Before I get too carried away, it was just one heat race. Ultimately four-time Formula 1 world champion Sebastian Vettel and teammate Mick Schumacher did knock out the eROC ALL STARS team of Jarno Opmeer and Lucas Blakeley.
But, a win is a win.
From when the LED board went to green until the finishing flames were lit it was just over one minute and in that moment, Blakeley managed to show the world – if we needed further convincing – that sim racing can create supreme motorsport talent.
Same car, the Olsbergs MSE -prepared RX2e electric rallycross vehicle, same track, same weather conditions.
A straight fight and Blakely beat Vettel by just under one-tenth of a second. Point made.
“It doesn’t feel like it’s actually happened, even now a few days later,” explained the 20-year-old Scot.
“I can’t really process it as it seems like something so impossible. Even though it happened, it’s surreal.”
However, how Lucas managed to get into the position to compete with Sebastian was intriguing enough already, never mind the race itself.
The eROC is a sim racing competition where the world’s best battle for supremacy, won by Enzo Bonito in 2018 and James Baldwin in 2019.
It runs alongside the main Race of Champions event that sees motorsport greats race across two competitions. The ROC Nations Cup, where two drivers team up to represent a country, and the ROC Champion of Champions where it’s every driver for themselves.
This year, there were several routes to qualify for the eROC final, held on the Friday before the Race of Champions, this year held in Pite Havsbad, Sweden.
Only four drivers were selected, and they would race using a modified version of the driving platform Assetto Corsa alongside a driving test on the ROC Sweden track using a Polaris RZR.
There was to be an overall eROC 2022 victor, but also the top two were to team up and enter the real-world ROC Nations Cup as the eROC ALL STARS team.
Blakeley made it through the Open Qualifiers, available to anyone with a gaming PC and an internet connection, beating off all entrants to win a trip to Sweden and the eROC final. But this wasn’t a pre-planned strategy.
“I didn’t know when or if eROC was going to be available, but I opened Twitter the day before the Open Qualifier and saw a post about it.
“I jumped on Assetto Corsa, which I hadn’t played since May 2021 [competing in the V10-R League]. I had to work out my wheel settings, learn the car and track, within a day.
“I managed to win the first Open Tournament, against the likes of Kevin Siggy, and then won the finals a few weeks later. I really wanted it and tested a lot for the final to secure a place in Sweden for eROC.”
During the event itself, Blakeley was up against Swedish competitor Martin Palm, 2019 champion James Baldwin and F1 Esports Series Pro adversary Jarno Opmeer.
In the head-to-head races on the simulator, Bladwin, Blakeley and Opmeer traded fastest times and race victories, with the soon-to-be Vettel-rival taking the most points from this section of the competition.
Each of the four finalists was also awarded points for their performance outside too by three-time FIA world champion Petter Solberg, his son Oliver and stunt driver Terry Grant.
Solberg Snr. even described the young British competitor as “better than David Coulthard.”
“I don’t know if he was 100 per cent serious or not with that comment, but just to get feedback from those legends is a massive privilege,” explained Blakeley.
“In the Polaris practice, unfortunately for me, the vehicle was stuck in rear-wheel drive. The first time I drove it in four-wheel drive was on the hot lap assessment, so I had to string it all together in one go. Challenging, but fun.”
Blakeley’s performance meant he went up against Opmeer for overall eROC glory, with Baldwin and Palm now knocked out.
The virtual racing final went the way of the Dutch competitor, who has also won the 2020 and 2021 F1 Esports Series Pro crowns. It was close, but Blakeley made a small mistake at a crucial moment.
“Having raced against Jarno in F1 esports [for the past three seasons], it was cool to speak in person and a massive amount of fun.
“I made my biggest effort in the final, but I was disappointed in myself. In the practice sessions, I was fastest when the Porsche was used. Ultimately, I made too many mistakes by pushing too hard and I didn’t need to do that because I had enough speed in hand.
“At the end of the day, Jarno was the deserved winner. He didn’t make mistakes and capitalised. He was the right victor.
“I am just grateful I got to compete in the ROC Nations Cup the next day.”
Ah yes, the ROC Nations Cup. That race against Vettel.
“Going into it, it was very challenging. We were meant to do practice the day before, but that was cancelled because of heavy weather. Then the track was cut in half because some of it was flooded. I hadn’t driven the rallycross car until that morning, and I only had two laps.
“I was very messy in certain sections, like the bit the camera caught near the start, but I did carry the speed at least. I was very committed at the end of the lap.
“I remember coming around the last corner and seeing Seb at the top of the hill coming down. I completely pinned it and hit the rear against the wall of snow. When I crossed the line, I had absolutely no clue I had won the race.
“The crowd was cheering, but I didn’t know why. I drove back to the pits, then Terry Grant told me that I had beaten Sebastian Vettel.
“I’ll remember that moment for the rest of my life.”
After the German team eventually prevailed against the eROC ALL STARS, the day wasn’t quite over for the esports rising talent, as he rode shotgun with Solberg in the ROC Nations Cup deciding race – crossing the line alongside the Norwegian as he and his son took the title.
“Being in a car with Petter Solberg on the way to winning the ROC Nations Cup doesn’t sound real. The way he drives is something to behold, a masterpiece to watch.”
Now back home, the year ahead is unclear for the driver who finished third in F1 Esports Series Pro for Aston Martin Cognizant Esports in a breakout 2021 season, announcing near the end of January his departure from the team.
Wherever he ends up, however, I’m sure he’ll continue to make a name for himself. The world is watching.
Images: Motorsport Images