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the secret of the success of the ESL R1 | traction

Dáire McCormack is a soft-spoken teenage character. Appearances can be deceptive, however, as the Irishman speaks authoritatively and offers outspoken views on all things ESL R1 – officially the best funded championship in sim racing with a total prize pool of €500,000.

And that’s before we consider his insane speed, which contributed to consecutive ESL R1 wins and made him the first doubles winner in ESL R1 history. We at Traxion.GG sat down with the Williams Esports driver to discuss the secret of his and Mercedes-AMG’s competitive resurgence, as well as his hopes and goals for the remainder of 2023.

Dáire (pronounced “Da-ra”) began his eSports career in 2019 racing on Forza Motorsport 7 and impressed Williams Esports so much that he was picked up (via his Academy team) as a full-time driver, which eventually became a competitive Assetto Corsa Competizione led ( ACC) excursions.

Mercedes-AMG Williams Esports GT3 car McCormack competes in the ESL R1

It was in ACC where McCormack really impressed the sim racing community by taking on James Baldwin for the 2022 Autosport Esports Driver of the Year by competing in the Pro class of the Mobileye GT World Challenge Europe Esports Series 2022 finished second and picked up a few wins along the way.

And 2023 was even better as the Irishman had already won the Europe, Middle East and Africa split of the Logitech McLaren G Challenge (indeed, with three wins out of three in the final in a dominant manner). played a crucial role in William’s attack on ESL R1. And he’s only 18 years old…

So with this form, a win in the ESL R1 seems inevitable, right?

Dáire McCormack:, Williams Esports, ESL R1

Winning in ESL R1

“I really didn’t expect that, to be honest. I knew we had the potential. I knew we’d have the car this time – that wasn’t the case at Hockenheim and Spa,” counters McCormack, downplaying his successes.

His qualifying lap for the Round 4 final at Spa-Francorchamps was one of those rounds. The kind of lap that professional simracers only do once in Blaumond, where everything just clicks. It was all the more remarkable as the Mercedes-AMG cars have been struggling throughout the event up to this point, with McCormack being the marque’s sole representative in the final race.

McCormack’s pole position lap at Spa-Francorchamps

Qualifying in the ESL R1 is a simple one-shot showdown, with each driver only getting one lap to set their best time. Was it his best qualifying performance to date?

“I did hundreds of practice runs and only qualified in one Superpole format. And my best was less than a tenth faster [than my Round 4 qualifying lap]. Achieving that in the actual competition was only a matter of the mind. I didn’t expect it at all,” he enthused.

The ESL R1’s short 20-minute races and knockout format in the early stages put a lot of emphasis on qualifying pace, surely Williams and McCormack are focusing their preparation on one-lap performance?

“It’s all about qualifying. If you don’t do a good qualifying session, you’re pretty much in trouble,” he summed it up light-heartedly.

“So you really have to focus on qualifying. If your qualifying is bad, it’s really very difficult to progress. If you qualify, I’d say fifth or lower, you have no chance of winning unless people crash.”

Williams Esports, Racing, Mercedes-AMGRound 5 at Hockenheim proved to be a successful event for McCormack

The USP of ESL R1

In addition to a huge prize pool, ESL R1 brings together the best sim racers in the world with the best teams, including esports giants like FaZe Clan, G2 Esports, HEROIC, MOUZ and FURIA. But what makes ESL R1 stand out from the sim racing crowd for McCormack?

“I would say it’s the format,” McCormack said

“The format is brutal – it’s tough. You know it takes everything you have to try to get the perfect lap in every Superpole session and lucky for me [I’m] used to ACC Superpoles,” he says.

Katowice challenges

The LAN races in Rounds 1 and 2 of the Katowice Intel Extreme Masters (IEM) Expo Hall did not go according to plan for McCormack; He exited Round 1 in the Quarterfinals before rallying to reach the Finals in Round 2 – albeit with a 12th place finish. Subsequent rounds were to be online-only, meaning McCormack could use his own familiar-feeling sim rig.

“[Katowice] didn’t go well because I didn’t know what the equipment was. So I didn’t have that detailed brake feel like I had a home. So yes, I had issues with towing (rear braking) into the corner and the car just started spinning towards me,” said McCormack.

