As the inaugural round of the Rennsport-utilising ESL R1 competition kicks off this weekend with 48 drivers and 12 teams descending upon Poland’s Spodek Arena for an event that has the potential to amplify sim racing.
Among the entries are manufacturer-backed AMG, Porsche and BMW squads and four teams from existing ESL competitions, used to games such as Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and StarCraft II.
That then leaves three thoroughbred sim racing squads, depending if you count the AMG-supported Williams and the flexible G2 Esports – R8G, Redline and Apex.
“As it stands, we are participating purely as ‘Apex’, nothing else,” explains the Manager of Apex Racing UK Group, Alex Simpson.
“When you are paired up with some of the absolute sim racing goliaths, it’s just pretty amazing to see our name on the entry list.
“You’ve got the car manufacturers, you’ve got some sizable ESL teams and then you’ve got a couple of the biggest esports sim racing teams as well. Redline, that’s Max Verstappen. R8G, that’s Roman Grosjean, Williams has a deal with Mercedes-AMG.
“For us to be in there as Apex without anyone behind us, I feel like we are representing all the do-it-yourself sim racing teams – the people that have brought it up from mates joining together.
“It was just too good of an opportunity to turn down.”
A lot has been said about the championship’s €500,000 prize pool, but according to the Corby-based team, while that is undoubtedly a huge draw, there are many more reasons to be involved.
“It’s an opportunity to get ourselves out there to help promote the team in a way that we’ve never had the opportunity to before,” continues Simpson.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, I feel like many rivalries got a little toxic, sadly. So meeting face-to-face again reminds us that we’re all the same. And we will do this for, ultimately, a bit of fun as well.
“It’s also prestigious for Apex Racing to be in that lineup of teams and drivers.
“From a driver’s point of view, they are trying to make a living out of sim racing. So when they have an opportunity to enter a series with a €500,000 prize pool, their jaws drop.
“They’ve got to give this a go.”
Four of Apex’s most established driving talents make its lineup: Peter Berryman, Jamie Fluke, Yohann Harth and Kevin Ellis Jr.
In what is set to be a trying schedule, the team will continue to compete in the Porsche Esports Supercup alongside ESL R1, although Ellis Jr. has chosen to focus purely on the Rennsport series.
It’s been quite the ‘silly season’ in racing esports circles, with several drivers being snapped up by the existing ESL teams competing in sim racing for the first time, but this didn’t affect the independent Apex squad.
In fact, it grew, with Alejandro Sánchez and reigning Praga Cup champion Gordie Mutch joining.
“This winter, we saw lots of drivers leaving teams, so I’m super happy that we’ve kept all of our drivers and actually just bolstered our squad with Gordie and Silva,” explains Simpson.
“We haven’t any issues with contract renegotiations or anything like that.
“I think the drivers that did move, those are the people we would have expected to have been on the grid in some form, based on how they performed at last May’s Rennsport Summit.
“The rules state that a group of drivers is only allowed to be run by one team, which is good. It’s not like I was even able to loan out four of my other guys to another team. They would have had to sign elsewhere, so they’ve thought about that and the spread of talent.”
The competition at this weekend’s ESL Pro Tour will not allow for car set-up changes, nor will the following rounds that make up the remainder of the Spring Season.
As the Rennsport platform is still developing before the team’s eyes, things have been somewhat fraught behind the scenes, especially for squads competing in endurance races that start the year.
However, because all teams are in the same boat, both with the driving experience and car settings, the previously iRacing-focused team reckons no one will have a clear advantage heading into the opening rounds.
“We were super keen to get a GTD win at the iRacing Daytona 24, there was a massive focus on that,” highlights Simpson.
“But as soon as that finished, the drivers literally just jumped over to Rennsport.
“The esports build that we’ve got that they’re testing with was only released a week before the Daytona race, so it’s not like we’ve lost a load of testing time.
“I think the big difference with this series as well, in terms of the time it takes to get the drivers up to speed, is that a lot of the development time on other simulators is tweaking the set-ups.
“With Rennsport, because it’s fixed set-ups, everything’s just nice and straightforward. Here’s the car, go and drive it. So actually, for us to get in the swing of things, it’s okay.”
There will be four cars in use for this first season, all from the real-world and the ubiquitous GT3 category. Each team is locked into one car brand, with Apex paired up with the mid-engine Audi R8.
How these are balanced, yet still retain unique driving characteristics, is key to both a healthy competition and an enjoyable experience when the final version of Rennsport ships to consumers.
This hasn’t passed Apex by, and when it comes to goals heading into the unknown of a new series, the team’s aims are primarily based around other teams using Ingolstadt’s finest.
“Knowing the competition we’ve got, we just want to be the top team with the car manufacturer we’re using,” says Simpson.
“We just want to beat the other Audi teams, making sure that we stand out for that. Obviously, its a tough crowd with R8G and MOUZ.
“After that, we hope the Balance of Performance is good. As much as I feel like we are the underdogs based on our team size, in terms of form and driver ability, I think we’ve got a chance if the BOP is on our side.”
To see how Apex Racing and others fare, watch the first ESL R1 round on YouTube, 11th February 2023.