World Rally Championship star Rhys Yates is – like the rest of the UK – locked down and going nowhere under current COVID-19 government regulations.
So how, you might ask, will he be following up his strong start to the season in Monte Carlo and Sweden with more driving, this time on some of South America’s most challenging roads in Argentina next week?
Simple. He’s doing it virtually via the FIA World Rally Championship’s eSports WRC Shootout (#RaceAtHome) using the WRC 8 game.
The WRC was scheduled to be southern hemisphere bound next week, but those flights to Buenos Aires have been canned due to the pandemic which has closed down the sporting world.
Instead, Rhys will face his world championship rivals via a high-tech simulator and high-speed internet connection. As a driver in the World Rally Championship, this is Rhys working from home.
“It’s just that,” he said. “Obviously we’d all rather be out competing right now, but there are more important concerns as the world comes to terms with coronavirus; nothing is more important than staying home and staying safe to help the NHS (National Health Service).
“When the lockdown came, us drivers just accepted that the competition was done for us for a few months. But then the organisers of the WRC created this virtual rally and invited some of the drivers in to compete. It’s a great way to get the spirit of competition going again.”
Rhys will enter qualifying rounds of the virtual Rally Argentina on Monday. If he’s successful and qualifies (we’ll let you know with a short bulletin), you’ll be able to watch him tackle the infamous El Condor stage live on the WRC’s own Facebook page at 2100 CET on Tuesday April 21.
Progression from there to the final four means another Argentina stage 24 hours later (again live on Facebook at 2100 CET on Wednesday April 22), with the final run over two stages on Thursday April 23, again find it live at 2100 CET on Facebook.
“I’ve never competed in Argentina before,” said Rhys, “but I’ve been able to get some practice in on the simulator we’ve got set up here at home. The roads are fantastic, but incredibly twisty and tricky and technical in places. The detail in WRC 8 is phenomenal. The El Condor stage runs way out west of Buenos Aires, close to the foothills of the Andes and you really get the feeling for that as you go over the rope bridges which have been there hundreds of years. It’s amazing.
“Everybody keeps telling me it’s just a game. I keep telling myself it’s just a game, but I know when that competition starts on Monday, it’ll be so intense and just like a real rally. It makes it even more real to be competing against the likes of Oliver [Solberg, son of 2003 World Rally Champion Petter], drivers we’ll be fighting with again once the season gets going for real again.”
WRC Promoter managing director Oliver Ciesla welcomed Rhys alongside the series’ other future champions.
Ciesla said: “While the WRC is paused as the coronavirus outbreak continues, we’ve turned the spotlight on the championship’s stars of the future for the eSports WRC Shootout.
“Of course, our drivers are missing real-life competition, we all are. But I’ve no doubt their competitive spirits and adrenaline will surge as much as ever behind the WRC 8 wheel on Rally Argentina’s tricky stages.
“Virtual driving is a fast-growing part of motorsport and this shootout sits alongside our popular eSports WRC Championship, which continues through the WRC hiatus. I hope our fans will enjoy watching the Shootout from home before competing themselves in our eSports Championship.”