DS VIRGIN RACING PUSH THROUGH A VIRTUAL PACK IN LAS VEGAS By: DS Automobiles
The first event of its kind, the Vegas eRace was held on Saturday 07 January with professional gamers going head-to-head with Formula E racing drivers at the Las Vegas CES – for a $1m USD prize pot.
Formula E's 20 drivers met with 10 professional gamers at CES, all of whom had been picked via the 'Road to Vegas' elimination rounds in the months leading up to the eRace.
Each gamer was informally 'allocated' to a Formula E team to assist with driver preparation. DS Virgin Racing acquired Graham Carroll, who qualified at the top of the Road to Vegas leader board and subsequently spent time in December working closely with both Sam Bird and Jose Maria Lopez in sim training.
Race day saw all 30 contestants descend on a packed sports arena in the centre of a CES convention hall, to an audience featuring a who's who of the tech world. The circuit for the day was a virtual Las Vegas 3.13 mile track – that had only been revealed to competitors the night before – encompassing landmark casinos including the Luxor and Excalibur.
Graham Carroll and Jose Maria Lopez were allocated group four in the qualifying lottery, whilst Sam Bird was placed in group five. Graham Carroll drove a steady line that landed him fourth place to secure Super Pole, whilst Jose Maria Lopez started first and Sam Bird seventh for the following qualifying race – finishing second and fifth respectively.
Technical difficulties and timing issues meant the race proper was reduced to 20 laps. Jose Maria Lopez and Andretti's Antonio Felix da Costa started six rows back but amongst the top of the Formula E driver pack, breaking away from the rear of the pack quickly. Bird was in eighth but after three laps had bounced up to sixth as casualties mid pack started to pile up. On lap seven, Bird was the earliest to pit out of all the racers, a calculated risk that would serve him well later on.
Meanwhile Graham Carroll, who had progressed from fourth to third, was caught by Renault e.Dams' David Greco resulting in a race-ending crash on lap 10. Multiple pitting racers through the halfway segment of the race saw Lopez and Bird move up to seventh and eighth respectively – second and third place amongst Formula E drivers behind Mahindra Racing's Felix Rosenqvist in third overall.
The DS Virgin Racing pair then held steady as dramatic scenes at the front saw Mahindra Racing's sim racer Olli Pahkala cross the line first, Faraday Future Dragon Racing's sim racer Bono Huis in second and Rosenqvist third. The stewards' later edited the final result, with Huis moved to first, Rosenqvist to second and Pahkala to third owing to technical inconsistencies with Fanboost.
Speaking after the race, Sam Bird said, 'A seventh and eighth place shows excellent consistency for DS Virgin Racing as a team – particularly as we were second and third against the drivers we compete with in the Formula E series.'
'I didn't expect there to be such a close margin between sim and Formula E racers,' reported Jose Maria Lopez – an avid gamer in his spare time. 'It made for a very interesting race, and I'm happy with the result.'
'I was devastated by the crash,' said Graham Carroll. 'However, I spoke with Sam and Jose Maria after the race. They really helped me contextualise the whole thing. It's been an absolute pleasure working with the DS Virgin Racing guys in the lead up to and during Vegas.'
Team Principal Alex Tai stated, 'What the crowd witnessed at the Vegas eRace was a blurring of gaming and traditional sports competition. With a potential audience of 1.2 billion, what happened here today has the potential to be an exciting new chapter for motorsport.'