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2017 Vegas eRace

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Race details
Date January 7, 2017
Official name 2017 Visa Vegas eRace
Location The Venetian Resort Hotel Casino, Las Vegas, Nevada
Course Virtual street circuit
3.14 mi (5.05 km)
Distance Qualifying Race
14 laps, 70.746 km (43.960 mi)
Main Race
20 laps, 101.000 km (62.758 mi)
Qualifying Race
Pole
Driver Argentina José María López Virgin
Podium
First Portugal António Félix da Costa Andretti
Second Argentina José María López Virgin
Third Netherlands Robin Frijns Andretti
Main Race
Pole
Driver Netherlands Bono Huis Dragon
Time 1:28.661
Fastest Lap
Driver Italy David Greco e.Dams-Renault
Time 1:27.613
Podium
First Netherlands Bono Huis Dragon
Second Sweden Felix Rosenqvist Mahindra
Third Finland Olli Pahkala Mahindra

The 2017 Visa Vegas eRace was a Formula E eSports race held at The Venetian Resort Hotel Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada as part of the Sports Business Innovation Summit at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show on January 7, 2017. Unlike other races, the Vegas eRace did not count towards the 2016–17 season, and was not held on a real track. Ten sim racers—competitors who typically race in simulation racing video games—competed against the regular series drivers on a simulated course for a record-breaking total prize fund in eSports racing history of $1 million. The race itself was made up of two races: a 14-lap qualifying race for the slowest 20 qualifiers to determine positions 11 to 20 for the 20-lap main race. The first ten starting positions were decided by an earlier qualifying session that was divided into five groups of six cars.

Dragon sim driver Bono Huis topped the time sheets in every session he participated in and won the race from pole position. Professional driver António Félix da Costa took victory in the qualification race shortly beforehand. Huis led most of the eRace until the mandatory virtual pit stops to change into a second car when Olli Pahkala of Mahindra moved to the front of the field. Pahkala held the position for the remaining five laps to finish first on the road, but he was penalized 12 seconds after it was discovered that a software bug enabled him to use FanBoost for longer than permitted. Second went to the highest-placed professional driver Felix Rosenqvist for Mahindra and Pakhala's penalty dropped him to third.

Media reaction to the eRace was mixed. Those who were critical of the race panned its organization because multiple technical problems prompted a half hour delay of the main event, and one driver each was forced to respectively withdraw from the qualification and the main race owing to simulator issues. Reviewers who wrote a positive review spoke of their feelings that the consequences of the eRace could lead to a professional eSports racing series and aid in rectifying accessibility problems, and for others to use it as an alternative career to traditional motor racing. After the eRace, some sim racers were adopted into the teams they were assigned to and aided their real-life development through car testing and advising.

Background and preparations[edit]

The facade of the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino at night
The Venetian Resort Hotel Casino, where the eRace was held

Luis Pachon, the founder of the Madrid-based start-up company Cloud Sport, proposed the idea for an eRace in Las Vegas to Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag who quickly understood Pachon's intention and began work soon after.[1] iRacing was reportedly an early contender for an association with Formula E, but the costs of laser scanning the track, and the lack of a wider benefit of putting in the effort of constructing the circuit, meant it was not cost effective.[2]

In June 2016, Agag revealed the eRace plans to Reuters, and announced that it would be held as part of the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show (CES).[3] Prior to the announcement, Formula E had held (and currently hold) eRaces at all championship rounds where spectators compete against professional racing drivers in the eVillage of the hosting race track.[4] The eRace was officially confirmed at the 2016 London ePrix the following month.[4] It was held as part of CES' Sport Business Innovation Summit, and took place at The Venetian Resort Hotel Casino on January 7, 2017,[5] but the race did not count towards the 2016–17 championship,[6] and no points were awarded.[7] Formula E entered into a partnership with ELEAGUE for this event.[8]

Thirty competitors took part in the eRace: 20 Formula E competitors who composed the regular season grid, and ten sim racing drivers who qualified for the event by participating in a four-race elimination contest called the Road to Vegas Challenge from October 16 and December 4, 2016.[n 1][10][11] The top two racers who qualified for the eRace were former Formula Ford 1600 driver Graham Carroll and iRacing world champion Greger Huttu. Each of the ten sim drivers was randomly drawn into the ten legitimate Formula E teams.[12] For real-world realism, every participant wore a flame-proof race suit,[13] and utilized identical virtual cars with the sole change being the team liveries and personal numbers for identification purposes.[4] The race was regulated by the Formula E sporting director, and the world governing body of motorsport, the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile.[14] The total prize fund was $1 million (the largest in eSports racing history as of 2019),[n 2] and was broadcast on the live streaming platform Twitch.[16]

