Saturday, 18 April 2020

World RX goes virtual at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya was set to host the opening round of the 2020 FIA World Rallycross Championship this weekend, but instead, it will be the venue for the inaugural World RX Esports Invitational on Sunday, 19 April 2020 (tomorrow). 

The opening round of the 2020 FIA World Rallycross Championship was postponed due to the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic. 

In collaboration with Codemasters, using the DiRT Rally 2.0 game, the World RX promoters will stage the World RX Esports Invitational which will feature a host of star names in World Rallycross, GT and WRC races, including YouTubers and some of the biggest names in Esports. 

The 2019 World RX Champion Timmy Hansen would have preferred to go racing in Barcelona this weekend but feels that esports is better than nothing. 

"I think starting the season with esports isn’t exactly what we hoped for," he said. "I wanted to be in Barcelona this weekend, but esports is better than no racing at all! The excitement of racing and being on the start line is nice."

"When you actually race online it is very different to real racing where you only have one chance and you have to put your four laps together. I’m missing the adrenaline kick and rush that you get from driving a race car."

The 27-year-old Swede is aware of the challenges ahead of his debut in sim-racing.

"I’ve done no sim racing before this and I haven't played much at all so this will be a big challenge for me. I have no idea how competitive I will be," he said. "I'll try to get some practice before the race, but I know a lot of guys have a lot more sim-racing experience than I do. I hope I can qualify for the semi-finals. It will be fun to be racing against fans, but I think the sim racers will most likely be too fast for me."

Timmy will be joined on the Esport grid by younger brother Kevin from the Team Hansen RX team. 

Kevin has modest expectations for his World RX Esports debut. "I’m really excited about Sunday’s race. I have been practicing in the simulator for about a week now and have really enjoyed it. My goal is to be best of the non-gamers!" he said.  

"It's very different from all the games I’ve played, so now I’m trying to do as many races as I can, whether that's racing or rallycross. I’m trying to get into the sim-racing experience and the spirit of that and to be ready for Sunday. Dirt Rally 2.0 is tricky and different from real life in many ways compared to the real 208 WRX."

The Hansen brothers will race a pair of Peugeot 208 RX supercars in the event, which will run to a similar format to real World RX, with four qualifiers, semi-finals, and final format on Sunday. The top 10 drivers at the Intermediate Classification will progress to the semi-finals.

The Peugeot 208 is the car of choice for many participants, with two-time World RX Drivers’ Champion Johan Kristoffersson, making his return to the sport in a Peugeot for his DiRT debut.

Kristoffersson believes that putting in hours and doing some homework will put him and others in good stead for the Esports invitational this weekend. When speaking to Andrew Coley in the official World RX press conference, the Swede admitted that he hasn't improved a lot in practice, however, he has set his sights on beating reigning World RX champion Timmy Hansen. 

"It would be nice to beat the World Champion, but not the World Champion in DiRT. The World Champion in Rallycross," he said.

Super1600 ace Marius Bermingrud will also line up in a Peugeot 208, along with former Esports World Champion and real-world rally driver, Jon Armstrong, and Americas Rallycross podium finisher in 2019, Cabot Bigham will also take the wheel of a 208.

Andreas Bakkerud will compete in the Audi S1 he tied on points at the top of the World RX Drivers’ Championship with last season. One of his 2020 GC Kompetition team-mates, Dutchman Kevin Abbring, will compete in a Renault Clio R.S. RX.

Abbring admits that he has not had a lot of time to practice in his simulator because he is currently building simulators rather than using them. "I have put in some practice but we all miss competition obviously," he said. "I will put in as many laps ahead of the event, as I need to feel confident and to feel comfortable in the simulator."

Oliver Bennett will appear in his regular Xite Racing Mini and RX2 International Series double champion Oliver Eriksson will race an OlsbergsMSE Ford Fiesta MK8. His former RX2 rival, Henrik Krogstad, who will race for Yellow Squad in 2020, will drive a Renault Megane.

Germany’s Timo Scheider has reason to be confident ahead of the inaugural World RX Esports Invitational, he made his World RX debut at the Catalunya circuit in 2015, and took the TQ (top qualifier) position in 2017 on his way to a first World RX podium, in P2.

The former DTM champion is new to sim racing, however. "I never did sim racing before I started with one event recently. I am looking forward to some competition even though I am not an expert at this kind of racing."

Scheider joined the Hansen brothers and Killian Dall'ollmo, DiRT Rally 2.0 World Series Rallycross Champion in a practice session yesterday. 

"Timmy, Kevin (Hansen) and the World Champion (in DiRT) already showed (me) what the benchmark will be, so I am confused a bit about my performance somehow, but there are some issues and that is always the case with racing drivers," he said. "I am getting there and I will spend more hours (on the simulator). I am really looking forward to meeting those guys back on the line even though it's different."

Outside of the World RX contingent, Spanish rally driver Cohete Suarez will race a Renault Megane, and World Endurance Championship driver Nicki Thiim, from Denmark, will drive an Audi S1. Swedish rally driver Mattias Adielsson will also make his first rallycross start, also in an Audi. 

Joining the professional drivers will be YouTuber Jimmy Broadbent, who will race a Ford Fiesta MK8. He will be accompanied on the grid by fellow YouTuber, FailRace.

Pre-event qualifying was also held to find the three fastest rallycross Esports racers to join the field. From over 8,500 entries, the Czech Republic’s Lukas Mateja was third and will race a Peugeot 208, just like France's Dall’olmo brothers Killian, the DiRT Rally 2.0 rallycross world series champion who has recently signed for SET Esports, and Quentin, who topped the timesheets in the qualifying session.

"I'm super excited to join this event it's amazing to race with all these famous drivers who have real experience in motorsports," said 20-year-old Quentin.

"It's an amazing opportunity to race with the World RX drivers and the other professionals. These are the drivers that we follow each weekend when they race so to drive with them is awesome. I think I will be competitive enough to race for the win but like we know, it is rallycross so it isn't always the fastest who wins."

The defending World RX champion Timmy Hansen speaks very highly of the Killian Dall'ollmo, the DiRT Rally 2.0 World Series Rallycross Champion. "He is in another league", the Swede said. "We have been racing together (practice), and in Barcelona, we have put in the most practice - he is not that far ahead, but still that much ahead that if he doesn't crash. He will win."

The World RX Esports Invitational will be streamed live from 15:00 to 17:00 CET/CAT on Sunday, April 19 and will be shown on the World RX YouTube channel and on the Facebook page.

Written By: Junaid Samodien
Photo Credit: DiRT Game 2.0

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