Some of the world’s best drivers from series including Formula 1, Formula E, WEC, IndyCar and the W Series will take part in the first ever Virtual Race Of Champions tomorrow. And the excitement is already building, not least for FIA World Rally and FIA World Rallycross Champion Petter Solberg, who will join forces with his son Oliver for Team Norway in the Virtual ROC Nations Cup.
The Solbergs will have to adapt their real world expertise to the unique challenge of racing on a screen, taking on many of the world’s best drivers and sim racers. The event, organised in partnership with Motorsport Games, will see drivers face off on virtual versions of some of the most iconic venues of ROC’s rich history, such as the mixed gravel and tarmac roads of the original Gran Canaria track and the twists and turns of London’s Wembley Stadium.
The individual event will see 16 drivers in action to battle for the inaugural Virtual Race Of Champions crown. This will be followed by the Virtual ROC Nations Cup, featuring six teams of drivers from around the world. Some of the pairings are intriguing – not least the Solbergs, who have been drawn in the group stages against Team GB’s fellow father-and-son duo Andy and Sebastian Priaulx.
Ahead of this baptism of fire, Petter said: “I bought a rig for Oliver two months ago. He set everything up, and at first I couldn’t even drive it, it was terrible. I said: ‘What the hell? How can he go so fast?’ But a few weeks ago I got the best setup for me – and now it seems like I’ve been using it much more than him!
“I would never have gone into gaming at all if it wasn’t for this situation, but I don’t regret it. The real world is still the real world, but for me it’s fantastic to get back together with friends and people from motorsport in the Virtual Race Of Champions. With all the experience and motivation that everybody now has in sim racing, I think it will be a new level of competition. It will be a very tight fight and very good to watch. As for the celebrations, nobody beats the celebrations that happen at ROC...
“Gran Canaria will definitely bring back big memories for many fans. If you look at the clips from the old days, there is a lot of history. I was too young at that time, so our references are these old videos with guys like Juha Kankkunen and Didier Auriol. It looked very cool. So I’m really looking forward to it and also to do it together with Oliver. They also say the parties in Gran Canaria were the best…”
Another of the pairings the Solbergs will face in the Group Stages will be Team Sweden’s FIA World Rallycross Champions Johan Kristoffersson and Timmy Hansen. This will no doubt offer an extra motivation for the younger member of the Solberg clan, who has split loyalties when it comes to nationality. Oliver added: “I have a Swedish licence so my mom is not really happy about me racing for Team Norway, but my dad is very happy about it. I think it’s cool that me and my dad can race together as a team and try to challenge the other countries. Maybe for me it’s a good thing I’m making my debut in the virtual ROC first!” The tracks to be used tomorrow have been built from the ground up in the sim racing game Assetto Corsa and have not been used in competition before, ensuring a neutral platform and fair competition for all participants. Just like in the real-world Race Of Champions, the drivers will have to showcase their diverse skill set to quickly adapt to a wide variety of machinery, including a VUHL supercar, a rallycross car and the classic ROC buggy.
The event will take place on Sunday June 28 at 19:00 CET (13:00 US ET, 18:00 BST) and will be streamed live on the Race Of Champions Youtube and Facebook channels. Keep up with all the latest news at www.raceofchampions.com, Race Of Champions on Facebook and @raceofchampions on Twitter and Instagram.
