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Posted: Jul 26, 2023 @ 10:59 am GMT-0600
Updated: Jul 26, 2023 @ 11:04 am GMT-0600
Sorting Tags: Article Interview, Article Software, Articles, Grand Prix 2,

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Electronic Sports has a ring to it that, for some reason, “eSports” does not. While many who, like me, are old as dirt took part in ‘offline leagues’ in the early or mid-90s where we submitted our laptimes or replays to a league admin who would figure out a race result, not many of us can say we were possibly the first sim racing eSports champion in an event organized by a developer or significant sponsor, can we? But Markus Schordan can.

Markus won the LapItUp competition organized by MicroProse owner Spectrum Holobyte in 1996. The 4000+ entrants hotlapped the Monza track in Grand Prix 2 and those who finished in the top 50 won a t-shirt. Markus, however, won a trip from his native Austria all the way to Laguna Seca and the Skip Barber Racing School.

Here is his story:

Markus, as far as I can tell you appear to be the first sim racing event winner of what we’d today call “eSports”. Did you realize you were possibly breaking new ground by competing in an electronically submitted event of this size?

At the time there already were several racing leagues, championships and hotlap charts. This was the very first event organized by a publisher with some prize to win. So in this sense it was new, and the hope was of course that there would be more official events in future with even higher prizes to win.

How did the event work?

The submission deadline was about five weeks after the release date of the game, Grand Prix 2. The goal was to do one fast lap at the Monza race track, so basically it was a hotlap competition. In-game recorded replays were supposed to be sent to the publisher and verified. According to the press release they received 4000+ submissions. The top 50 got a Microprose T-shirt, only the winner got a prize. It was a winner-takes-all event with a prize worth $5000 (not paid in money, but with some goods, a business flight to the US wherever the winner might come from, a racing cockpit, a luxury hotel stay in San Francisco, and a real racing track event at Laguna Seca, meeting also the CEO of Microprose).

Was that your first visit to the USA? Who did you meet from the publisher?

It was not my first visit, I had been on vacation there, but I had not been to the Laguna Seca race track before! The whole event was part of their PR campaign for Grand Prix 2. They had reserved a business flight to the US and had reserved a nice luxury hotel in San Francisco for 4 days.

On the day of the race track event I was picked up in a black stretch limousine together with a PR agent and brought to the Laguna Seca raceway. At the track there were several journalists from gaming magazines waiting to do interviews. I met Steve Race, the CEO of Microprose/Spectrum-Holobyte, who was there all day where we spent a lot of time talking. The driving event was managed by the Skip Barber racing school with five participants. We got to drive several cars and finally a Dodge Viper with 400+ HP for several timed laps. On this day there was some light rain in the afternoon, making the driving even more fun.

I did a full 360 in the Viper and collected some of those traffic cones – a scene which they also put into one of the videos (below) posted to their Web site later. I did my best to create some good scenes for the PR videos! Since all this was part of the PR event, there were cameras around all the time. The videos they put on-line after the event capture some of it, but it was a full day with lots of talks and fun. I think we all had a very good time there.

They also invited me to the Spectrum Holobyte HQ (who had just acquired Microprose at that time to my understanding), which was located in San Francisco. It was a multi-storey building and I remember that all walls were full of pictures from their games. It was an awesome atmosphere there.

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What was life like before and after the event? Did it change anything, set you on a different career path?

The event was very similar to hotlap competitions I had taken part the year before. The difference was that the prize was likely to attract a high number of SimRacers. The true take-away was the experience, how much more dedicated practice time it takes to compete at an international level with so many people. I had competed in a small league, F1SA, with about 60 people in 1995, and had set hotlap records for all 16 tracks in the small NSA F1SA sub-division (the only division where no driving aids were allowed), but the LapItUp event brought together competitors from all leagues and there were lots of other well-known fast sim racers out there in other leagues.

The communities were discussing the event on mailing lists and I was in contact with other competitors from other leagues as well. It was clear that this event would attract quite a large number of sim racers, although the total number of 4000+ was still a surprise in the end. It’s also interesting, when looking at the final LapItUp top 50 results, that the top 10 were separated by about 1 second, but the following 40 were all within less than 0.5 seconds. The understanding how much closer an international competition with 4000+ people is, and how important the factor time is for proper preparation and understanding of details, was the take-away from this event. In this sense, it helped with my career path.

1 Markus Schordan   1:19.752
2 Frank Dieckberdel 1:20.099
3 Josh Beaulieu         1:20.234
4 David Naylor           1:20.428
5 Jim Day                     1:20.519

Have you kept up with sim racing since?

It had been a long journey starting with GP1 in the F1SA racing league in 1995 with full 1.5h (off-line) races every 2 weeks, and daily hotlaps, to the event in 1996. I kept on following what was going on in the sim racing world after the LapItUp contest, but didn’t participate in events any more. I had just finished my studies in computer science right after the LapItUp contest and got on my first job. Only several years later, around 2006, I returned for a full season in the Legends League. This was a league that had originally used the Grand Prix Legends racing sim, but when they moved to rFactor, the F1SA racing league merged into it. Therefore I met all my previous racing buddies from the F1SA league there, and so I did one full season with rFactor.

One reason I liked this leagus is that the new generation of fast sim racers is taking part, but also Ray Walton was back in the driving seat. Ray was the founder of the F1SA SimRacing league in 1993 (on Compuserve), and his excellent organization of the league and his very well written race reports added much to my excitement and are one of the major reasons why I stayed there until 1996 when the LapItUp contest took place, and where I had learned a lot about setups. Also Richard Walker and R. vd Hoek, the “next gen” sim racers in this league and also admins for several years, took part. In the league standings I finished 3rd overall that year, but then I retired from competitive league racing for good.

I still play racing sims. Once you enjoy sim racing, finding that ideal line, ever so slightly different cars with every setup change, you keep practicing it, almost like an art. I particularly also enjoy playing around with racing AI and therefore I still have fun doing races against AI and creating my own just-for-fun challenges. These days I still do some casual 5-laps races with Grid Autosport because it runs very well on Linux, but I also enjoy watching sim racing events live from time to time and of course I also follow those passionate sim racers who made it successfully to Formula 1, Max Verstappen and Lando Norris!

Thank you to Markus, who now lives in California and works for Google, for giving us his story of the Grand Prix 2 LapItUp contest. It’s quite amazing to think of everything that has happened to the Grand Prix series, developers, publishers and in the lives of each individual on that top 50 list. We’re happy to hear that things worked out so well for this one.

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