Why you should watch the V10 R-League.

image courtesy of Red Bull Racing.

We all very much enjoyed the variety of Esports action in the beginning portion of this year whilst real world racing was on hold. We had so much virtual racing to enjoy –  ranging from officially sanctioned events by major motorsport championships such as F1, IndyCar, NASCAR, Aussie Supers, MotoGP and Formula E – to originals like the All-Star Series by The Race and the VCO Cup of Nations.

Then you have championships that existed long before the sim racing boom, such as Formula Sim Racing, the Grand Prix Virtual World Championship, and prominent league racing series such as Apex Online Racing and Online Racing League. Well now, a new championship is coming onto the scene with an interesting format and has attracted some of the biggest teams in the world of both real and virtual racing.

The Global Racing Series V10 R-League is a sim racing championship that takes place on Assetto Corsa with a very intriguing format. You have eight teams and three drivers each, one team takes on another in a series of races, the first of which is a head-to-head. In this event, teams match up their drivers in three short one-on-one races with the first team to win two races getting the first point.

What follows is a relay race where each driver heads out on track one at a time, swapping in the pits with a team mate, the fastest team across all three drivers scores the next point. Finally you have a sprint race, all six drivers take to the track with team scores for the round based on positions, the highest score gets the point.

I believe it may be a case of it being like a tournament format, starting off with eight teams in the first round, four in the second and then two for the final. I may be wrong.

Who are the teams? Well the V10 R-League, with its prize pool of £100,000 to be distributed across the eight teams depending on the result at the end of it, has attracted some very big names. They are as follows.

Teams from F1 such as Red Bull, Racing Point and Williams are competing as are the sim racing divisions of BMW, Ford and even Suzuki in collaboration with Jean Alesi’s Esports Academy. Then the other two are Team RedLine in partnership with Porsche and a new Esports team from the UAE, Yas Heat which is working with Veloce Esports.

Some well known drivers are taking part too. Red Bull have the likes of Graham Carroll and Joni Törmälä who both raced for Red Bull in the 2018 F1 Esports Pro Series. BMW has former Toro Rosso F1 Esports driver Cem Bölükbaşı, as well as Formula E Race At Home Challenge sim drivers grid winner Kevin Siggy and Gran Turismo World Tour regular Coque López.

Racing Point are running their current F1 Esports drivers Lucas Blakeley, Daniele Haddad and their Pro Draft pick Shanaka Clay. They also have former British Touring Car driver Mike Epps, who during the sim racing boom quickly established himself as one of the best professional racing drivers in the Esports sphere as he starred in many big sim racing events.

Williams have a selection of Nikodem Wisniewski and Kuba Brzezinski, the two Polish drivers who were part of the overall winning entry in the Le Mans 24 Virtual. They have also acquired the services of Michael Romanidis, who competed in the Pro Exhibition races for Williams, and former Haas F1 Esports driver Martin Štefanko.

Another Czech former Haas F1 Esports driver Michal Šmidl will race for Porsche24 RedLine as will Atze Kerkhof, sparring partner of Max Verstappen and was teammates with Max and Lando Norris in the Le Mans 24 Virtual. Then we have Jaroslav Honzik with Yas Heat, you may know him better as the sim racing content creator and streamer Jardier.

Now onto the part you lot may have been wondering once you saw the name of the series, V10 R-League. Yes, V10, the cars that will be raced in this will be powered by a V10 so you can hear it bellow in all its glory like it’s 2005 all over again. The cars utilise a 3.0-litre 900 horsepower V10 that will rev to 19,000rpm. And because they only weigh 700 kilograms, they’ll go like stink! The predicted top speed for these cars is 220mph, and when it all goes wrong, there’s no traction control or anti-lock brakes to save the drivers.

These cars will race at top line racing tracks from around the world. These include Vallelunga, Brands Hatch, Spa-Francorchamps, Laguna Seca, Monza, Nürburgring (and that’s including the 13-mile Nordschliefe) and Yas Marina. I have no doubt that these cars with their striking look will make for some great racing on these tracks, even Yas Marina!

So if this sounds like it’s right up your street, look for V10 R-League on social media which will lead you to their website and you can find out when and where to watch this happen. Watch team vs team, head-to-head, wheel-to-wheel, let’s bring the noise!

Opinion: Lando Norris is an important figure for F1’s future

We have been blessed over the last couple of years with a flurry of young and exciting talented drivers, including Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc, George Russell and Alex Albon. Fast and aggressive, they make up a new era and a changing of the guard, waiting to pick up where Lewis Hamilton leaves off after he retires.

However, there’s one driver in particular who I think is going to pick up the baton that Hamilton drops – that driver is Lando Norris.

I know what you’re thinking. Yes, Verstappen and Leclerc have the race wins and in a straight fight between the three 2019 F1 rookies, Norris lost out to Russell in the F2 championship but there’s more to it than that.

McLaren Media Centre

I first started taking note of Norris in the first round of the 2017 FIA F3 European championship, where won his first race. The name Lando Norris was not one you were likely to forget, and I tried to remember where I knew it from. After a quick internet search, I realised I knew him from his Ginetta Juniors days. I also realised I was there at Croft when he took his first win in the championship, on his way to third overall.

I then saw he was racking up junior formulae championships like it was kills in Call of Duty. 2015 MSA Formula champion, three separate titles in 2016 in the Toyota Racing Series and two separate Formula Renault championships, as well as being the youngest ever world karting champion. It’s safe to say I was in utter awe and also bewilderment, because how did I let this guy slip right under my nose?

I followed his progress throughout 2017 in European F3, a series almost completely dominated through its entire existence by Prema. Between 2012 and 2018, every team’s championship was won by the Italian outfit, and all but one of those driver’s titles was won by a Prema driver. That, is apart from one. Lando Norris.

Moving into F2, I wanted to see Norris perform a full clean sweep with Carlin, having won the F4 and F3 championships with them but unfortunately he couldn’t quite match George Russell. No matter, because Norris got the call up by McLaren to race for them in F1 the following year.

In his first season, Norris quite rightfully got the reputation for being a joker. His antics with team-mate Carlos Sainz and many other drivers earned him a legion of adoring fans. He seemed to be so uncompromised by the ever heavily monitored world of F1.

