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Formula E team rolls with marble racing during pandemic postponement

With the Olympics and pretty much every other sporting event scuppered by the coronavirus, fans of such spectacles have been scrabbling around for alternatives to get their competitive kicks.

One unexpected hit has been marble racing — yes, marble racing — after Formula E team Envision Virgin Racing recently hooked up with Jelle’s Marble Runs (an established YouTube channel that’s been racing the little glass balls since 2006) for a planned season-long event dubbed “Marbula E.”

To give followers of the all-electric motorsport something to get excited about while they wait for the regular Formula E season to resume, the Marbula E races will take place on the same dates as the originally scheduled races. Each marble represents a different Formula E team, though they’re not officially affiliated.

A video showing the first race “in Paris” on Saturday has already scored hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube as Formula E fans (or marble fans?) drop by to watch the balls battle it out. Watching the marbles roll their way around the track is surprisingly addictive, thanks in part to the enthusiastic race commentary provided by Formula E regular Jack Nicholls.

This is something you'll watch over and over again.

Highlights from @EnvisionVirgin's amazing first Marbula E Race with @Jellesmarbles. We can't wait for the next one!

— ABB FIA Formula E World Championship (@FIAFormulaE) April 19, 2020

The comments below the video offer some amusement, too, with one poster pondering how Nicholls would have felt if he’d been told earlier in the year that on April 18 he’d be stuck in his home “commentating on marbles instead of being in Paris.”

Dutch brothers Dion and Jelle Bakker launched their Jelle’s Marble Runs YouTube channel 14 years ago, though race events are a more recent addition to the content. The channel currently has almost 800,000 subscribers from around the world, and has racked up more than 62 million views. According to a recent New York Times profile of Jelle’s Marble Runs, the enterprise now relies on the input of 15 people from several countries to stay up and running.

“We had no expectations when we started filming marble runs,” Dion told the Times. “We thought we would stop eventually, but it was a big success.”

In other efforts designed to keep fans of motorsports entertained until the relaunch of the racing calendar, Formula 1 has turned to e-sports for realistic racing contests. And check out how pro racers are turning to online platforms like iRacing to keep their eye in the game during the lockdown. And no, there’s not a marble in sight.

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Trevor Mogg
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