Having been involved early on in what the series could be, working on proposals for the NZ Esports funding in early 2023, I had to wait a long time to see the series officially come to life. And I couldn’t have been more excited for it. I’ve stepped away from sim racing a bit but with the prospect of an event I backed myself to do well in and the draw of a LAN finals with the NZ crew I dove right on in. Back racing properly and training hard.

The NZ Esports Racing Series (NZERS) was a competition on Gran Turismo 7 run by Respawn and NZ Esports. The format saw an initial hotlap qualifying phase to sort the rankings with the top 15 making the top split, then 6 weeks of racing during the online season with the top 10 making the LAN finals in Wellington, then LAN featured 2 final races to decide the champion. It was a cool format where a small number of championship points were awarded for the results of the regular season but the bulk of the points that matter came from the final. You had to perform at LAN to win.

I perhaps took the qualifying stage a bit casual. I was confident I could be in NZs top 10 Gran Turismo drivers without too much trouble. I wasn’t going to be at the front with the likes of McEwen and Sidawg (two of the three to represent NZ at GTWS in 2023. The third being Atom, one of the NZERS organisers) competing along with some newer quick guys but I figured I could be up there. I set a time early and saw my name at the top, putting effort in but not doing laps day after day trying to get the absolute best. The last few days of qualifiers I didn’t even check the times or do laps of that track at all. I ended up finishing 7th and a long way from the times the top drivers were doing. McEwen even set the world record! followed closely by Sidawg and Big H. 7th was further down than I wanted to be (0.3s from not even making it!) and a bit of a reminder that NZERS was going to be no walk in the park. I was going to have to dig into practice to be racing near the front. The silver lining? I would get to run the car #7 for the season, ideal given #77 is my go to when I get the choice.

To start the season and during I made some graphics and leaderboards. A few months earlier I’d taken a design course that used Figma and wanted to put my skills to use. Fair to say I’m happy with how they turned out.

Race 1 got off to a great start. In Corvettes at Laguna Seca I’d done plenty of practice and picked the winning tyre strategy. It was a bit scary at the start dropping places on harder tyres but I knew the goal was just to stay as close as possible to give me a chance on softs at the end. And those softs at the end were magical. All my practice meant I knew how long I could abuse the tyres and I sure made good use of them. I came charging through the field getting quick overtakes in, picking up fastest lap along the way which earned me a Corvette model prize. I eventually did finish second but not without giving McEwen a bit of a scare with how fast I was approaching towards the end.

Tweet with clip from race 1.

Race 2 was a frustrating affair. Flying high after round 1 and setting great pace in the practice lobby I headed into qualy and completely screwed it up. Racing in the Radical at Sardegna road course B. I got a penalty early in qualy and never recovered my nerve, finishing only 9th. Starting in the pack there’s always a risk and lap 1 I got hit off by Sidawg, down to 12th (all the more frustrating when he had no pace and retired later in the race). I was still fast and got straight to work coming back through but the best I could manage was 7th in the end, setting the second fastest lap behind McEwen as an indication of what could have been.

Round 3, a double header, I was set to be away from home, visiting my parents in Auckland. That would be a huge dent in my championship that I couldn’t settle for. So being the “I have to do everything” guy I am I took my wheel on the plane with my to Auckland, got my old wooden rig out of the shed, and still raced on that night. While the prep wasn’t ideal that round remains a special memory for me, racing in the lounge where it all started, with my Dad watching the races from behind, my partner coming in and debriefing with us after each race. I managed 2nd and 4th that night after getting completely caught off guard by the strategy/tyre wear of some others in the second race around Tokyo.

My old rig brought back to life with a big clean and a few critical repairs.

For race 5 (round 4) we took on Bathurst in BMW M3 Gr3s. There was drama behind that I was thankful to avoid leaving me to finish 3rd not having the pace for the front two.

Race 6 we strapped into Super Formula cars and took on Grand Valley. I noticed last minute that I’d been practicing in the old ’19 model when we were to race in the update ’23. In the practice before the race I got myself in the right car and looked to be off the pace. It made for a nervous qualifying saving the boost for one full send lap at the end but I put it together and qualified P3. Game on. Open wheelers seem to go well for me and I enjoyed the fight. With tyre strategy again a factor I was able to come on strong at the end to finish in 2nd and move up to second overall in the series.

During the regular season to this point no one had been surprised to see McEwen dominate. I was putting work in each week and fighting for second. I’m pretty happy with that but someones got to stop McEwens winning streak and I’ll need good results in the final round to claim second. I put in extra effort training hard for the final round knowing it would be McEwens weakest after he attended the world finals (along with Tom and Simon). But when it comes to it my rival for second, Big H, doesn’t show (and later also can’t attend LAN). And McEwen slept through the first race lol. He’d only arrived back in the country the day before. So in the final round I finally get my race win but it is a bit hollow. Does lock in second in the regular season.

That final round was another double header. First Toyota 86s in the wet at Fuji where I failed the fuel saving mission and finished 4th. Then McEwen woke up and jumped into race 2 without practice (and starting at the back after missing race 1). For this one we were at Monza in Pagani Zondas. I spent the race fighting for the lead while saving fuel, often tucked in second saving fuel in the slipstream to shorten my pitstop, to the point of being silly about it going painfully slowly at some points where I could defend the lead. To be honest I was a bit nervous after the first race that this one was going to catch me out with people no stopping again. That didn’t happen but the fuel saving did allow me to have a shorter pit stop. Eventually we did stop and I got myself ahead, pulling away as second picked up a corner cut penalty, going on to take the win! Finally getting a win in the final race of the online season. There was some celebration but after messing up Fuji and my two rivals being out (well McEwen was technically there so could claim beating him) it was a bit hollow.

But with that I had secured second place for the season, claiming my spot at the LAN finals, and locking in 5 points towards the championship. I can celebrate that!

During the season the NZ Esports newsletter mentioned the series and included a leaderboard button that linked to my leaderboard graphics on twitter. Pretty sweet.

Come December it was time for the LAN finals in Wellington woohoo. Do the practice aiming to claim second behind McEwen. End up well beaten by McEwen, Lewis, and in the final race Scooter. That puts me P3 in the championship and within the prize positions.

Managed to get 3rd in the NZ Esports Racing Series after the LAN final in Wellington!

The NZERS grand final on December 16th was a lot of fun. The series was run on Gran Turismo with the finals live at Respawn Esports Centre in Wellington. LANs are always something special and with the full 10 Racetech NZ rigs on the go it was awesome. That may well make it the biggest in person sim racing event in NZ ever.

I’m happy with my driving on the day, doing enough to claim 3rd overall but the top guys were a step ahead. I’ve got more work to do if I want to get back close to top pace.

After the race McEwen reviewed the replay pointing out the wind direction change during the race. I hadn’t even noticed but that’s the extra level he’s operating at. He talked about practicing all different wind conditions and noticing mistakes from other drivers realising they hadn’t picked up on the wind change.

The series and finals event was awesome so big thanks to Respawn Esports Centre, NZ Esports, and all the other partners and individuals that made it happen. Their one stuff up was forgetting to save the finals broadcast but some earlier rounds are on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DId9rLbYsSA

I also reviewed some of the earlier races on twitch https://www.twitch.tv/collections/iFlTOImElBfDig

Event details (although being a live website it has been going through changes): https://respawn.co.nz/nzers/

A few weeks after the event I logged onto GTPlanet to see my face! Awesome to see the write up from the finals featured on the front page.