As his green team-TX3 paint hustled past the chequered flag at Nürburgring's GP circuit, TX3 Laige took victory in the first ever Forza Racing Championship. Over 20,000 gamers had entered the competition, it took 3 time trials, more than 1500 head-to-heads and 9 qualification races to whittle them down to twelve. And of these final few, Laige himself beside eleven more of the world’s best virtual drivers, only one could claim the title of champion and the keys to a 2017 Ford Focus RS.
Over the past days much has been said of the ForzaRC’s epic conclusion. The stakes were high and reputations were on the line as, before an an audience of thousands, these finalists battled it out for pride, track dominance and potential victory. But nobody predicted the intense and at times wild battle Laige would face - especially from second-place finisher CAR Lightning. Theirs was racing at its finest and closest, just as exciting, tense and compelling as all great motorsport.
At ESL we have been keen to catch up with our new champion, whose real name is Aurélien, and hear his perspective on the ForzaRC finals. We spoke about the races themselves, but it was also great to get the opportunity to find out a little about Laige - his heroes, his racing experience and how he deals with the pressure of competition. But above all, and as fans of great racing, we were pleased to able to offer him our warmest congratulations.
“It’s that feeling you have, when you wanted something, you worked hard to have it and you finally succeed.” - Laige
It is perhaps unsurprising to hear that Laige, who is now 21 years old, started racing young. As many have noted, the Frenchman’s on-track characteristics - the patience and maturity in his style - point to experience beyond his years. He explained: “I had my first console when I was 10, it was a Playstation 2 and Gran Turismo! But I've always been attracted to motorsports and it has always been my dream to be a racing driver.”
“I love Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost.” He continued, “I wasn't even born when they raced against each other, but they represent exactly what good racing means to me: Be as fast as possible and always target on winning on the one side, but you have to be smarter than the others while racing on the other.” Fighting wheel-to-wheel, as Laige well knows, is as much a mental as it is a physical game.
Three races were scheduled for the conclusion of the ForzaRC, the first at Watkins Glen International. From the green light CAR Lightning took the lead - and Laige was forced to follow. He was confident in interview, “I knew I was as fast as lightning, so I wanted to stay close to him and take any opportunity to overtake him.” but at the time things looked less certain. Laige was not commanding on track, he appeared to be just holding on - the pressure of competition, perhaps, having gotten to him.
Prior to the finals Laige had been touted as one of the favourites for the ForzaRC. He had entered the competition fresh off a victory at the ESL RaceOffPro, a tournament that had taken place earlier in the summer, and expectations were high. He explained how, in the past, the confidence of others had unsettled him - “My second French championship was the first time I was the favourite to win”, this was in 2013, “but I finished 2nd. It takes time to learn to deal with pressure”.
It took four laps for Laige to find his rhythm, to take charge of the mental game of racing and reel Lightning back in. There was an almost palpable change in his on-track confidence - something had clicked - and as the two moved bumper to bumper through the long, high speed sweepers at the Glen it seemed only a matter of time before Laige would make his move. “He only made one mistake,” Laige explained, “but that was enough to get side-to-side and for me to take the lead.”
First blood at the ForzaRC and victory at Watkins went to Laige, but his battle with Lightning had set the tone for the tournament - race two at Catalunya would be just as intense. “Unfortunately my start wasn't good,” Laige recalled, “I was pushed off the track in turn three and lost some places.” Indeed, it took some quick thinking on Laige’s part to find his way back into the stream of cars, and it was clear from lap one that this round would troublesome. In his own mild words, “We can say it was a recovery race for me.”
But the ForzaRC champion is no stranger to tough, shoulder-to-shoulder racing and he did not give up. Besides virtual racing he is accomplished behind the wheel of a go-kart - having competed alongside his TX3 teammates in numerous competitions, including the prestigious 24 Hours of RKC in Paris. It was be his experience in this rough-and-tumble class of motorsport that helped him regain his composure and fight back through to finish in a podium position.
“I tried but it wasn't enough.” - Laige
For Laige the result at Catalunya would ultimately prove to be bitter sweet. His competitor, Lightning dominated at Catalunya, winning in fantastic style and taking full advantage of a tough result for the championship leader. It was a difficult pill to swallow for Laige, as a hard-earned points advantage evaporated before his eyes: “After finishing third when Lightning was first, I knew that I lost the lead of the championship, and that the last race would be a hard one.”
So with only two points separating Lightning and Laige in the championship, the ForzaRC moved to the Nürburgring's GP circuit - and to perhaps the most exciting race of the series. With the championship being decided and prizes being awarded up and down the field, the pressure was high and the race started with a mess of aggressive driving. It was a coin flip as to who would come out on top but Laige kept his head in the game.
“I had a good start from pole but there was some contact at the back and Lightning touched me. After two turns I was something like fifth.” For a moment it seemed to be all over for Laige - but as the dust settled it became apparent that Lightning had drawn the short straw - the championship runner-up was out of position and was carrying damage. “I overtook Chemical for second place on lap three,” Laige continued, “Asix was fourth and Lightning fifth. I knew I that I would win if the positions stayed like that.”
But his rival had other plans. Despite his impossibly difficult start, Lightning dug deep and managed to move forward, overtaking both ASIX13 and Chemical to secure a third place result. Laige was chasing down first place driver CAR Box, “I wanted the win to secure the championship.” he said, “We would be at equal points if I couldn't pass Box for the lead of the race but its really hard to overtake on this track.”
Box drove brilliantly to hold on for the win, but the race itself failed to decide the tournament. Both Laige and Lightning were level both on points and race results - there was nothing to choose between them - and still only one 2017 Ford Focus RS to give away! They would both have to go back to the Nürburgring one last time to race head-to-head in a nerve-racking decider.
This time Laige dominated. “The most important part of the one-on-one was the quali. I did a nearly perfect lap and got the pole, so I just had to avoid mistakes to win.” After the start Laige managed to move a few car lengths from Lightning and he held that distance for the majority of the race. Lightning himself, despite a last minute lunge, was forced to settle for second. “The pressure was big, but thanks to my experience in Forza I was able to overcome it and go straight through for victory.”
“It felt really good. Winning this championship means to be the best in the world, a lot of people wanted this but in the end only one could win. I'm proud to be that one guy!” - Laige
TX3 Laige finished first in the Forza Racing Championship, winning a 2017 Ford Focus RS and $5,000. CAR Lightning who came second won $20,000 while CAR Box received $10,000 for third. The top four, which was rounded out by CAR Chemical, all also won a Logitech G920 steering wheel and a two terabyte Xbox One S.
The ForzaRC was Laige’s final race with Virtual Drivers by TX3 and an appropriate end to his three year involvement with the team. He moves on to join Lightning, Box and Chemical at eSPORTS+CARS. “I think it is a great opportunity to develop my career in virtual and in real motorsport. Most of us know who Darren Cox is and what he achieved in his career.” Laige said of the GT Academy head and eSPORTS+CARS leader. “I'm looking forward to starting new adventures with them!”