But he wasn’t just a joker, putting in some pretty remarkable performances. In only his second race at Bahrain he performed a hugely audacious move around the outside of Red Bull’s Pierre Gasly to finish sixth. He beat his vastly more experienced teammate in the qualifying head-to-head and was very unlucky not to score more than 49 points throughout the season.

Of course, we all know how this season began for Lando. He earned a podium in the delayed season opening Austrian Grand Prix. I was absolutely elated when it was confirmed he was on the right side of five seconds to the penalised Hamilton. However it was long before that when Lando really sealed his reputation as the future of F1.

Back when the Australian Grand Prix was called off, Norris and Max Verstappen committed very early to the replacement sim racing events. Both have been a strong presence in the virtual racing world and it was here where Norris really shone.

Streaming to his extremely popular Twitch channel, it really added a whole new layer to his character and so many of his fellow drivers have followed in his footsteps. During the lockdown, Norris took part in the likes of Veloce’s Not The GP series, the F1 Virtual Grand Prix events, IndyCar and Aussie Supercars iRacing races and the Le Mans 24 Virtual. He may not have been winning everything; certainly after Leclerc, Russell and Albon joined him in the F1 Virtual Grand Prix events, Lando quickly took a back seat to the trio whilst he fought hardware issues.

McLaren Media Centre

But had it not been for Norris, none of them would have had the opportunity to showcase a new side to themselves. Yes, they’re just playing video games but if anything, that makes it all the more important.

Darren Cox – the former head of Nismo and GT Academy – referenced a recent survey that found 72% of people who play video games got into motorsport as a result of racing games, and that the average age of racing fans is declining. He has a point. It’s how I got my foot into the door of motorsport, so F1 needs engaging personalities like Lando and the Esports world to help attract the next generation of racing fans.

Norris is important because of how active he is in the world of sim racing and interacting with his fans. When Lando was invited by IndyCar to compete in the iRacing Challenge round on the Circuit of the Americas he worked with his old performance engineer Andrew ‘Jarv’ Jarvis, who had taken a job in McLaren’s new IndyCar effort.

There are videos of Lando and Jarv from Twitch talking in such excessive and exquisite detail about the setup of the car which, considering how little access we have to racing teams and the process they go through to get the right setup, was extremely fascinating.

In the end, what else is it about Lando? Well, he’s just a very likeable, charismatic, unproblematic chap who is very unassuming, enthusiastic, personable, and has the raw ability to match that. He reminds me so much of Jenson Button, in that he seems so unafraid and easy-going. It takes a lot of effort to dislike him.

At the moment, Lewis Hamilton continues to bring new audiences to F1 and leads the charge for F1 to attract a more diverse, multicultural audience that will appeal to new markets. Once Lewis does hang up his helmet, not only will Lando along with the likes of Russell and Albon fill the grandstands at Silverstone, but Lando along with all these new young stars will be the leading lights, spearheading motorsport into the new age.

Oh, and one more thing. Lando Norris is just incredibly relatable. Everyone hears his jokey and enthusiastic radio calls and his infectious giggle, and we are reminded that he’s just like the rest of us. Whilst we would revere other-worldly figures like Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher, we relate to Lando and a lot of these younger drivers. We are reminded that they aren’t mighty men who we could never have a hope in hell of being like. Instead, we can be like them no matter what we set our minds to, that we are bound by nothing and we have no anchors holding us back.

 

[Featured image – McLaren Media Centre]

Virtual Le Mans – A spectacle in sim racing

As has been the case with a lot of the major motorsport championships during this pandemic, we have seen the rise of sim racing to fill that void. Had these motorsport events not been postponed, the weekend of June 14th would have been the season finale for the 2019-20 FIA World Endurance Championship season with the 88th running of the 24 hours of Le Mans. That has been postponed until September, but in its original June slot will be a virtual rendition sanctioned officially by the FIA and ACO.

Normal Le Mans 24 will not happen til September 19th. Image courtesy of Joao Filipe, Adrenal Media / FIA Wec

Dubbed the Le Mans 24 Virtual, the race will be held using rFactor 2 and will feature 50 entries consisting of four drivers each across two classes; LMP2 will be the leading class with all entrants using the Oreca 07 and they will be accompanied by LMGTE cars from the likes of Ferrari, Porsche, Aston Martin and Corvette. It looks set to be the peak of sim racing already, as the list of drivers who have signed up to compete is absolutely incredible!

Where to begin? Perhaps with some prominent F1 drivers. Max Verstappen and Lando Norris are back again in a 24 hour virtual race, hoping to repeat their win in the iRacing Spa 24 hours only this time without Max’s brake pedal falling off 15 minutes from the end. They’re racing with Team RedLine once again, one of if not the most successful sim racing team of all time and they’ll be partnered up with sim racers Atze Kerkhof and Greger Huttu.

Team RedLine will also be running the two entries of the WEC team Jota Sport, featuring the likes of Formula E championship leader António Félix da Costa and 2019 IndyCar rookie of the year Felix Rosenqvist alongside two very successful sim racers. The sim racers being inaugural World’s Fastest Gamer winner and former McLaren simulator driver Rudy van Buren, who is Mahindra’s Formula E simulator development driver and will be racing this year in Porsche Carrera Cup Deutschland, and the other being McLaren Shadow Project Final winner Kevin Siggy who is currently leading the Formula E Race at Home Challenge for sim racers.

Another prominent team in the world of sim racing is Veloce Esports, and they’re fielding three entrants in the top class with current and former F1 drivers: Pierre Gasly, Stoffel Vandoorne and Jean-Éric Vergne. F1 Esports race winner Jarno Opmeer, 14-year old Veloce Academy protégé Tomek ‘Hyperz’ Poradzisz, and the second World’s Fastest Gamer winner James Baldwin who is set to race this year in the GT World Challenge for Jenson Button’s Team Rocket squad.

Speaking of Jenson Button, he’s also racing in this, as are his former F1 teammates Fernando Alonso and Rubens Barrichello. Even the likes of Indy 500 winners Juan Pablo Montoya, Tony Kanaan and Simon Pagenaud are competing. Let’s just hope the latter doesn’t try to take Lando out again!

