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Rhys Yates made a remarkable virtual driving debut to win the FIA World Rally Championship’s eSports WRC Shootout. The young Briton ripped up the learner driver plate fixed to the back of his virtual driving rig after defeating Bolivian teenager Marco Bulacia in a tense head-to-head final in his first #RaceAtHome eSports tournament. Organiser WRC Promoter turned the spotlight on the sport’s stars of the future during three nights of intense action streamed via the WRC’s social media channels. Nearly 700,000 fans viewed the tournament across the championship’s platforms. Yates, more usually seen at the wheel of M-Sport Ford’s Fiesta R5 in the WRC 2 support series, overcame 10 other young chargers on WRC 8, the championship’s official video game. After successfully negotiating the qualifying round, Yates ousted M-Sport Ford team-mate Adrien Fourmaux in the quarter-finals. In the semi-final he defeated Romania’s Raul Badiu, who previously won the Junior WRC eSports warm-up event. The final was fought out over two classic gravel speed tests from Rally Argentina. The real-life South American event was due to take place last weekend before being postponed due to the global Covid-19 pandemic. Yates was fastest through Cuchilla Nevada by more than seven seconds after Bulacia spun off the road. He extended his advantage by a further two seconds with a measured drive through El Condór, while Bulacia’s hopes ended when he rolled his Citroën C3. Yates prepared for the tournament by acquiring a sim-rig, complete with seat, wheel, pedals and a handbrake in an attempt to match the set-up of his competitors. But the new kit wasn’t an immediate hit. “I couldn’t get used to it,” he said. “In the end I went back to the hand controller for the qualifying rounds. When I got through that and I knew I was into the more serious competition, then I set aside time each day to get on the sim and go through the stages. “Waiting on the start line in the final I was really nervous. We were going head-to-head, so I’d changed my approach from going absolutely flat out to make my best possible time and now I was more focused on getting to the finish with no mistakes. There was one shot. “Winning is what it’s all about for me, so to have won the eSports WRC Shootout is great. There were some big names in there from the world of rallying and to have won and been quicker than all of them is something I’m happy with,” added Yates, who celebrated with a victory drink of tea from his shoe! Bulacia, who shares the lead in the real-life WRC 3 category after winning in Mexico last month, overcame Oliver Solberg in the semi-finals. “It was a great competition and a whole lot of fun too. I think the people here in Bolivia were happier yesterday when I beat Oliver to reach the final than after my WRC 3 victory at Rally Guanajauato Mexico!” he joked. WRC Promoter managing director Oliver Ciesla said the eSports WRC Shootout provided great entertainment for fans and competitors alike. “The tournament generated some exceptional competition, with a gripping final. To achieve nearly 700,000 views on the WRC’s social media channels was remarkable, and well above our expectations. “These are trying times for everybody and to be able to bring together some of rallying’s brightest rising stars from around the world was a great achievement. “Congratulations to Rhys. We’ve seen his speed already this season and now we’ve had this confirmed in virtual time too. He was super-quick throughout the competition and is a worthy winner,” he added. Video footage of the quarter-finals, semi-finals and final is available to view at https://www.wrc.com/en/archive/videos/.

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