Mike Rockenfeller Driving virtual sustainability charge

Mike Rockenfeller: Driving virtual sustainability charge

rFactor 2

Le Mans winner and DTM champion Mike Rockenfeller sat down with us to talk about the virtual series he organised, World eX.Image credit: RCCO

In March of this year, a brand new esports racing series held its first round in which real-world pros and esports racers took to rFactor 2 and did battle in quickfire races. This series is called the World eX championship, we covered it back in June heading into round five.

What is World eX?

The series aims to showcase itself as a platform to virtually develop zero emission vehicles and technology and with its unique format, it has delivered some exciting racing. So far, Danish Touring Car champion Lasse Sorensen has asserted dominance for TK-9 E-Speed, the esports team of nine-time Le Mans 24 hours winner Tom Kristensen. Sørensen is the only driver so far this season to win more than one eX Prix, however the format of the series means he’s not any more comfortable in terms of championship position than any of the other drivers who are in the running.

Every eX Prix winner is entered into a two lap shootout around the Nordschleife and the winner of that race becomes the overall champion. Therefore, that means Sørensen will be joined byPhil Denes, Risto Kappet, Martin Stefanko, Bruno Senna, Luca Kita, Nicolas Hillebrand and potentially one other driver providing someone different wins the last eX Prix around the Nürburgring Grand Prix circuit. Every single one of these drivers stands an equal chance of being the World eX champion.

Brainchild of a racing legend

World eX was founded and is operated by the Racing Concept Cars Organisation, and one of the founders of RCCO is Mike Rockenfeller, who is mostly known for both winning the 24 hours of Le Mans in 2010 and for being the 2013 Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters champion. With his founding partner Thomas Voigt, they developed this series in partnership with Studio 397, as they also did with the car they use in the series, the 1,000 horsepower and 1,000 kilogram all-electric eX ZERO.

With the championship fast approaching the end of its first season, we had a chance to talk to Rocky and ask him about running the series and his hopes for the future.

OverTake: What has been your personal background in sim racing?

Mike Rockenfeller:

In the days when there was the first PlayStation, don’t know my exact age at the time, probably 10 I don’t know. I think it was Colin McRae at the time or Formula One plus I had an F1 game much earlier on a computer, I was really young and I could play it basically with my keyboard in my mother’s office. So that was really the start of virtual racing and computer games for me. I was doing Go-Karts but obviously I was really keen as a young kid to play those games and have a battle with some friends.

For sure, later on when it comes to what we know as being sim racing, I would say it started with Audi by being in the simulator and developing it with them with other drivers as well as myself. In my private life though – not that long ago. it was probably two years ago when I started to have my own rig and get into it more during the off-season to basically have fun and keep my brain in the racing mode.

Plus you meet virtually with friends who are placed somewhere else in the world, then you just have fun. You can talk and you can share the same passion in a very easy and still competitive way, depending on how you approach.

There are so many possibilities nowadays which I wasn’t aware of to be honest, there were times I was doing an event and I just didn’t get the sheer scale of sim racing, but my team Pheonix Racing were really into sim racing. This mainly includes my lead mechanic who was a driver at so he was always talking about it and telling me how cool it is, and that he was racing with , he was like “Hey you need to get a sim rig, it’s a lot of fun!” so then I got into it! I love doing it when I have the time.

OverTake: What were your inspirations to develop the eX ZERO and start the esports racing championships which would lead to World eX?

Mike Rockenfeller:

When I began getting into sim racing, at the same time Thomas Voigt – a longtime friend and work colleague at Audi – had always been doing this Slotcar championship and he approached me with this idea of an esports championship that was different to all the others.

So we started to talk and we decided to do it, so we were working in the background thinking we wanted our own championship with our own car and we want to be future orientated so we wanted to go full electric, let’s be a bit crazy and develop a car on our own which doesn’t currently exist in real life which could be something really cool in the future on a racetrack with electric motors.

Rocky has competed in a couple of rounds of World eX but hasn’t been able to qualify so far for the Nordschleife finale. Image credit: VCO Esports

That was basically how we set the goals for the car so then we said “Okay let’s make it crazy difficult to drive and really powerful”. We took the ruleset from the Slotcar in terms of the car’s shape and dimensions, the set of rules can be very similar to the Slotcar series since Thomas and his people had already worked quite heavily on the rules for the Slotcar series in the years prior so we took that as a base for the eX ZERO with the future hope and goal to attract manufacturers to enter our virtual championship.

We then went to Studio 397, had some meetings and we asked if we could do it together, and with them we developed the car, set the goals of 1,000 horsepower, roughly the weight and downforce figures, four-wheel drive, the development all came together. I did some testing, they changed stuff after I gave my feedback, did some more testing, repeat process until in the end when the eX ZERO was done. It was the first car we did and of course we will try to develop it further, but in the end the main goal is to potentially attract other brands with their own cars and prototypes.

Like the DTM Electric, it’s very similar to our car so it could be in theory also racing in our championship, or if Porsche wanted to race the Mission R in World eX, let’s see!

OverTake: What have been the things you’ve learned in your first year running this championship and what have been the challenges?

Mike Rockenfeller:

Challenges? Endless. We had a lot of high goals, we learned it’s not so easy. It’s still a young field, to make the transition from hobby to professional. I think in the sim racing world there’s still a lot to be done and a lot to happen, it’s a fine line. We would love to make a business of it, and obviously both Thomas and myself are still new to it in a way, we set some goals which we could not achieve, we maybe went with too many high targets and we had to scale it down, it’s always an ongoing process.

