Four rounds – eight races – have led to this, the NGK Spark Plug Esports Cup Final Race of 2023. A 24-car grid would battle it out over one definitive evening of action, with one winner walking away with the grand prize of an ADAC VIP package to the Nürburgring 24 Hours.
Speaking of which, the Nordschleife would play host to this grand finale which featured a significant switch-up to the regular format. Instead of two short sprints, a one-hour spectacular awaited.
Kodi Nikola Latkovski, who had qualified through the third round of the season, destroyed the competition in qualifying. The North Macedonian stormed clear by over six-tenths of a second, a strong indication of his chances going forward despite not winning a race to this point. Leonard Karten had booked his ticket at the first time of asking two months ago. He would join Latkovski on the front row.
Colin Blankenburg and Yuval Rosen formed the second row, with Nico Söhnel rounding out the top five. Of the previous race winners unmentioned, one was noticeable in their absence. Ilia Drovossekov failed to attend, which was certainly of relief to the other favoured drivers for victory.
Julian Kunze, one of the last drivers to lock in his spot, showed strong speed with sixth. Sinan Gunay lay eighth on the grid while Mariusz Zabdyr struggled down in fifteenth. Not as much as Maximilian Lorenz and Daniel Parvan, who would start even further down the order.
As the lights went green, Blankenburg was left daydreaming with cars doing well to avoid his slow-starting Mercedes. Kunze, the wily old fox that he is, played the situation perfectly gaining two positions straight off the bat. Rosen, conversely, enjoyed a lightning start seeing him pass Karten and into second by the exit of the first corner.
Blankenburg’s first lap would go from bad to worse as an off-screen incident saw him plummet down the order to an eventual sixteenth. Zabdyr had been heading the other way; by this point up to eighth in the running order albeit hounded by Stef Cremers. After a solid lap of pressure, the Polish driver was forced to concede position.
With everyone now settling into a rhythm, the lead fight was looking like a four-way contest between Latkovski, Rosen, Karten and Kunze. After his strong getaway, Yuval had hardly left the rear wing of the race leader. That was about to change disastrously seventeen minutes in.
Taking an innocent enough line through the corner before Karussell, the shock on the Israeli’s face was visceral as his Porsche lit up the tyres and hit the inside barrier. In the grand scheme of a normal race, his rejoin into seventh position was far better than it could have been. In the grand scheme of this grand finale, his dreams of victory were dead and buried barring multiple miracles.
With a lack of any immediate presence behind, Latkovski stretched his legs to open up a three-and-a-half second advantage over Karten. This was aided by the German losing second to his compatriot Kunze who scored an easy pass down the Döttinger Höhe. Zabdyr, meanwhile endured a high-speed loss of control through Kottenborn forcing him into retirement.
Kunze would keep Karten at bay thanks to the pure grunt from his Mercedes engine until all that gas guzzling finally showed consequences. Just one lap from the end, the eWTCR Launch Event winner from 2018 found himself heading to pit road for a splash and dash having too little fuel in the tank.
This gifted Karten second once more, although this wouldn’t be the end of the story. In extraordinary scenes, it transpired that Karten would be forced into fuel saving over the final twenty-one kilometres. Offering one more chance to Kunze, safety ultimately proved to be the better part of valour since Karten was helpless on his last trip down the Döttinger Höhe.
A moment worthy of punching his fist into the air for Kunze, albeit bittersweet given the twenty-seven second chasm between himself and the race winner. Latkovski was in a class of his own and truly deserved the title of NGK Spark Plug Esports Cup champion.
NGK Spark Plug Esports Cup Final results
- Kodi Nikola Latkovski – 66:01.534
- Julian Kunze – +27.153
- Leonard Karten – +27.535
- Yuval Rosen – +34.914
- Mihai Neg – +43.655
- Sinan Gunay – +45.155
- Stef Cremers – +51.648
- Colin Blankenburg – +51.838
- Sebastian Reeh – +56.728
- Nico Söhnel – +1:09.628