Last weekend at Vallelunga Circuit near Rome, motorsport was celebrated in many of its forms.
Categories like GT, touring cars, Formula 4, karting, drifting and eSports brought together competitors from 51 nations, all vying to bring home the FIA Motorsport Games gold.
The FIA Motorsport Games is based off the FIA GT Nations Cup, which was held in November last year in the Kingdom of Bahrain. It’s now an annual event, with competitors from a variety of motorsport disciplines participating at the same venue on the same weekend under their national flag. There were gold, silver and bronze medals up for grabs in each category, contributing to an overall country winner.Rome
The event kicked off near a Mussolini-era memorial in Rome called Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana. Here, drivers gathered ahead of a parade lap around some of the city’s most historic landmarks before ending up at Circus Maximus, Ancient Rome’s home of chariot racing.
I made it from the airport just in time to catch this unusual parking activity, and immediately heard a friendly voice shout tere, which means ‘hello’ in Estonian. My nation’s drift team was standing nearby next to their BMW E36 drift car. As I made my way through the improvised grid, I recognized many more faces, mainly from the European drifting scene, but also some circuit racing stars like Tom Coronel and Salih Yoluc.
After hearing some terrifying stories about Rome’s traffic and having previously experienced Italian driving culture, I decided to head off early to what I knew would be the perfect parade photo location outside the Colosseum. Half an hour later, I was discussing glorious Roman architecture with a number of other photographers who had the same idea. Yes, it wasn’t the most original vantage point, but sometimes you just have to shoot postcard pictures.
In the evening, the official opening ceremony welcomed all 196 drivers to the event. Tom ‘Mr. Le Mans’ Kristensen made a special appearance, arriving on a chariot (when in Rome, right?) with the FIA Motorsport Games trophy.Vallelunga Circuit
The following day, I made my way to Vallelunga Circuit. I had packed for a typical Italian weekend – shorts, sunglasses and sunscreen – but did I get to use any of those things? No, I did not. Even though it was t-shirt weather for somebody from a Nordic country, it definitely wasn’t what you’d call hot.
Here at the track, the GT Cup, TCR Cup and Formula 4 drivers made their first practice laps, while I began to learn the circuit layout from a photographer’s point of view.
Without a doubt, most attention was on the GT class. This was a proper international grid, with 44 drivers representing 22 countries from Europe, Asia, North America and Oceania. A lot of that had to do with the class organizer, SRO, who is the promotor of the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup.
The production car-based Touring Car Racing (TCR) class, historically known as World Touring Car Championship (WTCC), is really thriving right now. The series has grown exponentially, developing a large fanbase and fresh influx of manufacturers after the rebranding. And why shouldn’t it be a fan favorite? In TCR, spectators are treated with door-to-door action, akin to what you see in rallycross.
While all the other categories brought their own vehicles and full trucks’ worth of equipment to the event, the F4 class utilized the ‘arrive and drive’ principle, where for the sum of €25,000 competitors got a seat in a next-generation Formula 4 car. These cars use a 1.4L turbocharged Abarth engine paired with a 12kW Magnetti Marelli hybrid MGU (energy recovery system) that brings an additional 10% power to the party.
Every car ran an identical setup and had limited tires, but the data was shared between all – predominantly young – drivers and engineers.
Although it was overcast, the weather had held up for the first part of both Friday and Saturday, but as soon as it was time for drifting we got rain. During the Friday practice, I was a little bit saddened that Italian motorsport fans didn’t get to experience proper drifting, instead having to make do with a wet sliding spectacle.
Nevertheless, drivers found the tarmac much grippier than what they were used to in the rain. Front tires especially were happily finding grip on the banked carousel between turns 10 and 4 of the Vallelunga track. The international judging panel of Formula Drift’s Ryan Lanteigne, and Vernon Zwaneveld and David Kalas didn’t assign any inner clips but created outside zones at every opportunity.
With drift practice on Saturday run in dry conditions, drivers were hoping it would continue, but as mentioned, just as the floodlights were lit the showers came down. The conditions made the battles unpredictable, and a few strong drivers were defeated early in the event. Ultimately, Dmitriy Illyuk of Ukraine got the win in his Pandem Boss-kitted Nissan 200SX, claiming the first gold medal of the weekend.
On Sunday, the wet weather continued, to the point that the first GT Cup race was postponed for a good 40 minutes.
But that just meant there was more time to walk around the grid, which remained a hive of activity with teams constantly checking on the cars, contemplating strategies and tire choices, while drivers got into their right headspace before the green light.
Grid girls are quickly becoming a thing of the past in motorsport, but that doesn’t mean the pre-race placard and flag-holders are going to disappear altogether – at least as far as the FIA is concerned. For the Motorsport Games, they recruited both female and male grid staff to keep the tradition alive.
As expected, the whole show was very professionally run. I say show because the event should ideally be watched from home, just like the Olympic Games. It’s the only way you’d get to experience all of the action. At the track you have the atmosphere, but it’s easy to miss what is not happening in front of your eyes, like it was for me with the karting and eSports.
It was cool to see how the teams and fans prepared for the event; the grandstands and paddock were full of people wearing ‘geo-tagged’ costumes and getting right in behind their country. And as is the case with with Olympics, Eurovision, or any other big international contest, as soon as the first medals start being dished out people tend to get patriotic.
On Sunday evening the first ever FIA Motorsport Games came to a conclusion. The Russian Federation took the Nations Cup home with a gold medal in the TCR Cup (Klim Gavrilov) and two bronze medals from the Drifting Cup (Ilya Fedorov) and Karting Slalom (the pairing of Olesia Vashchuk and Vladislav Bushuev).