The virtual edition of the Race of Champions – a real-world event that gathers together motorsport stars in a knock-out format – has been decided for 2023, and it’s Lucas Blakeley who takes his first eROC crown.
The competition started over a week ago, when top entrants from an online leaderboard challenge were pitted against each other in a qualifying final.
From there, 2018 eROC champion Enzo Bonito, current Gran Turismo Nations champion Coque López and 2021 Ferrari Esports champion Kamil Pawlowski were all beaten by F1 Esports Series Pro champion Blakeley and former Williams Esports driver Michael Romanidis.
It meant that at the finale, held in Pite Havsbad a day before the real-world competition began, reigning champion Jarno Opmeer would once again battle with Blakeley and Swedish entrant Martin Palm. The only difference this year was first-time finalist Romanidis.
The four drivers would race in virtual rallycross, Porsche and Polaris vehicles on a modified version of Assetto Corsa, and then also race against each other outside in the side-by-sides on the frozen Race of Champions track.
The heats began with each driver competing against each other twice on the simulator, with 2022 eROC winner Opmeer facing off against Blakeley in the Cayman GT4s to kick off – the British entrant delivering a hammer blow immediately.
Next up, it was Romanidis vs Palm, with the Swedish driver initially encountering a technical issue forcing a restart. However, once underway, it was the debutant who won both rounds comfortably.
Opmeer vs Palm in rallycross cars was next, and this time despite losing the first round, Palm struck back in the second – one win apiece.
Romanidis and Blakeley also tied each other in their faceoff, leaving the Greek driver to race Opmeer. Romanidis took the first race victory, Opmeer the second.
The final heat was between Blakeley and Palm, another tie for wins, the former making an uncharacteristic mistake in the opener.
Points were awarded for both sim racing results and by a panel judges – stunt driver Terry Grant, WRC2 competitor Oliver Solberg and IndyCar race winner Felix Rosenqvist – based on the competitor’s real-world one-lap attempts.
The top two in the points after the timed lap and the heat sim races would not only team up to form the eROC All Stars team in the weekend’s Race of Champions event but also go through to a final playoff crowning the virtual champion.
Blakeley topped the standings, two points ahead of Opmeer, with Romanidis in third and Palm fourth. Despite the joint-top score on the simulator, Romanidis was let down by a lack of real-world points, no doubt lacking experience compared to his rivals.
eRace of Champions (eROC) 2023 heat points
- Lucas Blakeley – 22 pts
- Jarno Opmeer – 20 pts
- Michael Romanidis – 17 pts
- Martin Palm – 17 pts
It was then down to the same two drivers as last year for the eROC crown. Once again, a mix of real-world and sim action, the duo raced first on the snow-covered circuit in the Polaris machine.
Blakeley set an impressive marker, outpacing Opmeer by over four seconds, and with this time set to be combined with the upcoming sim racing, it put him in good stead.
He then repeated that feat in the first sim race, before Opmeer fought back in the second, but it was too little, too late.
“Super happy to redeem from last year and win the eROC title,” said Blakeley.
“It’s hard to put into words. It’s such an immense privilege to be here.”
The McLaren Shadow esports driver then went on to beat Formula 1 race winner Valtteri Bottas during the opening Nations Cup heat the next day, when the duo was tasked with driving the electric Cupra UrbanRebels – reminiscent of last year when he beat four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel.
He and Opmeer would progress into the quarter-finals, where the German team of Schumacher and Vettel knocked them out.
eRace of Champions (eROC) champion 2023