Bono Huis has won the inaugural Formula E Visa Vegas eRace; the biggest Sim-Racing event in terms of prize-money. Huis took home over $200,000 in winnings, with the total prize pool for all the competitors totalling $1 million.
The race wasn’t without controversy. Finland’s Olli Pahkala crossed the line first but was later penalised 12 seconds after a FanBoost issue was discovered which enabled Pahkala to lap two seconds faster than the rest of the field in the closing stages. He was demoted to third place behind Huis and real-world racer Felix Rosenqvist.
The Vegas eRace, organised by Formula E and Cloud Sport, was held at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. It saw ten of the world’s fastest sim-racers pitted against the twenty drivers in the Formula E Championship in a competition held on the RFactor 2 driving simulator.
Prior to the main event, the stage was set for the $1 million dollar showdown by qualifying; comprising of timed group sessions and a final qualification race. The top ten on the grid were locked into their positions, with the ever-fast Bono Huis leading the way as he had done in both practice sessions beforehand.
Joining Huis on the front row would, somewhat surprisingly, be Felix Rosenqvist. Quite rightly, it was expected that the sim-racers would rule the roost, given that sim-racing is what they do more than anything. However, Rosenqvist put in a fantastic performance and got to grips with the simulator very quickly to go just two-tenths of a second slower than the pole-sitter.
The remaining eight drivers that secured their spots in the race would all be sim-racers. Aleksi Uusi-Jaakkola, Graham Carroll and David Greco completed the remaining three spots in the super-pole, with Olli Pahkala just missing out in the sixth position. Patrik Holzmann just edged out five-time iRacing World Championship winner Greger Huttu and Enzo Bonito, with Aleksi Elomaa completing the top ten.
Only one sim-racer failed to finish in the top ten, with Petar Brljak, unfortunately, crashing during qualifying. Things would only get worse for Petar in the qualification race, however. The qualification race would determine which of the remaining drivers would get into the main event.
There was drama at the start after technical difficulties struck one of the racing pods. This meant that Jerome d’Ambrosio would be unable to take part. With the race underway soon after, it didn’t take long for there to be a sizeable accident that ended some more races prematurely. A couple of cars hit strife on lap one, with Petar Brljak being eliminated from the race in the melee.
In the end, Antonio Felix Da Costa would drive a superb race to pass pole-sitter Jose Maria Lopez. He’d go on to win the qualification race and secure himself a spot in the main event. The nine remaining drivers who would join him would consist of Lopez, Robin Frijns, Nelson Piquet Jr, Sam Bird, Mitch Evans, Sebastien Buemi, Lucas di Grassi, Daniel Abt and Loic Duval.
Technical difficulties delayed the start of the Formula E Visa Vegas eRace, but that allowed for some serious tension to build as the twenty drivers prepared for the start. Sadly for Lucas di Grassi though, he would be forced to sit out of the race after ongoing difficulties with one of the pods.
When the lights went green, pole-sitter Huis made a fantastic getaway to maintain his lead into turn one. It was, thankfully, a much cleaner start than the one seen in the qualification race, with all the drivers making it through the first lap.
It was almost as soon as the second lap started that the first crash occurred though. Patrik Holzmann clipped the wall on the exit of the final corner and was launched back across the track and into the path of Antonio Felix da Costa. This ended Holzmann’s race far too early, he would retire after losing both his front and rear wing.
As the race reached the halfway mark, there was a simply horrendous crash on the start/finish straight. Three of the sim-racers, Aleksi Uusi, Graham Carroll and David Greco were going three-wide when the trio all tangled. This put Carroll and Greco way down the order, but Uusi managed to keep his car in the top five.
With less than eight laps to go, Felix Rosenqvist started to hunt down Huis in the lead; with the pair still to make their mandatory pit-stop. Further back, Olli Pahkala was closing in on the pair of them as he lapped over a second faster than the leading duo having already made his pit-stop.
The two race leaders finally pitted at the end of lap fifteen out of twenty. The pair came in together, with Huis just around a second ahead of Rosenqvist, but neither would take the lead when they left. Olli Pahkala, who had elected to pit early, had jumped the pair of them after tearing up the race-track in the mid-race. He was one of the three FanBoost winners and had used that to his advantage to set the fastest lap, earning him another $10,000 dollars on his way to taking the lead.
Having somehow built up an unassailable lead during the pit-stop phases, Olli Pakhala would be left to cruise home to take the win in the first ever Formula E Visa Vegas eRace, or so he thought. Post-race, it was discovered that Pakhala had accidentally been given his FanBoost for six laps as opposed to six seconds; allowing him to run two seconds a lap faster than everybody else. This was what allowed him to take the lead from seemingly out of nowhere.
As a result of this, Pakhala was given a twelve second time penalty, thus promoting Bono Huis to victory; with $200,000 and a bonus $25,000 for pole position being his reward after the last few months of racing to get to Vegas.
Rosenqvist took the honours as the fastest pro-driver of the day, with the Mahindra driver putting in a stunning performance to take second place on the podium; never being more than a couple of seconds away from Huis in front. Third would be the penalised Pakhala.
Fourth would go to Enzo Bonito ahead of Aleksi Uusi in fifth, with Greger Huttu settling for sixth; perhaps a lacklustre finish given the expectations thrust upon the five-time iRacing World Champion.
Jose Maria Lopez was the second highest-placed pro driver in seventh place, with real-world team-mate Sam Bird just behind in eighth. Daniel Abt and Nelson Piquet Jr completed the top ten.
Despite technical difficulties and a controversial result, the Formula E Visa Vegas eRace has been a major moment for sim-racing as a whole. With the likes of iRacing and other sim-racing platforms and organisations really coming to the fore at the moment, you can expect to see more competitions like this to be held in the future. It’s a good time to be a gamer!
2017 Formula E Visa Vegas eRace top ten:
|1||Bono Huis||Faraday Future Dragon Racing||1st|
|2||Felix Rosenqvist||Mahindra Racing||2nd|
|3||Olli Pahkala||Mahindra Racing||6th|
|5||Aleksi Uusi-Jaakkola||Andretti Formula E||3rd|
|6||GregerHuttu||Panasonic Jaguar Racing||8th|
|7||Jose Maria Lopez||DS Virgin Racing||12th|
|8||Sam Bird||DS Virgin Racing||15th|
|9||DanielAbt||ABT Schaeffler Audi Sport||19th|
|10||Nelson Piquet Jr||NextEV NIO||14th|
All images courtesy of FIAFormulaE.com