Fri 02 February 2018
Italy’s Enzo Bonito has come out on top in the first ever eROC competition, seeing off strong competition from some of the world’s fastest gamers at Riyadh’s King Fahad International Stadium.
The action took place both in real-life ROC Cars on the Riyadh track and in the virtual world of Assetto Corsa. And it all happened under the watchful gaze of some of the greatest drivers in history: F1 legend David Coulthard, ‘Mr Le Mans’ Tom Kristensen and World Rallycross Champion Petter Solberg.
Four of the world’s leading gamers took part in the challenge: Britain’s F1 eSports World Champion Brendon Leigh, French three-time Project CARS world champion Kevin Leaune, 2017 eWTCC Champion Alexander Dornieden from Germany and Bonito, the iRacing Blancpain GT3 Sprint champion and holder of multiple world Records in Assetto Corsa and F1 2017.
Despite limited experience in real racing cars, the four simracers were coached by stunt legend Terry Grant before taking to ROC’s parallel track in the King Fahad International Stadium. Part of their challenge involved setting a lap with the driving legends judging them on criteria including track awareness and positioning, car control and outright pace.
They were more at home in the other part of the challenge, which involved simracing on the Assetto Corsa version of the ROC Riyadh track. The scores for both sections of the event were then totted up to decide who progressed to the final.
Bonito shone through in the initial group stage, ending up with a total of 24 points, with Leigh second on 18 points and Beaune and Dornieden on 15 points each. The top two went through to an enthralling final where times were totted up from one lap of the ROC track and two laps of the game.
Before this weekend Bonito had never sat in a proper racing car while Leigh hadn’t driven any kind of car before a fortnight ago. In the end Bonito prevailed, winning a place on the grid for the ROC Nations Cup – in partnership with McLaren World’s Fastest Gamer Rudy van Buren – and the Race Of Champions itself.
Bonito said: “I’m not going to lie… At first jumping into the car was a bit terrifying, but it went better than I thought. I’d never been in a proper race car like that before but it felt natural. Simracing obviously doesn’t have the factors like G-Force to deal with but it teaches you the basics. Now I’ve won the first ever eROC I’m not sure if I should be happy or worried about competing against some of the world’s best drivers! But it’s been an amazing journey so far and I hope it gets even better.”
In the end, the Team Simracing All Stars were the revelations of the evening’s ROC Nations Cup, as van Buren won two of his heats, seeing off this year’s top two in the FIA European F3 Championship Lando Norris and Joel Eriksson. The result was not quite enough to help them progress beyond the group stages but they will be back for more in Saturday’s individual Race Of Champions.
ROC President Fredrik Johnsson said: “It’s exciting to see how well the gamers have all transferred their skills from the simulator to the real track. The job Terry Grant has done teaching them in 24 hours has led to a transformation, particularly with young Brendon Leigh. And Enzo Bonito’s performance was outstanding. It’s exactly what we were hoping for but we didn’t know if it was going to happen.
“But this is just the beginning. Now we want to open up eROC to everyone anywhere in the world, whether you play on your mobile, iPad or anything else. Everyone will have the chance to compete – and if you’re good enough, within a year of entering the competition you could find yourself racing at the Race Of Champions against some of the world’s best drivers in identical cars…”