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Formula E International Racing Returns to Brooklyn - Virtually

by Warren Rosenberg

June 4, 2020

MetroSports Magazine recently reported on the NBA2K League New York Knicks professional eSports team, Knicks Gaming, competing in the NBA’s virtual 2020 season. With the Covid-19 pandemic hitting the New York metropolitan area hard, and with major league, collegiate and amateur sports all on hold, eSports gaming has stepped in to fill the void. Although the FIA recently announced the cancellation of the scheduled July 11th Formula E NYC ePrix due to the unavailability of the Red Hook Brooklyn race course, a group of professional Formula E drivers along with world-class video gamers took to racing on the 14 turn Brooklyn waterfront championship race course.

Above Left: On-track action from the 2019 NYC ePrix (C)W. Rosenberg. Above Right: Virtual racing from the 2020 Brooklyn Race at Home - courtesy Formula E

The ABB FIA Formula E Championship electric racing series was scheduled to make its fourth annual appearance on the specially built temporary road course at the Red Hook Brooklyn Cruise Ship Terminal on July 11th, the 12th stop on the 14 race series held in cities around the world. MetroSports Magazine has been on hand for each of the prior three years providing full coverage of the events. With the world-wide Covid-19 pandemic suspending most of this year’s scheduled races, the FIA and the race sponsor introduced the ABB Formula E Race at Home Challenge, a 9-week series of eSports competitions featuring all the teams and drivers from the ABB FIA Formula E Championship, as well as a selection of top gamers. Partnering with UNICEF, the series has allowed the entire Formula E community of teams, manufacturers, partners, drivers and fans to be a part of live online races while raising funds for UNICEF to keep children around the world healthy, safe and learning during the coronavirus crisis.

The ABB Formula E Race at Home Challenge will feature two separate race grids running in parallel, one comprised of drivers from the ABB FIA Formula E Championship and the other one filled by some of the fastest gamers and influencers. The winning gamer will make the transition from the gaming world to secure real-life track time on a Formula E circuit during a race weekend. Both professional Formula E drivers and video gamers compete using rFactor 2 simulator software in a number of online events taking place over a nine-week period from the safety of their own homes.

Above: Screen capture from Round 6, the Race at Home event on the Red Hook Brooklyn road course. Courtesy Formula E

Races are staged each Saturday beginning with a pre-season test event on April 18th, with competition scoring races beginning on April 25th. Points are accumulated over consecutive race weekends contributing to the overall standings as the online series heads to the Grand Final on June 7.

Above: Turn 14 of the Red Hook Brooklyn race course. Left from the 2017 race (c) W. Rosenberg, Right. Sim race courtesy Formula E

Coming off a strong performance in race 5 held on the virtual road course at Templehof airport in Berlin, video gamer Kevin Siggy was the Brooklyn race favorite and he did not disappoint, scoring his third win of the series on the Red Hook road course. Siggy is a 22 year-old college student majoring in Game Design, born in Slovenia and now living in the Netherlands. He has been a professional Sim racer since the age of 13, holds ten championships, and races on a number of platforms including rfactor 2, RaceRoom, and Assetto Corsa.

With a qualifying lap time of 1:11.040, Siggy secured another pole position ahead of Lucas Mueller. The top real-world driver in the starting order was Indian racer Kush Maini in seventh, with the British F3 driver doing an impressive job in his drive for DS Techeetah.At the drop of the green flag Siggy, in control of the #28 BMW iFE.20 and driving for Team Redline, jumped out ahead of the pack, taking the lead.

After claiming his third win of the Race at Home Challenge, Siggy said: "The race was just about managing the pace and getting the fastest lap out of the way. I just pushed to the end to see how far I could go and fortunately, it all worked out in the end. Everything really did go perfectly. Fortunately, at the start I got away well from pole position, which meant I didn't get caught up in the huge crash in the first turn. From that point on, I drove a few fast laps to pull away from the others quickly. That worked really well, and I was able to bring the win home safely in the end."

The New York City race introduced us to another new Sim racer, the 45 year old Chinese-American woman Verena Mei, a former model and a race car driver who was the first woman to compete in Formula Drift and Redline Team Attack, and the first woman to win a class championship in the series. Mei has also been a professional stunt car driver having movie credits in ‘The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift’.

