After the very modern trappings of Fuji Speedway, we returned to a classic motorsport venue for the final online round in the Playseat® SMS-R Series. The world's fastest Project CARS 2 esports drivers battled at Watkins Glen. This famous American circuit has hosted everything from Formula One to IMSA, and its flowing layout is well suited to both the Pro Class GT3 machines, and the Touring Cars driven by our Challengers. From sweeping uphill corners, to downhill plunges, hairpins and chicanes, Watkins Glen has a bit of everything, and almost all of it happens at very high speed.
We arrived at the Glen knowing that this race would decide which teams and drivers will make it to the Finals to compete for €20,000 in cash prizes. Only the top four Pro teams and top eight Challenger drivers can progress from here. After the previous three rounds Team ACR were already safely though to the Finals in Pro Class, leaving three spots still up for grabs. Team Redline, VP, Lazarus, Oscaro and Veloce all came to the Glen with a chance to make it into the top four, but who would be successful?
In Challenger Class FA Kristian Kwietniewski and THR Operator looked safe after the first three rounds, albeit with neither mathematically confirmed as finalists just yet. All of the other drivers in the Class also came to Watkins Glen with their fate still in their own hands. Dalking was the driver on the bubble in eighth place overall after Race 3, but Khaki and Dornieden just ahead weren't out of danger just yet, and Villalobos behind was in good form after coming second at Fuji.
Watkins Glen was a crucial race in both classes, so read on to see who has made it through to the Finals at Mercedes-Benz World. Don't forget to grab your tickets to see the Finals live and in-person on Saturday May 11.
Qualifying was crucial at Watkins Glen, as such a fast flowing circuit will always make overtaking a tricky prospect, particularly with the high downforce and dirty air generated by the GT3 cars. VP's Isaac took pole in the Pro Class, ahead of the Veloce boys, Storm and James Baldwin. Veloce were looking to continue their qualifying improvements from the previous race and second & third set them up nicely in their push to recover more points and try to reach the finals. Behind them, most of the midfield in GT3 Class was separated by only a couple of tenths of a second.
In the Challenger Class pole went to Villalobos who maintained his form from Round 3 at Fuji. He was outside the top eight in the overall standings coming into this final online race, but a win would bring him back into contention for a spot in the Finals, if he could hold on.
When the lights went green, it was a great start from VP saac who maintained first place ahead of the Veloce boys; Storm and Baldwin. Further back in the pack, Darwin Daume made a move on Oscaro's Rotax into the first corner. Incredibly, all of the drivers in both classes made it through turn one and the sweeping uphill first sector cleanly. With so much on the line, it was definitely the cleanest opening lap of the season. Isaac had a great first lap and opened an early 0.6s lead, and Veloce and VP were looking good to make it to the Finals if they could maintain their early positions in the top 5 of the race.
ACR had a quiet race in Watkins Glen as they took a relaxed approach having already made it through the Finals after very consistent performances in the first three rounds. Leon then made a great move on Tejpek for 13th place early in the race, after he dropped down a few places at the start. Meanwhile, Isaac extended his gap at the front to 1.2 seconds after the opening laps, whilst Team Redline's Magic_Michael kept Baldwin under pressure for a podium spot. Further back, a bit of a train began to form behind Rotax in sixth, as the top five pulled away from the Oscaro driver in the early stages.
In Challenger Class, Khaki had sprung himself into to the lead of the race with Villalobos and THR Dalking close behind. All three of these guys needed solid points finishes to make it to the finals. They maintained a very impressive pace throughout the race and pulled away from the rest of the Touring Car pack. These three had some fantastic side-by-side fights too - hard but fair. The other seven drivers in Challenger Class were running in a train a few seconds behind. As Luke Crane said on commentary, it almost looked like a cycling peloton! This would create some tricky moments for the GT3 Pros later in the race when they arrived to lap the Touring Cars.
Lazarus were the Pro team in a difficult position at the halfway point of the race, with DiHeidi their best placed driver in seventh. It was looking tough for them to score enough points to make it to the Finals.
Attention quickly went back to the Challenger scrap though, with a three-wide moment into the bus stop chicane, but everyone showed great awareness to come out clean on the other side. However, the next time though was a different story, as Operator and Dornieden came together which sent Operator for a spin and spoiled his race. Would he still get enough points to qualify for the Finals? Three-wide two laps in a row into the bus stop was a big risk.
Then the traffic time arrived as the Pros caught the long train of Challenger cars, and each of the GT3 leaders had to carefully pick off the Touring Cars one-by-one. The Challengers drove very fairly though, and most of the Pro drivers were able to navigate around the lapped traffic cleanly.
That didn't stop Rotax from finding an advantage though, as he used the traffic to gain a place on Darwin Daume. Darwin then defended nicely into the bus stop against DiHeidi too. Rotax was the man on the move though, he made superb use of traffic time to climb all the way up to fourth, past Magic_Michael. However, at this point in the race it still wouldn't be enough for Oscaro to make it to the finals, thanks to the Veloce boys holding two podium places with ten minutes to go. Up at the front, Isaac had pulled out a nice gap to second placed Storm during the lapped traffic. His lead was now more than four seconds.
In the Challengers it was still Khaki ahead of Villalobos as Khaki looked to bounce back from disqualification last time out. Villalobos almost got around Khaki though while they were being lapped by the GT3 cars, but Khaki just about kept him behind with a little bit of door rubbing for good measure.
In the Pros, DiHeidi made another fantastic pass, this time on Darwin_Daume to steal seventh into the bus stop chicane, but that wouldn't be enough to send the Lazarus team to the Finals. Rotax continued to push as well, and closed the gap on Baldwin for third.
In Pro Class it was a dominant lights-to-flag win for VP Issac. Storm was a comfortable second for Veloce, while his teammate James Baldwin held off Rotax for third on the final lap. In the Challenger Class, Villalobos made the move on Khaki, but he picked up a one second track limits penalty which handed the win back to Khaki as they crossed the line after a great race together. THR Dalking picked up the final spot on the Challenger podium.
There were no post-race penalties for any incidents between drivers in Race 4.
Race 4 Results
Playseat® SMS-R Series Finals
After four weeks of intense online racing, we now know who your finalists will be in the 2019 Project CARS esports Major. In the Pro Class the top four teams from the online series will each take two drivers to the Finals to compete for the SMS-R Pro teams title. Those teams are:
In the Challenger Class, the top eight drivers from the online series have earned their place in the Finals to compete for the individual Challenger crown. They are:
Next comes the Finals, live from Mercedes-Benz World in the UK on Saturday May 11. There's a €20,000 prize pool on the line with cash prizes in both the GT3 Pro Class and the TCR Challenger Class. You can be there too. Don't forget to grab your tickets now.
You can also tune in for the Finals from home. We'll be streaming live on Saturday May 11 from 16:30 BST at: http://pcars.games/smsrlive