Two other current F1 drivers are competing, that being Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi, and they’re paired up with Ferrari’s current F1 and SRO GT Esports drivers, reigning F1 Esports champion David Tonizza and 2018 eRace of Champions winner Enzo Bonito. Alongside them in the GT class will be Felipe Massa and Giancarlo Fisichella, who are racing an entry backed by Strong Together, a foundation set up by Charlene, Princess of Monaco.

The FIA’s Women In Motorsport is represented by Katherine Legge, Sophia Flörsch, Tatiana Calderón and Emily Jones with the Richard Mille Racing Team. However the most notable woman in racing right now, W Series champion Jamie Chadwick is also racing and she’s going to be sharing driving duties with YouTube sim racing royalty Jimmy Broadbent!

The 2020 Virtual Le Mans entry list. Image courtesy of Fia Wec
Second part of the 2020 Virtual Le Mans entry list. Image courtesy of Fia Wec

Other notable drivers taking part include Pietro Fittipaldi and also F2 drivers Louis Delétraz and Jack Aitken who are both racing for Williams and Rebellion’s collaboration effort. Former F1 driver Olivier Panis is also competing, and that’s before we even get onto some of the regulars of the WEC and the 24 hours of Le Mans.

Toyota drivers Sébastien Buemi, Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway, José María López and Brendon Hartley will be in the top class. Along with the likes of André Lotterer, Nicki Thiim, Will Stevens, Bruno Senna, Neel Jani, Norman Nato, Nicolas Lapierre, Darren Turner, Nick Tandy, Dries Vanthoor, Filipe Albuquerque, Nicky Catsburg, Jan Magnussen, Miguel Molina, Tommy Milner and Thomas Laurent, all of these are just some of the 200 names you will see when you tune in to the Virtual 24 hours of Le Mans on June 13th!

So how do you watch? It will be streamed on the official Motorsport TV website and possibly Twitch as well? TV scheduling may or may not happen and will vary between country, you will need to check back on social media, Fia Wec’s website

But what does this really mean? This is probably the biggest sim race of all time in terms of driver caliber, and it’s just absolutely incredible to behold. It could open up doors to potentially get more of these sim races to happen in the future during the off-season and maybe for a great cause too!

Yes we’re probably all fed up of sim racing and a lot of the controversies to come along with it, but you can’t deny it’s better than just twiddling our thumbs waiting for real racing to begin again. Sim racing has been immense during this wait, and it doesn’t look set to be slowing down even when real racing gets back going again.

So until that happens, I hope you will join me as a viewer of this landmark sim race. A real spectacle in sim racing!

Featured image courtesy of FIA Wec

Sim racing’s life beyond real racing’s return

As a lot of you will have been saying, I’ve been the one championing sim racing’s rise to the fore in the absence of real-world action and it’s still going strong of course. However, we must now turn our attention to how sim racing fits in with a post-sim racing world, if you will. A lot of people tend to be quite absent-minded about how sim racing is being treated, and make very ignorant statements assuming it’s trying to replace the real deal.

This all started the weekend that the Australian GP was cancelled. We had The Race with their All-Star event and Veloce Esports hosting their first rendition of the Not The GP. Since then, so much more has happened! Off the top of my head, we’ve had Formula E’s Race At Home Challenge on rFactor 2 and IndyCar and Aussie SuperCars hosting their own championships on iRacing. Then there’s also FIA World Rallycross Championship have doing races on DIRT Rally 2.0, DTM and WTCR have their Esports series on RaceRoom, GT World Challenge doing the SRO E-sports GT Series on Assetto Corsa Competizione, MotoGP’s Virtual Races on the MotoGP 20 game and last but not least, Formula One’s own Virtual Grand Prix events on F1 2019, with the addition of the F1 Esports drivers doing their Pro Exhibition event and now drivers from a plethora of junior formulae competing in the F2 Virtual races.

There’s definitely more I’ve missed, but at least you understand the vast scale of the impact of Esports. Not only that, we’ve started to see a lot of drivers turn to streaming on Twitch, with Lando Norris leading the charge and being joined by a lot of his peers including Charles Leclerc, George Russell, Alex Albon and many more. Just last Friday, I saw those four all playing Rocket League together; it was so indescribable, the joy I felt seeing four of my favourite F1 drivers playing car football.

This difficult time for all of us will hopefully soon be over. There are plans for the F1 season to finally begin in Austria on the weekend of July 5th, with efforts in place to hopefully prevent anyone from contracting the virus and with no crowds. By that point, you could say that we don’t need sim racing and in a sense you’re right. It wouldn’t be filling any voids, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it has to stop.

When racing isn’t going on during the traditional European winter, you would have Formula E as well as some other winter series like F3 Asia or Toyota Racing Series. But I think sim racing can still work very well in that time-frame, maybe not with a lot of the same active pro drivers but I still definitely think a few will still want to take part.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

The trouble would come by making it an obligation. We’ve seen drivers being made to take part and losing sponsorship from treating a properly sanctioned event too casually. Whilst we would expect a broadcast and sponsored race to have some form of etiquette and professionalism, the trouble would come when these drivers are told to compete when they just want some down-time.

We’ve seen some casual races from a few of these guys looking to mess around. The famous clips of Alex Albon being punted off in some way by George Russell in lawnmower race or on the F1 game coupled with the sound “GEEOORRGGEEE!!!” come to mind, and as long as they mind don’t use abhorrent words (think of Kyle Larson) then that’s all good. But, for some fun yet still sporting events that drivers can compete in, they should be able to decide during their own time whether they want to do them or not.

We could even see in the future, a lot of championships adopting a type of sim racing to fit in with their race meetings. Formula E have been doing that for years, where a pick of their drivers go to a sim racing tent in the paddock between qualifying and the race and go up against a group of fans who have entered into it through some kind of qualification.

Mercedes AMG Esports

Those may not be the most professional of races but it’s something. A lot of the sim races that have been going on are treated as their own thing and are being held with the philosophy of entertaining fans first and foremost, and even though it’s never going to match up with the real thing, it’s a better than nothing at all.

