Top simracers from across the galaxy will be hoping the force is with them when a virtual Ningbo International Speedpark hosts the third event of the Esports WTCR Beat the Drivers series from RaceRoom at 19h30 CET on Star Wars Day (today).

May the fourth’ takes on extra significance with one event remaining in the pre-season Esports WTCR battle following the Ningbo contest, as leading online racers go up against real-life drivers from the WTCR − FIA World Touring Car Cup past and present, with all promoting the FIA’s #RaceAtHome campaign.

Scheduled to give WTCR drivers the chance to engage with fans while they wait the start of the 2020 campaign, the pre-season Esports WTCR series features four tracks plus cars and liveries from Esports WTCR 2019. A prelude to the full Esports WTCR online championship due to begin later this year, the pre-season series lists TrackTime, TAG Heuer and KW Suspensions as partners with a TAG Heuer watch going to the champion.

Ningbo Esports WTCR counter attracts 4889
A total of 4889 participants registered for the Ningbo event, with 20 leading sim-racing talents − including a number of professional simracers − taking on 10 WTCR drivers on RaceRoom’s top server. Sim stars in action include the online Esports WTCR champions from 2018 and 2019, Red Bull Racing Esports’ Bence Bánki (Slovakia) and M1RA Esports’ Gergo Baldi (Hungary), the pre-season leader after two events, plus the Esports WTCR live champion from 2019, Poland’s Kuba Brzezinski (Williams Esports). In total 13,240 have signed up for Esports WTCR Beat the Drivers on RaceRoom.

A New Hope as Ningbo is go, go, go live on!
Tonight’s race will mark the first time that Esports WTCR is being broadcast on, which complements existing coverage arrangements on Facebook and YouTube. It’s also the first time that the Ningbo International Speedpark has been used for an Esports WTCR event, which will create more of a level playing field and bring a new hope to several contenders aiming to claim their first podium or score their first points. Follow this link to view the championship standings after two rounds:

Gomez quick on Esports WTCR return
Argentine Juan Manuel Gomez (Fast Lap Esports) made a strong impact on his return to Esports World Touring Car action with the second fastest time in pre-qualifying having been absent since 2017. Championship leader Gergo Baldi was fastest with Germany’s Mortiz Löhner third, Bence Bánki fourth and Hungary’s Martin Larna fifth. Esteban Guerrieri was the fastest WTCR driver with a 1m44.652s best, which compared very favourably to Baldi’s benchmark 1m44.380s. View the leaderboard here:

Rivals punished for Guerrieri Esports WTCR podium loss
Gianmarco Fiduci and Tim Heinemann have been penalised for their involvement in the collision that robbed real-life WTCR racer Esteban Guerrieri of a Slovakia Ring Esports WTCR podium. Guerrieri, who finished runner-up in the 2019 WTCR − FIA World Touring Car Cup driving a Honda Civic Type R TCR for ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport, was on course to finish third in the second of two races at a virtual Slovakia Ring last month. That was until contact at Turn 8 on lap 11 dropped him down the order, as Fiduci and Heinemann were both docked three points for their involvement in the incident, which is detailed in the official report: “Guerrieri is defending his position hard, goes slightly on the grass in Turn 7 and brakes on the inside for Turn 8. Heinemann brakes too late, but also gets hit himself by Fiduci. Fiduci himself gets pushed by [Kubaa] Brzezinski, but that also happens because Fiduci comes across Brzezinski”. While Fiduci is set to compete in the Ningbo Esports WTCR event this evening, Heinemann is a non-qualifier.

Gamer-turned-racer Michelisz is more confident racing for real than online in Esports WTCR
Norbert Michelisz, who went from ace gamer to the winner of the WTCR − FIA World Touring Car Cup in a little more than 10 years, has praised the current generation of simracers, admitting he’s more confident racing against real-life world champions than he is competing online.

The BRC Hyundai N LUKOIL Squadra Corse star from Hungary scored his first pre-season Esports WTCR points at a virtual Slovakia Ring last month. But as he told Martin Haven during a recent edition of WTCR Fast Talk presented by Goodyear, he’s finding the online competition tough to crack.

“It’s so frustrating to realise this young generation beats you by one second per lap,” said Michelisz. “I was already quite close to throw my steering wheel out of the window! I did a lot of practice and consider myself a gamer because I did a lot 15 years ago. But I don’t understand how people can drive that fast online. Okay I now have the excuse of having less time but I am still a racer and I want to have success. I am a type who doesn’t want to compete for second even in a virtual race.”

Michelisz will carry the number one on his Hyundai i30 N TCR when the 2020 WTCR season gets underway.  “I feel confident with going out onto the circuit having the number one against multiple world champions but I am not confident of doing that online. It was the opposite 15 years ago but everyone has to realise more and more people are doing online racing and there is a huge amount of talented young kids understanding what it takes to drive a car fast around a circuit. They are on another level, even with telemetry which they can use to improve their driving even more.

