Van Gisbergen topped each of the four qualifying rounds at the virtual Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi – host of the first round of the new four-event World RX Esports series, which is run in partnership with Motorsport Games.
Meantime, Leclerc had a much tougher time during the qualifying races. He was caught up in a first-corner incident in his first race, and subsequently received a 10-second penalty for cutting the corner while re-joining the circuit. He then spun his virtual Peugeot 208 in the second after he emerged from the joker into the back of two-time DTM champion Timo Scheider.
There was more drama for Leclerc in his Q3 race, as he rolled his car after launching over a kerb, this left him 15th in the standings with just one qualifying race remaining and only the top 10 drivers progressing to the semi-finals. Leclerc was finally able to avoid the chaos in the fourth and final qualifying session, as he won his race and ended up a respectable seventh fastest in that session.
However, it only lifted Leclerc to 12th place in the overall qualifying standings and he was eliminated along with Scheider and 2019 World RX runner-up Andreas Bakkerud. Leclerc said on his Twitch stream: “I haven’t been good enough” – then went to a private lobby to play the game more with Scheider and Matvey Furazhakin, who also didn’t qualify for the semis.
In the official event, Van Gisbergen was then narrowly beaten by ex-BMW factory driver Tom Blomqvist – son of rally legend Stig – in the first semi-final.
Supercars ESeries championship leader van Gisbergen then responded brilliantly in the final, taking an early race lead while three of the five cars including Blomqvist collided and effectively fell out of victory contention. This left reigning World RX champion Timmy Hansen as van Gisbergen’s only rival, but Hansen was unable to match van Gisbergen’s scintillating pace.
Van Gisbergen, who is rumoured to be in quarantine in Australia after flying back from New Zealand ahead of the Supercars season restart, won the six-lap final in a time that was quicker than the winning driver in the esports category such was van Gisbergen’s impressive pace.
“That was so much fun racing with all those guys,” he said after the race. “There was a bunch of my friends from circuit racing but also on our chat we had the Hansen brothers, and racing with them, getting tips when to joker and stuff like that.
“We were all pretty fast, and we had some really cool racing. Also having Charles Leclerc racing was really cool. It was so fun to be a part of.”
Hansen took second place ahead of Norwegian RX2 driver Henrik Krogstad, Blomqvist and his younger brother Kevin Hansen.
Among those eliminated at the semi-final stage was 2019 ADAC GT Masters champion Kelvin van der Linde, another making his virtual World RX debut. GCK Clio driver Rokas Baciuska was fourth in the qualifying standings but failed to progress to the final after finishing third in his semi-final.
Quentin Dall’olmo was victorious in the esports category, ahead of Lukas Mateja and his brother, DiRT Rally 2.0 World Series champion Killian Dall’olmo.
The next round of the World RX Esports season will take place on June 21 at the virtual Hell circuit in Norway. Leclerc told Scheider that he would race again if he is available to do so.