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Sam Hornish Jr.
27.03.2020, 10:09
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Sam Hornish Jr.
03.04.2020, 15:49
THE TOP 10 PRO DRIVERS IN MARCH’S ESPORTS RACES


With the near-total absence of motorsport events in March, plenty of real-world racing pros have taken part in virtual races instead. Some of these sportsmen and women have had plenty of prior esports experience already, and some have used this opportunity to try it out for the first time.

Looking across the wide range of esports events last month, we’ve picked out the top 10 drivers whose virtual talents have impressed us the most – taking into account their relative experience, the competition they’ve faced and the scope of their achievements.

With the near-total absence of motorsport events in March, plenty of real-world racing pros have taken part in virtual races instead. Some of these sportsmen and women have had plenty of prior esports experience already, and some have used this opportunity to try it out for the first time.

Looking across the wide range of esports events last month, we’ve picked out the top 10 drivers whose virtual talents have impressed us the most – taking into account their relative experience, the competition they’ve faced and the scope of their achievements.

10. ALEX MARQUEZ
Repsol Honda MotoGP rider, reigning Moto2 champion

March esports accolades: Defeated fellow MotoGP riders in the #StayAtHomeGP

For the sake of pedantry, the first in our countdown is a ‘pro rider’ rather than a ‘pro driver’. Not all esports events are car-focused as MotoGP proved with its virtual race around Mugello, calling up 10 of its full-time riders

Marquez may have been over a second away from Fabio Quartararo’s pole position time but he focused more on consistency than single-ap performance.

And while everyone else crashed, including Quatararo who fell off at the first turn, Marquez put in a clean stint. Francesco Bagnaia was the only rider able to hassle Marquez and the two swapped positions on a few occasions – but the Italian fell on the penultimate lap, which left Marquez in position to win the race by seven seconds despite setting a slower personal-best laptime than the riders that crossed the line in second, third and fourth.

9. DARIO FRANCHITTI
Four-time IndyCar champion

Unlike some of the others in this list, Franchitti is new to simracing – having described the extent of his previous experience as “hustling people at Pole Position”, the classic 1970s videogame, in his childhood.

Despite this, he got to grips with rFactor 2 very quickly. His win in the Legends Trophy part of the third All-Star Battle was made possible by a lap-one crash involving Juan Pablo Montoya and Emanuele Pirro – but he still had to fight off Aston Martin GT ace Darren Turner, who had loaned him the sim equipment he was using, and delivered a composed win.

8. ANTONIO FELIX DA COSTA
Formula E championship leader for DS Techeetah

Da Costa has consistently been one of the better real-world drivers in this March’s esports races. In the first All-Stars race he made it through to the grand final and finished in 13th, as one of the highest finishing real world racers. In the second round he qualified fourth for the last-chance heat but got caught up in the chaos of the mid-pack and retired.

Moving from rFactor 2 to iRacing, he’s had an even better time. His best finishes in Team Redline’s ‘Real Racers Never Quit’ championship have been fifth with Formula 3 cars around Spa and then seventh from an over 40-strong grid with V8 Supercars around Watkins Glen. Most impressively, in Veloce’s Pro Series he finished the 15-minute-long reverse-grid race in sixth, having started it down in 23rd!

7. ED JONES
WRT Audi DTM driver

Ed Jones deserves some recognition for his performances because luck certainly hasn’t been on his side. In Veloce’s first Pro Series race he lined up in second, only behind Lando Norris. He then disconnected from the race, which meant he started the second race in 19th yet still finished in seventh, just one place behind da Costa.

The ex-IndyCar driver hasn’t had much luck in the All-Stars Battles either as internet issues have plagued him there too. In the second All-Star Battle he was running in a comfortable fifth for his first heat race, enough to qualify for the grand final, but then he disconnected.

Returning in the last-chance qualifiers, he was fighting at the sharp end but Juan Pablo Montoya spun just further up the road and rejoined the track into the path of Jones. That was the second fifth place he lost through no fault of his own.

He finally caught a break in the third All-Star Battle, finishing the grand final in eighth as the third-best real-world driver.

6. STOFFEL VANDOORNE
Mercedes Formula E driver

Given his experience in both Formula 1 and Formula E, perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised by how well Vandoorne has done in the recent simraces. In the second All-Star Battle, he did exceptionally well as he qualified for his opening race in third and finished in second, before taking ninth in the grand final as he even gave World’s Fastest Gamer James Baldwin a run for his money.

He’s since followed that up with another second-place finish during the third All-Star Battle and then finished in 10th place in the grand final. He was also runner-up to Guan Yu Zhou in F1’s Virtual Bahrain GP and just missed out on what would’ve been the reverse-grid pole position for Veloce Esports’ first Pro Series event.

Vandoorne did all of that with a simracing set-up far cheaper than the other drivers out there as he used a Logitech G29 wheel, which is more of an entry-level piece of kit.

