Sim Racers Defeat F1 Professionals at Race of Champions 2023

For the fourth event in a row, a team of sim racers has beaten professional racing drivers at the showpiece Race of Champions (ROC) — this time going one step further and winning an entire knockout match against the pros.

If you’re not familiar with the annual ROC, it’s an invitational tournament that sees drivers race an unusual mixture of vehicles around a super-special stage circuit. Each race consists of a single lap of the course, but drivers pass the finish line twice as there’s an inside lane and an outside lane on the figure-eight track.

The drivers invited include some of the biggest names in the sport from several different disciplines. There’s current and former F1 drivers like Sebastian Vettel, Mick Schumacher, and Valtteri Bottas, rally champions Sebastien Loeb, Tanner Foust, and Travis Pastrana, and even IndyCar gets representation in Felix Rosenqvist.

Along with the solo competition, which runs on the second day of each event, there’s a Nations Cup tournament where drivers are paired up by nationality. The drivers on each team race each other once apiece.

As with previous seasons, there’s also a special sim-racers squad for drivers who qualify through an eRace of Champions (eROC) event. This year that consisted of Lucas Blakeley, who won the event, and the defending champion Jarno Opmeer who came second; interestingly that’s the second successive year for that lineup, with Blakeley memorably beating Vettel in the real cars in 2022.

This year’s event returned to the snow of Pite Havsbad in Sweden, with a track carved out of the ice on the Baltic Sea, and the eROC team faced probably the unkindest draw of all against Team Finland. With Valtteri Bottas and Mika Hakkinen racing, and the icy nature of the track, nobody would have blamed the sim racers for falling to a whitewash.

That’s not what happened though, as Blakeley put Bottas to the sword in the first race in the Cupra UrbanRebels and won by four seconds from the Alfa Romeo F1 driver. Incredibly he’d repeat that feat against Hakkinen, beating the two-time F1 champion in the Supercar Lites.

While Opmeer couldn’t register a win against the Finns, he was close enough that, with the scores tied at 2-2, Team eROC would advance on aggregate time and to a repeat match of 2022’s event against Team Germany.

However that didn’t quite go the same way as last year, with Vettel taking revenge en route to a 3-0 win for the F1 pros.

Sim racers have been part of the ROC mix since the 2018 event, which saw Rudy van Buren and Enzo Bonito take part and van Buren secure two wins for the team against Timo Bernhard and then-F2 driver Lando Norris.

Bonito returned the following year, and beat ex-F1 driver Lucas di Grassi, with James Baldwin taking the other seat in the sim racing squad — and victory against Ruben Garcia Jr., champion of NASCAR Mexico.

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