World Rally Championship

Armstrong wants real drive after WRC Esports success

A year after shaking up the World Rally Championship’s R5 rostrum Jon Armstrong went one better, winning WRC’s Esports Final.

The 23-year-old’s never-give-up attitude is clear to be seen. With no budget for real-life driving in 2018, Armstrong saw his opportunity to use his sim-racing talents to go for the Esports title. A new Hyundai his reward for beating the world’s fastest gamers in his first year in the competition.

Last year Rally Insight spoke to Armstrong about using his home-built rally sim to prepare for two WRC2 outings. With no budget, this was his sole preparation.

Fastest in WRC2 on Rally Germany’s Losheim am See stage was his reward that time around. That stage win came despite Armstrong lifting off the throttle over the finish line. You’ll soon discover he likes to do it the hard way!

The Fermanagh native’s tendency to build suspense crept in once again in Rally Germany’s Service Park last weekend. Armstrong bossed the opening 23km stage of the Esports Final building a 7s lead. His 250 hours of practice was paying off.

Stage 2 – Armstrong runs wide on a Corsican left-hander, clips a bank and rolls his Hyundai i20 WRC. Who said the virtual world is boring!

“I was gutted when the car rolled,” said Armstrong. “I thought that was it gone. I went into the last stage [Mexico’s El Chocolate] thinking I needed 7s but I was actually only 1.4s behind the leader.”

“I put on a big push through the final stage and did enough to take it. But I still didn’t realise I had won until they told me.”

Armstrong won the event by 3.1s, beating the other three finalists who had been whittled down from 2350 gamers.

So what now for Armstrong?

“I’ll keep trying to get back into a real car.”

“I think I’m a unique marketing opportunity for sure. I’m not sure any real-life drivers have won a major Esports title before so it’s pretty cool.”

“As for the prize money [20,000EUR road car], it’s life changing in a normal way but in motorsport I could quite easily spend that money hiring a rally car for one event. So I need to choose wisely what I do with it.”

“I want to be a rally driver so I will push towards that and I think Esports alongside that is a good opportunity for sponsors.”

His speed turned heads in Northern Ireland well before he made his mark against the world’s best. Who remembers his 29s R2 lead after the Circuit of Ireland’s first day in 2015? Or his times at the Ulster Rally two years before when he was beating most of the crews in the class above him?

This speed combined with a couple of spectacular offs, both in the real world and its virtual equivalent, could draw a comparison to a certain Kris Meeke. Armstrong’s luck seems to suffer in a similar fashion to his fellow countryman.

Time will tell how Armstrong uses his latest prize to get back on the ladder to rallying success. If only that success was built on talent alone but for now N. Ireland’s latest rally star will have to hope that the real world will be as kind to him as the virtual one.

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Adam Hall

Images by ni:media and WRC.com

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