5. PHILIPP ENG
BMW works driver in DTM and IMSA

In his group heat for the third All-Star Battle, Eng finished the race in third – and more impressively had qualified only seven hundredths behind World’s Fastest Gamer winner Baldwin. In the grand final he held his own to finish in fifth, beating simracer Petar Brljak and Williams esports’ driver Nikodem Wisniewski.

He took pole for the Virtual GP and completed the podium in the race. In the subsequent one-on-one fastest lap competition against Norris as part of the ‘Challenge Lando’ event, Eng was three tenths of a second slower, which was not bad at all given Norris’ vast simracing experience and the fact he drove that 2019 McLaren F1 car for an entire year in real life.

4. DANI JUNCADELLA
GT World Challenge driver for R-Motorsport

Juncadella’s simracing set-up is serious, but you certainly can’t put his pace down entirely down to his €15,000 sim rig. He was one of the better-performing real-world drivers in the All-Star Battle despite a number of technical issues, and the highest-finishing in the second running of the event as he pipped Felix Rosenqvist to a fourth-place finish in the grand final.

In the third All-Star Battle he finished ninth overall. He’s also given Verstappen a run for his money in the second race of the fourth round of the ‘Real Racers Never Quit’ Team Redline series as he took a shock pole position and then just about failed to re-overtake the Dutchman on the final lap. He finished that race only a quarter of a second down on Verstappen.

3. KELVIN VAN DER LINDE
Reigning ADAC GT Masters champion for HCB-Rutronik Racing

Van der Linde is one of only three drivers to win any of Team Redline’s ‘Real Racers Never Quit’ race. He’s currently the closest challenger to Verstappen in the championship.

His first win was during the F3 second race around Spa-Francorchamps after Verstappen and Norris crashed into each other, and then he swept both of the races with V8 Supercars around Watkins Glen, having spectacularly fought off simracer Frederik Rasmussen to complete the double.

2. LANDO NORRIS
McLaren F1 driver

Whilst other F1 drivers have taken a break from driving in the wake of grand prix cancellations and postponements, that certainly hasn’t been the case for Norris.

He started in 19th for Veloce Esports’ ‘Not The Aus GP’ yet finished in sixth place. His other highlights in March include winning the first of two races in the ‘Pro Fun Cup’ run by Team Redline, and he’s been consistently up at the front and challenging Verstappen in Redline’s follow-up championship.

Finally in F1’s ‘Challenge Lando’ event, Norris was able to beat all of the drivers he came up against in the three one-on-one challenges.

1. MAX VERSTAPPEN
Red Bull F1 driver

Verstappen is by no means new to simracing and it shows. In the first All-Star Battle he dominated his group and even in the grand final, which was full of full-time sim racers and rFactor 2 specialists, he qualified in ninth.

Since then he’s taken part in Team Redline’s events on iRacing and is leading the ‘Real Racers Never Quit’ championship, having won six of the 10 races that have taken place.

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Sam Hornish Jr.
02.05.2020, 07:47
THE TOP 10 PRO DRIVERS IN APRIL’S ESPORTS RACES

Last month we counted down our ranking of the top 10 pro drivers who’d taken part in sim races during the early hiatus of real-world racing.

Since then more motorsports championships have dipped their toes into the world of esports and more drivers have become involved, many for the first time ever.

With the ever-increasing pool of motorsport esports events, it’s been much harder to narrow down our top 10 this month.

Nevertheless, here’s our list of the 10 pro drivers who’ve had the greatest level of virtual success in April.

10. MIKE EPPS

He’s far from the biggest name in motorsport, but his recent performances in sim racing have garnered him some much deserved attention. He finished the first The Race All-Star Cup – Fully Charged by ROKiT Phones fourth in the championship and as the second best pro driver, beating the likes of Esteban Gutierrez, Stoffel Vandoorne and Gabby Chaves. In three of the four All-Star rounds that took place in April, he made the Grand Final by winning his heat race.

In the GT Challenge Series, also run on rFactor 2, Epps won the main race for the fourth round in the rain at Imola. It was a runaway win against a field of sim racers, including Formula SimRacing World Championship race winner Michi Hoyer – who steadily dropped back to be seven seconds behind Epps once the chequered flag was waved.

9. JENSON BUTTON

His first couple of sim races went unsurprisingly badly but, after a bit of bedding in, he’s been the class of the field in the All-Star Legends Trophy. Pole position and the win in round five followed by another win in round seven, earning $20,000 for charities of his choosing.

In the sixth round Button took pole position but a slow launch off the grid meant Jan Magnussen took first place away from him. Button spent the entire race just behind Magnussen, sometimes literally inches away. Despite his raw speed he never found a way past as overtakes around the Lime Rock circuit were sparse in all of the All-Star races. A fraction of a second stopped Button from taking three Legends Trophy wins in a row.