Also, keep it online for free. The brilliance of sim racing is that it’s so easily accessible both as a viewer and a competitor, and I don’t want to see a paywall for sim racing. I get it for real racing, but I’ll be very disappointed if a championship is not streamed to YouTube/Twitch etc. and is only on a channel like Sky Sports, BT Sport or Eurosport.

Heading forward, organisers can still use sim racing to compliment the real racing. Both as entertainment during a point where the real racing isn’t happening that can be open to entry, or in the lead up to a real world event. Plus why not throughout the week? Who is to say that there should only be racing at the weekend?

There’s nothing wrong with something more. If it isn’t your thing, you don’t have to watch it.

IndyCar’s disgrace of an iRace

There was a lot to be enjoyed in the Esports races on Saturday. Firstly there was the second round of the Formula E Stay At Home Challenge, taking place on rFactor 2 with Studio 397’s own circuit Electric Docks which made for some incredible high speed racing. Then we had the first of a set of rounds that made up a new season of the All-Star Esports Series by The Race where Pros, Sim drivers and Legends all raced at Sepang to contend for their own championships and it even included brands such as Mercedes, BMW, Bentley, Aston Martin, Williams and Venturi officially taking part in it too. Finally, we also saw two races in Veloce’s Not The GP series where Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc had some incredible battles on the Hockenheim circuit with some of the top names from the world of Formula 1 Esports and Online Content Creation.

But we are talking about the final round of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge, racing 70 laps of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. McLaren’s own Lando Norris was participating after making a guest appearance in last week’s race at the Circuit of the Americas, and despite spinning in the middle of the race, he still blitzed the field. This seemingly ruffled a few feathers.

Norris qualified second for the defacto ‘Indy 175’ to Aussie SuperCars champion Scott McLaughlin and despite never having done oval racing before, he was doing very good. He had put an immense amount of practice in with the help of his former F1 engineer Andrew Jarvis, who left McLaren’s F1 division to a new role in their upcoming IndyCar programme.

At one point in the race, a caution period had come out and Lando had just pitted so he had the grippiest rubber out of all the leading group so he looked to be in the best position to win. Ahead of him is reigning Indy 500 winner Simon Pagenaud, who in all the previous IndyCar iRacing Challenge events, had won all the oval races and was looking to get a clean sweep.

Pagenaud and Graham Rahal were fighting for the lead and Norris went low on both of them, there was a noticeable gap between Norris and Rahal, but there is an unfortunate thing that happens in online racing called netcode, where there’s a slight lag in connection and subsequently, it feels like there is a collision when there isn’t. So Rahal unfortunately was netcode hit by Norris even though Norris didn’t do such a thing, and Rahal collided with Pagenaud and it ruined their races. A shame all round because I was looking forward to watching the battle between all these top-level professionals, but that term seems to not apply now, at least to Pagenaud.

Through I believe Pagenaud’s engineer’s Twitch stream, they seemed to joke about wanting to take out Norris and were badmouthing him as if he actually had done something wrong. But as clear as day in the video I’m going to provide of Lando watching a replay of that Twitch stream after the race, Pagenaud turned in on him heading into the last lap and what seemed to be an all-but-certain victory for Lando was taken from him. Pagenaud even tried to play it off as trying to go to the pits..

You’ll also hear in that clip, Lando was in an online chat with fellow Team RedLine sim racing drivers Graham Carroll, Bono Huis and Max Verstappen, and it was Max who suggested they settle these incidents with a boxing match. Rather amusing.

Not only what Pagenaud did, but on the last lap, McLaren’s two other drivers got involved in incidents. Patricio O’Ward tried to overtake Ganassi’s Marcus Ericsson heading into the last corner but was way too overly ambitious and desperate, it was never on and it cost Ericsson the victory. So it was left to McLaren’s third driver Oliver Askew to win the race for the team, but it wasn’t to be as the polarising Santino Ferrucci swerved across him on the run to the line, and there to pick up the pieces despite not being anywhere near the front for most of the last few laps, was pole-sitter Scott McLaughlin.

An absolute mess. Inevitably you’ll hear the “Just a game” argument, both from people like Ferrucci (who has form for doing this in real world racing as well!) who pull a David Perel and say it’s okay to be dirty in the virtual world since nobody gets hurt, and then you have the people who see this as insignificant because it’s some immature boy’s hobby to play video games so what’s the fuss about?

I love my virtual racing but this has just left a sour taste in my mouth. I’ve lost a lot of respect for Simon Pagenaud, and I didn’t have any for Ferrucci anyway since he was said to have been racist to his then-F2 teammate Arjun Maini back in 2018 and also purposely driving into him on the cooldown lap.

It’s also been disappointing seeing IndyCar commentator Paul Tracy put on his tin foil hat and claim that Ferrucci’s steering conveniently had been hacked or glitched on the run to the line. It’s not surprising honestly, they love him on the IndyCar coverage.

This doesn’t ruin Esports and sim racing for me, I’ll always love it but it’s not surprising at all to know that people from outside the virtual racing bubble don’t take this seriously. With all the progress being made by Esports whilst we don’t have real racing, this has been a huge step backwards for both Esports and also IndyCar.

Image courtesy of IndyCar

Driver Spotlight: Arthur Leclerc – Out of his brother’s shadow

I think I speak for a lot of us when I say that I am a huge Charles Leclerc fan, seeing his ascendency from joining the Ferrari Driver Academy, and winning the GP3 and Formula 2 championships then graduating to Formula 1 with Sauber and now a Grand Prix winner with Ferrari, it has truly been incredible.

He’s also been proving to be quite handy on the Esports side, racking up both wins in the last two F1 Virtual Grand Prix events, winning the Veloce Versus 1v1 event and also streaming on Twitch with the many other F1 drivers taking to Esports scene, raising money for charity in a set of races called ‘Race for the World’ which he also won.

However in all but the most recent Virtual GP, there has been a Ferrari being driven by another Leclerc, this being Charles’ younger brother Arthur. For this year, he was picked up by Ferrari to be on their driver academy like his sibling four years prior and it would be easy to assume that there is a bit of nepotism involved, considering other members of the academy include the sons of Michael Schumacher, Jean Alesi and the grandson of Emerson Fittipaldi.

