highest-placed driver representing one of the real-world teams, charging ten positions up the order to seventh spot.

Emre Cihan, Dion Gowda and Oliver Stepanov completed the top ten for Team Fordzilla and, with a full quota of ten cars reversed for the second race, would line up at the front for the finale to an enthralling evening of sim racing.

The three held position off the start in race two, Stepanov leading Gowda and Cihan through the opening laps.

Cihan fell back after contact with Armstrong under braking into the Roberts chicane, leaving Stepanov and Gowda fighting a rear-guard action against a charging Deslandes and Fluke, up into third and fourth.

Gowda and Stepanov inverted for the race lead with four minutes on the clock, and the latter began to slip down the order as the 30-minute contest wore on. He first fell behind Deslandes after a stunning move around the outside of the Old Hairpin, then surrendered third to Fluke at Coppice, a few corners later.

Deslandes was next to show his hand, attempting a move around the outside of the same corner to wrestle the lead away from Gowda. He was – predictably – shown to the outside, and Fluke needed no second invitation to seize second on the inside of his team-mate. Seconds later, and Spetz had joined the now-quartet, taking third into Roberts.

The top four were turned on their head next time around. Fluke taking the lead from Gowda down the back straight was the catalyst, but the soon-to-be Carlin driver for 2023 refused to concede the place. Both were held up through the chicane as a result, and Spetz carried the momentum through the corner to move out front, with Deslandes in hot pursuit.

Deslandes wasted little time in claiming the lead at the Old Hairpin, and subsequently broke clear at the front of the field. Fluke recovered as far as second spot, and closed to within 0.3 seconds on the final lap, but an opportunity to pass his team-mate never materialised.

They crossed the line together, with McKeown battling to a second podium on the evening after a valiant defence against Lad and Spetz, fourth and fifth at the flag.

Berryman was sixth, with Prismatic Motorsport’s Mira Schmitt climbing the order in superb style for seventh. Stepanov, Armstrong, and Gowda all recovered to the final three points-paying positions in eighth, ninth and tenth.

“It was quite tough,” admits Deslandes. “Me and Jamie [Fluke] just managed to push our way to the front, as well as Luke and Peter behind battling a bit.

“As soon as we got a gap, it was just managing tyres and not making any mistakes to the end.”

In the Drivers’ standings, Lad holds a four-point advantage over Deslandes, with McKeown’s consistency placing him third, another three markers further back.

Munster Rugby Gaming are out front in the Teams’ Championship, albeit only two points clear of Apex Racing Academy. Their sister team, Apex Racing Team, sit third.

Oulton Park’s Island circuit hosts the next two rounds of the championship on Friday 21 October, with live coverage beginning on RaceSpot TV at 19:00 BST.

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