8. PHILIPP ENG

Unlike most of the other drivers on this list, Eng has competed in endurance races and against esports racers. He’s been a part of the BS+COMPETITION team that has been consistently strong, finishing second in the second round of the Digital Nurburgring Endurance Series.

But Eng’s big success story in April was winning iRacing’s 24 Hours Nurburgring special event, beating the creme de la creme of iRacing drivers by racing, and winning, in the top split.

7. WILLIAM BYRON

Byron established some of his big breaks in NASCAR through his sim racing prowess, and after a couple of early misses he came to the fore with two victories in NASCAR’s top sim racing series for real-world drivers this month. Not only that, but his own esports team also took its first win of the season this week with Nick Ottinger winning in the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing series for sim pros at Dover.

Finally Hendrick Motorsports’ Byron’s talent on the sim rig has come to the fore, and has also inspired his own team to victory. His real-life career is yet to hit take-off with no wins in his first two seasons at Hendrick, but this period of sim dominance will help keep his name on NASCAR fans’ lips.

6. SIMON PAGENAUD

Confessing to five hours of practice per day, it was only a matter of time before reigning Indianapolis 500 winner Simon Pagenaud arrived at victory lane in IndyCar’s iRacing Challenge. As soon as the series hit the ovals, strategy became more important than raw pace, and at Michigan he and his Penske team were on form.

At Motegi he needed a bit of luck as top two Will Power and Scott McLaughlin were taken out by an errant backmarker. But to win the two races everyone has declared are the most unpredictable, on the ovals, shows Pagenaud has prowess in that department. So much of the onus in the current period is on speed. Pagenaud proves there’s more to iRacing than outright pace.

5. CHARLES LECLERC

He was by no means the first F1 driver to get involved in virtual races, but since jumping on the bandwagon he’s been heavily involved and has had his fair share of wins. Those include winning F1’s Virtual Australian and Chinese Grands Prix, beating the likes of Alex Albon, George Russell and younger brother Arthur Leclerc.

Even outside of F1’s official events he was the victor of the second Veloce Not The GP Versus event, knocking Lando Norris out in the semi-final and getting the better of Nicholas Latifi in the final. As if all of those accolades weren’t enough, he was the championship winner in the driver set-up Race For The World series and helped to raise $70,000 for the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund in the process.

4. MAX VERSTAPPEN

He came top of our list for March but didn’t quite earn that spot for this month. That’s not to say there’s a shortage of results to commend him for: he had a race win and a third place finish in the final two Real Racers Never Quit events before claiming a first, second and third place finish in the follow up ‘Motorsport Legends’ themed series.

His run in the iRacing 24 Hours Nurburgring meant his team, Team Redline Cup, had a shot at the class win but finished in third. Most notably Verstappen’s foray into the Supercars All Stars Series led to him finishing as the runner up in three of the four races he took part in. So Verstappen proved to be more than a match for Supercars drivers on their home turf.

3. MAX GUENTHER

It would be a stretch to say everything he touches turns to gold but he won one championship and two Formula E races in April alone. A string of continually improving results in The Race All-Star Cup – Fully Charged by ROKiT Phones, finishing the grand finals in eighth, seventh and then sixth overall. meant he finished third in the outright championship and won $30,000 for the foundation of Verena Heinrich.

On top of that he’s won both of Formula E’s Stay At Home events, meaning he currently leads that championship as well.

2. SCOTT MCLAUGHLIN

The coronavirus cost Scott McLaughlin his real-world IndyCar debut at the start of next month as the Indianapolis Grand Prix has been rescheduled, but the double Supercars title winner has turned a negative into a positive with his sim racing form. He took victory in the second round of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge at Barber Motorsports Park – winning his first IndyCar race before making his real-life debut! – and was fighting for victory at Motegi before being taken out.

Otherwise he’s been in the top four at every race, and would be third in the points if IndyCar was counting them, behind the tied leaders Pagenaud and Power, his Penske team-mates.

True to real-life form, McLaughlin has also starred in the late-to-launch Supercars Esports series which has featured star guest names like Verstappen and Alexander Rossi. He currently leads the Supercars All Star Series having won three races and finished 11 out of 14 inside the top five.

1. LANDO NORRIS

He’s won races with four different car classes, in three different events across two different games. In Team Redline’s Real Racers Never Quit series he won the second race in the fifth round with GTE cars, albeit after Ayhancan Guven’s post-race penalty, and then won the second race in round six in an LMP2 car.

On the same sim he shocked everyone by entering the fifth round of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge, and then went onto win it and beat IndyCar’s finest. Away from iRacing and onto the more sim-cade game of F1 2019, Norris won Veloce Esports’ first Versus event and while he didn’t win the second one, he still made the semi-final and lost to the eventual winner Charles Leclerc in a fiery best of three duel.