British Rally Championship frontrunner Rhys Yates won the World Rally Championship’s Esports WRC Shootout, based around the stages of Rally Argentina on the WRC 8 game.
M-Sport Ford WRC 2 driver Yates progressed through the knockout competition against other real-life opposition, and prior to his final contest against Rally México WRC 3 winner Marco Bulacia – who was driving a Škoda Fabia – he was given some words of ‘encouragement’ by team boss Richard Millener.
The Thursday night showdown took place on virtual versions of the Cuchilla Nevada and El Cóndor stages, with Yates taking the lead on the first stage by over seven seconds after Bulacia spun off the road at high speed. Yates lost his co-driver halfway through the stage, but otherwise reported back that all was good in the hills of Argentina.
Bulacia thought the run through El Cóndor would suit him better, but he ended up rolling his car off a rock and losing more time to the more cautious Yates.
Both drivers had bought immersive simulator hardware setups for the event.
“I’m really chuffed,” said Yates. “I wasn’t sure about this in the beginning. If I’m going to do something, whether it’s playing six-a-side football or going a bike ride with my brother, I’ve got to win. I know there are a lot of really good and fast gamers out there.
“Don’t get me wrong, I love a shot at WRC 8, but I hadn’t spent as long playing the game as some others. But once I’d decided I’d do it, I was all-in.
“I couldn’t get used to [my sim]. In the end I went back to the hand controller for the qualifying rounds. When I got through that on Monday and I knew I was into the more serious competition then I set aside time each day to get on the sim and go through the stages.
“I’ve got to be honest, a couple of times I was absolutely flying and going really well and I was sat there thinking: ‘This is it, Rhys, you’ve got this nailed…’ then I’d touch a bump or a rock and have a big accident. Trust me, the PS4 nearly went through the window on a couple of occasions!”
Yates made it through the quarter- and semi-finals before facing his biggest virtual test yet with the final.
“The final was mint,” he said. “I haven’t driven a rally car competitively since February, so getting to this level of competition – where I absolutely knew I couldn’t make a mistake – really sharpened the focus up again.
“I’m out training, running or biking hard once a day, like we’re allowed, but while we’re not driving, there’s not so much that can keep the mind so sharp. That’s where WRC 8 is really working for me.
“Like I’ve said, winning is what it’s all about for me, so to have won the Esports WRC Shootout is great. And, yeah, it is a big deal.
“There were some big names in there from the world of rallying and to have won and been quicker than all of them is something I’m happy with. It’s a big deal. And to win after putting 100% in is really satisfying. And it was a bit of fun.”