The layout of the 3.14-mile (5.05 km) long anti-clockwise track was designed by Cloud Sport and it was publicly unveiled on the morning of January 6.[4][7][17] Drivers started the race on the South Las Vegas Boulevard and progressed past hotel and casino resorts such as the Luxor and the MGM Grand.[18] Cloud Sport supplied and regulated the Playseat simulation equipment which operated on the racing video game rFactor 2. Thrustmaster TS-PC steering wheels and T3PA pedals were fitted to the equipment.[4][19][20] All computers were sealed and approved by the stewards to ensure parity. External ports were blocked to prevent anybody from plugging in personal components.[4] Since no G-forces could be felt by drivers during the race, Cloud Sport remedied this by programming the vehicles to respond to the inertia created by sudden acceleration. This made for a realistic driving experience: vehicles tilted onto three wheels during sharp cornering, and the performance of the cars deteriorated when they sustained damage.[17]

The Vegas eRace was heavily promoted beforehand.[8][21][22] The series' inaugural champion Nelson Piquet Jr. of NextEV NIO spoke of his excitement for the eRace and stated his belief that Formula E combining the worlds of simulation and real-life racing was a positive step: "I think this is going to be really fun with all the drivers together."[22] Andretti driver Robin Frijns revealed his interest in how he would compare against sim drivers: "I don't really know what to expect, maybe the sim drivers or the fans are really good, maybe not, we don't know. If all you do is race on simulators at home, then maybe they are pretty good!."[8] Mahindra's Felix Rosenqvist said he felt the sim racers would have an advantage because of their experience but he felt it would not be as great after learning the circuit.[7] Hans-Jürgen Abt, the team principal of Audi Sport ABT, felt the Vegas eRace was "a good example" of how the series was moving farther than other racing championships: "For more than six decades, we have been racing in motorsport on all of the world's race tracks—but this event is a total first for us."[23]

Report[edit]

Practice and qualifying[edit]

Four practice sessions were held before the qualification race on January 7. The first session, held on January 6, lasted for half an hour, with sim drivers taking part, and the second identically timed session for the professional racing drivers was held fifteen minutes later. The final two sessions for sim and professional drivers took place on the morning of January 7; both ran for fifteen minutes.[4] Bono Huis set the fastest time for Dragon in the combined opening practice session with a time of one minute and 28.456 seconds, half a second faster than anyone else. His closest challenger was the highest placed professional driver Rosenqvist in second in front of third-placed Graham Carroll and Virgin's José María López in fourth. Piquet was fifth-fastest, ahead of António Félix da Costa in sixth. Sam Bird, Enzo Bonito, Olli Pahkala and Frijns rounded out the session's top ten fastest drivers.[24] In the combined second practice session, Huis again topped the combined time sheets with a lap of one minute and 28.142 seconds, more than half a second quicker than the second-placed Frijns; Rosenqvist was third and Félix da Costa was fourth-quickest; Petar Brljak was fifth and Graham Carroll sixth. Pahkala placed seventh, Bonito eighth, David Greco ninth and López completed the top ten ahead of qualifying.[25]

Saturday afternoon's qualifying session lasted for 50 minutes and was divided into five groups of six cars. The groups were determined by a lottery system and were permitted six minutes of on-track activity. The fastest five overall competitors in all five groups participated in a "Super Pole" session with one driver on the track at any time going out in reverse order from fifth to first. Each of the five drivers was limited to one timed lap and the starting order was determined by the participants' fastest times. (Super Pole from first to fifth, and group qualifying from sixth to tenth).[4] Huis continued to top every session throughout the eRace meeting and clinched the pole position with a lap time of one minute and 28.631 seconds.[26] He was awarded an automatic award of $25,000 for the achievement.[27] Huis was joined on the grid's front row by Rosenqvist whose fastest time was two-tenths of a second slower. The rest of the top ten consisted of sim racers: Aleksi Uusi-Jaakkola was third and Graham Carroll took fourth. Greco rounded out the top five super pole competitors. Pahkala, Patrik Holzmann, Huttu, Bonito and Alkesi Elomaa completed the top ten qualifiers.[26] Behind the top ten starters the rest of the field lined up as López, Félix da Costa, Frijns, Piquet and Lucas di Grassi, Ma Qinghua, Bird, Maro Engel, Jean-Éric Vergne, Jérôme d'Ambrosio, Daniel Abt, Sébastien Buemi, Mitch Evans, Stéphane Sarrazin, Loïc Duval, Nico Prost, Oliver Turvey, Adam Carroll, Petar Brjlak (who crashed during his run) and Nick Heidfeld.[26][28]

