This is a version of Richard Burns Rally you and I will never get to play. This game is about much more than fun. It’s about saving lives.
Robert Reid – the man who guided Burns to their 2001 World Rally Championship title – was ready to board another flight to another training session with another group of safety delegates from rallies and championships around the world when COVID-19 kicked in.
Flights grounded. Travel halted. Training spiked.
Resourcefulness is key attribute for any successful co-driver and playing and watching the transition to a virtual world gave Reid an idea. Could he create the nightmare scenario for safety delegates using gaming technology?
“I knew what I wanted to do,” Reid told DirtFish, “but I didn’t know if it was possible. So I called Jon [Armstrong, Esports World Rally Champion] and he put me onto Bob’s Track Builder and I was away.”
Away meant constructing a stretch of stage that was and is a safety delegate’s worst nightmare.
“We can have spectators where we want them,” continued the world champion Scot. “We can have marshals cars parked in the wrong place, caravans in junctions, everything. We can create complete chaos in a stage, press play and take safety delegates through the stage at the same speed a zero car would pass through and ask them to sort the problems out.
“To make it more realistic, we give them very limited time to solve these issues – the same sort of time they’d have if they were liaising with a zero car from rally control.”
This sessions are delivered by ESP, the firm owned by Reid and training guru Brian Cameron. Through ESP, Reid and Cameron work with the FIA on young driver development programmes which have already delivered drivers like Ott Tänak and Stoffel Vandoorne to the pinnacle of the World Rally Championship and Formula 1 respectively.
But getting training done under lockdown was a new challenge. And one Reid solved via Zoom and his dastardly addition to Richard Burns Rally.
“We already use eLearning platforms and webinars as a way of providing core training and some assessment work,” he said. “But when it came to the online presentation, it took a bit of work to make it more than just a webinar.
“With the help of the game and Zoom, we produced and delivered the sort of scenarios which allowed us to present in a very similar fashion as if we’d been working face-to-face. We did the sessions in four two-hour blocks over two days, but we tried to be mindful of the time difference – we had some people dialling in from Australia and some from South America; some of the guys had a late night and others had an early morning.
“It’s not possible to travel right now, but it’s great to see that that doesn’t mean the training has to stop.
“We’re working with safety officials from lots of WRC rounds and obviously closely with Michèle [Mouton, FIA WRC safety delegate). The process is very interactive and we’re able to challenge the safety delegates by putting them in the middle of a situation.
“For example, it takes five minutes to ‘drive’ through the virtual stage and we’ll pause the video where there are particular issues like too many spectators in one place. We’ll then give them a total of 10 minutes to decide on a course of action for a dozen different scenarios. The good thing is that, running in the virtual world, we can create multiple problems – even down to things like the marshals not offering the thumbs up to confirm everything is good – and really test them.
“There’s nothing like face-to-face delivery of training, and we want to keep making headway on this subject even in these challenging times.”