Following its debut season exclusively running Mercedes AMG GT3 machinery, the NGK Spark Plug Esports Cup (NGK Cup) returned in January with two new manufacturers added to the selection pool. Audi R8s and Porsche 911s would make for a more varied 2023 grid, filled with plenty of pilots familiar with RaceRoom Racing Experience competitions.
The notable exception to those returning for this season would be reigning champion Attila Diner – ensuring that a brand new champion would be in place come the calendar’s end.
Each round features a qualification session followed by two races; a reverse grid spicing up the latter. The thirty-two drivers with the most points following the conclusion of eight races proceed to the Grand Final to win two VIP tickets to the ADAC TotalEnergies 24h Nürburgring.
Spa-Francorchamps revealed plenty about who we could expect to be front-runners this year from Qualifying alone.
Ilia Drovossekov claimed the first pole position of the season but, extraordinarily considering the context of this large circuit, did so by less than half a tenth. Leonard Karten was sure to be a fierce challenger from the front row whilst Julian Kunze had plenty of experience starting from third.
Despite a couple of scuffles near the back, the start was mild-mannered. The front four of Drovossekov, Karten, Kunze and Colin Blankenburg broke away early from Yuval Rosen.
With little room for mistake in the close-knit fight behind, Stef Cremers blinked first, braking too late into the Bus Stop chicane five minutes in. It was the Dutchman’s re-entry that cost him the most, however, as a spin dropped him from the top 10 to 19th.
Alex Mosin would end the race as the highest profile retirement, his car spinning out of control over the crest of Raidillon from a top ten position. His misfortune laid the groundwork for Filippo Zenna to benefit. With the top ten finishers reversed the following race, the Italian would lay on pole position.
Drovossekov was set to start Race 2 where Zenna finished following a truly dominant performance. He could not be touched; Karten and Kunze mere spectators to the victory from the other podium places.
- Ilia Drovossekov – 20:47.881
- Leonard Karten – +2.605
- Julian Kunze – +4.019
- Yuval Rosen – +7.434
- Colin Blankenburg – +8.823
- Luciano Witvoet – +10.541
- Maximilian Lorenz – +15.930
- Lucas Wollering – +19.326
- Ville Kreivi – +19.844
- Filippo Zenna – +24.431
Ville Kreivi, on the front row in the self-appointed #1 car, leapt onto the opportunity presented by Zenna’s unsure start
The race lead was the Finn’s by Bruxelles on the first lap. Rosen, after overturning Blankenburg’s early fourth place snatch in Race 1, looked up for this second twenty-minute sprint. He climbed from seventh to fourth in the same period.
The Israeli’s charge was all the more impressive for his final trick, showing courage to enter Campus three-wide whilst coming out on top and into the podium positions. Zenna was helpless to fend off this kind of form – allowing the shadowing Luciano Witvoet through in the process of losing second and then third himself.
Kunze’s solid evening turned sour thanks to Blankenburg spinning his compatriot at the Bus Stop chicane. Drovossekov was in close proximity and did well to avoid the incident. His luck held but would be tested as a trying lap at the halfway point dropped him from the top five to ninth and with most of his good work undone.
His lead eroded over fifteen minutes of hard grind, Kreivi eventually lost the win to Rosen with one and a half laps to go. Although second was also taken away from the Finn on the road, Blankenburg would face a stern examination from the stewards after a second incident involving him; this time involving a tussle with Witvoet.
- Yuval Rosen – 20:58.133
- Colin Blankenburg* – +3.236
- Ville Kreivi – +4.658
- Luciano Witvoet – +4.785
- Stefan Cremers – +9.962
- Ilia Drovossekov – +11.224
- Lucas Wollering – +12.019
- Filippo Zenna – +13.205
- Lei Sabino – +16.772
- Julian Kunze – +16.821
* = Under Investigation Post-Race