Lukáš Matěja took home the DiRT 2.0 World Series title and a $5,000 cheque after a thrilling shootout on the Sweet Lamb stage in virtual Wales.
The best virtual rally drivers in the world took on a number of different stage styles and across different continents in a way that only a virtual rally could deliver. Their steed? The renowned 1995 Subaru Impreza made famous by Colin McRae.
Stage 1: Monte Carlo – Route de Turini Montee
It was an icy challenge up first for the drivers. The Monte Carlo stage starts off mainly asphalt and progressively becomes icier and icier as they climb the hill.
Iwata and Pankkonen leading at the halfway stage but as the ice spread, Pesch started to gain on the top two at a rapid pace. At the stage finish, there were just 1.1s between the top five drivers. It was a bad start for Théo Rochelle, the Frech driver had a moment out of sight of the cameras and ended the stage almost a full 10 seconds behind the leaders.
Stage 2: Sweden – Harma
The second stage kept the drivers on snow and ice but with a longer run. It was all about commitment for the drivers here as they kept it pinned over jumps and avoided the big snow piles on the side of the road.
Pankkonen, Matějaand Pesch were glued together at the top of the charts halfway through the stage. Iwata lost some time but was only 2 seconds off stage winner Mateja at the finish. Pankkonen and Pesch followed in 2nd and 3rd respectively.
Nicolo Ardizzone lost big ground on his rivals, 14 seconds behind the leaders and Rochelle was unable to regain any of the ground lost in the first stage.
Stage 3: New Zealand – Elsthorpe Sprint Reverse
The third stage swapped slippery ice for loose gravel for a fairly short sprint
At this point it was becoming increasingly clear that there was a four-way battle emerging for the three available qualifying slots with Iwata and Pesch being the ones closest to the bubble.
Pankkonen and Matěja again led the stages and extended their safety margin over the drivers behind. Iwata took 3rd on the stage and bought back a second from Pesch – pushing the Australian into the non-qualifying position for the deciding stage.
Stage 4: Spain – Ascenso bosque Montverd
The final stage was on some super-sticky asphalt. The drivers needed to be instantly on the pace, changing the required steering input and being much smoother in how they wrestle the Subaru Impreza.
Tarmac specialist Iwata impressed and was outstanding with a commanding lead across the line. Pesch wasn’t able to do enough and was ultimately eliminated with a deficit of just 2 seconds from the overall leader.
The overall results after four stages saw Matěja go through as the top qualifier, reining champion Pankkonen in second and Japanese competitor Iwata in third after his impressive tarmac performance. Just 0.577 seconds separate these superstar esports drivers.
Deciding stage: Great Britain – Sweet Lamb
The small lead that Matěja had over his rivals didn’t matter much anymore. The final, deciding, stage saw all times reset and the fastest in the “super” stage would be the 2020/2021 champion in the DiRT Rally 2.0 World Series. The mud and dirt of Wales was the perfect background to the big showdown.
Pankkonen was first up first by virtue of coming in third position after the previous four stages. The reigning champion was not leaving anything untested. He was absolutely committed everywhere, pushing the limits of the rules to attempt to put himself in the very best position to win whilst not knowing what he needed to deliver for victory. A spectacular roll towards the end of the stage added some drama but he was able to quickly land on his wheels and continue on. With echoes of Colin McRae, he recorded a 5:44.547 – would it be enough?
Japanese driver Iwata was next. Despite the time being passed midnight locally, he was delivering a clean and tidy run early on. Was it fast or not? It was hard to tell watching live. There were a couple of hairy moments but Iwata was looking good towards the end of the stage with no mistakes. Heading into the final section, Iwata dramatically rolled in the exact same place that Pankkonen did. Unluckily for him, fortune was not on his side and he was unable to land it.
The pressure was on Mateja. Although Pankkonen had made some big mistakes in his run, Iwata had confirmed how tricky this stage was on DiRT Rally 2.0. Matěja started off confident, calm and looking very strong at the beginning of the stage and continued to do so as he approached the halfway point. Whilst we didn’t have the benefit of split times, it was looking good. The drama unfolded once again at the water splash with the Czech star hitting the exact same bank as his rivals. Unlike them though, he did not roll the car despite giving himself and his fans a scare. As he crossed the line, Matěja took the championship by 1.838 seconds.
Congratulations to Lukáš Matěja for a thrilling victory and commiserations to Pankkonen and Iwata – but thank you to all of the competitors for an incredible event.
Can Matěja take home a second world-title on the same day? He races in the World Rallycross Esports finals that will be live at 17:00 UTC / 18:00 CET today on Traxion’s YouTube and Twitch channels – don’t forget to tune in.