Read below the full Q&A with Petter and Oliver Solberg
How have you adapted to Sim Racing during the time without real motorsport? PS: Well, I was actually doing quite a lot of gaming in the early days when I was with Colin McRae. When the first Colin McRae game came out, I had signed for Ford and me and Colin were test driving this game together in hotel rooms all around the world. We wrote down what to improve and that was the first time I really got into the gaming side. This time I bought a rig for Oliver two months ago. He set everything up and at first I couldn’t even drive it, it was terrible. I said: ‘What the hell? How can he go so fast?’ But last week I got the best setup for me, so now we have on each – and now it seems like I’ve been using it much more than him! I’m coming from a very different background compared with all the other drivers I’ve been driving with in the other Sim events because they’re from NASCAR and IndyCar, so I didn’t expect to do as well as I did. But I’ve been improving a lot and I even won a race and took pole position at the Indy 500. On a scale from 1 to 10, how would you rate yourself as a sim racer today compared to when you started two months ago? PS: I was a 1 when I started, maybe 0.5! Now I’d say I’m up to 7 or maybe 8. But again, it’s all about specialising in each different type of platform. You have rFactor, Dirt, Assetto Corsa, iRacing… and everyone has their own speciality. I’ve been overall pretty okay on all the platforms now. Oliver, how close is your dad getting to you now? OS: He’s become much better. In the beginning he was nowhere and he didn’t even manage to drive it at all. I think we started three different setups. We tried everything to get going, but now he’s happy with it. At times he’s getting a bit too close! But I haven’t done so much of the racing part, mainly the rally part. On the rally part he’s not too far off. It’s fun to be two of us together: we can compare times together and then it makes both of us much better. At the Race Of Champions we always say it’s all fun and games until the visor goes down. Will that be the same thing in the virtual edition? PS: I think it’s a very fair and open competition and anybody can win regardless of which type of motorsport they come from, the same as the real world Race Of Champions. When you make it through to the Quarter-finals your heart rate goes up and it’s easy to make mistakes so you have to try to stay calm. I’m sure it will be the same in the Virtual ROC so it’s exciting. Everyone wants to do well and I’m sure there will be the same psychological mind games as well! But I think it’s great that we can have this in a virtual way and hopefully we can create the same fantastic atmosphere as at the real event.
How excited are you to race the ROC tracks from Wembley Stadium and Gran Canaria? PS: Wembley in 2007 was my first Race Of Champions, but I think from our point of view Gran Canaria will definitely bring back the big memories for many fans. There is a lot of history if you look at the clips from the old days, with Juha Kankkunen and Didier Auriol and these guys. It looked very cool. They also say the parties in Gran Canaria were the best… What would it be like for you and Oliver to race together and represent Team Norway? OS: I have a Swedish licence so my mom is not really happy about me racing for Team Norway, but my dad is very happy about it... I think it’s cool that me and my dad can race together as a team and try to challenge the other countries. Maybe for me it’s a good thing I’m making my debut in the virtual ROC first! Do you have a new-found respect for sim racing after you tried it yourself? How impressed are you with talented drivers like our eROC champions Enzo Bonito and James Baldwin? PS: Sim racing is coming to a different level and I think it’s opening a lot of possibilities for them. They’re building up their names first of all, and maybe they get another chance to do it in the real world as well. The real world is the real world, but I think people will prioritise some sim racing if it’s a really big gaming competition. Not competing on everything, like we do now, but big events like the virtual Race Of Champions, which will be a very important thing for many people. You won the ROC Nations Cup in Barbados with Tom Kristensen and you got very close in the individual event as well. How cool would it be for you to go on and win it? PS: When Tom and I won the ROC Nations Cup, when we look at the pictures and see how happy we were, it was great. We were even dancing on the podium. It’s a real big prestige to win the ROC Nations Cup. And of course Tom is a fantastic driver and person. I also have to think of the time we had in Saudi Arabia with me and David Coulthard in the final together. It would have been fantastic to win this, but DC beat me. He is a proper guy. It doesn’t matter what car he jumps into, he’s a very fast driver and he also really makes sure there’s an extremely good atmosphere between all the drivers. When you see about the memories coming back from the success and fun we had, it’s a unique event.
How cool will it be to close this interesting chapter with a virtual Race Of Champions before the Formula 1 season finally starts? PS: First of all, this Covid-19 crisis is not that we actually wanted to happen, but I think this was the best thing for us to use our brains, keep the sponsors happy and create something that people can still follow. I would never have gone into gaming at all if it wasn’t for this situation, but I don’t regret it. The real world is still the real world but it’s been absolutely fantastic, also to get to know all these people from different types of motorsport. For me now to get back together with friends and people from motorsport in the Virtual Race Of Champions, it’s fantastic. With all the experience and motivation that everybody now has in sim racing, I think it will be a new level of competition. It will be a very tight fight and a very good to watch. As for the celebrations, yeah... nobody beats the celebrations that happen at ROC, so hopefully we can re-create a little of that in the virtual race.