Qualifying race[edit]

A 14-lap qualifying race contested by the slowest twenty drivers from group qualifying was held from 15:25 Pacific Standard Time (PST) (UTC+08:00) and determined positions 11 to 20 on the grid.[4] D'Ambrosio did not begin the event because of technical problems with his racing pod.[19] In a race where multiple crashes occurred, which meant several cars lost car bodywork parts,[19] López led from the start until Félix da Costa closed up to him and made an overtake around the outside at turn five. Félix da Costa then maintained the first position for the remainder of the race to secure the victory; the result meant he started from 11th in the main race.[19][29] López finished second and Frijns took third place.[29] Outside the top three, Piquet secured fourth and was followed closely behind by Evans and Bird in fifth and sixth. Defending series champion Buemi settled for seventh ahead of his rival di Grassi in eighth.[29] Di Grassi's teammate Abt and Duval took the last two spots in the main race by finishing ninth and tenth.[30]

Main race[edit]

A special feature of Formula E is the "Fan Boost" feature, an additional 100 kilowatts (130 hp) of power to use in the driver's second car. The three drivers who are allowed to use the boost is determined by a fan vote.[4] For the Vegas eRace, Pakhala, López and Greco were handed the extra power.[31] The race was due to start at 16:05 PST,[4] but multiple technical problems caused it to be delayed for half an hour, and its distance was reduced from 28 to 20 laps.[32][33] Owing to a control issue that affected his simulator, di Grassi was unable to start the eRace.[34] The exact number of viewers was not disclosed.[2] When the race began from its standing start, Huis maintained his pole position advantage heading into the first corner and began to expand a small lead over Rosenqvist in the opening laps.[32] Towards the end of lap one, Holzmann clipped the outside wall leaving the final corner, speared across the start/finish straight, and collected Félix da Costa, ending both drivers' chances of standing on the podium.[30][31][35] Holzmann retired but Félix da Costa continued with light damage to his car.[31] Piquet fell to 17th on the first lap, but regained positions to return to 14th place by lap seven.[28] Bird on the other hand was running in sixth by the third lap.[36]

Felix Rosenqvist signing autographs for fans at a motor racing event
Second-placed Felix Rosenqvist (pictured in 2016) was the highest-placed professional driver to finish the eRace.

The mandatory virtual pit stops, during which all drivers needed to change into a second car, started at the end of lap seven when Bird entered the pit lane.[36] Pahkala opted to bow out of a multi-car battle with Uusi-Jaakkola, Greco and Graham Carroll for third place at the end of the next lap to make his mandatory stop. Pahkala left with a clear track ahead of him, and since no other driver was close enough to impede his progress, he recorded a series of quick lap times.[19] On the tenth lap,[35] Graham Carroll got a run on Uusi-Jaakkola leaving the final corner and steered onto the inside line heading towards the first turn chicane. Greco made it three abreast on the outside. He and Uusi-Jaakkola made contact, and the latter touched Graham Carroll's left-rear wheel.[32] Two of the cars barrel rolled through the trackside catch fencing and into some palm trees. The cars glitched quickly and re-rendered themselves back onto the circuit.[19] Uusi-Jaakkola and Greco had each lost one of their wheels and lost several positions.[31] Virtual racing technology allowed the trio to emerge unhurt from the crash and the safety car was not used.[37]

As the eRace progressed, race leader Huis made an error, allowing Rosenqvist to close to within less than two seconds of him. Huis and Rosenqvist made their pit stops together at the end of lap fifteen and emerged in second and third places.[32] Pakhala's pace saw him set lap times in the one minute and 24 second range, enabling him to move to the front of the race,[19] and Huis and Rosenqvist were now forced to focus on battling for second position.[32] With four laps remaining, Buemi dropped outside the top ten when Piquet overtook him for tenth.[28] Ussi-Jaakkola and Bonito battled for fourth, which ended in the latter's favour in the last three laps.[33] Pahkala was unchallenged for the remainder of the eRace, and was first to cross the start/finish line with a comfortable margin over the rest of the field. Huis fended off Rosenqvist in the closing laps for second.[32]