Entering the male dominated sport of professional racing in 2012 wasn’t easy for Mei. “The biggest challenge I had to face was the constant feeling of having to prove myself over and over again. People were saying they don’t care where they finish as long as they beat me. They saw me as a threat when I started performing. In the end, I just focused and chased my dream. I knew what I had to do and I was determined to accomplish it.” Mei leveraged her on-track racing skills and long-held passion for video gaming to become a professional Sim racer, a passion she is delighted to now call “work.” “My driving and rallying led me into gaming. As a kid, I loved video games and my parents stopped me playing back then! They didn’t like it and they didn’t see it as being productive! I am super happy it has become something I can do for a job.” “I feel like the Race at Home Challenge has brought people and motorsport enthusiasts together all over the world,” said Mei. “Whether that’s being able to participate, or watch the real drivers go head-to-head in something they are not all that used to. People might think it would be an easy transition going from a real-life race car to getting behind the wheel of a sim, but it’s harder than it looks. I love to drive by the seat of my pants! I feel the car move with me and feel the weight transfer, so when I get in the sim I really have to change and rely on visual feedback. The sense of speed and braking depth can be a bit of a tough one. I don’t expect to be at the top of the leaderboard at all, I just want the chance to race with the best sim racers around and see if I can hold my own. I am especially thrilled as it’s a charity event for UNICEF, racing for a good cause. Actually, when I was in high school, I used to trick-or-treat for UNICEF."

Since launching the coronavirus appeal, funds raised by UNICEF have been used to ship over 6.4 million protective gloves, 1.2 million face masks, 270,000 respirators and 250,000 gowns worldwide.Unfortunately, Mei completed only two laps, finishing the race in 24th place. And, what did Verena Mei do the day following the New York City race? She got married.

In the other event of the virtual racing series, the ABB FIA Formula E Championship drivers race against one another remotely using the same software, but in a simulator provided by Playseat®, wheels and pedals from Fanatec and the latest gaming PCs, monitors, headphones and other peripherals by Asus. In this, Round 6 of the series on the Red Hook Brooklyn race course, Formula E driver Stoffel Vandoorne captured both the pole position and the race victory in his Mercedes Benz EQ. “It has taken a while before getting here to win a race” said Vandoorne. “Today was a perfect result; pole position, race win, and also the fastest lap, so it has been a good day at the office.”

Other notable Formula E racers who competed were Oliver Roland, finishing 3rd, Sebastien Buemi, finishing 8th, Alexander Sims, finishing 14th, Jean-Eric Vergne finishing 18th, Lucas DiGrassi finishing 22nd, and Sam Bird finishing last in 23rd place. Bird was the 2017 Race winner when the Formula E series held its actual inaugural NYC ePrix race in Brooklyn.

Above: Sam Bird piloting the DS Virgin Racing DSV-01 racecar to victory in the 2017 NYC ePrix. (c) Warren Rosenberg

Below: Sam Bird at the virtual control of his Envision Virgin Racing Formula E racecar at the 2020 Brooklyn race. Courtesy Formula E

Absent from the race was professional driver Daniel Abt, a participant in the previous actual races in Brooklyn who has been fired from the Formula E ABT Schaeffler Audi racing team for having cheated in Round 4 by having professional Sim race driver, Lorenz Hoerzing, do his driving for him. Acknowledging his error in judgement, Abt said “I would like to apologize to Formula E, all of the fans, my team and my fellow drivers for having called in outside help during the race on Saturday. “I didn’t take it as seriously as I should have. I’m especially sorry about this because I know how much work has gone into this project on the part of the Formula E organization. I am aware that my offence has a bitter aftertaste, but it was never meant with any bad intention.”

Fans are able to watch two live races each weekend, as the ABB FIA Formula E Championship drivers and gamers line-up separately during a single 90-minute broadcast.

The ABB Formula E Race at Home Challenge will be available live globally across Formula E’s social media platforms including on the official YouTube channel, Facebook page and Facebook Gaming site, Twitch channel and via @FIAFormulaE on Twitter.

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