Formula E: Charlie Martin enters virtual FE series as permanent guest driver
Formula E launched its virtual "Race At Home Challenge" series, featuring Charlie Martin as a permanent guest driver starting from last week's Monaco test race.
The all-electric championship Formula E was among the first motorsport series to take action in the early phases of the COVID-19 pandemic, postponing all its scheduled events by two months - then extended at least until the end of June.
The series founded by Alejandro Agag showed efficient leadership and transparent communication in the current crisis and now, like several other top championships including IndyCar, NASCAR and F1, has launched its online version of race events.
Partnering UNICEF and with the aim of raising funds for the fight against the Coronavirus, Formula E held its first virtual race event last weekend. The online championship will be nine weeks long, it includes a "test" race - last week's Monaco event - and will be streamed live on official Formula E channels such as Youtube, Twitch, Facebook and Twitter.
Based off the rFactor 2 platform, the Formula E Race at Home Challenge features two separate races each weekend: a first grid with an interesting mix of real-life racing drivers, eSport specialists and guest drivers and a second grid with all the real Formula E drivers and teams taking their battles in the virtual realm from their homes.
The races format also include some interesting new features: after a 4-groups and single lap qualifying session, the drivers in the midfield will have to pay extra attention to avoid elimination, as from the third lap of the race, each lap will see the last driver being eliminated.
The "Race Royale" format will thus provide some more exciting action at the back of the field, with the first three finishers from the first grid automatically entering the next week's event.
While the points-paying championship will kick off on Saturday 25th April, drivers had the opportunity to test their new - and all identical - sim rigs and hardware with the official test event on the virtual streets of Monaco. British racer Charlie Martin joined the series as a permanent guest and drove her first race for the DS Techeetah team.
Martin, a former Ginetta GT5 driver and Michelin Le Mans Cup contender, was set to join the newly rebranded Nurburgring Endurance Series at the wheel of a BMW M240i by Adrenalin Motorsport. She is the first transgender driver to be affiliated with Formula E.
Setting her single qualifying run in the fourth group, Charlie Martin qualified on 22nd position, as pole position went to pro simracer Graham Carroll, followed by Marc Gassner and Kevin Siggy. The first real-world racer on the opening race starting grid was DTM driver Daniel Juncadella, slotting in in ninth place.
As the lights went green, Martin immediately gained some positions and advanced to P19, while the top-5 remained unchanged. It was a relatively clean start, with only some contacts at turn one involving Jajovski and Pakhala. As predicted, most of the frantic action was at the back of the field: on the second lap, Martin dropped to 21st place and, when Kai Bachini spun at Rascasse, she avoided elimination in the opening stages. Bachini, a young commentator driving the Jaguar racecar, was the first to leave the race, followed by Mike Channel.
On lap five, it was unfortunately the turn of Charlie Martin.
The race went on with no major twists until lap 10, when Archie Hamilton made a mistake at the Swimming Pool chicane while battling Alvarez Brown for the last position. On the 12th lap, Kevin Siggy moved up to second place after an exciting move on Gassner, as Brljak and Pakhala were also close behind.
The race came alive in the final stages, as also Juncadella made a move stick on Brandon Williams for 7th. But ahead, Carroll won masterfully after an unchallenged performance, 3.3 seconds clear of Siggy. Gassner completed the podium of the first non-championship race.
The winner of this grid's standings will get a chance to drive an actual Formula E car on track.
"As predicted, that was really really hard, but a lot of fun, considering it was my first eSport competition at this kind of level.” - commented Charlie after the race via her Instagram.
”I think I did ok. I was in P17 at one point, I think Jimmy Broadbent was starting in P16, so that'll do for me. Trying to catch the top guys it's super hard.“
”I think I did low 54 seconds in practice, but these guys were doing 52s or even 51s. And trying to find those last few seconds is hard, you can't do that in a couple of days, it's years of practice. But hey, I’m not complaining, I had an awesome time. I want to say huge thanks to all my fans and followers that watched online.“
The second race featured the real Formula E grid, with Maximilian Günther and Stoffel Vandoorne sharing the front row after the qualifying session. Both drivers have been involved in several esport events during these strange times for the motorsport community and showed strong pace in the virtual world. Behind them, Lotterer and Vergne took the start from third and fourth place respectively.
Unlike the first race, it was a messy start for the pro-drivers' competition, with plenty of contacts down of Avenue JF Kennedy after the first corner. Di Grassi spun and the majority of the field tried to take evasive action, mostly unsuccessfully.
Ahead, Günther kept his cool and held the lead from Vandoorne after the first lap. Mercedes AMG driver Nyck De Vries was the first one to find himself on the bubble and ultimately was eliminated at the end of lap 3.
Lotterer launched an attack on Vergne at the Bus Stop chicane, pushing his former teammate wide and thus allowing Cassidy to claim fourth as well. The Formula E champion, trying to recover on the New Zealander, lost the car at Rascasse, further dropping down the order. Robin Frijns crashed as well, losing 8th place, while Felipe Massa was the next driver to be eliminated after 7 laps.
After more hectic laps, Maximilian Günther won the inaugural Formula E Race at Home Challenge, followed by Stoffel Vandoorne. The Belgian was the only driver to kept up with Günther's pace, as third-placed Lotterer finished some 9.5 seconds adrift.
Cassidy was fourth and Müller fifth, while Oliver Rowland could gain several positions in the closing laps and crossed the finish line in P6. Evans, Vergne, Mardenborough and Turvey rounded out the top ten after 15 laps.
The next round will be streamed live on April 25th, with Charlie Martin looking forward to make more progresses among a field of very competitive simracers.
In Charlie's words:
“"As predicted, that was really really hard, but a lot of fun, considering it was my first eSport competition at this kind of level.”