After a thrilling double bill of Portimao and Zandvoort, Event 3 of the F1 Esports Series Pro Championship 2021 wrapped up with a trip to America.
Returning after a year away, the amazing Circuit of the Americas, aka COTA, was back on the calendar and it would once again prove to be a thrilling affair.
Big guns show up for qualifying
There has been some inconsistent performances from the title challenges in qualifying. Both Jarno Opmeer and Marcel Kiefer have had multiple Q2 eliminations this year, but that would not be the case in COTA.
All the title challengers would make it into Q3, with pole going to Alpine's star man Nicolas Longuet. He only got the top spot by one-thousandth of a second from McLaren's Bari Boroumand.
Just behind them on the second row was defending champion Jarno Opmeer and the man he dethroned David Tonizza. The third row of the grid was an all Red Bull affair with Frede Rasmussen ahead of Marcel Kiefer, while Drivers' Championship leader Lucas Blakeley would start P8.
Blakeley was never really in contention for pole, seemingly off the leading pace for the first time this season. Could he move his way up the field in the race? Or would his title rivals snatch the opportunity to close the gap?
Bari was the only one on softs and grabbed the lead through T1, but Blakeley dropped down to P10 in a nightmare start for the championship leader.
Brendon Leigh got physical and was able to move up to P6 on his soft tyres as Rasmussen dropped to P7
Bari's strategy put him out in clear air as he quickly broke DRS to the rest of the field while Leigh was also aggressively overtaking on his soft tyres.
The handful of soft runners were making hay early on in the race, while Blakeley dropped out of the points and his title rivals held strong.
It was Lucas Blakeley who bolted into the pits first at the end of lap 6 he decided to get rid of his medium tyres and do a long stint on the softs in an effort to grab a strong undercut.
It could have been too soon though, as Longuet showed the mediums were coming back into the race by overtaking Leigh for P2.
As if to answer Blakeley's undercut attempt, Opmeer pitted from P4 a lap later and would come out of the pits just ahead of his title rival.
On lap 9 Bari pitted from the lea along with Longuet, Leigh, and Rasmussen. Jarno's undercut got him out ahead of Longuet and in range of Bari, but would his soft tyres hold up for the whole race?
The medium tyre runners soon started suffering, as Opmeer and then Longuet pulled past Bari fairly easily as Frede and Blakeley pushed to catch up with the leading group.
David Tonizza found himself with the freshest tyres of the leading pack and was able to work his way past Lucas Blakeley and up to the back of Bari, but it looked to be a three-horse race for the win between Opmeer, Longuet, and Rasmussen.
On lap 19 Longuet finally made his move for the lead, getting past but perhaps leaving himself vulnerable to a Mercedes with plenty of ERS to deploy.
Before the back straight Longuet pulled aside, giving the lead to Opemeer and handing P2 to Frede Rasmussen. It was a wild and desperate move from Longuet that completely backfired.
Opmeer finished P1 with Rasmussen P2, Longuet P3. Lucas Blakeley would end up in P6 after a time penalty for Marcel Kiefer.
"The thought process was that I had one lap fresher tyres, but crucially I made a few mistakes in sector 1 and was a sitting duck. What I thought to do was let the past, get the DRS and pass them back. I made the wrong call." said Longuet after the race.
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F1 Esports Final
The final event of F1 Esports will take place over December 15-16 and be competed at Imola, Mexico City, and Interlagos.
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