Everything changed at the 2018 FIA GTC World Finals. We didn’t realize it at the time, but we were witnessing the birth of one of the great rivalries in racing esports.
With two laps to go in the Nations Cup final, Mikail Hizal was in the lead on hard tires, maintaining the gap between himself and second-place Cody Latkovski. Hizal could taste the championship, but the driver in third place — Igor Fraga — had other plans.
After starting from 10th on the grid, Fraga had worked his way up to third and was finishing his race on softs. With his outright speed and the extra grip from the softer compounds, Fraga made quick work of Latkovski and snatched the championship away from Hizal.
You can watch how it all played out in this highlight reel of last year’s finale. The defeat on Hizal’s face is clear as he realizes there is no way he can catch Fraga.
Fraga’s brilliant drive and friendly personality made his victory a popular one, and it was just the start. After taking the FIA GTC Nations Cup World Championship, he won the McLaren Shadow Project and scored a drive in the real-world Formula Three series with Gran Turismo sponsorship.
At the 2019 opening World Tour event in Paris, however, the reigning champion got off to a rocky start. Stumbling in his first race, he survived the repechage to make it to the final, only to finish all the way down in seventh. It remains his worst result at a World Tour, ever.
Hizal, meanwhile, was just as competitive. Only one small error cost him victory in the finale, and he was visibly upset with himself for making the mistake.
With his driving in top form and the next event in his home country of Germany, Hizal was the clear favorite heading into the Nurburgring World Tour event in June… but things could not gone have much worse. It was nothing short of disastrous, as Hizal failed to even qualify for the final in a shocking turn of events.
Fraga, meanwhile, could not have done any better. He turned in a flawless performance, going undefeated in Germany and winning his first World Tour of 2019.
With the superstars flip-flopping in the first two events, the stage was set for a showdown in New York. In front of a live audience at the PlayStation Theater, both drivers were finally driving their best.
Each won their respective semi-finals and faced off in the final, which would become one of the wildest and most controversial races of the season. In the closing stages of the race, both drivers were on the same tire compounds, and Hizal was pressuring Fraga around every turn of Spa Francorchamps.
Fraga used every defensive trick in the book — and perhaps some moves not in the book — to keep Hizal behind. The most contentious effort occurred at the legendary Eau Rouge, as Fraga lifted before heading up Radillion.
The move robbed Hizal of momentum up the hill and allowed Fraga to maintain the lead through the end. It did not go down well with Hizal or the stewards, who issued Fraga a five-second penalty, but that would not be enough to keep him off the top step of the podium for the second time in 2019.
It was a tense podium, though, with a stoic Hizal standing in second place. He showed more emotions in post-race interviews, criticizing both Fraga and the organizers. Even though he would not have had enough fuel to actually win the race, the aggressive move from Igor soured the relationship between two already fierce competitors.
Since the incident, Fraga has publicly apologized to Hizal on Twitter, and the drivers appear to have smoothed things over from a personal perspective. However, the two have not raced against one another since New York.
I kept thinking about that race, and I'm sorry. Winning is our goal but I realize we have to be an example on and off track. We have many viewers including kids that will join the GTC in future. Unfortunately I couldn't attend today but Im looking forward to race with you again! https://t.co/7WgIsdvzxb
— Igor Fraga (@1gorFraga) September 13, 2019
Hizal would go on to win the next World Tour event in Salzburg. It was an impressive victory, but may have rung hollow as Fraga did not compete.
It sets the stage for a thrilling Nations Cup World Final in Monaco this weekend. There are many drivers who have a legitimate shot at winning the world championship, but all eyes will be on these two.
As the top competitor in GTPlanet’s FIA GTC driver rankings, Fraga is still the favorite. He has the most race wins (5) and is the only driver to win two World Tour events, ever. He’s also the reigning 2018 World Champion and knows exactly what it takes to win at the highest level.
Aside from Fraga’s struggles at the season opener in Paris, Hizal is the only competitor who has been able to seriously challenge Fraga in the Nations Cup. With four race wins and a single World Tour victory, Hizal comes in at a solid second place in our driver rankings. He clearly has the speed to compete at the front, he has just not been able to use those skills to beat Fraga — yet.
Last year, the FIA GTC World Finals were a blank canvas. That’s great, sure, but with any sport, you need a good rivalry to make things really interesting, and we’ve certainly found it.
If Fraga wins, he will solidify his legend as the best Gran Turismo player in the world. If Hizal wins, he will be seen as the triumphant underdog who finally defeated his rival after a year of battling around the world. Both drivers will have a chance to write themselves into the history books on Sunday, and we can’t wait to see what happens.