RYR driver Rhys Yates has beaten drivers from around the world to win the FIA World Rally Championship’s eSports WRC Shootout this week.
The Chesterfield star, who drives for the M-Sport Ford World Rally Team in the real-time WRC, took on and beat the world’s best up and coming rally talent on a simulator-based Rally Argentina.
Yates was crowned after a tense finale, where he went head-to-head with South American Citroën driver Marco Bulacia on Thursday night. The Ford Fiesta R5 Mk II-driving Briton held his nerve over two South American stages to deliver an exceptional win in a competition watched by hundreds of thousands around the world.
The event was organised by WRC Promoter to keep the crews and fans occupied during the current COVID-19 pandemic. The drivers all participated for free. And for fun.
“I’m really chuffed,” said Yates. “I wasn’t sure about this in the beginning. If I’m going to do something, whether it’s playing six-a-side football or going a bike ride with my brother, I’ve got to win. I know there are a lot of really good and fast gamers out there.
“Don’t get me wrong, I love a shot at WRC 8, but I hadn’t spent as long playing the game as some others. But once I’d decided I’d do it, I was all-in.”
All-in meant getting hold of a sim-rig, complete with seat, wheel, pedals and even a handbrake in an attempt to match the set-up of his competitors. The new set-up wasn’t an immediate hit with former English Rally Champion Yates.
“I couldn’t get used to it,” he said. “In the end I went back to the hand controller for the qualifying rounds. When I got through that on Monday and I knew I was into the more serious competition then I set aside time each day to get on the sim and go through the stages.
“I’ve got to be honest, a couple of times I was absolutely flying and going really well and I was sat there thinking: “This is it, Rhys, you’ve got this nailed… then I’d touch a bump or a rock and have a big accident. Trust me, the PS4 nearly went through the window on a couple of occasions!”
Rhys made it through the quarter and semi-finals before facing his biggest virtual test yet with the final.
“It’s funny,” he said, “to start with, much as I wanted to win, I was quite relaxed about things. But waiting on the start line in the final I was really nervous. In the final we were going head-to-head, so I’d changed my approach from going absolutely flat chat to make my best possible time and now I was more focused on getting to the finish with no mistakes. There was one shot.
“The final was mint. I haven’t driven a rally car competitively since February, so getting to this level of competition – where I absolutely knew I couldn’t make a mistake – really sharpened the focus up again.
“I’m out training, running or biking hard once a day, like we’re allowed, but while we’re not driving, there’s not so much that can keep the mind so sharp. That’s where WRC 8 is really working for me.
“Like I’ve said, winning is what it’s all about for me, so to have won eSports WRC Shootout is great. And, yeah, it is a big deal. There were some big names in there from the world of rallying and to have won and been quicker than all of them is something I’m happy with. It’s a big deal. And to win after putting 100 per cent in is really satisfying. And it was a bit of fun.
“It’s also been a pleasure to help out with WRC Promoter and help them to make a bit of a show for the fans out there around the world. The WRC should be in Argentina this week, but because of what’s going on with coronavirus, that’s not possible. To give people something to watch, some competition to enjoy is great and if it’s raised the odd smile for people then so much the better.”
WRC Promoter managing director Oliver Ciesla said: “What a fantastic competition the eSports WRC Shootout has been. These are trying times for everybody and to be able to bring together some of rallying’s brightest rising stars from around the world is really a great achievement. We have seen some exceptional competition and a really exciting final which has been watched by an incredible number of people on the WRC’s social media channels.
“Congratulations to Rhys. We have seen his speed in the M-Sport Ford World Rally Team already this season and now we had this confirmed in virtual time too! He was super-quick throughout the competition and is a worthy winner in his Ford Fiesta R5 MII.”