"It is never too late to start off your sim racing career" Rafaele Rezzag

Rafaele Rezzag (Age: 28, France), Professional sim racer in Altus esports. He began iRacing at the late age of 23. It was originally meant to be a hobby for him. But it turns out he found his talents in sim racing and went on to become a sim racer that could compete with the world's best in the GT series in 2018. He continues to perform well in championships while balancing work and family life. Like many sim racers, he spends a lot of time in sim but has yet to get a driving license. Not until now, at least. Rafaele finally got his license and first car, Renault Laguana Coupé, the French-style V6 230 HP engine rare beauty. 

Fichier:Renault Laguna Coupé Monaco GP dCi 150 (III) – Frontansicht, 7. Mai 2011, Düsseldorf.jpg
 

From newbie to a professional in Triple-A esports

He started racing casually in 2017 until Rafaele met a few great racers who pointed out he had the talent and pace to compete with the top racer, motivated by the feedback. He was willing to try and learn the deeper mechanics of the sim. He mentioned that taking these learning steps at the beginning was a breeze as he was a total newbie. Rafaele registered for the World Champion series GT Pro iRacing 2017 with Team TX3. The team managed to qualify deeper into the series in iRacing, and he could showcase his talents in more broadcasted racers. In the end, he finished the championship with positive results and took sim racing a bit more seriously.

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After the Champion series, Rafaele received offers from Triple-A and Bursts Esports. No response was immediately given after he received the invitations. Instead, he chose to play as a solo driver for approximately 3-4 months. Until December of 2019, he met the team manager of Triple-A and was offered a salary contract to be signed as a part-time driver for a year and a half. He was shocked and surprised since he wasn’t expecting he would be able to earn money from sim racing, but he was still hesitant at the time. After a long 2-week consideration of the ins and out of the contract. He eventually joined the Triple-A esports team.”You have to be good to be paid” He mentioned iRacing is the biggest sim racing hub, and as a paid driver, the team will evaluate your value within harsher. The motivation one needs has to be pushed further, and the driving pace must compete with other pro sim drivers even though he was in Triple-A. He knew he had to interest other teams in increasing his overall value as a player since there were a lot of fast drivers in France as well. He knew all the managers would look at his performance much like any other sports player. Therefore Rafaele constantly pushed himself to achieve better performance and a higher status in his career.

During his time in Triple-A, he was ranked top 5 in the GT class category in France. He had a lot of opinions and sentiments about his status and career. “Besides, Ricardo Castro Ledo is the fastest, and super good.” Rafaele said the top 10 was neck in neck with close margins. His key to success was to be in a great team and have a better setup. It will become the difference maker in top-tier competitions. Without a proper setup, you can do whatever you want but will never be as fast as the elites.

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From Triple-A to P1 Esports

Triple-A’s contract ended in March of 2021. Rafaele decided to leave the team with another teammate – Andreas Jochimsen. Rafaele was given the opportunity to join P1 esports. He knew the team was prestigious and had many more connections to real-world racing and was enticed to join, as he believed this was the chance for him to get into real-world racing since Andreas was already driving real-life racing. Rafaele did have his concern, though and negotiated to join. Still, with one specific condition -  He could leave anytime if he wanted to. P1 esports back then was a new team in the sim racing world, and the main direction then was to develop young talents in the team. He felt like that was too risky for him to join a team to build rookies and his instincts were not entirely inaccurate. After a few months in the team, he started to feel stale and couldn’t improve on himself as much as he wanted to since he was busy coaching many youngsters on the team.

The decision to leave came from an unfortunate incident during the Sports Car Open Endurance Series. 12 hours of Sebring. Sebring was one of his best tracks even though the car he was using, Ferrari, wasn’t the best car for the series, but Rafaele was still confident. Yet, prior to the race, he practised alone for 2 weeks, with no supporting teammate, during the race. Rafaele was competing against William. It was a tug-of-war battle until a major crash from one of the rookies in the race led to a disappointing finish for Rafaele and the team. The crash signalled him to move on as it was getting tough to improve in coaching youngsters, coaching wasn’t his best suit, and he had higher ambitions for himself.

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Joining the Altus Esports

After leaving P1 Esports, he met with Simon Feigl, the team manager of Altus Esports Europe contacted Rafale. In fact, One of his previous teammates from Triple-A, Simone Maria Marcenò, was already in the team. Thus Rafaele already had great impressions of the team. He knew Altus Esports is one of the World Championship-winning teams that compete across all four license categories on iRacing, so Rafaele knew he would be a good fit for the team. It also happened that the team needed performing drivers for the GT series at the time. So, he was offered a contract immediately and joined the team. 

