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How eSports can build up to rally success on the real stage, explains world champion Jon Armstrong


Virtual driver: Jon Armstrong

Virtual driver: Jon Armstrong

Virtual driver: Jon Armstrong

eGAMING. Sim racing. eSports. However you choose to describe it, there is no doubt that the demand for online motor racing has moved up a gear since the world entered lockdown following Covid-19.

New circuit and stage-based Championships have been created, bringing professional sports people together in the virtual world, from Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois to McLaren F1's Lando Norris.

Norris was back in action recently for the 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual where, from the comfort of his home, he did battle with drivers from 37 different countries, including double F1 champion Fernando Alonso, 11-time Grand Prix winner Rubens Barrichello and Ferrari's latest golden boy, Charles Leclerc.

The real race is scheduled for September, with this fix designed to satisfy action-starved fans until then. Thousands of people have got involved to pass the time, but there are those like Fermanagh's Junior World Rally Championship driver Jon Armstrong who appreciate the benefits.

"It is a great way to keep match fit and train for real events," says the 2018 eSports World Rally Championship winner.

"The level of competition online has been great. I have had good battles with real rally drivers, including (Hyundai Motorsport's) Craig Breen and (Swedish R5 driver) Mattias Adielsson. It is clear that drivers like them have turned to sim racing to keep sharp and to fill the void.

"There are so many games and simulations, and some are more accurate than others in terms of the physics model and how they recreate the real sensations of driving a race or rally car.

"Look at DiRT Rally 2.0, it is very accurate - the number of rally drivers who have been using it speaks for itself because you can make tyre compound, tyre wear, car set-up and weather choices."

Driver error is punished, too.

"If you hit a bank you are either going to bend your car's suspension or puncture. Retirement and restarting under Rally2 rules is the worst-case," he says.

Recently, ex-F1 driver Mark Blundell claimed that in order to reap the rewards of time spent in front of a screen a minimum investment of £20,000 is needed.

"That is probably in the ball park for a high-end custom simulator," says 25-year-old Armstrong. "My rig is worth about £6,000. The only thing I need to add would be motion of some degree which could cost £5,000-£10,000."

With some sort of normality returning, does eSports have a future?

"I think demand will decrease slightly in terms of people using it, and the number of races organised by real Championships, but I'm confident sim racing is now considered a real form of motorsport," says Armstrong. "This is a way to find raw talent. The FIA appears to have acknowledged the value because it has launched a new Rally Star programme to identify potential drivers for real life rallying."

Belfast Telegraph