With motor sports going virtual amid the coronavirus pandemic, it appears not everyone is coping well with the change in gear to online.
A Formula E driver was caught cheating this weekend – by getting a video game ace to secretly stand in for him in a virtual race for charity.
Daniel Abt admitted letting e-sports pro Lorenz Hoerzing race in his stead at a May 23 Race At Home Challenge event. As a result, Abt was booted off his Audi team, disqualified from the Berlin E-Prix, and ordered to pay €10,000 to charity as punishment. Hoerzing has been suspended from his respective e-sports competitions.
That's more than a little embarrassing for 27-year-old Abt because his dad, Hans-Jürgen, runs the all-electric E-series Audi team.
The con was uncovered when rival drivers noted that Abt, who had struggled with the transition to virtual racing, suddenly became one of the better drivers in the virtual race, claiming third place in the charity event. Let us say that again: he got busted for cheating in a charity race.
"Integrity, transparency and consistent compliance with applicable rules are top priorities for Audi – this applies to all activities the brand is involved in without exception," Audi said in its statement on the matter. "For this reason, Audi Sport has decided to suspend Daniel Abt with immediate effect."
Team bosses later fired Abt. “I did not take it as seriously as I should have,” he said in a statement. “I am especially sorry about this because I know how much work has gone into this project on the part of the Formula E organisation. I am aware that my offence has a bitter aftertaste but it was never meant with any bad intention.”
In a mea culpa video, below in German, he argued that simulated racing is a long way from the real thing, and the real-life drivers can be forgiven for not adjusting.
"The online Formula E race is based on rFactor 2, which is a game. It's a simulation which does not have anything in common with real racing, which is what I'm normally doing," he said. "One tries to make it look realistic, of course, but it is definitely very far away from what makes a real Formula E car."
None of that explains why Abt had to hire a pro gamer to race for him, but we're getting there.
"When we were practicing for this Race At Home Challenge on the Twitch stream, we were talking to other Sim racers. We were communicating to them through an online program. We discussed sim racing, we drove together, and had fun. In this stream, we had a conversation and the idea came up, that it would be a funny move if a Sim racer basically drove for me."
It was not particularly funny.
The stunt has now cost Abt his job, and, ironically, brought a lot more attention to Formula E than the actual races had.
To be fair, Abt is not the first driver to struggle with the transition from real cars to simulators during the pandemic. The terminally left-turning NASCAR circuit has had its own struggles in that respect.
Still, cheating in a video game race? For charity? ®