Carroll aims for $200k sim racing glory06 | 01 | 2017

    VIRTUAL REALITY WILL become reality for Scots racer Graham Carroll tomorrow when he bids to pocket a massive $200,000 by winning the world’s biggest sim race, the $1 million VISA Vegas eRace.

    A campaign which started with the 26-year-old from Edinburgh winning the opening round of the qualifying Road to Vegas series, finishes at midnight UK time on Saturday when he goes head-to-head with the world’s leading sim racers …. and pros from the FIA Formula E Championship.

    Perhaps just worth mentioning here: when Carroll won the opening round in Long Beach, he was actually focused on his three big TV screens, sat in his race seat, with his steering wheel and pedals … in the corner of his Edinburgh bedroom.

    Now he finds himself in the Nevada desert, by way of Marrakesh and Versailles, on the verge of a potentially life-changing experience as be bids to win the world’s most lucrative virtual race.

    With a pot of $1,000,000, it’s by far the richest race in the history of sim racing, with every driver guaranteed at least $20,000. And yes, the winner pockets a cool $200k.

    “It’s crazy,” 6ft 4in Carroll said. “I’m still scratching my head trying to come to terms with the fact I’m going to be racing for 200,000 dollars and a share of a million bucks.”

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    So, what’s sim racing? And how did Carroll find himself in such an envious position?

    A former Scottish karting champ, as a youngster the Scot graduated to single-seaters, racing at Knockhill and winning the 2007 and 2008 Scottish Formula Ford Championship. But then, as is so often the case with promising young Scottish racers, he ran out of money.

    “I needed £150,000 to go up to the next step,” he explained. “My mum and dad just didn’t have that amount of money. There are guys out there whose parents are remortgaging their homes simply to fund their kid’s racing careers. It’s madness.

    “It was hard to take at the time, because all I’d done from seven-years-old till I was 18 was race all over the UK, first in karts then single-seaters. Then it all came to a dead-end. It was weird.”

    Like millions of kids around the world, Carroll had sharpened his karting skills by enjoying sim — ‘simulated’ — racing on his Playstation.

    “I’ve done it since I was a wee kid sitting on the couch driving Formula One back in 1996 or something like that,” he laughed, admitting he never, in his wildest dreams, ever thought it would lead to such a potential financial prize. “I had the steering wheel, the pedals and a wee TV screen; it was great.”

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    But it was around two-and-a-half years ago that Carroll committed to taking sim racing seriously.

    “Some people sit down and play Call of Duty or FIFA, but because I’ve raced in the past, I started to develop my sim racing,” he continued. “When you do it really properly on the PC, the level of competition is sometimes harder than in real life.

    “I spent some money, around £3000, got a proper set-up and began taking it more seriously. I joined the Apex Racing sim team and concentrated on doing the best I can. Now I’m taking part in the biggest event in the history of sim racing.

    “It’s crazy. From driving on my sim set-up in my bedroom — something which doesn’t exactly impress my girlfriend; she doesn’t like it when I’m slamming on brakes and hitting kerbs at 10 o’clock at night … it’s like she’s trying to sleep at a racetrack — I’m now off to Vegas with the potential to win some potentially life-changing money.”

    But the task facing Carroll — who highlighted the benefits of sim racing when, after seven years off-track and away from Formula Fords, he returned in 2015 to win the prestigious Walter Hayes Trophy — is huge.

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    Not only is he up against nine of the other top sim racing drivers in the world — who qualified through the four-round Road to Vegas series, which Carroll won — but also the 20 professional racers who compete in the all-electric FIA Formula E Championship. As part of his prize, the Scot drove a ‘real’ Formula E race car in Marrakesh in November.

    Each of the 10 ‘sim racers’ have been assigned a Formula E team. Carroll is partnering pro FE racer, and fellow Brit Sam bird in the DS Virgin Racing team.

    The pair trained together in Carroll's Apex Racing team’s simulator based in Gatwick, before flying to DS Virgin Racing's base in Satory, Versailles, to work together on the simulator there.

    "It's fascinating to experience the contrast in driving feel between a gaming simulator and a 'real driver' simulator like DS Virgin Racing's set up in Satory,” Carroll explained. “I feel there's a lot both gamers and drivers can learn from each other … hopefully in time for the Las Vegas finale!”

    It was a sentiment echoed by Bird: "The major challenge with gaming, from a driver’s perspective, is learning to operate in a kind of vacuum. The car can't speak to you. The track doesn't move underneath you, so it's about learning to take your cues purely from the visual."

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    In between training, Graham Carroll met with DS Virgin Racing team principal Alex Tai over dinner in London.

    “We're delighted to have Graham joining us for this innovative new chapter of Formula E,” Tai said. “Around 1.1 billion people worldwide now engage with eSports. Who knows how many potential stars are out there who simply haven't had the financial means or opportunities to foster their skill set? Perhaps motorsport's next star won't be discovered behind the wheel of a physical car.”

    Supported by Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag, who sees the synergy between all-electric racing and sim racing, the million dollar shoot-out will follow the routine of a normal Formula E race weekend.

    That means one 40-minute free practice session today, followed by another tomorrow; then qualifying (there’s $25k for pole position, plus another $10k for fastest lap in the race); followed by a 14-lap qualifying race, ahead of the 20-car, 28-lap battle for the $200k.

    Saturday’s race will even have official Formula E marshals and stewards who will issue real-time penalties for any infringements. Plus commentary on the global telecast will include analysis by Bathgate’s multiple IndyCar and Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti.

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    And all to be contested by the drivers, sat in front of huge individual TV screens in the same room, piloting virtual Formula E cars round a new Las Vegas street circuit.

    The eRace in Las Vegas will use the same Playseat and rFactor 2 set up as seen during the Formula E eRaces at tracks during the season. As with the location eRaces, the cars are branded in team colours but have a uniform set up – unlike the gamers’ own cars used during the elimination rounds which had been set up to individual specifications.

    It is bonkers. But it sends a strong signal that, as the rate of technological advancement in virtual reality increases, so the necessity to spend obscene amounts of money on a racing career in a ‘real’ car becomes less necessary.

    Already there’s talk of another million dollar championship, possibly to be held next summer.

    “This is the real start of professionalism in sim racing,” Carroll, who will be suited and booted as a DS Virgin Racing Formula E racer, stated. “To have major names like Formula E and VISA highlights the potential sim racing has.

    “This is a dream for me, and I have to make sure I take full advantage of this amazing opportunity.”

    Related: Dave Newsham returns to BTCC in 2017

    Keep up-to-date with all the latest news by following us on twitter.com/Scotcars

    Jim McGill

     

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