Jeremy Gonsalves completed a remarkable hat-trick of Esports rally victories last weekend (May 29-31), beating an international field by 15 seconds in the inaugural RallyE-Barbados, hosted by the on-line rally group, Carib Rally Club (CRC), on Codemasters’ Dirt Rally 2.0 game. Gonsalves had already triumphed in the previous weekend’s King of thE Hill and one of CRC’s first events, Rally Trinidad 2020.
Although the provisional entry numbered more than 200, Friday night’s stages were tackled by a total of 162 starters, motor sport regulars and Sim-only competitors relishing the chance for competition while the coronavirus pandemic has closed down real-world rallying. Just short of 100 local entries faced 70 from the wider Caribbean and countries as far afield as New Zealand, Sierra Leone and the United States, with the majority from the island’s regular source markets for rallying tourism, the United Kingdom.
The event mirrored the real-world Sol Rally Barbados as far as possible, with 25 special stages, three on Friday night, 12 on Saturday and 10 on Sunday. CRC used Dirt Rally 2.0’s German stages on Friday and Saturday, then switched to Spain for the final day, where the fast-flowing stages are reminiscent of those in the traditional Barbados Sunday in the south-east corner of the island. A briefing meeting via Microsoft Teams was held pre-event and the action was monitored by a panel of experienced stewards.
With a 20-hour window each day to allow competitors worldwide to tackle the stages – the UK is currently five hours ahead, for instance – it was maximum attack from the start, particularly for the front-runners, with M-Sport World Rally Championship co-driver Elliot Edmondson (he sits with Gus Greensmith) the early leader on Friday. His dominance was challenged by fellow-Brit Liam Carfrae, however, whose impressive times using a controller to finish third overall at the previous weekend’s King of thE Hill had made everyone sit up. Gonsalves flirted with disaster, however, too slow on the first stage, then pushing too hard on the third resulting in rolling off the stage. He was lucky to get back on the road and end the day sixth, with Carfrae the overnight leader from Dominic Ollivierre of St Vincent and the Grenadines second, Edmondson third, with just seven seconds spread over the trio.
Saturday promised lively action, with 12 stages covering nearly 80 kilometres, a transition from day into night . . . and rain in the afternoon, although competitor numbers had dropped by around 30 (another reflection of the real-world Sol Rally Barbados) after the challenging Friday stages and some power outages in Barbados. Carfrae put in some some aggressive wet stage times to stay ahead of the field, while Gonsalves won eight of the 12 to move in to second place, nudging Ollivierre down to third.
The move to the fast-flowing stages on Sunday brought a significant surface change, along with rain on the first two tests of the opening loop, presenting drivers with a tricky tyre choice. While this looked set to be the great leveller, it was in fact rally leader Carfrae who shook things up. After an uncharacteristic brush with the scenery, he lost one minute changing a puncture . . . and, in the near-instant world of social media, the rest of the Top 10 knew within minutes. Of those who changed up a gear, UK driver Richard Bliss came into contention for a podium finish, although it was Ollivierre whose times kept him at the head of the field. Gonsalves was still chipping away, however, fastest on stage after stage, finally cementing his victory by winning the Katspraddle Power Stage by more than two seconds, and the event by 15secs.
Ollivierre, who repeated his second-place finish of King of thE Hill, was among the first to congratulate the winner with a Facebook post. “Top job, Jeremy Gonsalves! Top drive and well done on the hat-trick! Stellar performance on day three. You earned it buddy! Well done.” Bliss finished third overall, another 44secs adrift, while erstwhile leader Carfrae won the Controller class for the second weekend in a row, fifth overall.
Carib Rally Club chairman Robert Simmons said: “The event proved to be a lot more successful than the committee and I could have imagined. I would like to thank the Barbados Rally Club for not only recognising and embracing Esports, but also for providing some of the prizes for this event, and the Barbados Motoring Federation, which has expressed an interest in supporting Esports in the future. Also Blades Trophies, Cargo BGI and power stage sponsor Katspraddle, who agreed to back our new venture.”
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