I thought I’d run you all through why I think Arthur Leclerc could be one to look out for in the future and his recruitment to Ferrari’s young driver programme isn’t merely just because of being Charles’ younger brother.

Whilst Charles arrived into single seaters in 2014 off the back of major success in the karting scene, Arthur was only just starting out in karts despite only being three years younger than his highly rated brother. Arthur actually managed to win the Kart Racing Academy championship in France, but due to budgetary issues, he was out of racing for the next four years and in that time, Charles made that climb up the ladder and into F1.

The older Leclerc always had that issue early in his career, they never had a lot of money and if it weren’t for Nicolas Todt, his career would have been over. So it was the same case for younger Leclerc, who only got back into racing because of backing from his uncle, who set up an e-bike company. This helped him seal a place in the relatively low-budget French F4 championship in 2018.

Despite not racing for four years, it was like Arthur had never been away! He won a reverse-grid race in his first event, held his own in a battle with eventual dominant champion Caio Collet at the Pau circuit, took pole at a very wet Spa-Francorchamps and had it not been for some rotten luck in the final round, would have finished runner-up. That year, he also became a part of the Venturi Formula E team’s junior programme, alongside a selection of drivers from single seaters, karting and Esports.

For 2019, he stepped up to the German-based ADAC F4 championship and took his first victory at Hockenheim which supported the German Grand Prix, and Charles was there to greet him when he pulled up into parc fermé. Arthur raced for the Sauber Junior Team by Charouz, and even with the single victory he finished third in the championship, behind the highly rated pair of Red Bull junior Dennis Hauger and the champion Théo Pourchaire, one of Leclerc’s teammates.

That result is mightily impressive considering the level of talent in that field, and the fact he had nowhere near the amount of racing experience of his peers. Despite being three years older than Pourchaire, he had eight years less racing experience, so bearing all that in mind, that makes Leclerc’s results even more impressive.

Whilst Pourchaire and Hauger are stepping up to the Grand Prix-supporting FIA Formula 3 for this season, Leclerc has gone in another direction and joined up with Prema – the team that his brother won the 2017 FIA Formula 2 championship with – in the Formula Regional European Championship. A lower tier F3 series that races for the most part in Italy.

Arthur is now 19, the same age Charles was when he won the GP3 championship. The Prema team was very much a dominant force in Formula Regional last season and even with highly rated teammates like Roman Staněk, Oliver Rasmussen and fellow Ferrari junior Gianluca Petecof, I am very confident that Arthur is the favourite for the championship.

Last time we had an F1 driver called Charles, he also had a racing driver brother called Arthur, I’m referring to the Pic brothers. Charles Pic raced for tailender teams Marussia and Caterham between 2012 and 2013, whilst his brother Arthur Pic got as high as GP2. This time round, Charles Leclerc is in F1 and is one of the top drivers, and with his recruitment to Ferrari’s programme, would it be so absurd to liken the Leclerc brothers to the Márquez brothers in MotoGP?

Marc and Álex Márquez won a championship apiece in the lower and intermediate classes of Grand Prix motorcycle racing and now they are teammates at the Repsol Honda team that Marc has won all but one MotoGP world championship with since joining them in 2013. Could Arthur join Charles at Ferrari in the next few years? It’s not out of the question! But I won’t get ahead of myself. For the time being, let’s see how Arthur does and see if skill and excellence is in his blood.

Image courtesy of Scuderia Ferrari Formula 1 Team.

Driver Spotlight: James Baldwin – Sim Racing’s All Star | Part One

I am sure a lot of you have been enjoying the Esports races that have been happening and have been keeping us sane whilst we await the return of real life racing. With the events organised by The Race with their All-Star Esports Battle races and Veloce’s Not The GP series now being joined by their own Pro Series, and not forgetting F1, IndyCar and MotoGP among others organising their own events, we are not short of choice, are we?

Seeing what has been happening in this trying time has been great, and seeing many notable real-world racers take to the virtual world to keep themselves sharp and us entertained is just great to see. Max Verstappen and Lando Norris have been the leading lights with their large followings, helping show what sim racing can really provide.

However, as much as this is familiar surroundings for one driver in particular, I know that he will want to get on the real track very soon. He has been participating in these events alongside Verstappen and Norris and in the first race of the Veloce Pro Series, he finished second to Lando. This driver being James Baldwin.

Like Max and Lando, Baldwin started out racing karts aged eight and won four British karting championships by the age of 15. He attempted a move up into cars in 2015, but only had the money to do a grand total of two races in Formula Ford, so with all that pressure of his family’s money being put into these races, James quite understandably felt that pressure a bit too much. He did those two races and there was no more money, and his racing dream was seemingly over.

After a while out of the driving seat, James shifted his focus to sim racing and quickly proceeded to pick up where he left off in the success department. Through an event organised by Renault on the game Project CARS 2 in which he won, Baldwin got an invitation to participate in the eRace of Champions, where the winner would be allowed to compete in the main Race of Champions at the venue for the Mexican Grand Prix.

The Race of Champions is a tournament in which drivers from many different disciplines compete with equal machinery on makeshift circuits in stadiums to find out who is the champion of all champions. In 2018, the organisers opened up an Esports competition in which Italian driver Enzo Bonito won and therefore allowed him to compete in the main event alongside World’s Fastest Gamer winner Rudy van Buren.

For the 2019 event, Bonito would be joined in the Sim Racing All Stars team by whoever would succeed him as the eROC winner and everyone was expecting him to be joined by two-time F1 Esports champion Brendon Leigh. But in a huge upset, Baldwin defeated Leigh to become eROC champion and he impressed the judges along the way, those judges being nine-times Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen, 2001 F1 runner-up David Coulthard and renowned stunt driver Terry Grant.

He lined up alongside Bonito for the Nation’s Cup competition in the Sim Racing All Star team and also competed for individual glory in the Race of Champions. Whilst his Nation’s Cup teammate grabbed the headlines for defeating Formula E champion Lucas di Grassi and IndyCar champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, Baldwin was by no means any slouch as he won against local NASCAR hero Rubén García Jr. in one of the heats.

