Formula E Race at Home: Simona De Silvestro debuts with solid top 12 in elimination race
The second round of the Formula E Race at Home virtual series saw the debut of Porsche's Simona De Silvestro, who completed a solid run in P12, as Charlie Martin survived the crash-filled action escaping an elimination race.
The Formula E Race at Home Challenge in support of UNICEF made its return to virtual racetracks this weekend, as the all-electric series held its second championship round on the "Electric Docks" track. A fantasy venue designed by rFactor developers and inspired by a metropolitan port complex, the layout featured long and wide straights, fast bends and some challenging tight chicanes, which proved to be particularly critical during both the "Challenge Grid" race and the "Drivers Grid" competition.
Driving the BMW Andretti car, British Charlie Martin made her third virtual Formula E start - including the test non-championship race at Monaco, where she drove for the DS Techeetah team. Martin, making her simracing debut in a exceptionally competitive grid of professional gamers, showed good progresses throughout her participations, slowly but steadily closing the gap to the midfield.
Joining the "Challenge Grid" this weekend it was another top-rated female racer - Porsche works driver Simona De Silvestro, test driver to the Porsche Formula E team and former official driver at the wheel of the first generation's Formula E cars.
Making the most out of the lack of real-world racing during the Covid-19 crisis, De Silvestro received a Porsche-branded sim rig only few weeks ago and practiced hard, entering the Virtual Porsche Supercup championship and making a guest appearance in the Supercars eSport series. For the Swiss racer, it was the first entry in a mainly pro-simracers competition.
With the "Challenge Grid" qualifying earlier on Saturday, the first race on the "Electric Docks" venue went underway with Bulgarian Peyo Peev sprinting from pole position in the Dragon Racing car, followed by Kevin Siggy in the second BMW Andretti. Simona De Silvestro qualified in 22nd position, just ahead of Charlie Martin in P23, while the first real-life racer was a convincing Kelvin van der Linde in 13th place.
Despite the widely anticipated chaos at the infamous first chicane, the "Challenge Grid" start was amazingly clean, with all the drivers getting safely through: Peev, Siggy and Mueller held positions. Behind, it was a great start off the line for Martin who advanced to P19, while De Silvestro was extra cautious and maintained her 22nd position through the first corners. Having to avoid the last place due to the "Race Royale" format - which eliminates the last-placed driver each lap after the second tour - the Swiss Porsche driver quickly moved up to a safer P21.
The first corner prudence was swiftly abandoned from the second lap though, as Mike Channel crashed heavily at the chicane and lost a wheel, retiring from the race. Charlie Martin also made contact with the wall and dropped to 22nd position, but was able to continue despite a damaged car. The Brit, now on the elimination bubble, was saved by a monumental crash by Brzezinski.
While the race proceeded smoothly in front, more contacts were recorded from the midfield battles: van der Linde touched the wall but continued, Lynn made up some positions as well as De Silvestro, who advanced to P16 with a solid run.
As Charlie Martin held on despite the compromised handling of her BMW Andretti car, Jajovski, La Flamme, Schmitt, Schepherd and Wisniewski all ended their races in similar fashion, eliminating themselves from the race.
Simona De Silvestro moved up to eleventh position, mixing up with some really experienced simracers. When Charlie Martin was ultimately eliminated from 15th place on lap 12, the top-5 positions were still settled, with approximately two seconds separating Peev from second-placed Siggy.
Van der Linde was the last driver to be eliminated by the Race Royale format with two laps to go and, despite a late pass by Noah Reuvers on De Silvestro for P11, the Porsche driver brought home a solid top-12 in her virtual Formula E debut.
Peyo Peev crossed the line to take victory from Kevin Siggy, as the BMW driver slightly kissed the wall on the last lap but still maintained his championship leadership with a second place finish. Mueller was third, Von Der Heyde and Brljak completed the top-5.
Alex Lynn finished in tenth place, best placed real-life racing driver.
“My first virtual Formula E race in the ‘Race at Home Challenge’ was a lot of fun." - said De Silvestro.
"Qualifying was not perfect but I was able to find my rhythm in the race. I got through turn one cleanly after the start and I was able to move up a few places as the race progressed. All in all, I am pleased with twelfth place when you consider the strength of the sim competition in the Challenge Grid category. I will continue to prepare intensively for the next round.” - the Swiss lady added.
"Round 2 was at a tough circuit, high speed and hard to close the gap on the fast guys, I’ve been trying to manage some serious frustration." - commented 15th placed Charlie Martin after the race.
"Coming away with P15 today has made it all worth it, the race was eventful to say the least, with a high rate of attrition. Lady Luck was on my side though, and I soldiered on to get my best result yet."
"I’m learning so much competing in Esports right now, the pro’s are crazy fast, so my aim is to keep improving at every turn. If I can do that I’ll be happy. Right now that’s how I feel, I worked hard this week and it paid back."
It was then time for the real-life Formula E teams and drivers to take to the track for the second championship round.
While all the eyes where on race winner Maximilian Gunther, it was AMG Mercedes' Stoffel Vandoorne to claim pole position, 0.087 second from his main contender. Pascal Wehrlein, after a stunning simracing debut in the Hong Kong round, was again an impressive third. With the rFactor2 platform not contemplating a track-surface evolution throughout the qualifying session, no one could top Vandoorne after the two other quali groups and the front rows were confirmed.
A slow start from Vandoorne meant that the Belgian saw his leadership under attack at the first tricky chicane by both Gunther and Lotterer. The Mercedes ace, under pressure, was the first pro driver to end up in the wall; with a fully bent steering wheel, Vandoorne was nevertheless able to continue and rejoined in fourth. Lotterer was next to follow though and crashed from third, with Da Costa and Abt also retiring.
With Gunther breaking away, Vandoorne had to give up more places to Frijns and Mueller owing to his visibly damaged car. The race continued amidst continuous crashes that involved Vergne, Massa, Sims, Buemi and Mortara.
On the sixth lap, the Jaguar duo, who had been notably advancing through the order, collected each other while attacking Vandoorne. The contact resulted in Evans' retirement and Calado dropping a few places.
With not many passing opportunities in the fast-flowing section, Gunther continued to lead untroubled, managing a one second gap to Wehrlein. But as the laps counted down, the Mahindra driver went on the hunt. As Gunther started to feel the pressure, Wehrlein found the wall and eliminated himself from the fight for the victory. Alone and 15 seconds adrift, Gunther took the chequered flag and claimed his second win, ahead of Robin Frijns and Nico Mueller. Jani and Vandoorne rounded out the top-5, while Calado edged Vergne at the photofinish for eighth place.
The third championship round of the Formula E Race at Home Challenge will be next Saturday, as the series makes its return to the virtual streets of Monaco.