Two Ford Fiesta rally cars lined up in separate lanes on a snowy track.

eRace of Champions: Who is Competing?

Assetto Corsa

One week to go until the Race of Champions and with it, their esports competition that will allow sim racers a chance to qualify for the real thing. Who are the four drivers going to Sweden?

Image credit: Race of Champions

A highlight event of the racing season is just around the corner. The Race of Champions is a tournament that invites legends from a multitude of motorsport disciplines to compete in short velodrome-esque time trial races. Traditionally these have taken place in stadiums, but last year in their first event back after COVID saw them go back to their roots with off-road driving.

All participants competed on the snowed over lakeside and ice lake itself of Pite Havsbad in Sweden, and it’s the same location for this year’s edition. Many big names are taking part like Sebastian Vettel, Mika Häkkinen, Sébastien Loeb, Valtteri Bottas and Petter Solberg.

But another reason to tune in is because of the sim racing tournament, the eRace of Champions.

Since 2018, the eRace of Champions has invited drivers from the entire sim racing space to try their hand at qualifying to be one of the final four to compete onsite. Then they have the chance to go for the opportunity of a lifetime, to potentially race in the real life event alongside all these legends of motorsport.

Some past alumni of the eRace of Champions include two of our Hero of the Month winners, 2018 eROC champion Enzo Bonito and the champion of the 2019 edition James Baldwin. They both competed in the real life event and Bonito even made headlines by defeating both a Formula E champion and an Indy 500 winner.

So who is competing this year? Here are the four sim racers who will be in the eROC Finals.

Jarno Opmeer: Champion Returns

After Bonito and Baldwin, the 2022 eROC winner was 2-time F1 Esports champion Jarno Opmeer, and he’s back for another go at it. Driving in real life at a high level is nothing new to the Dutchman, as he was a member of Renault’s F1 junior academy and contended for the Northern European F4 championship with F2 race winner Richard Verschoor.

He was overshadowed a tad by the driver who finished runner-up to him last year for reasons we will get to, but he was still mightily impressive. Winning the event meant he was able to compete in both the Nations Cup competition as part of the eROC All Stars team and in the individual Race of Champions event.

Also, as eROC champion, Opmeer got an automatic invitation to attempt to defend his crown. But it doesn’t mean he’s going to be able to participate in the main event.

In previous years, the champion was guaranteed a part in the main event and never had to compete in eROC. But last year saw the previous eROC champion Baldwin competing and he didn’t make it into the final. So there are never any guarantees for Opmeer. He can’t be slacking as he has got some tough competition once again.

Martin Palm: Local Hopeful

ROC are allowing the host nation to enter one of their own drivers through a competition ran by their governing body. Just like last year, that is going the way of Martin Palm who traditionally is a trackside photographer but won both last year’s and this year’s Swedish qualifying final for eRace of Champions.

Two people sat in a car with one driving.
Palm (right) giving James Baldwin (left) a ride in a Porsche on the snow and ice. Image credit: Race of Champions

The main hopes of any patriotic Swedish sim racing fans will rest on Palm’s shoulders once more. It’s perhaps not so unfair to say he struggled to match his rivals last year since he isn’t a paid professional sim racer but he didn’t make any major errors, unlike Baldwin who lost a lot of time on one of his main runs.

Anything can happen, so Martin Palm does still stand a chance of making it into the main event even with some very high level drivers alongside him.

Michael Romanidis: Qualified Finalist

Now for the only new face in eROC this year. Michael Romanidis will be a familiar name to those who follow F1 Esports and Le Mans Virtual. The Greek racer has been a part of Williams Esports for a few years. He made his way into the event by winning the Qualifying Final.

Romanidis faced off against the likes of Tommi Hallman and Dominik Blajer before defeating Kamil Pawlowski in the final to earn his invitation to Sweden.

Being such an established and reliable sim racer on both the F1 game and rFactor 2, who knows how well Romanidis will do once he’s in Sweden competing onsite. Don’t rule him out to spring a surprise, maybe not to the level of our final competitor but a surprise nonetheless.

Speaking of which..

Lucas Blakeley: A Hero’s Return

Last but by no means least, newly crowned F1 Esports champion Lucas Blakeley is back to right the result of last year. Up until the eROC final, Blakeley had been consistently running ahead of Opmeer across the board only to come up short when it mattered. But like we already said, perhaps Blakeley got the bigger win.

In the Nation’s Cup, Opmeer and Blakeley as part of the eROC All Stars team faced off against the historically successful Team Germany who had won the event eight times. Blakeley went up against Sebastian Vettel and despite pretty much no real-life car driving experience, he defeated the 4-time F1 world champion by 0.08 seconds.

We made Blakeley our Hero of the Month for this remarkable achievement, and of course he has since won the F1 Esports title but also had some outings in Scottish Formula Ford. With his increased real world racing presence, how would that impact his chances should he qualify once again for the main event?

How to Follow

The Race of Champions YouTube channel will be showing all the action when it gets underway next week. The eROC finals will be streamed on 27 January before the Nation’s Cup begins the following day, with Opmeer, Blakeley, Palm and Romanidis competing against each other on the sim as well as attempting to impress a panel of adjudicators with their real world driving.

Who do you think will win the eRace of Champions? Tell us on Twitter at @OverTake_gg or in the comments down below!

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