The young German driver held on to secure the inaugural racing esports title, despite coming under intense pressure on the final lap.
The inaugural NGK Spark Plug Esport Cup has been decided, with 18-year-old Attila Diner snatching the laurels after a nail-biting finish at the Nürburgring Nordschleife.
After four preceding rounds using RaceRoom Racing Experience, which determined who would take part in the title-deciding race, 26 drivers lined up in identical Mercedes-AMG GT3 at the start of the qualifying session.
The 12.944-mile layout jettisoned the Grand Prix Circuit, meaning a full out lap needed to be completed before a timed attempt, creating a high-pressure scenario.
In the end, it was Kodi Nikola Latkovski who prevailed, setting a time over a second quicker than Diner in second, Leonard Karten in third and Philipp Drayss in fourth.
This was then followed immediately by a 60-minute race to decide the championship.
From the standing start, with the rear of the grid spreading around the final corner, it was Latkovski who heald the leading plunging down through Hatzenbach.
Karten and Drayss traded blows for the rest of the opening lap in a battle for third, which allowed the front two to pull clear of the slipstream.
Onto the Döttinger Höhe for the first time, Luciano Witvoet drafted past Yuval Rosen for fifth, the two nearly coming to blows through Tiergarten. Rosen would cede another position a few minutes later to Petr Pliska after running onto the grass at the fast right-hander of Flugplatz.
Further back in the pack, Alexandar Grünwald spun into the barriers at Kallenhard, with Nico Söhnel and Stef Cremers running wide in avoidance before themselves scraping the Armco just moments later.
With 15 minutes completed, Diner went for a move down the long straight and took the lead from Latkovski, with a charging third-placed Drayss now in close proximity.
It looked like the top three would then sit in single file and conserve fuel, with the gap back to fourth at nearly five seconds, but Latkovski had other ideas, squeezing by into the lead again through the daunting Mutkurve. Once again, Diner would repay the favour further around the lap.
Drayss would drop back down to fifth through the opening sector with the halfway stage approaching, leaving the top two out front and duelling for the victory.
Latkovski once again took the lead at Mutkurve, but this time Diner seemed content to sit in second and keep a watching brief.
Towards the bottom of the top 10, the embattled Rosen made contact with Sebastian Reeh, ending up in the wall. He pressed on, only to spin with just over 10 minutes to go.
Upfront, for the next two laps, Diner shadowed leader Latkovski – getting close to a move on the Döttinger Höhe, but backing out. On the penultimate lap, however, the young German driver used the slipstream through Kesselchen to re-take first place.
It all came down to the final few corners on the last lap, as Latkovski tried to go around the outside at Tiergarten, but ultimately dropped back into second. He then jinked left and right, all over the rear of the leader through the final curves, diving for the inside at the last possible moment – but Diner had it covered, crossing the line just 0.277 seconds ahead.
“[That was] incredibly stressful, actually the whole race was exhausting.” explained the new champion.
“It was really hard work but in the end, the strategy worked – to stay behind Latkovski, save some fuel, and then in the last few laps attack.”
NGK Spark Plug Esport Cup results
- Attila Diner – 66:09.199
- Kodi Nikola Latkovski +0.277
- Petr Pliska +14.769
- Philipp Drayss +20.199
- Leonard Karten +21.811
- Rasmus Salo +23.269
- Luciano Witvoet +23.849
- Sebastian Reeh +29.545
- Yuval Rosen +40.551
- Beau Dixon +54.343