2016 Supercars champion Shane van Gisbergen has come out trumps the latest round of the World RX Esports Invitational Series, triumphing over the likes of Ferrari Formula 1 ace Charles Leclerc and sportscar car star Tom Blomqvist.
The kiwi was electric across the entirety of the event, topping all four qualifying rounds around the virtual Yas Marina venue.
It was a more turbulent debut for Leclerc, however, with the Monegasque tipping himself into a barrel roll in Q3 as well as being dealt a 10-second time penalty in an earlier race due to corner-cutting.
Despite claiming a much-needed victory in his final qualifying heat, Leclerc narrowly missed out on the top six and was eliminated before the finals.
Blomqvist and Van Gisbergen duked it out in the first semi-final but was ultimately forced to trail home behind the eight-time NZ karting champion. Nonetheless, both qualified for the grand final which was to be a six-lap thriller.
Van Gisbergen’s final victory was ultimately made easier when Blomqvist dropped out of contention having being tangled in an unfortunate early race incident when he T-boned an unsighted Henrik Krogstad.
The Norwegian RX2 driver had pitched himself into a spin and was sat incautiously across the breadth of the track.
As the race wore on it was clear only defending WRX champion would become subsequent race leader Van Gisbergen’s largest threat, but valiant defence and shrewd racecraft meant the Red Bull HRT pilot would hang on to a maiden victory.
Hansen finished second ahead Krogstad with Blomqvust and Kevin Hansen rounding out the final finishing positions.
“That was so much fun racing with all those guys,” said Van Gisbergen. “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.”
Fellow Supercars regular Scott Pye suffered a more tumultuous virtual Rallycross debut after being caught out with a harsh penalty in Q2, coupled by being unable to match the topflight of drivers meant the Charlie Schwerkolt Racing pilot finished 13th out of the 16 runners.
The next round of Invitational World RX Esports season will take place at a virtual Hell circuit in Norway on June 21.