“I truly believe this is the future for a team or a championship to look for talents. Esports is the environment to go to because it’s cost-effective and it’s a way you can get really good preparation.”

Comte to revive old rivalries in Esports WTCR
Frenchman Aurélien Comte is set to race again in the WTCR − albeit virtually. Comte, a winner in the WTCR − FIA World Touring Car Cup in the past, is joining the pre-season Esports WTCR Beat the Drivers series from today’s Ningbo round. And his ‘return’ received a flurry of welcome messages from his former WTCR rivals.

“I liked the idea [of this competition] and I was playing against the clock for having fun,” said Comte. “Of course, I would have preferred if it would be real racing. But even if it’s just a game, I’m happy to join this adventure and fight against my former racing mates! Obviously, it brings back very good memories of 2018. I hope that I will find a real seat to return [in].”

Comte will drive a virtual version of the Peugeot 308TCR he raced for DG Sport Compétition during the inaugural WTCR season in Esports WTCR Beat the Drivers. “The good news is that I will be able to use my 2018 car,” said Comte, who scored five second-place finishes in WTCR 2018, which was more than any of his rivals. “The organisers [RaceRoom] made the necessary [technical] steps for it, and I’m very thankful for them. So, I did not need to make a difficult choice [of car].”

Asked about what level of performance his fans and rival racers can expect, Comte said: “I have an average level on simulator, I am not a very big player at the moment. Usually I use the simulator to learn the circuits because we have fewer and fewer possibilities to test for budget reasons. Even if it is not the reality, it allows you to keep a rhythm and concentration. Comparing the simulator and real racing, there are similarities, but also differences. I feel like it takes many hours of practice to go fast in simulation. There are things that work in the virtual world, but not in the reality.

“The real drivers’ problem when we are playing on the simulator is the lack of physical and mechanical information, the feedback of the car that we normally feel in the reality. There’s no notion of danger, either. But the simulation has made a lot of progress and I think this is just only the beginning.” With thanks to Szilvia Magyar

Cyan driver Ehrlacher to fly the Lynk & Co flag at ‘home’
Yann Ehrlacher will pilot a virtual version of the Lynk & Co 03 TCR from Chinese company Geely Group Motorsport in the Ningbo Esports WTCR counter. And the real-life WTCR − FIA World Touring Car Cup driver from Cyan Racing is a fan of how his online racing car looks. “The RaceRoom version of the Lynk & Co 03 TCR looks great and the interior looks really real, I sometime forget that I am sitting at home and not in my proper race car,” said Ehrlacher. “In terms of balance, the car feels quite good during braking and is quite similar with a bit of oversteer on the high-speed turn-in. The feeling of stability and a bit of oversteer in high-speed corners. Simracing is a way for me to keep fit and sharp for the start of the 2020 WTCR season.”

Esports WTCR for all ages
Simracers young and not so young will be in action at a virtual Ningbo. Balint Szoboszlai, 14, is the youngest Esports WTCR driver, while Caryl Vega is the oldest aged 50. Szoboszlai will race as Daniel Haglöf in a CUPRA TCR, while Vega will race as Tiago Monteiro in a Honda Civic Type R TCR. Meanwhile the Brazilian Werle twins, Leandro and Lucas, will also contest the event.

*Same points format for server 1 as used in Esports WTCR 2019 (5-4-3-2-1 in qualifying, 25-20-16-13-11-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 to the top 15 in Race 1 and Race 2). Server 2-4 races for fun so no points

*Tyre wear on, penalties and balance of performance applied
*Set-up blocked, fuel consumption and pitstops off

19h00: Server opens for practice

19h30: Live stream begins
19h35: Qualifying (15 minutes)
19h50: Race 1 (25 minutes)
20h15: Race 2 (25 minutes, top 10 reverse grid)
20h45: Live stream ends
(Server 2, 3 and 4 races won’t be streamed but results will be published)

Mikel Azcona (Spain) CUPRA TCR

Kevin Ceccon (Italy) Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce TCR
Aurélien Comte (France) Peugeot 308TCR
Yann Ehrlacher (France) Lynk & Co 03 TCR
Luca Engstler (Germany) Hyundai i30 N TCR
Néstor Girolami (Argentina) Honda Civic Type R TC
Esteban Guerrieri (Argentina) Honda Civic Type R TCR
Mato Homola (Slovakia) Hyundai i30 N TCR
Norbert Michelisz (Hungary) Hyundai i30 N TCR
Attila Tassi (Hungary) Honda Civic Type R TCR

In addition to coverage on, the server 1 races will be available at the WTCR’s official Facebook page and YouTube channel with James Kirk and Robert Wiesenmüller providing their expert commentary (Server 2, 3 and 4 races won’t be streamed but results will be published):

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