Formula E will break new ground next week with its inaugural eRace, a non-championship virtual round that will pit its 20-strong grid against 10 of the world’s finest gamers (otherwise known as “sim racers”).
The racing environment itself might be computer generated but the setting certainly isn’t: the Formula E show, drivers and gamers will roll into Las Vegas to feature alongside the Consumer Electronics Show. The annual CES convention showcases the very latest in technology: 5G and artificial intelligence are among the topics set to dominate the 2017 show. Formula E’s presence will be its second notable attendance at the show, following a demo run of a Spark-Renault racing car along The Strip in January 2014, featuring Lucas di Grassi at the wheel.
Formula E’s Vegas eRace was announced as forming part of the season three calendar back in July 2016, during the London ePrix. While no points are on offer to the Formula E regulars, there is a prize fund totalling $1 million, making it the most lucrative sim race in eSports history.
The sport already runs eRaces at every championship round, held between a handful of drivers and fans in the fans’ eVillage. These are light-hearted (and usually crash-filled) affairs without any meaningful results. This time round, however, the prize money and bragging rights up for grabs mean it is set to be as closely-fought as any other race on the schedule.
Here’s everything you need to know about Formula E’s Vegas eRace, which will run on 7 January 2017.
Thirty drivers will take part in the Vegas eRace: the 20 racers who make up the regular Formula E grid, plus 10 sim racers who have qualified via Cloud Sport events. The Road to Vegas initiative comprised four meetings on Formula E tracks from season two (Long Beach, Paris, Berlin, London), with the top 10 points scorers making it through to the main event and securing a guaranteed $20,000.
Each sim racer has joined one of the 10 Formula E teams to prepare for Vegas, becoming a part of its operations and helping its regular drivers to get sharp for the race.
The sim racers are by no means weekend warriors. All 10 have an established track record in the virtual racing world, with many of them also enjoying real-life drives in racing cars:
- Gregor Huttu (FIN), Panasonic Jaguar Racing
- Aleksi Uusi-Jaakkola (FIN), MS Amlin Andretti
- Olli Pahkala (FIN), Mahindra Racing
- Enzo Bonito (ITA), Techeetah
- David Greco (ITA), Renault e.dams
- Graham Carroll (GBR), DS Virgin Racing
- Aleksi Elomaa (FIN), Venturi Racing
- Bono Huis (NED), Faraday Future Dragon Racing
- Petar Brljak (CRO), NextEV NIO
- Patrick Holzmann (DEU), ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport
In the interest of fairness, all 30 drivers will be racing in identical cars, separated only by their team liveries and their numbers. That means no powertrain differences, which turns the clock back to what we saw in the first season of Formula E.
All drivers will race on identical simulators supplied and regulated by Cloud Sport, the event organiser, and will have the same mechanical setup. Just like their real-world counterparts, the cars will have a maximum power output of 170kW in races and 200kW for qualifying. Three drivers will receive FanBoost via an online vote, working in exactly the same fashion as the real world races.
To ensure equality, all computers that are used for the race will be sealed and approved by the stewards. All external ports on the computers will be blocked to ensure that no personal components can be plugged in.
The race will be run using the rFactor 2 game, which is used by a number of racing teams for its car simulators, and is also used for the eRace on Formula E race weekends.
The finer details about the track that will be used for the Vegas eRace remain a mystery, with the precise layout that will be used only being made known to the drivers on Friday ahead of practice. However, the following details have been issued:
- Length: 3.14km
- Pole position: right-hand side
- Direction: anti-clockwise
- Pit lane speed limit: 50kmh
The track sessions will take place over two days in Las Vegas, starting on Friday 6 January 2017. The 10 sim racers who qualified via the Road to Vegas scheme will be first to participate in a 30 minute practice, before the 20 Formula E drivers get a crack at an identically-timed practice session later.
On Saturday, before qualifying, the field will be mixed according to driver number and split into two groups of 15 for a further 15 minutes of running. That means that each driver will be afforded 45 minutes of practice time in total.
Qualifying will take place in the same fashion as the regular Formula E sessions, with drivers being sent out in groups of five, decided via a lottery, for six minutes per group. The fastest five drivers in the overall timings will contest a Super Pole shootout to decide the top five grid positions.
In a twist on a normal Formula E race weekend, a qualifying race will then be held ahead of the main feature race. This will be contested by the slowest 20 drivers from qualifying (positions 11-30).
The qualifying race will take place over 14 laps, with the top 10 drivers earning a place on the grid for the feature race. They will fill out positions 11-20 on the grid.
The feature race will then run over 28 laps and includes a mandatory car swap, much as in the regular Formula E races. There is a minimum pit stop time of 30 seconds.
All sessions will be administered like the regular Formula E races, featuring a stewards panel to make decisions about on-track incidents and any other matters of note that may be deemed to breach the sporting or technical regulations.
|FP1||Road to Vegas practice||30 minutes|
|FP1||Formula E drivers practice||30 minutes|
|FP2||Group 1 final practice||15 minutes|
|FP2||Group 2 final practice||15 minutes|
|Qualifying||Six groups of five drivers, followed by Super Pole||50 minutes|
|Qualifying race||14 laps|
|Feature race||28 laps|
Las Vegas is known for its high-rollers, and the eRace is no exception to that: a prize kitty of $1 million is up for grabs. Here’s how it will be dished out:
|Position||Prize money (US$)|
How can I watch the Las Vegas eRace?
Every session of the Vegas eRace will be broadcast on Twitch, a streaming website that specialises in gaming.
The session times are as follows:
- FP1 Road to Vegas: 20:40-21:10
- FP1 Formula E: 21:25-21:55
- FP2 Group 1: 09:00-09:15
- FP2 Group 2: 09:30-09:45
- Qualifying: 13:25-14:18
- Super Pole: 14:25-14:40
- Qualifying Race: 15:25
- Feature Race: 16:05
All times are local to Las Vegas (which is – 8 hours to GMT).
The Vegas eRace may lack the thrill of wheel-to-wheel racing only possible in real cars but, when the stakes are so high, this isn’t “just a game”. It marks a significant step forward for eSports, becoming part of a real-world racing championship, and offers further proof of Formula E’s willingness to think outside of the box and break new ground. The sport’s boss has been vocal since the inception of Formula E about twinning gaming with racing and this event marks the culmination of the first phase of that ambition. There will be much, much more to come.