This would only be the start of a year of ascendency for James Baldwin, otherwise known as Veloce Jaaames. Yes, three A’s, he didn’t fall asleep on his keyboard when he was coming up with that.

As you can tell by the other part of that username, James is a part of Veloce Esports. The team founded by Formula E champion Jean-Éric Vergne and teammate from his Carlin F3 days Rupert Svendson-Cook, which has really led the charge and pioneered the turn of introducing Esports to a mainstream audience. Their initial focus was on virtual racing before expanding into FPS games and even the car football game Rocket League.

Back to James now, because 2019 had not even gotten started for him and it was not about to stop. He entered into the Project CARS world championships which were taking place at the Mercedes headquarters in Stuttgart and James ended up winning that. Veloce then entered last minute as a wildcard into the Le Mans Esports Series Super Final which would take place before the 24 hours of Le Mans.

In an incredible and never-seen-before format, the teams made up of three drivers would – just like in real life – race for 24 straight hours but in nine races on both historical and modern variants of the Le Mans circuit as well as races at Silverstone, Spa and Sebring in a vast variety of car classes ranging from 1960s Le Mans cars, Group C, GTE, LMP cars of varying eras and many more.

From 11am to 9:30am the following day, all twelve teams would compete in two or three hour enduros to rack up points, and it was one second head start in the final for every point more than the team behind them. Baldwin and his two Veloce stablemates Noah Schmitz and David Kelly overcame a 15-second deficit to somehow win the final 90-minute race and therefore won the whole event and a hefty cash prize! They stood on the Le Mans podium, sprayed champagne whilst all the teams prepared for the start of the real-life 24 hour race and presumably they all went to bed and collapsed from exhaustion.

Images courtesy of WFG

AND Veloce Esports

Driver Spotlight: Igor Fraga and the power of Esports | Part Two

For 2019, Igor Fraga competed in the inaugural Formula Regional European Championship, an F3-level series which competed in Italy for the most part with rounds also in France, Spain, Hungary and Austria.

The season was dominated for the most part by Prema with their trio of drivers consisting of Frederik Vesti, Enzo Fittipaldi and Olli Caldwell.

Fraga was undeterred, and with his team of DR Formula by RP Motorsport, he took four wins, four poles, three fastest laps and eleven podiums in 23 races, ending the season an incredibly impressive third behind Fittipaldi and champion Vesti.

Back in the virtual world, things went a little sour. The new format of the Gran Turismo championships meant that if you won overall in one particular event, you wouldn’t have to go qualify to participate in the World Finals at Monaco. After messing up his chances in the first round in Paris, he won the second event which took place at the Nürburgring supporting the 24-hour race. However it was the following event that really put a major downer on things.

The third event took place in New York and Fraga, having already guaranteed himself a place in the World Final, was racing in the event final against Mikail Hizal. They were driving at Spa and Hizal had better tyres. With the long drag from La Source all the way to the Kemmel Straight, it looked like a foregone conclusion that Hizal would pass Fraga.

However, Fraga first employed a tactic of getting off the throttle and letting Hizal through after La Source, only to immediately use the slipstream and get back past, which is tad sketchy but not inherently illegal.

Then he did something which really was wrong. He lifted off the throttle going up Eau Rouge and Hizal couldn’t avoid hitting him. After that, Hizal had to preserve fuel and dropped back by over five seconds. That last part is important.

Fraga was penalised. Although he didn’t actually lose anything, he was given a five-second penalty and kept his victory.

Three weeks later, and round four of the Grand Turismo championship took place at the Red Bull Hangar-7 in Austria. The debate was still centred on Fraga’s move in Italy, but to their credit, both Fraga and Hizal had taken to social media to address it. Fraga apologised, and Hizal encouraged people not to attack him, insisting he had learned from his mistake.

I had gotten into a bit of a war of words over Twitter regarding the incident with both Gran Turismo championships regular Fabian Portilla and also David Perel, a real-world driver who frequently plays Gran Turismo. Perel insisted that because it was not real-world racing and that there was no inherent danger, it meant doing such a thing was okay.

Nonetheless, Fraga participated in the GT World Finals, and to everyone’s shock, he spun out of contention in his semi-final and didn’t even make it into contention for a repechage race, unable to retain his crown. However, there was still the Manufacturers Series, a secondary competition where three drivers sign in-game with a manufacturer prior to each live event and the ones who qualify represent that manufacturer.

Fraga, alongside Tomoaki Yamanaka and Rayan Derrouiche, represented Toyota, and they became Manufacturer Series champions. This probably didn’t soften the blow of not being able to have the chance to defend his Nations Cup crown, which was won in the end quite fittingly by Mikail Hizal.

For 2020, Fraga was announced to be competing in the F1 Grand Prix-supporting FIA Formula 3 championship with Charouz Racing System, alongside F3 regular Niko Kari and fellow Formula Regional graduate David Schumacher. This was immediately generating headlines with the official F1 website crediting Fraga as ‘F1 Esports finalist joins F3’, but there was also what would come even before turning a wheel at an F1 Grand Prix.

It was announced that in preparation for the upcoming season, Fraga would participate in the New Zealand-based Toyota Racing Series, which is designed to keep drivers who usually compete in Europe sharp over the winter when there is no racing. The series has been won in the past by drivers such as current Jaguar Formula E driver Mitch Evans, and also current F1 drivers Lance Stroll and Lando Norris. Igor was placed into the M2 Competition team with the previous season’s champion Liam Lawson, and he really surprised everyone.

He really held his own against Lawson, going toe-to-toe with him when everyone was expecting the New Zealander to dominate. Lawson ended up winning five times to Fraga’s four, but due to Lawson’s one DNF and Fraga scoring in every round, Fraga ended the season as champion.

Not only that, Fraga won the New Zealand Grand Prix, an illustrious race that is one of only two races outside F1 to hold the title of a national Grand Prix along with the Macau Grand Prix. He did so whilst the first event of the 2020 FIA Gran Turismo championships was about to start just across the Tasman Sea in Sydney, Australia.

