When the complete history of the pandemic is written a decade or so from now, one chapter should be devoted to the most curious discovery of all: Virtual racing is as dangerous for professional drivers as real-life competition, with Daniel Abt being the latest example.
NASCAR drivers learned lessons the hard way
In its search to fill the void after the COVID-19 pandemic shut down all sports, NASCAR officials came up with a fun idea. They pulled a bunch of drivers together to compete in iRacing – virtual competitions streamed online for other gamers to watch and shown on TV for race fans to follow.
The gimmick worked. A country nearly completely shut down by quarantining blew through everything Netflix and Amazon Prime had to offer while waiting for ESPN to roll out The Last Dance, so the audience gobbled up iRacing beginning in March.
Unfortunately, there were a couple of notable crash-and-burns – and we’re not talking about make-believe Chevys plowing into make-believe SAFER barriers on a make-believe Turn 3. Two drivers took hits because of bad behavior.
First, Bubba Wallace quit mid-race after crashing and signed off with a rant that included an expletive. That cost Wallace one of his real-life sponsorships.
Not long afterward, Kyle Larson messed up really badly by uttering a racial slur during a competition. Sponsors tripped over each other in a race to distance themselves from Larson, and the Chip Ganassi team fired him. Larson, 27, was early in his seventh full season of a very promising career and faces a long road back to finding a ride in the NASCAR Cup Series.
Daniel Abt got caught employing a ringer
Formula E driver Daniel Abt got caught cheating over the weekend in the Race at Home Challenge eSports series. The 27-year-old German was discovered to have turned over the game controls to Lorenz Hoerzing, a professional eSports competitor.
Formula E is a race series for electric-powered racecars comparable in design specifications to Formula One cars, and Abt has been part of the circuit since its 2014 debut. The Audi driver has two victories and eight other podium finishes in 63 career starts, never having missed a race.
The eSports version of the series features regular Formula E drivers competing from home. Getting motivated to compete in the latest simulated race on a virtual version of the Berlin Tempelhof track was apparently more than Abt could handle.
“I did not take it as seriously as I should have,” Abt said in a statement after getting caught. “I am especially sorry about this because I know how much work has gone into this project on the part of the Formula E organization. I am aware that my offense has a bitter aftertaste but it was never meant with any bad intention.”
Englishman Oliver Rowland won the event and Stoffel Vandoorne of Belgium placed second. It was Vandoorne and two-time Formula E champ Jean-Eric Vergne of France who were responsible for blowing the whistle on Abt.
“Please ask Daniel Abt to put his Zoom next time he’s driving, because like Stoffel said, I’m pretty sure he wasn’t in,” Vergne said on his Twitch stream.
Sure enough, Formula E officials pulled the IP addresses being used by the racers and concluded that Abt wasn’t at the controls.
Daniel Abt was hit with harsh penalties
Formula E driver Daniel Abt’s bit of deception involving the use of a ringer was met with harsh penalties beginning with disqualification from last weekend’s race and being stripped of all his points in the virtual series.
There were real-life implications as well, beginning with being ordered to donate $15,500 to charity. The Audi team subsequently announced that it had suspended Abt, which could conceivably cost him his ride when Formula E resumes racing this summer.
Abt’s ringer, Lorenz Hoerzing, was disqualified from all future rounds of an unrelated online gaming competition.