Andre de Kock
"People do stuff they would not attempt at a real circuit, where crazy overtaking often proves violent, costly and a vexation to your team".
In the international motorsport arena, Covid-19’s devastation still has to be estimated. What with the F1 Grand Prix season now up and running, various other disciplines of the Adrenaline Game are planning some form of resurgence in the latter months of 2020. All will suffer curtailed 2020 seasons and subsequent financial implications, while trying to claw back the involvement of circuits, television packages, sponsors and teams.
In the W Series, launched amid much global approval last year, the damage is complete. The entire single-seater championship for lady drivers, scheduled to run as a support series for the now defunct German Touring Car series, has been binned for this year.
That was particularly tough on South Africa’s top woman racer Tasmin Pepper. She finished 10th overall in the 2019 W Series, retaining her drive with the Hitech GP team for this year. Consequently, Tasmin has made no other provisions to compete in 2020 – a devastating blow for the very real racer she is.
All is not lost though – the W Series will be run next year, with undercard races already confirmed at the 2021 USA and Mexican F1 Grands Prix. Meanwhile, the W Series organisers have launched an esports league, set to pitch 21 top woman drivers against one another in 10 virtual reality race meetings at a variety of international circuits.
Tasmin has tackled the new challenge with verve – after three rounds, she is sixth out of 21 competing drivers. She explains that racing on a computer screen is not new to her.
“Last year I learned the W Series’ circuits in a simulator – it was the only way to find my way around unknown tracks when a race weekend would offer you very limited seat time before the qualifying sessions,” she says.
She says the virtual reality racing is extremely realistic. “The programme is incredible – the simulator sounds exactly like my Tatuus Alfa Romeo T-318 race car, and the lap times are the same as those one would achieve in that vehicle around a particular circuit.
“All the bumps and dips of the real circuit are there, you can hear the other cars around yours, and you lose time by not being precise and smooth, just like in the real car. The only differences are the lack of G-forces, the absence of heat in the cockpit and, of course, the severity of the consequences when you crash.”
This, Tasmin says, is a problem with esport racing. “People do stuff they would not attempt at a real circuit, where crazy overtaking often proves violent, costly and a vexation to your team, who end up having to rebuild your car.
“In esport racing, you can simply push a restart button after a huge crash – something that makes many competitors much braver than they would be in a real car, at real speeds. I try not to crash – racing is supposed to be an exercise in precision under taxing conditions, and I have always tried to score by making fewer mistakes that my opposition,” she adds.
To keep her eye in, Tasmin has a Rotax Max D2 kart, which she will be driving often at the Zwartkops kart circuit the rest of the year. “A 125cc kart has phenomenal performance and grip – the closest thing I could have to a wings and slicks single seater race car, and driving many laps on a kart circuit will also help to keep me racing fit,” she says.
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