In spite of everything that may be thrown in the direction of Esports by racing ‘purists’, we have a fine example of how virtual racing can really open up doors of opportunity.

It all began for Fraga when his dad bought him Gran Turismo 4 on PlayStation 2 with a cheap wheel and pedals for him to practice on between sessions in his go-kart.

Yes, Fraga is not the prime example of what you think of when you hear ‘gamer turned racer’. He has a background in motorsport before getting involved in sim racing so he isn’t like GT Academy graduate Jann Mardenborough.

But before F1 Esports, the Gran Turismo Championships and McLaren Shadow Project final, Fraga did not have much chance of racing in Europe and thus pursuing his F1 dream. Now, however, he is a step closer to that. Especially now it has been confirmed he will be joining Red Bull’s junior program!

Fraga is an exciting driver who has proven that he isn’t just a PlayStation gamer looking to mix it with the big boys. He’s a racing driver first, and has proven that gaming and sim racing are not just a gimmick.

Just after he won the 2018 Gran Turismo World Championship, a video was released on Fraga’s YouTube channel which really does encapsulate the brilliance of everything:

Driving is for everyone. Whether you race karts at the weekends, or you’re a professional who is paid to race, or even if you drive digital versions of them, the beauty of racing is that it is well and truly a universal language. More than ever, we are seeing more people picking up online racing to fuel their desire to compete. It’s creating more opportunities than ever before, and that shouldn’t be dismissed.

I see so much in the way of gate-keeping in regard to Esports. Whether you like it or not, it’s an inexpensive alternative to real racing and it is here to stay. It’s up to you whether to embrace it or not, but you can’t deny it isn’t already proving its worth.

We have had Formula E doing a one-off sim race in Las Vegas with both sim drivers and regular-series drivers going head to head for a cash prize of $1,000,000. This was won by now-McLaren Shadow driver Bono Huis ahead of Felix Rosenqvist, who raced at the time for Mahindra in Formula E.

McLaren also partnered up with a competition called World’s Fastest Gamer in which kitchen sales-manager and former Dutch karting driver Rudy van Buren became McLaren simulator and development driver, he has since become Mahindra’s Formula E simulator driver now he’s looking to compete this year in Porsche SuperCup or Carrera Cup Germany.

The Race of Champions opened up an event for sim racers to participate in in 2018, in which also now-McLaren Shadow driver Enzo Bonito won. He made headlines a year later when he raced and defeated former Formula E champion Lucas di Grassi and former IndyCar champion Ryan Hunter-Reay in their heat races.

Red Bull F1 driver Max Verstappen and McLaren’s Lando Norris both like to participate in big iRacing endurance races too, having taken the win at last year’s iRacing Spa 24 hours even if Max’s broken brake pedal tried to sabotage that! Many other top-line drivers are also starting their own Esports teams, including Fernando Alonso, Jean Alesi, and even Jean-Éric Vergne who along with his old Carlin F3 teammate Rupert Svendson-Cook are the founders of Veloce Esports, who run the Esports teams of both Alonso and Alfa Romeo F1.

Jann Mardenborough is also worth a mention. He entered GT Academy when taking a gap year before university, and ended up winning it. As a result, he has driven cars including Nissan GT3s and various single-seaters, won a GP3 race in 2014, took a class podium finish at the 24 hours of Le Mans, and he nearly won championships in the Toyota Racing Series and Japanese F3. He’s now racing in Japan having competed in Super Formula and now mainly Super GT.

Finally, the FIA recognised the potential of virtual racing by giving certified status to the Gran Turismo championships and also by including it in the Olympic-style inaugural FIA Motorsport Games.

I’m British, so I was following Team UK’s entry into the Digital Cup. James Baldwin was our representative, but that’s an article for another day.

I hope you all feel compelled to seek out some virtual racing, whether it be to watch or to compete yourself. I hope I’ve convinced at least one person who wasn’t already convinced by Esports to check it out, and if so then that would be mission accomplished as far as I am concerned.

Especially with the cancelled motorsport events, it has been Esports that has come to the rescue! Veloce Esports and The Race have organised events that took place last Sunday which featured big names from the world of motorsport, and no doubt will there be more over the next few months.

I am certain that in the next couple of years, we will find an F1 champion or a 24 hours of Le Mans winner who started out in gaming. Whether that’ll be Igor or someone else entirely, they are bound by nothing.

 

[Featured image – FIA]

 

Driver Spotlight: Igor Fraga and the power of Esports | Part One

This weekend was supposed to be the first round of the FIA Formula 3 championship, supporting the F1 and F2 rounds at the Bahrain Grand Prix. However, due to obvious health concerns, there has been a delay to proceedings.

We here at The Pit Crew Online wish everyone well during this time, and we respect that the health of everyone should be the foremost concern above anything else, including motorsport.

Anyway, today I want to talk about a certain driver who is going to be participating in the F3 championship this year, which was previously known as GP3.

The FIA’s rebranding of GP3 and the subsequent disagreements among the motorsport community as to what is rightfully an F3 championship have all been major talking points. This is especially so because it led to the demise of the beloved former F3 European Championship that raced alongside DTM, from where the likes of Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc and Lando Norris all came from.

Irrespective of how you feel about F3, I’m of the opinion that having the F3 name alongside F2 and F1 during Grand Prix weekends is a great thing, and I think we can all agree that the 3.4-litre naturally aspirated V6 is a sound to behold. Not only that, but the grid quality this year is extremely high!

The dominant Prema team have signed Oscar Piastri, Frederik Vesti and Logan Sargeant, the first two being the reigning champions in Formula Renault and the European F3 Regional series, whilst the latter took an amazing podium finish at Macau last year. Beyond Prema, we have the team that nobody expected to hold a slight candle to them, Hitech Grand Prix.

After Red Bull junior Jüri Vips gave the Prema trio of Robert Shwartzman, Marcus Armstrong and Jehan Daruvala some competition whilst racing for Hitech last year in F3, Red Bull seemed to conclude that Hitech was the best place to have two of their juniors. They’ve moved Liam Lawson over from MP, and promoted Norway’s Dennis Hauger from F4. They’ll be joined by Renault junior Max Fewtrell, who raced last year for ART Grand Prix.