After the podium ceremony, Huis and Dragon filed a complaint with the race stewards.[31] Pahkala was investigated and it was discovered, through data shared by viewers on Twitter shortly after the race,[38] that because of a software bug, he had used FanBoost illegally for at about five laps as opposed to the maximum of five seconds.[39] Hence, Pahkala had 12 seconds added to his race time and was demoted to third. Thus, Huis was handed the victory and Rosenqvist inherited second.[39] Off the podium, Bonito took fourth ahead of the Finnish duo of Uusi-Jaakkola and Huttu. López, Bird, Abt and Piquet rounded out the top ten. Buemi, Elomaa, Frijns, Duval, Greco, Félix da Costa and Graham Carroll were the last of the classified finishers.[40] Huis earned $200,000 for winning the race and Greco won $10,000 for recording the race's fastest lap.[40]

Post-race[edit]

Huis said of his victory: "It's very exciting to be here, racing in conjunction with pro drivers during one of the most renowned tech forward events. And to be the ultimate grand victor with Faraday Future Dragon Racing is thrilling."[19] Second-place finisher Rosenqvist stated that although the simulation racing environment was new to all the professional racing drivers, he spoke of his delight with his achievement. He expressed his hope of competing in future eRaces: "In the end it worked out very well for me and I was up the at front in every session. Luckily, in the final I started from the front row and had a very clean race with a long first stint, without any traffic, and I was able to cruise to the podium in P2."[19] Despite his 12-second penalty for overusing FanBoost, Pahkala was sanguine, and said that he felt the simulation and real life racing worlds belong together and reserved praise for the development of motor racing eSport events: "In the end, P3 was more than welcome for me. It's been a blast! I made some mistakes in the practice session preparation which cost me pace later on and P3 is more than fair for everyone with what happened."[19]

Media reaction to the Vegas eRace was mostly positive. Kyle Patrick for GTPlanet praised the quality of competitiveness across the field: "Real drivers showed they could hang with the gamers on their own turf, which can only be a good thing for both sides moving forward."[35] The correspondent for CNN wrote Huis was widely agreed to be "a deserving overall winner", and said that the eRace had further emphasized "the narrow margins between the Formula E drivers and sim racers" with five professional drivers finishing in the top ten.[41] Pat McAssey of New England Sports Network noted Formula E's partnership with ELEAGUE brought sim racing to a mainstream audience and argued that eSports can potentially solve accessibility issues as some people lack the capital to purchase a go-kart. He argued Formula E could aid the growth of eRacing and allow others to use it as an alternative career path to traditional motor racing.[42] Writing for Alphr, Curtis Moldrich echoed similar statements, and believed the positive consequence of the Vegas eRace was a testament to Formula E's forward-looking philosophy.[43] Although he stated his belief another eRace was unlikely to be repeated on a large scale, Autosport's Scott Mitchell called the event "an enormous middle finger to the traditionalists", and wrote of his feeling that it was "huge for a hidden part of motorsport that Formula E has taken that chance."[2]

Other media outlets received the race more negatively. Luke Smith of NBC Sports wrote that Pahkala's penalty was "deeply embarrassing for all of those who looked to make the inaugural eRace such a success" and likened it to "Balance of Performance on steroids." He went on to say that the event had not been as smoothly as organizers wished, and there had been some skepticism over Formula E attempting to close the gap between the real-life and simulation worlds since the former is reliant on sensory input.[44] The Checkered Flag's Scott Douglas was more critical, writing that as a competition, the race was "a disappointment" since sim racers were expected to dominate, and its problems hurt the finishing order's credibility: "This undermined the race as a competition, and also did nothing to help the reputation of Formula E itself as its best drivers were so resoundingly beaten. It lacked any sense of real weight or drama, and tied in with the glitches affecting some of the drivers it didn't come anywhere near to producing the excitement of real racing."[45] Writing for Ars Technica, Jonathan M. Gitlin felt short-changed as a result of spectating the eRace and noted the large number of complaints about the quality of the graphics in the Twitch stream.[19]

Legacy[edit]

Following the Vegas eRace, some of the competing sim racers were adopted into their respective teams, and aided in the real-life development of their cars through testing and advising, which according to Formula E's eSports manager Matt Huxley, indicated that their opinions were taken seriously.[46]

Classification[edit]

Qualifying[edit]