As if to underscore the difficulty of using unfamiliar gear, McCormack was on a stormy lap in the finale of Round 3 but was damaged with a slowdown penalty for a corner cut. This resulted in an 11th place – not representative given his sudden increase in pace.

ESL R1, Round 1, IEM Poland, 2023The LAN event in Katowice was an impressive affair

Mercedes AMG is suffering

In reality, McCormack and his Mercedes-AMG stablemates had been in a losing battle for most of the ESL R1 as their GT3 car appeared to be battling the Audis and BMWs. By the fourth lap the marque had clinched only one podium – McCormack’s Williams teammate Nikodem Wisniewski on the third lap.

Round 4 wasn’t much better either, despite McCormack’s surefire win as the lone representative of Stuttgart’s best. However, there was a slightly adjusted Balance of Performance (BoP) in Round 5, resulting in five Mercedes-AMGs competing in the final. Needless to say, the car was difficult to handle in ESL R1:

“The Mercedes doesn’t have the natural spin of the other cars, all other cars coming into a corner will give a natural tail slide while the Mercedes doesn’t,” McCormack said

“So you have to force this slide. And it always has to be perfect. It’s super, super difficult to do a lap in the Mercedes because it just doesn’t have that natural rotation,” underscoring a key weakness of the front-engined, long-wheelbase Mercedes-AMG.

Mercedes-AMG, racing, ESL R1, HockenheimImage courtesy of Mercedes Motorsport

rivalry within a brand

Williams isn’t the only Mercedes-AMG team either, with Mercedes-AMG Petronas Esports also competing in the ESL R1. For a team boasting the undisputed driving talents of James Baldwin, Bono Huis, Graham Carroll and Marko Pejic, it seems remarkable that Williams Esports currently sits five places ahead of its stablemates in the team standings, a whopping 162 points clear.

ESL R1 uses the nascent racing sim racing platform. Nonetheless, the sim will continue to evolve in its alpha phase during ESL R1, with contributions from its eSports stars proving valuable. However, this means that some aspects of the simulation have to be scaled back, as the cars understandably lack some detailed adjustment options. So if it’s not about car set-up, why does Williams have a healthy lead over the Mercedes-AMG Petronas team?

Mercedes-AMG, racing, ESL R1, HockenheimMercedes-AMG Petronas Esports made big gains in Round 5, image courtesy of Mercedes Motorsport

“I think we’re just a little bit faster – just a little bit because it’s very marginal. We’re all doing pretty much the same times, so yeah, it’s just the one that’s a bit lucky and handles the pressure best,” he counters.

McCormack also credits the pace of his teammates (Jakub Brzezinski, Dennis Schöniger and the aforementioned Wisniewski), whose similar lap times propel each other up the leaderboards.

With third place going to James Baldwin on Round 5, it looks like Mercedes-AMG Petronas are on track to make up lost ground and no doubt keep Williams Esports on their toes.

ESL R1 ambitions

Surely becoming the first two-time and consecutive winner of the ESL R1 means McCormack will be aiming for first place overall at the Spring Season Major in Munich on May 27-28?

“I would be more than happy with a top 5 in the championship going into the major,” he says surprisingly.

“That would be it for me. Of course, the goal is to win every lap, but that’s not possible,” said McCormack, acknowledging the enormous strength of his opponents, especially Joshua Rogers from Porsche Coanda:

Williams Esports, Racing, Mercedes-AMG

“He just keeps doing the same thing. He’s absolutely insane. I think he was a bit unlucky at Hockenheim and had a bad qualifying lap [but] I think in the future he definitely will be [our] Main rival,” McCormack said, appreciating Rogers’ skills (the Australian already won in Round 2).

McCormack also singled out R8G Esports duo Jiri Toman and Marcell Csincsik as drivers to watch as they both sit second in the regular-season points standings.

Plans for 2023

Alongside ESL R1, McCormack will compete in no fewer than three SRO Esports Championships; including the GT World Challenge Europe Esports Sprint Series, the Intercontinental GT Challenge Esports Championship and the Fanatec GT Pro Series LAN-based series on-site.

Competing in four professional esports series in one year seems like a tall order, but you wouldn’t bet on McCormack having a clean sweep.

Images courtesy of Williams Esports

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