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  • Writer's pictureJustin Prince

NGK & NTK Esports Cup Round 2 Recap

Updated: May 13

The championship favourites for the NGK & NTK Esports Cup are becoming ever clearer.

Visceral Esports’ Vince Peeters and URANO eSports’ Alexander Thiebe won a race a piece in the second round of the campaign.

The drivers entered MotorLand Aragon first and second in the point standings respectively.

In both races, it took a lot of aggression to not only survive some of the incidents around the 1.64-mile circuit, but to also hold onto the race lead.

“(Race 1) was very aggressive from the start,” said Peeters during RaceSpot TV’s post-race coverage. “I just sat back and saved some tires because I saw we could create the gap to fourth place, so that was the smartest thing to do. In the end, it was about being in the right position at the right time.”

Peeters achieved his goal of starting on the pole for Race 1 by out-qualifying the rest of the field by almost two-tenths of a second. Daniel Muth, Gael Valero, Thiebe, and Nikolas Nolde rounded out the first five starting spots.

That track position proved to be critical from the opening corner.

On the first lap of the day, Thiebe, Nolde, and Muth went three-wide right off the starting blocks. Nolde peeked to the inside of Thiebe in Turn 1. In turn, Thiebe bounced off the left-side door of Muth, sending Thiebe spinning in front of the field. Matias Penttila and Mergim Aliu were also involved. Race Control later deemed the sequence to be a racing incident.

In turn, Valero, Nolde, and Peeters set the tempo early, trading the lead several times over the course of the first four minutes.

Those three drivers got a chance to break away moments later when Michael Haflidason missed his braking mark in Sector 2. The Swedish driver slammed his Toyota GR86 straight into the back of Norbert Leitner, sending both drivers into the grass. The lead pack was able to break away by six seconds after the crash.

“I want to say sorry to Norbert for the first race,” said Haflidason during post-race interviews. “I totally missed my braking point, so that’s my bad completely.”

With less than five minutes to go, the battle for the lead got intense.

Valero cut a corner in the second sector, leading to the Apex Racing Team driver having to try to clear a course-cutting penalty. As Nolde and Peeters lined up bumper-to-bumper with Valero, the iRacing pro driver struggled to clear the warning for more than half a lap. Eventually, Valero had to give up the race lead down the frontstretch while coming to less than three estimated laps to go.

Valero’s corner cut slowdown intensified the battle for the lead immediately.

All three drivers traded paint and positions over the course of the next two laps, trying to get the upper hand. Then, with less than two laps to go, with the leaders running three-wide, Peeters hugged the inside line heading into the final corner complex. Peeters was able to make the move stick to hold on for his first race win of the season.

“I knew the track temp went up 15 degrees I think,” said Peeters. “If you just push too much – and I think Gael did – it just burns the tires. By the end, I think Nikolas and I had the advantage in that way. Although, (Gael) is still very good. He is in PESC for a reason. It’s not easy to overtake him.”

Race 2 featured a full-field invert, meaning Penttila, Spencer Brown, Haflidason, and Poshua Jayne got to start up front.

In turn, chaos reigned at the back.

After most of the front runners from Race 1 spent the first lap running four-wide, Nolde, Sara Dove, Sophie Aeronwen, Naz Addati, Leitner, Valero, and more were sent spinning in Turn 12. At least 10 cars made contact or got damaged in the stack-up. Leitner and Circuit Zolder invert race winner Sergi Maturana both picked up mandatory repairs in the crash.

Up front, Penttila’s bad luck in Race 1 turned into good fortune in Race 2.

Penttila led by as much as four seconds in the first half of the race over Thiebe after nine minutes of racing. However, within five minutes, Thiebe, Aliu, and Haflidason trimmed the gap to under a second.

By the midway point, Thiebe took the lead away from Penttila.

Meanwhile, Peeters charged through the pack. The Race 1 winner gained 23 spots in 12 minutes while setting some of the fastest laps on the track. However, by the time the race ended, Peeters finished nine seconds behind the lead pack.

“The second race was just madness,” said Peeters. “We lost so much time with all the four-wide racing throughout the whole first lap. It was just too far from the top three, so maybe next time.”

Up front, Thiebe settled in fast.

The URANO driver pulled away from Penttila by more than two seconds by the checkered flag to take the win in Race 2.

Haflidason, Aliu, and Peeters completed the top five.

“I never felt the tires really fell off that dramatically (in the races),” said Haflidason. “I felt like I had them in some sort of window. They could overheat and I could cool them down for maybe one lap, then it was fine again. For me, (the tires) were not that bad and I think that’s why I had such a strong pace compared to what I had in the first round at Circuit Zolder.”

The next round of the NGK & NTK Esports Cup will take place at the Imola Circuit on Feb. 2, 2024.

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