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First NGK SPARK PLUG eSports cup won by German high school student

A logo of eSport Club by NGK Spark Plug, with a car
With its decades-long presence at the peak of motorsport, getting involved in racing’s virtual equivalent seemed like a logical next step for the world’s leading ignition and vehicle electronics specialist. Indeed, this is exactly what happened at the beginning of 2022 with the launch of the inaugural NGK SPARK PLUG ESPORTS CUP!

SimRacing is becoming increasingly popular. For many racing fans, it is a safe and cost-effective way to experience world-famous racetracks for themselves. And they do so virtually in front of a screen with a computer simulation or gaming console. SimRacing replicates realistic races, and the physics of driving, traction, grip and tyre behaviour are simulated as precisely as possible.

In collaboration with the gaming platform Steam, which hosts the free-to-play racing simulator ‘RaceRoom’, the ESPORTS CUP took place between February to April this year and was open to all gaming enthusiasts over the age of 16. A series of gruelling qualifying races, each with its own specific challenges, were held at four virtual versions of some of the world’s most famous racetracks. Broadcast on NGK SPARK PLUG and RaceRoom’s YouTube channels which were also accessible through the Social Media channels of Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, the competition kicked off at the Dubai Autodrome in the UAE. This was followed up by visits to the Circuit Paul Ricard in France, Imola in Italy and the Nogaro Circuit in France.

A new target group

Prior to the final race at the iconic Nürburgring Nordschleife, Andreas Mey, Specialist Events & Sponsoring Aftermarket EMEA, NGK SPARK PLUG EUROPE GmbH, who was present in the RaceRoom live studio in Munich, revealed that the company launched its own ESPORTS CUP with the intention of ‘reaching a new target group’. This was undoubtedly achieved as more than 4,000 sim racers from 24 countries around the world participated.

With a prize of two VIP tickets to the 2022 famous Nürburgring 24 Hours racing event, 32 SimRacers made it to the grand finale. Each participant was aboard their own customised Mercedes AMG GT3 Evo, which in real life is ignited by NGK spark plugs. In addition, qualification was secured in two different ways, with the top four drivers from each qualifying race guaranteed a place on the grid. The other 16 racers who made it to the final had to do it the hard way and accumulate enough points from each of the qualifying races.

In spite of the different means of qualification available to the drivers, each had their slate wiped clean before the grand finale at the Nürburgring Nordschleife, as starting positions were determined solely by the qualifying times achieved on the day. Pole position was taken by Macedonia’s Kodi Nikola Latkovski, while the second position on the grid was won by Germany’s Attila Diner.

When the race finally got underway, it quickly became apparent that these two young SimRacers were very evenly matched, as they engaged in a ding-dong battle from the first lap to the eleventh and final one, with both taking the lead on numerous occasions. Ultimately though, it was Attila Diner who came out on top as he took the chequered flag with Kodi Nikola Latkovski breathing down his neck.

Speaking to the commentary team in the live studio, a relieved Attila described the Nordschleife circuit as ‘incredibly demanding’ and the race itself as ‘incredibly stressful and exhausting’. Kodi Nikola Latkovski, although naturally disappointed, was magnanimous in coming second and congratulated his ‘deserving’ opponent, stating that he ‘had a lot of fun’ and that he had ‘fought [Diner] all the way and didn’t give him an easy win’. Relive the 2022 season and watch the highlight video!

The champion

After securing the championship, NGK SPARK PLUG caught up with Attila Diner and the young champ revealed that when he was first alerted about ESPORTS CUP on RaceRoom’s Social Media channels, he was immediately excited. Indeed, the 18 year old high school student certainly wasn’t competing as a novice. “I have taken part in upwards to 20 of these races and have had some successes along the way,” he said. “These include qualifying for the finals of the AVIA eRacing competition and DRRM,” he informed.

This latest success can be traced back to 2009 when as a young boy, he started playing video games. “The first console I ever owned was a Nintendo DS and the first game I remember playing was New Super Mario Bros,” he told. Gaming, interestingly, failed to ignite his interest for many years. Everything changed, however, when he was first introduced to SimRacing and RaceRoom in particular. “I love how small yet so large it feels. There are thousands of us, but it still feels like we all know each other and that’s definitely part of the reason why I sometimes spend up to 30 hours a week on SimRacing, even though that’s only a rare case.”

As for the tournament itself, he was quietly confident that he would be in the reckoning by the time the grand finale came around. “I was pretty sure that I would qualify for the final race and thought that I might have a chance with a podium finish,” he said. In spite of it taking place at the Nordschleife which he counts as his favourite track, the race itself was as challenging as it was memorable. “The hardest race was definitely the final. Latkovski and I were never separated by more than a second for over one hour of racing for the lead.”

Attila, however, wouldn’t have had it any other way, revealing that he “simply loves competing with others. I like challenging myself and trying to get the best out of myself and the car.” His will-to-win was rewarded with the prize of two VIP tickets to the 2022 Nürburgring 24 Hours racing event which he attended at the end of May with his girlfriend. “It was a tremendous experience to be present at the legendary Nürburgring 24 Hours and I would like to thank NGK SPARK PLUG for giving me this great opportunity. The tournament as a whole was unforgettable and I’m looking forward to defending my title when the next ESPORTS CUP by NGK SPARK PLUG takes place.”