Reigning champions Team Redline are hot on the heels of Group A leaders Aston Martin as we enter the final weeks of the V10 R-League’s group stages.
They'll be looking to leapfrog the British outfit after Round 4, where they take on Romain Grosjean’s team R8G.
The series newcomers have found the going tough, picking up just a solitary point so far. But could the minnows cause an upset against the champs?
R8G Esports: Erhan Jajovski, Samuel Libeert, Thomas Petitjean
Team Redline: Michal Smidl, Jeffrey Reitveld, Enzo Bonito
We kicked things off at Silverstone for the first relay race of the day - with Redline superstar Enzo Bonito on pole ahead of the R8G car of Thomas Petitjean.
The Italian got away well ahead of his rival but the pair jostled for position through Abbey and Farm; Petitjean then using Bonito’s slipstream to make a move around the outside of Village. It was certainly a risky challenge for the lead but he managed it with ease… before Bonito clumsily clipped the back of the Frenchman’s car, sending them both into a spin.
The two got back on track with Bonito allowing Petitjean back into the lead; the Frenchman then using every part of the track to defend his place against the Redline racer. Clearly struggling with his car’s aerodynamics, Bonito went into the pits to swap with his teammate Jeffrey Rietveld. Petitjean, meanwhile, went past the pit entrance and across the line to start Lap 2.
Despite his advantage, Petitjean very nearly binned his car off the track as he went around the tricky Luffield corner. In contrast, Rietveld was flawless on his run and by Lap 3 he'd caught up to Petitjean’s replacement, Samuel Libeert.
With warmer tyres and the slipstream, Rietveld was hounding Libeert as the two went through Maggotts and Becketts. But the flying Dutchman appeared to carry a little too much speed on the exit of the fast right-hander and completely lost the rear of his car, careering off the track and allowing Libeert to gain a healthy lead as they each entered the pits for the final lap.
Rietveld’s error meant that teammate Michal Smidl would need R8G’s Erhan Jajovski to make a mistake if he stood any chance of catching up to the leader. Jajovski, though, with his five-second advantage, calmly finished the final lap to win the relay race.
After the shock result of the relay race, Redline were desperate for the win in the team race.
R8G started the race with two of their cars occupying the front row, but it was Redline’s Smidl who got the best getaway. He challenged both Lebeert and Petitjean as they rounded the first corners and, along with teammate Rietveld, gained on the French team’s lead drivers. Side-by-side along the Hangar Straight, Smidl and Petitjean audaciously exchanged places while Rietveld and Lebeert fought for 3rd place just behind.
With thrilling individual battles taking place across all six positions, it was Smidl who led through Lap 2. But Petitjean was less than half a second behind him, and pushing hard. Desperate to keep up with the leader, he went wide at the Aintree corner - allowing Rietveld and Lebeert to pass.
With Petitjean off his tail, Smidl was able to pull away from the pack and into a commanding lead. Behind the Czech driver, his Redline teammate Rietveld came under increasing pressure from Lebeert. The two battled hard into the final lap, with Lebeert seemingly the faster of the two… but unable to get past the defensive Dutchman.
While Smidl raced towards the finish line to win the race, 3rd-place Lebeert lost grip behind Rietveld. Exiting the Woodcote corner, he sent his car straight into the kitty litter. But despite losing his rival, Rietveld also made a costly error and rejoined the race at the very back. There was further drama to be had as Petitjean was handed a 10 second penalty for leaving the track and gaining an advantage, meaning Redline were able to consolidate the point they’d picked up through Smidl's victory.
After two dramatic and error-strewn races at Silverstone, it was onto Monza for the second part of the day; each team neck-and-neck at 1-1.
Redline, clearly determined to have a smoother race in Monza, got off to a flying start with Bonito nipping ahead of Petitjean before the Rettifilo chicane. Petitjean refused to yield to the Italian though, and the two exited the first corner side-by-side.
Inevitably, they made contact as they rounded Roggia, with Bonito forced over the kerbs on the inside of the corner. But crucially, he was ahead of Petitjean into Curve di Lesmo and in the lead before swapping places with Rietveld.
Petitjean switched with Lebeert for Lap 3 while Rietveld carried on, with nearly two seconds between him and the leading R8G car. It was evident at this stage of the day that Redline, one of the title favourites for Season 2, had seriously underestimated R8G in this Round 4 contest - with the newcomers looking thoroughly capable of winning another point here.
For the final lap, it was Jajovski ahead of a determined Smidl, with the race win still up for grabs. Redline gained back some time as the two teams headed out of the pitlane. Smidl was able to track down Jajovski, enter the slipstream and pass the R8G as they headed towards Roggia. Just like on Lap 1, the two cars dramatically came together - with Jajovski sliding off the track and coming out some six seconds behind the leading Smidl.
The Redline star kept his cool on the final corners of the lap to win the relay race and gain his team a much-needed advantage.
Rietveld carried his team’s momentum from the relay race into the team race with a flying start from 2nd place on the grid. But the in-form Petitjean was right on his tail as they rounded Curva Grande with Smidl and Lebeert in pursuit.
As they entered the Ascari chicane, it was Smidl - perhaps the only driver on show today who hadn’t made a costly error - who smashed into the back of Petitjean, taking them both out in the process. This put Bonito in contention for 2nd place, and he was able to fly past Lebeert on Lap 2. It was short-lived however, as a clearly rattled Lebeert attempted a lunge down the inside of the Italian, sending him spinning through the chicane and back down the order.
With chaos breaking out behind him, Rietveld kept calm and maintained his lead over the rest of the pack. By the final lap, he was over two seconds ahead of Jajovski. Coasting home, the Dutchman secured a final point for Redline, while a late error from Jajovski allowed Lebeert and Bonito to sail past into 2nd and 3rd respectively.
Despite the close nature of this Round 4 clash, Redline came away 3-1 winners - enough to carry them into top spot of Group A. They now boast a two-point gap over Aston Martin and a 100% win record in Season 2 at this stage. However, the title-holders will be concerned by some of their errors throughout this round.
R8G, meanwhile, only came away from this contest with a single point, but they raced Redline pretty close at times and should be proud of their own efforts!