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  • Writer's pictureJustin Prince

NGK & NTK Esports Cup Round 3 Recap

The NGK and NTK Esports Cup has a new points leader.

After a disastrous Race 2 at the Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari from Visceral Esports driver Vince Peeters, Alexander Thiebe took over the lead in the championship standings on Feb. 2.

Thiebe won both races at the 3.6-mile circuit, the first of which by just 0.063 seconds.

“It was really, really, really good. I didn’t expect (today’s performances) to be like that to be honest,” said Thiebe during RaceSpot TV’s post-race coverage.

Thiebe’s outright pace at the track became a talking point early. The URANO Esports driver stunned himself in qualifying by setting a pole time of 2:03.868, a full four-tenths of a second quicker than Gal Valero and Nikolas Nolde.

“My qualifying lap was really good and I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the gap,” said Thiebe. “I felt like it was a good lap, but I thought it was maybe like a tenth of a second faster than second place, but I was a bit wrong.”

Race 1 turned out to be one of the most exciting races of the season.

After a clean start for most of the field, Thiebe, Nolde, and Valero went right to battling up front. With drivers having a lot of draft heading down Variante Bassa, the three drivers kept swapping the top spot on the track every chance they could.

After eight minutes of racing, Nolde took the lead for the first time with the help of draft. Thiebe immediately fought back in the next sector after getting a push from Valero heading into Tosa.

By the midway point of the race, Thiebe, Valero, Nolde, Peeters, Alessio Bender, Tamas Simon, Yuanxi Lin, and Norbert Leitner had pulled away from the rest of the field by more than three seconds.

Even then, the race featured several minutes of side-by-side drafting and passing in Sector 1, sometimes with six drivers fighting at once.

“Race 1 was really tough. We were fighting so hard. Shoutouts to the others – Vince (Peeters), Nikolas (Nolde) – it was really, really nice,” said Thiebe. “It was super tough to defend. I was always on the limit and the others too. I can’t help but say a big thank you to Gael (Valero) and the others. They kept it so safe and so fair. It was really enjoyable.”

The race came down to the wire - not just on the track, but on the clock.

With how intense the racing was for the lead, there was some confusion on when iRacing would throw the white flag or checkered flag. As drivers set up for what ended up being the white flag lap, no one seemed to want to make a pass just in case.

The entire lead pack stayed single file on the final lap until the run out of Rivazza. Valero, who had been riding in second place throughout the lap, poked his car to the left of Thiebe, trying to get the edge at the stripe. Instead, Thiebe held onto the win by three-quarters of a car length.

During post-race coverage, Valero confirmed to RaceSpot TV that he knew it was the final lap. The difference between the race having an additional lap or finishing at said lap was within two seconds, according to Valero.

“I’m hot. I’m very heated. I was way above the temperature that my body is supposed to be before, so I need to go have a shower very soon and then put on a pair of pants, you know,” said Valero. “I played the game and I didn’t win.”

Nolde, Simon, and Peeters rounded out the top five.

Race 2 had a completely different tone.

With the whole field inverted, Sergi Maturana, Mergim Aliu, and Gary Lin led the field to the green flag.

In the midpack, things immediately got wild.

While battling for ninth place, Michael Haflidason helped spark the biggest crash of the day after trying to dive alongside Mario Vehlgut heading into Tamburello. Vehlgut, committed to the corner already, turned early to set up his corner apex, slamming into the door of Haflidason.

The contact sent Haflidason spinning across the track, right into the path of Peeters.

Multiple other drivers, including Sophie Aeronwen, Daniel Muth, Norbert Leitner, and Harry Fox, all crashed behind them as everyone tried to check up.

Then, minutes later, Peeters’s race officially came to a close.

The championship contender checked up for a very loose Leitner in Acque Minerali. As he lifted off the gas, he was hit by Simon, sending him into the wall to the left of the corner exit. It was his first DNF of the season.

As the contenders from Race 1 tried to dodge the carnage, Aliu and Maturana looked to set the tempo up front.

Aliu and Maturana traded the lead several times while having a three-second buffer to the pack with under 14 minutes to go.

However, one driver was quicker than the others in that pack: Thiebe.

Thiebe closed the gap to both Aliu and Maturana in under six minutes. Aliu had a slowdown penalty to serve down the frontstretch, making the battle for second place pretty quick. Seconds later, Thiebe used the draft to slip past Maturana to take the lead with under three minutes left in the race.

In the end, Thiebe took the win by 0.787 seconds. Maturana, Valero, Aliu, and Bender completed the top five.

The next round of the NGK & NTK Esports Cup will take place at the virtual Hockenheimring’s National A layout on Feb. 16, 2024.

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