The ŠKODA Motorsport eChallenge has become a regular competition in which hundreds of participants in the ŠKODA FABIA Rally2 evo compete against each other on virtual stages. Read our interview with a player who has never missed an eChallenge and has won it almost every time.
The conditions are the same for everyone, preparation time is limited and the tracks are not forgiving of any mistakes. ŠKODA Motorsport engineers provide recommended car set-ups based on real-world experience, but everything is in the hands of the players. Everyone has only one single attempt and that will decide the winner. However, one name comes up most often - Jonathan Schaeffer.
How many ŠKODA Motorsport eChallenge have you participated in the past and what were your results?
I've done ten of them over three years and I think these are all that have ever been held in this eChallenge. In 2020 I won once (Australia) and came third twice (Spain, Argentina). Since then I've won all the events, so it's a streak of 7 wins in a row (2021: Poland, Finland, Wales, Greece, Sweden and 2022: Monte Carlo, Spain).
Are you a rally fan?
Definitely! I fell in love with rallying very early on. My uncle took me to the local Rallye Alsace Vosges. There was even a guy who drove a Citroen Saxo Kit Car called Sebastien Loeb.
I was overwhelmed by a lot of things that day, a lot of emotions that I still remember and will certainly never forget. Since that day I have been following the WRC events and some local rallies.
Are you a professional gamer or is it more of a hobby? And how did you get into it in the first place?
I always say I'm an "old" gamer. I've played a lot of racing games like Gran Turismo, Colin McRae Rally series, Dirt Series, rFactor, iRacing, Assetto Corsa, Assetto Corsa Competizione and the list could go on, but rally is my favourite discipline. As for the first part of the question, I used to be a professional e-gamer. I was most recently a member of the UK esports team Comrade Gaming and before that I was a member of the Spanish team WERT esports. Today, I'm in a transitional phase and preparing for what's next in the virtual rally world. I'm still racing, but without team support anymore. However, I miss the team environment, so I'm still in contact with some teams and we'll see where the future takes me. But I don't forget that I am 36 years old now and the youngsters are getting faster and faster, so staying on top is not easy.
Is there any difference between the ŠKODA Motorsport eChallenge and other etournaments?
Well, there is a difference. And that's mainly in the timing. ŠKODA Motorsport usually announces a new event on its opening day or just the day before, so it's actually a "surprise". That's very different from what we're used to. The preparation itself is the same as for other tournaments, you just have less time. But what's special is that a tournament like this is still run by a big brand like ŠKODA. In the past we have had the privilege of other brands doing the same, but ŠKODA is the only brand that still continues this activity.
„I've had a lot of fun in every event, especially because the competition is always so great.“
Which round of the ŠKODA Motorsport eChallenge was the most challenging for you and why? And which one did you like the most?
The most challenging round was undoubtedly the last one, the Spanish round. It was difficult for me because I'm not a specialist on tarmac and I had to compete with the toughest player in terms of rallying in Spain, Jonatan Calvo. It was a thrilling battle and I won by just 0.400 seconds. It was a very happy ending for me. In Spain it's all about precision, it only takes one bad entry into a corner or a bad braking point to lose half a second. And which is my favourite? It's hard to pick just one. I've had a lot of fun in every event, especially because the competition is always so great. And now that I've managed to win seven in a row, it's always exciting to see if I can take it further. But I prefer anything to do with gravel, no matter where it is.
So gravel is your favourite surface?
Yes, I'm a big fan of gravel and snow. I love the feeling on these surfaces. Especially in Scotland or in the US. It's fantastic. I'm probably one of the few French people who don't like tarmac. I can't say I'm completely bad on it, I can do good performances on it too, but it's hard for me to enjoy it as it's not the same feeling as gravel.
Do you prepare for every race in advance?
I do. Sometimes the timing makes it easier, and when there is another tournament on the same date and on the same surface, that makes it easier for me to prepare. Of course, that's not always the case. But yes, preparation is the key to winning. I need to get the feel of the car and get used to the surface so I can start taking risks when I need to.
„Once you learn how to drive the ŠKODA FABIA Rally2 evo, it is undoubtedly one of the hidden gems of Dirt Rally 2.0.“
Do you have any tips for the players of the next ŠKODA Motorsport eChallenge to be as successful as possible?
Practice, practice, practice and never stop. Dirt Rally 2.0 is a very hard game to master and the competition at the highest level is really challenging. It takes time, literally a huge amount of time to get there. If you want to beat the best, you have to be ready for a real fight. These fighters are definitely not going to make it easy for you. The best advice I can give to someone who wants to succeed in any form of rally simulation competition is to build a very strong competitive mindset. And practice a lot. If you do that, the results will come sooner or later.
How important is the correct car setup in the game, and how do you set up the car?
Car setup can be crucial. The game is really hard to learn and the car settings are very difficult to get into. I usually do the setup based on how I feel with the car during that week. There is no magic set-up, it's very subjective and above all it has to match your driving. And driving is like a living thing that evolves over time, so make the setup according to that change. It's not a simple process. The game gives you a lot of options to play with, and it takes time and energy to learn how everything affects the car. We're not engineers, we have to figure out things we're never used to.
How do you like driving the ŠKODA FABIA Rally2 evo?
Today, in 2022, I can say that it's good to drive. But I have to admit that this hasn't always been the case. In 2020, I attended a tournament where I chose the ŠKODA FABIA Rally2. It went well, I won. But... I couldn't drive it very well and I felt really bad. It was definitely my fault, my driving wasn't right. The ŠKODA FABIA Rally2 is very specific. You need some time behind the wheel to understand all aspects of it. Honestly, it's not very popular in the competitions. That's because people have trouble figuring out how to be fast with it. But once you get the hang of driving it, it's undoubtedly one of the hidden gems of Dirt Rally 2.0.
Do you want to see Jon's practice session for ŠKODA Motorsport eChallenge from last year's Wales? See the video below!