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Formula E accelerates on virtual grid with new series
2021-01-12 

Formula E is forging a link between e-sports fantasy and racing reality.

The electric-car championship, which bills itself as the only track competition in the world that allows fans to impact the outcome of races by having them vote for driver bonus points, has launched a six-round e-sports competition in which every full-time entrant will receive a share of a $125,000 prize pool, with the overall winner earning a real-life test drive.

The new Accelerate series is an extension of Formula E's Race at Home Challenge, a virtual championship launched during the first wave of the pandemic, which forced the cancellation of the Sanya ePrix on southern China's Hainan Island last February.

Accelerate will feature a full 24-car virtual grid and run on the rFactor 2 gaming platform using simulations of real-world FE street circuits.

Ahead of the first race, a qualifying session that runs until midnight on Jan 13 is being staged on a virtual Tempelhof Airport circuit in Berlin, the site of the six-race 2019-20 season finale.

The three fastest sim racers are guaranteed a spot in the Accelerate competition. Each driver will race and score points for a real-world FE team, from which they will receive tips, mentoring and "other talent development opportunities", according to a Formula E release.

The 25-minute online races, which feature as part of 90-minute broadcasts, will also incorporate energy management and Attack Mode, whereby drivers can activate a higher power mode. Those who enter every one of the six rounds, with the finale worth double points, are guaranteed a share of a minimum prize pool of $125,000.

Mercedes racer Stoffel Vandoorne, who won the Race at Home Challenge, said: "Formula E continues to create opportunities for fans and the next generation of drivers to get involved with the sport, and Formula E Accelerate will see a number of improvements that bring us closer to the real-life experience since our last event.

"Having won the Formula E Race Home Challenge, I learned how competitive and demanding it is to race at such a high standard on a regular basis. This time there will be an extra challenge, having to contend with the introduction of energy management and Attack Mode, so it will be interesting to see how drivers manage."

Meanwhile, the lighter and more powerful cars in Formula E's incoming Gen3 regulations will not require pre-existing tracks to be reconfigured, according to championship co-founder Alberto Longo.

A 120-kilogram weight reduction and 100-kilowatt power increase-up to an equivalent of 470 brake horsepower-headline the Gen3 rules, which will debut in the 2022-23 season.

FE has already worked to eliminate artificial narrowing into tight turns on many circuits, and simulations for the faster Gen3 cars have not shown a need for wholesale track redesigns.

In an interview with Autosport.com, Longo said major changes to the tighter street layouts have been planned but will be held back until a 'Gen4' car is introduced.

"All the simulations that we are doing on the Gen3, we are not going to be needing to change those tracks. But that probably will happen in Gen4. We are ready for that," Longo said. "Eventually, in most of the places that we race, we already have those plan Bs or potential extensions on the track in order to add speed and acceleration."

With Audi and BMW recently announcing they will quit FE at the end of the this season, Longo added: "We understand what are the constraints we have for the sustainable future of the championship-that is certainly cost."

Longo told Autosport that during the Gen3 cycle, FE would look at staging 16 or 17 races at most.

"Up to Gen3, I don't think we're going to go over 15 races," he said. "After that, we're developing a plan and discussing it internally to see if there's an opportunity for us to basically go to a wider number of races.

"I have to say, if we do it, we will do it with agreement from all of the ecosystems. We will decide in the family with all the teams and manufacturers."

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