Pos. No. Driver Team Time Gap Grid
1 67 Netherlands Bono Huis Dragon 1:28.661 11
2 19 Sweden Felix Rosenqvist Mahindra 1:28.832 +0.201 21
3 26 Finland Aleksi Uusi-Jaakkola Andretti 1:29.135 +0.474 31
4 44 United Kingdom Graham Carroll Virgin 1:29.243 +0.582 41
5 42 Italy David Greco e.Dams-Renault 1:29.378 +0.747 51
6 29 Finland Olli Pahkala Mahindra 1:29.050 61
7 77 Germany Patrik Holzmann Audi Sport ABT 1:29.072 +0.022 71
8 18 Finland Greger Huttu [fi] Jaguar 1:29.117 +0.068 81
9 38 Italy Enzo Bonito Techeetah 1:29.223 +0.151 91
10 55 Finland Aleksi Elomaa Venturi 1:29.448 +0.346 101
11 37 Argentina José María López Virgin 1:29.490 +0.418 122
12 28 Portugal António Félix da Costa Andretti 1:29.516 +0.444 112
13 27 Netherlands Robin Frijns Andretti 1:29.517 +0.445 132
14 3 Brazil Nelson Piquet Jr. NextEV NIO 1:29.798 +0.726 142
15 11 Brazil Lucas di Grassi Audi Sport ABT 1:30.267 +1.195 182
16 33 China Ma Qinghua Techeetah 1:30.548 +1.486
17 2 United Kingdom Sam Bird Virgin 1:30.620 +1.570 162
18 5 Germany Maro Engel Venturi 1:30.647 +1.597
19 25 France Jean-Éric Vergne Techeetah 1:30.659 +1.609
20 7 Belgium Jérôme d'Ambrosio Dragon 1:30.660 +1.610
21 66 Germany Daniel Abt Audi Sport ABT 1:30.781 +1.731 192
22 9 Switzerland Sébastien Buemi e.Dams-Renault 1:30.905 +1.855 172
23 20 New Zealand Mitch Evans Jaguar 1:30.913 +1.863 152
24 4 France Stéphane Sarrazin Venturi 1:30.954 +1.894
25 6 France Loïc Duval Dragon 1:30.996 +1.946 202
26 8 France Nico Prost e.Dams-Renault 1:31.331 +2.281
27 88 United Kingdom Oliver Turvey NextEV NIO 1:31.533 +2.483
28 47 United Kingdom Adam Carroll Jaguar 1:31.890 +2.840
29 68 Croatia Petar Brljak NextEV NIO 1:32.400 +3.330
30 23 Germany Nick Heidfeld Mahindra 1:41.331 +12.781
Source:[26]
Notes:
  • ^1  — Qualified for the main race by virtue of setting a top ten fastest qualification lap time.[4][26]
  • ^2  — Earned qualification into the main race by finishing within the top ten positions in the qualification race.[4][30]

Main race[edit]

Pos. No. Driver Team Laps Time/Retired Grid
1 67 Netherlands Bono Huis Dragon 20 30:54.690 1
2 19 Sweden Felix Rosenqvist Mahindra 20 +1.330 2
3 29 Finland Olli Pahkala Mahindra 20 +7.0003 6
4 38 Italy Enzo Bonito Techeetah 20 +11.450 9
5 26 Finland Aleksi Uusi-Jaakkola Andretti 20 +16.650 3
6 18 Finland Greger Huttu Jaguar 20 +36.180 8
7 37 Argentina José María López Virgin 20 +37.940 12
8 2 United Kingdom Sam Bird Virgin 20 +43.910 15
9 66 Germany Daniel Abt Audi Sport ABT 20 +45.990 19
10 3 Brazil Nelson Piquet Jr. NextEV NIO 20 +55.610 14
11 9 Switzerland Sébastien Buemi e.Dams-Renault 20 +59.080 17
12 55 Finland Aleksi Elomaa Venturi 20 +1:00.240 10
13 27 Netherlands Robin Frijns Andretti 19 +1 Lap 13
14 6 France Loïc Duval Dragon 19 +1 Lap 20
15 38 Italy David Greco e.Dams-Renault 19 +1 Lap 5
16 28 Portugal António Félix da Costa Andretti 19 +1 Lap 11
17 44 United Kingdom Graham Carroll Virgin 19 +1 Lap 4
Ret 20 New Zealand Mitch Evans Jaguar 10 Retired 15
Ret 77 Germany Patrik Holzmann Audi Sport ABT 1 Accident 7
DNS 11 Brazil Lucas di Grassi Audi Sport ABT Simulator 18
Source:[40]
Notes:
  • ^3  — Olli Pahkala had twelve seconds added to his race time for overusing FanBoost because of a software bug.[39]

Notes and references[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ The four races were based on real life street circuits in Long Beach, Paris, Berlin and London.[9]
  2. ^ In comparison, the iRacing World Championship total prize fund is $30,000.[15]

References[edit]

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