Rafaele believes that Altus Esports is the best and favourite team he has joined so far. Simone and everyone have a great mentality toward the sport. Everyone in the team wants to be the fastest and will put in all the effort. There will always be people in discord during the weekends to set up discussions on race setups. The team has a great atmosphere, and everyone contributes their expertise to one another. The team makes him feel like he’s in a wholesome little family, with everyone supporting one another. He mentioned if other racers were faster than you. They will help each other by observing their telemetry to improve the lap times for all teammates. Yannick Lapchin is among the best team leaders and top french racers Rafaele has met. The pace of how people work, the mentality, and the atmosphere are what he believes Atlus will help him improve and why it has stayed at the top of the competition.
 

Car culture and sim racing environment in France

Speaking of the car culture in France, he mentioned a car isn’t a necessity that everyone has to own, and it serves more as a tool to go from point to point. Public transport is quite mature in his hometown Paris, for most people. It is pretty nonsensical to get a driver's license, but for Rafaele. It was in his contract for him to get a license. He mentioned his muscle memory from sim racing made it easy for him to get on the wheel and only took him 2 weeks to pass. 

When mentioning the sim racing culture, Rafaele believes sim racing attracts many youngsters to join due to its low cost of entry. Compared to karting, sim racing would only cost about 150-200 euros for a complete set of equipment that can last you a very long time. But Rafaele isn’t all optimistic about the scene. He recognised that France is not the best place for video game development, and it is hard to find a good leader to manage racers and build a friendly environment. Infighting happens a lot within sim racers, french players included, and that stagnates the environment and industry.

Work and Sim racing

Rafaele currently works as a service specialist in a car company. He notes that his job is quite interesting as it can relate to his sim racing career. It helps him learn more about cars in real life with the benefits of getting in touch with car components. He could learn about the car specs and how to diagnose a car. What is broken, what is relevant and what's related to one another, even though the cars he works with don’t get to GT or supercars that involves precise setups. He enjoys his current job and how it can relate to sim racing. He knows that compared to sim racers that start at 14-15 years old. He needs to put in way more effort and thinks his current job can serve that purpose as well.

Balancing sim racing, work, and private life can be difficult. Rafaelle mentioned he only has 5 hours each day for his sim rig, excluding his partner and family. He understands to stay competitive at the top, more time must be spent on the rig. He wants to prove he is faster than the newcomers. 

What does your family think?

Rafaele’s parents support what he is doing, but it is hard for them to understand what sim racing is. They were content with his choices when he started getting professional team offers and contracts. And on the other hand, Rafaele’s partner knows it will be challenging to spend time together when events such as the SPA 24 hours come along, taking the weekend. They came into mutual understanding and agreed if this pace went down and couldn’t see any noticeable improvement. He would plan for the future, but for now, sim racing is an essential aspect of his life. He also mentioned that sim racing is a great way to learn about life. You will lose and learn from your mistakes. You can’t cheat and need to work hard to achieve any achievements. It teaches you to be calmer and more pleasant to the people around you.

Balancing sim racing, work, and private life can be difficult. Rafaelle mentioned he only has 5 hours each day to be on his sim rig, excluding the time he spends with his partner and family. He understands to stay competitive at the top. More time must be spent on the rig. Rafaele wants to prove that he is just as good as the new youngsters on the scene and the support from his family helps drive his passion.

Important race in his career 

Rafaele’s biggest win was the 24 hours of Daytona 2021 in GTE class during his time in Triple-A Esports. It was his most significant win, but it wasn’t the most pleasant experience. During the race, the team experienced disconnection, losing around 30 seconds compared to big competitors like Team Redline and Williams. On top of that, the team plan was totally scrapped. The team was arguing about each driver's driving schedule, which went on for an extended period. Rafalele stood up and drove a total of 7 hours in the race. At the same time, experienced every teammate having their plan to show off during the race. The race definitely worsens the relationship between everyone, and he couldn't use the bathroom for 3 hours. Rafaele believes he played an essential role in winning the race in the end, but everyone wasn’t happy about it. Trust and teamwork fell apart, which was also another reason why he left Triple-A Esports early in his career.

 

Disasters and controversy about “Grassgate” in the 24 hours Spa

During the latest iRacing 24 hours of Spa, some drivers started grass dipping, leading to the whole pack following. It quickly became the “Grassgate” incident. Rafaele was a part of the race, and the entire race stirred up emotions within him and his frustration towards the incident. He claims the race to be a mess, and many drivers spend time practising for the event only for it to be disregarded. It does shame and leaves a mark in iRacing history. He also mentioned that the exploit was known long ago and grass dipping could effectively allow cooler tyre temperature and turn pressure, but he was surprised when nothing was done to address the issue during the match. Most teams specifically tuned their cars to perform better on grass and other teams could only follow suit late on. He believes that it isn't fair for all the drivers that tried to compete fairly during the race and hopes iRacing will handle this incident as well as upcoming ones in a responsive manner in the following years to come.