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How a Spanish company is driving the Las Vegas eRace

Madrid-based startup designed the software for million-dollar online motor competition

Saturday saw the 20 racing drivers who compete in Formula E, the leading electric-powered racing car category, take on 10 of the best online simracers of last year in a virtual race through the streets of Las Vegas.

Bono Huis, foreground, during Saturday's race. Ampliar foto
Bono Huis, foreground, during Saturday's race.

The event, known as the Las Vegas eRace, is organized by Spanish businessman Alejandro Agag, who runs Formula E, and was designed by Madrid-based startup Cloud Sport. A team led by Luis Pachón, the company’s founder, created the software and the virtual circuit that includes some of the best-known landmarks in Las Vegas, as well as the 30 identical electric-powered racing cars that contestants drive using PlaySeats and Thrustmaster wheels

In total, $1 million in prize money was divided up among drivers and their teams. The winner of Saturday’s event was Bono Huis, who took the top prize of $200,000, with Felix Rosenqvist taking home $100,000 for second place, and Olli Pahkala $50,000 in third place.

In total, $1 million in prize money was divided up among drivers and their teams

But the results were not without controversy. Pahkala was found to have gained an unfair advantage: as with real Formula E, the Vegas eRace featured the Fan Boost, whereby fans vote to give two drivers extra power. But a technical glitch gave Pahkala FanBoost over and above the limit of five seconds, and he was demoted to third.

In virtual races, drivers do not feel the effect of G force, but Cloud Sport programs vehicles to respond to the inertia created by sudden acceleration and braking, making for a very realistic driving experience: cars will even tilt onto three wheels when cornering sharply; tires wear out, and drivers have to make pit stops to recharge. Similarly, if a car is involved in an accident and is damaged, its performance suffers.

Pachón, a telecommunications specialist, has also worked in the world of motor racing: “We are experts in television timekeeping and graphics and we are interested in bringing together those two worlds; developing software to regulate online competitions,” he explains. Since Cloud Sport was set up, it has taken just one year to create from scratch the Las Vegas eRace.

Simracers are athletes with the same capacity as a top-class runner

Luis Pachón, founder of Cloud Sport

“It shows that simracers are athletes with the same capacity as a top-class runner,” says Pachón about the world of virtual motor racing, adding: “We have already seen the winner of the Seat León online take part in the Alcañiz endurance race, and he won.”

In a sport where getting to the top requires a lot of money, simracing is becoming the way that drivers can clock up vital hours of training. “It is an apprenticeship and a big help for making the leap into real competitions,” says Pachón.

English version by Nick Lyne.

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