Speaking of ART, they are housing another exciting talent jumping up from F4: 16-year old Théo Pourchaire, who denied Hauger the chance at being the first driver to win both the German and Italian F4 championships in the same year. Then there’s Enaam Ahmed, David Schumacher, Sophia Flörsch, Enzo Fittipaldi and Jack Doohan, so there are many drivers to get excited about for this season of F3.

However, none of them may generate more headlines than Igor Fraga.

Fraga was born in Japan back in 1998, to his Brazilian father and his Brazilian-Japanese mother. By the age of three he was already driving karts and did his first championship race aged five. It didn’t take him long to begin racking up championships – he won seven karting championships in Japan and also the Asian Karting Open Championship in 2008, but it was after returning to his native Brazil when it became clear that things would not be plain sailing.

When he was 15, he began competing in entry level formulae. He competed part time in Formula 1600, in which he took a victory, pole and fastest lap, as well as two races in Formula Vee which netted two podium finishes.

That got the attention of Prop Car Racing, who entered him into the Brazilian F3 championship’s secondary class, in which he won four out of 16 races and finished third in the standings.

Fraga then attempted to move to the primary class of F3 Brazil for the following season, but due to factors outside of their control and despite Fraga’s best efforts – which heralded a podium finish – they couldn’t continue in the category and pulled out after just four races.

After sitting out the rest of 2016, Fraga returned to Brazilian F3’s secondary class for 2017 and it was well worth the wait. Fraga took 10 wins, 13 podiums and seven poles in 16 races on his way to the secondary class championship. Prop Car knew Fraga had potential, so they decided to put in the effort to ensure Fraga could compete in the Mexican-based NACAM F4 Championship between September 2017 and June 2018.

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Photo by amigo Julio #formula3 #automobilismo

A post shared by Igor Fraga (@1gorfraga) on

Being outside his native Brazil, Fraga did all that he could to learn the tracks, including the Mexican Grand Prix circuit. How did he go about doing that? By buying the most recent F1 game installment by Codemasters of course!

It was around this time that I first heard about him, as he entered the inaugural F1 Esports Series and qualified for the semi-finals in London, which took place in early October.

Fraga was up against now two-time F1 Esports champion Brendon Leigh as well as a lot of other highly-rated racers. He finished fourth in the first race at Silverstone and second at Interlagos, and as a result he had qualified for the final, which took place alongside the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

By participating in this, Fraga missed one of the NACAM F4 rounds – would it be worth it? Unfortunately, he did not do too brilliantly. He finished 18th out of 20, failing to score in the first two races and then only picking up points in the final race when the points were changed to allow every classified driver to score.

Back in the world of physical racing, Fraga completed his NACAM F4 campaign as runner-up, over 100 points behind champion Moisés de la Vara. Fraga, however, was already concentrating on primary 2018 campaign.

He attracted the attention of former F1 and IndyCar driver Roberto Moreno, who invited Fraga to stay at his place in America and personally invested his own money to help him get a drive in the USF2000 Championship, the first step on the Road To Indy program. Racing for the Exclusive Autosport team, Fraga took home three podiums on his way to fourth in the final standings. His big moment, however, was yet to come.

He once again saw an Esports opportunity when he entered into the inaugural FIA-certified Gran Turismo Championships Americas regional final. He got a top two finish in his split, guaranteeing him a place in the World Final before going on to become the Americas regional champion with a crushing dominance in the last race on the Interlagos circuit. This set him up as one of the favourites heading into the World Final in Monaco.

He won his split in the semi-finals and qualified for the Final’s four races. He won the first race, held in road-going sports cars, and was leading the second race at Interlagos in GT3-style cars when a late charge by a rival forced Fraga into a mistake on the last lap. He tumbled down from first to fourth at the line.

Race three was even more of a nightmare. Held at Monza in Le Mans prototype cars, Fraga tumbled from fourth to tenth which meant he was to start tenth for the final race, which was worth double the points of previous races. It was not going to be easy.

The last race’s car of choice was the fictional Red Bull X2014, and they would do battle on the Circuit de la Sarthe. I remember watching this race live and being convinced that Fraga would find a way to win, and what happened next just beggars belief.

In the Nations Cup races, drivers have to use every compound of dry-weather tyre. Fraga had tactically put the slowest tyre type on first and due to the high-speed nature of the circuit, he remained in the slipstream of the cars ahead and was lapping as quick if not quicker than the frontrunners on the best tyres. By the time they all made their stops and used every type of tyre, Fraga was now on the best compound and amongst the leaders, who were now on the worst compound.

He got up to second and already had enough points to seal the world championship, but that didn’t deter him. He went for the lead and he won the race and with it, became FIA Gran Turismo Nations Cup world champion. Fraga was on top of the world, and he wasn’t done yet.

Igor Fraga wins the FIA Gran Turismo Americas Final

Only two months later, Fraga once again competed in an Esports competition. McLaren held a unique event where seven drivers who had qualified through a variety of different platforms would go head to head in a cross-discipline set of races consisting of sim racing, console driving, virtual reality and mobile gaming. All of this would determine which one of them would become a member of the McLaren Shadow Esports team.

Not only would Fraga and his fellow Shadow finalists be racing on a variety of racing games, they’d also be put to the test in a real-world McLaren GT4 car, the top-secret McLaren simulator, and human performance analysis to test physical and mental strength.

In this unprecedented format, the finalists competed on various virtual platforms, racing different spec cars at various circuits on iRacing, Forza Motorsport 7, Real Racing 3, Project CARS 2 and rFactor 2.

Unbelievably consistent, Fraga racked up points and eased into contention. He was easily in the top three, and competed in the race that would decide who would earn the place in the Esports team. The final decider was held on rFactor 2 and Fraga won with ease.

Fraga began 2019 on the back of becoming the first FIA Gran Turismo World Champion and earning a place on McLaren’s Esports team. As a result of this, both Gran Turismo and McLaren Shadow agreed to back his real-world racing campaign that year. So as a direct result of Esports, Fraga had become a very well-known name in the motorsport world and was now able to fulfil his dream of racing in Europe.

 

[Featured image – Gran Turismo]