We try to put on a very complex show, and in every show something goes wrong. We initially thought it was best to prerecord it (the first four broadcasts were prerecorded), then we realised it was just more work than it was worth and it wasn’t giving us any benefits so we moved to a live broadcast which was more fun and better for us. The format as of now is a bit too long so we will rethink everything for next season together with the teams. It’s a bigger challenge more for them than us really, since every team has to field a real world racing driver and an esports racer, the real world racing drivers aren’t always available. It’s not easy to always have the same set of drivers for every race.

So, many things we have learned and we will, once the season is over, look at everything from every event that didn’t work and what needs to change. Like I said with the format, we have to shorten it and make it less complex for the viewers to run it like that, running the server and make sure everything works since the software we use rFactor 2 wasn’t made for this crazy format. So there’s a lot of thinking for that, to do the overlays, quickly get the results on screen, luckily we have very smart people amongst us so that’s why we make a lot of progress but now is the time to reflect and make decisions for next year.

Overall, we can be quite happy. We are still very unique, we have a car done on our own and we run a very different concept so it’s a lot of tension for other drivers to sometimes only do one lap being the difference between being in or out. We get a lot of feedback from teams and drivers, we collect that. Together as a whole, we try to improve for the future. It’s to be expected that we ran before we could walk, make those mistakes and learn in the process.

OverTake: Who have been the standout drivers in World eX this season?

Mike Rockenfeller:

I mean, that has to be Lasse (Sørensen), he’s been very impressive throughout all season on all tracks. But it’s really hard to not mention all the others. Having Romain Grosjean there on the occasion is awesome, helps us so much and he takes it really seriously, that’s what I love about him and he’s really into it.

I wouldn’t say there are too many standouts because it means for the others they are not standing out as much because there are many drivers I think. I will say that Alen Terzic is one guy I really like, he doesn’t talk too much, he has a lot of bad luck, always in the wrong moment and hopefully he has a chance in the last event to qualify for the Nordschleife shootout.

Nico Müller is another guy getting into it more and more with his own team NIANCO and drivers. Hillebrand too in the last event, the emotions he had when he won that race was so cool. It’s certainly difficult to pinpoint so few people because they’ve all been great.

OverTake: What are your hopes for World eX in the future?

Mike Rockenfeller:

Mainly that we grow and become more recognised, that we have more viewers, but mostly that we become the most innovative. That teams and drivers are wanting to race with us, that they really look up to the championship and say “This is cool and different”, this is basically the wish I have for World eX. To be one of the best sim racing championships out there.

I think this is our goal and that we can transport the message, no matter if it’s electric or not electric, that we can put on good racing and develop cars for a cleaner future. I’d love to see some different cars in our championship, that is of course our big goal, and it’s not easy to achieve, to convince new manufacturers to jump on the train. Just one joining will open the floodgates. Can you imagine what it would do? If Porsche wanted to race the Mission R on the real track, we would love it to compete in the World eX.

OverTake: You’ve gone on record as saying you’d like to see the eX ZERO be made in reality. With the DTM’s Electric concept car being able to be driven on a simulator, might you perhaps consider approaching that concept with the intention of having real world drivers in the real life car and esports racers driving it on a simulator?

Mike Rockenfeller:

I don’t know if I really said that we aimed to have the car out there in real life. Maybe that was misunderstood, what I said is that the figures of the car are limited by what we know could be realistic performance figures so a car like the eX ZERO could in theory be made in reality, therefore we don’t go with a fantasy dream car that nobody could ever realistically build (Like the SRT Tomahawk X in Gran Turismo Sport).

Currently, we aren’t big enough and already working so hard to make our virtual racing championship bigger and to keep it alive which is already difficult for us. We are already trying to get new partners and sponsorships onboard, currently we are spending the money out of our own pocket, we don’t make any really infact we lose more than we gain because we invest in the championship. We will not be able to do anything in real life.

But having said that, the DTM Electric as I’ve already said is a car that’s super close to our car. It’s very interesting what they did at Red Bull Ring with the approach they had, and they are thinking about how can they make this car race in reality, which format do they take since they also are putting out 1,000+ horsepower, you can’t run for long. We all know that with an electric car, so what concept can you do? Even there, it would be nice to talk to the people who run that concept, maybe they can test their car in our championship, test some formats with us and learn from it for their reality project. That is maybe a realistic approach.

That idea of having esports racers racing real cars on a simulator is awesome, and maybe we can see that somewhere in the future, but it still takes a while. We are good in the position we are at the moment, doing all of this virtually. We are open to the concept but we have to be realistic.

Besides, there’s no pressing escape if you’re driving a real car on a simulator! Hahaha.

Down to the Wire

World eX’s final round takes place 23 November and you can watch the livestream from 9pm CEST from their Twitch channel, VCO’s official YouTube channel, or on Motorsport.tv where you can see the last eX Prix of the season taking place on the Nürburgring GP circuit and then the Nordschleife finale in which all the season’s eX Prix winners will do a two-lap winner-takes-all battle that will see the inaugural champion be crowned. Whether that is the so-far dominant Lasse Sørensen or someone else who will cause a big upset?

With that being said, there’s one driver who will not be causing an upset and winning the whole eX Prix and the Nordschleife finale, and that is.. me! Yes, writer Luca here speaking in the third person. I was invited to participate in the finale on 23 November by Thomas Voigt which will be an incredible experience no doubt. I have never driven on rFactor 2 before, I mostly drive Gran Turismo Sport and F1 2021.. and I’ll be alongside professionals. Think of this as that episode of Top Gear when James May participated in that World Rallycross event and was lapped by Tanner Foust, I will probably get lapped by Alen Terzic.

Big thank you to Thomas, Rocky and everyone at World eX for inviting me. Be sure to tune in and watch me get humiliated!

Who do you think will win the World eX championship? Tell us on Twitter at @OverTake_gg or in the comments down below!

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