The first event of its kind, the Las Vegas eRace held on Saturday Jan 7th saw professional gamers compete head to head with Formula E racing drivers at the Las Vegas CES for a $1M USD prize pot.
Formula E’s full 20 driver force met with an elite assortment of ten professional gamers all of whom had been picked via a ‘Road to Vegas’ elimination round in the months leading up to the race. Each gamer was informally ‘allocated’ to a Formula E team to assist with driver prep and marketing. Virgin Racing acquired Graham Carroll, who qualified at the top of the leader board on the Road to Vegas elimination series and subsequently spent time in December working closely with both Sam Bird and Jose Maria Lopez in sim training.
Race day saw all 30 contestants descend on a packed Turner sports arena in the centre of a CES convention hall, to an audience featuring a who’s who of the tech world. The circuit for the day was a virtual Las Vegas 3.13 mile track – that had only been revealed to competitors the night before – encompassing landmark casinos including the Luxor and Excalibur.
Graham Carroll and Jose Maria Lopez were allocated group 4 in the qualifying lottery, whilst Sam Bird was placed in group 5. Graham Carroll drove a steady line that landed him 4th place to secure Super Pole, whilst Jose Maria Lopez started 1st and Sam Bird 7th for the following qualifying race – finishing 2nd and 5th respectively.
Technical difficulties and timing issues saw the race proper reduced to 20 laps. Lopez and Andretti’s Antonio Felix Di Costa started six rows back but amongst the top of the pack for Formula E drivers, breaking away from the rear of the pack quickly. Bird opened at 8th but at three laps in had bounced up to 6th as casualties mid pack started to pile up. Lap 7 saw Sam Bird pit earliest of all racers, a calculated risk that would serve him well later on.
Meanwhile Graham Carroll, who had progressed from 4th to 3rd was caught by Renault e.Dams’ David Greco resulting in a race-ending crash at lap 10. Multiple pitting racers through the halfway segment of the race saw Lopez and Bird move up to 7th and 8th respectively through lap 14 – 2nd and 3rd place amongst Formula E drivers behind Mahindra Racing’s Felix Rosenqvist in 3rd.
The Virgin Racing pair then held steady as dramatic scenes at the front saw Mahindra Racing’s Olli Pahkala cross the line first, Faraday Future Dragon Racing’s Bono Huis in 2nd and Rosenqvist 3rd. The stewards’ later edited the final result, with Huis moved to 1st, Rosenqvist to 2nd and Pahkala to 3rd owing to technical inconsistencies with Fanboost.
Speaking after the race, Sam Bird said: “A 7th & 8th place shows excellent consistency for Virgin Racing as a team – particularly as we were 2nd and 3rd against the drivers we compete with in the Formula E series”.
“I didn’t expect there to be such a close margin between sim and Formula E racers” reported Jose Maria Lopez – an avid gamer in his spare time. “It made for a very interesting race, and I’m happy with the result.”
“I was devastated by the crash,” said Graham Carroll. “However, I spoke with Sam and Jose Maria after the race. They really helped me contextualise the whole thing. It’s been an absolute pleasure working with the Virgin Racing guys in the lead up to and during ‘Vegas.”
Team Principal Alex Tai stated: “What the crowd witnessed at the Vegas eRace was a blurring of gaming and traditional sports competition. With a potential audience of 1.2 billion, what happened here today has potential to be an exciting new chapter for motorsport.
The next Formula E ePrix will be held Buenos Aires on Feb 18th.