Inaugural New Zealand Esports Racing Series A Success!

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One of the most underrated countries when it comes to motorsports success, New Zealand has more than its fair share of driving talent. Scott Dixon, Liam Lawson, and Shane Van Gisbergen make up only some of the Kiwis currently performing at the top of their game, with other names like Denny Hulme, Chris Amon and Bruce McLaren permanently etched into the history books.

It’s the perfect place to grow up for the promising young driver with ambition. Now, New Zealand seems to be taking that motorsports prowess and aiming to foster some sim racing talent. New Zealand Esports has hosted the inaugural “NZ Esports Racing Series”, powered by Respawn Esports on Gran Turismo 7.

While privately run sim racing leagues are certainly nothing new, this series was fully backed by NZ Esports, the national figurehead of Esports competitions. This would mark its first venture into the competitive sim racing scene.

The competition spanned three months, and followed a format not too dissimilar to a Nations Cup season. Various cars, from the latest Corvette and the Mazda3 Gr.4 to less common choices like the Pagani Zonda R and the BMW M3 GT provided a thrilling season of closely fought racing.

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The series was managed by Tom England, who made his GTWS live event debut earlier in 2023, and Jackson Bradley, who runs Respawn Esports.

Almost immediately, the favorite to take top honors was NZ Ace Matthew McEwen (AE_McEwen). No stranger to high stakes Gran Turismo racing, he would pull a commanding lead almost immediately in the points, but that’s not to say he had it easy.

GT Sport world finalist Matt Smith (MonkeyMatt) and up-and-coming young gun Lewis Atkinson (HC_Lewis) threatened to derail McEwen’s domination at every turn, setting the stage for a grand final showdown at the Respawn Esports HQ, in Wellington.

There the top 10 ranked drivers met in person to battle it out for top honors, with the big finale race set at the Red Bull Ring in Gran Turismo’s flagship single seater competition car, the RedBull X2019.

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The ten finalists meeting for the live event

McEwen would get the early advantage, but both Smith and Atkinson would stay within reach, with Harrison Hopwood (Scooter82) also finding phenomenal pace in the X2019. Tyre strategy was a large part of the tactical decision making, and for a while the rain on the horizon threatened to make things spicy. Despite a bit of drizzle just after the first pit stop, the weather never amounted to anything race-changing.

Ultimately, McEwen would take the win and the title, with Atkinson taking the runner up spot and Hopwood coming home 3rd (Smith finishing 4th but keeping 3rd in the title fight). McEwen’s prize is a test drive at the Highlands Motorsport Park in Cromwell, behind the wheel of a competition spec Radical SR3 later this year.

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(L-R) Lewis Atkinson (HC-Lewis), Matthew McEwen (AE_McEwen) and MonkeyMatt (Matt Smith) celebrating their season results

The use of sim racing to find and foster real racing talent is nothing new either. In 2019, GTPlanet partnered up with Hooncorp to front a team in the 24 Hours Of Lemons, and finished 22nd out of over 70 entrants.

Despite it remaining ambiguous as to whether we’ll see a second season of the NZERS, hopes remain high that the series will continue to grow and expand, and with it the wider sim racing scope in New Zealand.
 
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