REAL-life rally driver Jon Armstrong switched his in-car skills to a virtual gaming rig to win the coveted eSports WRC title in Germany last weekend.
The 23-year-old Ulsterman, who drove in the WRC in 2017, recovered from a virtual crash to secure the crown in a thrilling final during the ADAC Rallye Deutschland round.
Armstrong’s success came just 12 months after being inspired to try WRC 7, the official game of the FIA World Rally Championship, after watching live coverage of the 2017 eSports final.
He earned a place among the top nine players following 13 regular season rounds and qualified fastest in the semi-finals. He lined up against three other gamers in a tense shootout on three demanding special stages.
He opened a 7sec lead over Finnish outsider Mihalur over Poland’s 23km mixed surface Kruklanki test, but rolled near the finish of Corsica’s asphalt Pietrosella stage and received a 7sec penalty.
Armstrong trailed Mihalur by 1.4sec starting the final test on Mexico’s gravel El Chocolate roads. He threw caution to the wind to set fastest time and lift the title by 3.1sec.
The third edition of the championship proved a huge success, attracting a record entry of more than 2350 gamers. The final was streamed on the WRC’s popular All Live platform, and more than 125,000 fans followed the excitement on the WRC’s social media channels.
Large crowds created a party atmosphere as the finalists battled in rigs built alongside each other in Red Bull’s gaming arena in the centre of the Rallye Deutschland service park.
“I can’t believe it. After the mistake I made I didn’t think I would make up enough time in the last stage,” said Armstrong, who drove away in a new Hyundai i20 coupé road car.
“I thought I lost it in that mistake in Corsica. It was just stupid. I went too wide, touched a bank and the car rolled, so I thought I had thrown it away.”
As a rally driver, Armstrong drove in two rounds of the WRC 2 support category in 2017 as a prize for winning the rookie title in a junior series the previous season.
Motorsport games helped prepare him for his fledgling rally outings and he hopes the eSports success will help to restart his stalled career.
“I spent over 250 hours behind the wheel practising. I felt I had a point to prove and I wanted to show the sport that I love that I wasn’t finished yet. That was my motivation,” Armstrong added.
The eSports WRC Championship was organised by WRC Promoter, Bigben Interactive and Kylotonn Games.