Last weekend saw the world finals of the 2019 Esports WRC Championship take place in Wales, right next to the paddock of this year’s Wales Rally GB. Team VVV were invited along to see proceedings and get an insight into how an event such as this is run as well as take in the general atmosphere.
The sport of rally always has an energy of its own. With events being so spread out, the drivers and cars are usually readily available making access surprisingly open. Despite rally not having the prominence in UK TV as in years past, the energy of loyal fans never ceases.
Day one of our trip focused on preparation for the main event, rehearsals, games testing, and setting up the racing rigs to the driver’s satisfaction.
Despite their competitive nature, the Esports drivers exhibited a great respect for each other’s skills behind the wheel. This made for a surprisingly fun and inclusive atmosphere – a testament to their sportsmanship.
Day two kicked off proceedings with the final practice and qualifying. This was a particular highlight of ours as we witnessed all nine drivers competing for just four places in the final showdown.
It was a close-run battle on the timesheets and you could almost cut the tension with a knife. With drivers pushing to the limits, the inevitable mistakes began to materialise. However, it was very clear that two drivers – Lohan Blanc and Jon Armstrong – were strong contenders thanks to a consistently fast pace: the battle lines were drawn. For the rest of the field, it was all mightily close and, in several cases, just one crash made the difference.
Day two continued with the finals in the evening. With tensions running high, the audience took their seats and it wasn’t long before the first event was underway. Jon Armstrong and Lohan Blanc were level pegging when the power cable was accidentally pulled from Armstrong’s racing rig.
This unfortnate event brought forward a penalty time for Armstrong which left him with a mountain to climb to catch Blanc. Groans were heard from audience members signalling their displeasure of a lack of a restart. This initially destabilised the event, however, it wasn’t long before all of the focus was on the second stage.
Blanc showcased a tour de force of Esport gaming with his domination at the rally of Turkey. We know the title’s stages and the techniques employed by Blanc, but we were still left in awe with the speed of the young Frenchman on the limit of control. There were many occasions when Blanc was out of control and came close to disaster, but by millimetre perfection, it all came together.
Meanwhile, Armstrong was showcasing amazing talents of his own with a work rate at the wheel second to none. However, Blanc was very much “in the zone” – a place that you can only achieve at a certain age, when you don’t think about consequence, you just do it.
The atmosphere was great, but there was still a lot of room for improvement in the overall competition and presentation. We had a great time and meeting the Esport drivers and seeing their passion for rally was a particular highlight. The potential is certainly there, and we look forward to seeing how it all comes together in the near future, especially with the emergence of new technology.
The journey didn’t end there, with the competition behind us, we were off to The Great Orme to see some rally action. Alas, the winds were high, causing rough seas which ultimately forced the organisers to cancel the stage. So, it was off to the Hyundai paddock for some privileged access which enabled us to witness the talented mechanics at work before heading swiftly to Brenig – one of our favourite stages from WRC 8.
You can see the full Wales Epic Stage in the video below which features footage from both the Great Orme and Brenig stages.
The in-game stages are tough, especially with the introduction of dynamic weather conditions. When you’ve experienced the real-world rally stages, you can truly appreciate the effort that has been made in faithfully recreating these stages whose attention to detail helps to provide an authentic experience.
Watching the Wales Rally GB live, the way rally drivers control their cars through high-speed corners is still a thing to behold. In fact, braking distances are even shorter in real life than they are in WRC 8. In general, a lot of sim racers prefer their sims to be less like real life so that cars are more of a challenge to drive. The way the real-world cars glide over the dirt feels more akin to Sega Rally than any comparable sim. It was also time to say farewell to Petter Solberg, who we followed (mildly stalked) between stages. It was remarkable seeing him several times through pure coincidence, we gave him a wave goodbye.
The drive through Wales between stages turned out to be rather epic in itself thanks to the long and bumpy roads: it wasn’t the smoothest journey. We can confess, after three hours driving in the Welsh hills, it was nice to finally stretch our legs and feel a bit more human. Finally reaching the podium at the end of the Brenig stage and with great access, it was all a wonderful privilege.
Overall, it was a great experience for the Esport players, and we were pleasantly surprised to see how well WRC 8 was received. We look forward to future developments in both the official WRC game and its associated Esports competitions. In the coming weeks we’ll be running the WRC Season mode on Twitch, do follow to keep updated.