Las Vegas eRace: Say Hello To Passioneer Olli
Posted on: 05 January, 2017
Snappy New Year, passioneers! It's been a long break and we just can’t wait to get back into the groove this season. And what better way to kick the year off than with a trip to Sin City. Yup – we're headed to Vegas, baby.
On the 7th of Jan Formula E will be holding its first ever eRace at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The competition is a non-championship, simulator event where all 20 Formula E drivers will be pitted against 10 top gamers (selected from the 'Road To Vegas' online sim racing competition) to race for a total prize pool of $US 1,000,000. It's the biggest prize pool ever offered for a sim racing contest! The event is as historic as the date itself (1-7-17). And we are super-thrilled to be a part of it.
Our drivers Nick Heidfeld and Felix Rosenqvist will be contenders, along with a special guest - Olli Pahkala. Olli is a sensational 27-year-old Finnish driver, with an interesting history in racing. He had been karting for ten years, during which he battled for the Finnish Championship, finishing tenth in 2003. After a long break from real life racing, Olli started sim racing in the summer of 2012. He recorded three podiums in the iRacing World Championship and currently stands third in the championship. As a World Championship race winner, Olli has tested himself against the best. But what's more fascinating is that he's also the Founder and Chairman of the Finnish Sim Racing Association, and has organised several events. Seems like a one-man army that you'd want to know everything about. So we did.
Tervetuloa Olli! It's great to have you on the Mahindra Racing team for the Las Vegas eRace coming up on January 7. We’re pretty excited and think our odds for a Mahindra driver coming out on top have just gone through the roof!
First off, tell us something about your background. What's your story?
Well, at the start of November I made a profession out of my hobby by moving to Germany to work as a Project Manager for Fanatec, a sim racing equipment company. Before that, I lived in Rovaniemi, Finland, where I was working for The Finnish Air Force as Fighter Controller and Military Air Traffic Controller.
How did you get started in sim racing?
Back in 2012, I was hanging out at my friend’s place and he showed me a YouTube video from an iRacing World Championship race. I was really amazed at the level of racing, so I bought my first wheel the very next day and here I am now!
Olli's home setup
Take us through sim racing a bit; how does the format work?
Like in real racing, there are different categories. At the first level, you can divide sim racing into road racing, oval racing and rally racing. Then under the different categories there are opportunities to drive with different cars, such as GT-cars, open wheelers, production cars, late models and more. In addition, there are multiple ways to race - sprint racing, endurance racing, time attacks, team racing and so on.
Basically, everything is available for everyone, at any time. You can just power on your platform and start racing with other people online!
And how many events take place in a season - is it similar to a full motorsport calendar?
The most popular seasons are pretty close to full motorsport calendar, but there are competitions that the sim racing communities have developed themselves and are really good fun to drive. These could be shootouts, hot lap challenges, drive Spa-Francorchamps (circuit in Belgium) reversed or in reverse gear, you name it!
We understand you're one of the best, how are players ranked?
Hehe, thanks for the compliment! There's no global ranking available yet across the platforms so it is difficult to say who the best sim racers out there are. But I would say that we will be seeing most of the top drivers compete in the Las Vegas eRace since the prize pool is way beyond anything anyone could have imagined.
Most of the top drivers will compete in the Las Vegas eRace.
What have been your favourite events during your sim racing career?
I have always loved all the live events I've been to, both as a driver and as an organizer. For example, the Sim Racing Expos held in Nürburgring have been phenomenal as you meet all the competitors face-to-face. After some hard racing, you get to go and have fun together.
Olli's sim racing car
As an organizer, I helped set up the Finnish Sim Racing Championship in 2016 in the biggest LAN event in Finland, called Assembly. Here, we made all sim rigs for the drivers and produced a phenomenal race. After seeing young guys performing and doing what they love, the reward of putting all the effort for friends of sim racing was just amazing.
On average, how often do you practice?
Usually two hours per day. Although, it really depends on what other stuff is going on with my life. If I'm working hard and feeling tired from work, it could even be 45 minutes. When you’re too tired, there is no point in practicing.
The situation is highly different in the weekends though, you sleep long and have so much more to give.
International sim racing sounds like tough competition. How do you prepare for a race?
To be successful in races, you need to prepare yourself in multiple ways. First, you have to maximise the pace in different situations, like making optimal qualifying and race setups, determining strategies, practise race craft and checking the best overtaking spots.
Then there's the mental side of things, especially for big races like the Las Vegas eRace. Drivers need to minimise all factors that could affect their racing in a negative way, like tiredness and stress. So we need to sleep well and keep the body in really good condition to maximise the mind’s capacity to work throughout the race.
To be successful in races, you need to prepare yourself in multiple ways.
Some sim racers have made the crossover to physical racing, have you tried your hand at track racing or even other disciplines like rallying or karts?
I've raced in karts and rally when I was younger, so physical racing is the place where I got the spark for racing in general. It is quite easy to jump from a sim to a real car and go relatively fast, since advanced simulators are close to reality with driving methods and general feeling.
Who are the biggest stars in sim racing? Do you hold those who have made the switch to physical racing in high regard?
Greger Huttu is by far the biggest star in sim racing. The man has dominated everywhere he has been racing, so no doubt he is a legend!
The ones who have had the opportunity to make the switch, I’m really happy for them. There is only a handful of racers who have done it, for example GT Academy Jann Mardenborough, Lucas Ordonez and Wolfgang Reip have all established successful racing careers from sims. So it is very special and rare.
Any advice for someone looking to start out as a sim racer?
Buy yourself a sim steering wheel and pedals (from Fanatec, for example) for any platform or racing game you have and give it a go. After you get excited about it, you will find yourself having fun online with drivers all around the world. The sim racing communities provide great support for racers. They give awesome competitions that are fun and offer serious racing, as well as help to anyone, no matter what kind of background a sim racer has. I think the communities have been the biggest value for sim racing throughout the history of the sport. Kudos to them!
What are your expectations for the Las Vegas eRace?
All the results show that there is good opportunity to win big in Vegas, but it's difficult to say how it will pan out. The environment is new, the equipment is new, the track is new and we will have limited amount of practice. A lot of variables mean anything can happen.
I will give everything I have and on a good day that should be enough for a victory, but we have to see. One thing is for sure, I will enjoy the event no matter what the outcome of the race. We are going to make sim racing history, so it'll be unforgettable in many ways.
I will give everything I have and on a good day that should be enough for a victory.
How do you think the Formula E drivers will fare against the world’s top sim racers (including yourself)?
I think real racers have huge advantage since they are used to little prep time before a race. Track time is always limited for them so they know how to get the most out of practice in short period of time.
Sim racers will have the advantage of being used to the equipment and simulation, but sim racers usually have almost unlimited track time to prepare themselves. In Vegas, the practice time is limited to 45 minutes so it will be interesting to see how things work out. The situation is very balanced in many ways so anything can happen.
Thanks Olli! We are really looking forward to the eRace now and by the sounds of it, it could be an opportunity for us to win big.
They say, "if you want to win, get a Finn!" And with Olli on our team, we sure hope that's true. Will he walk away with the $200,000 winner’s jackpot? His chances already look pretty good. He's leading in the FanBoost and we want to keep him there. Head on over to the FanBoost Page (http://fanboost.fiaformulae.com) and vote for Olli to receive an extra boost of 100kJ during the eRace. Only the top three drivers get the extra power, so get voting!
Onnea, Olli! And see you passioneers at the eRace.