It is safe to say the COVID-19 pandemic has not only caught regular people and businesses off guard, rather entire governments. However, amid the chaos and panic… and the resultant social distancing required to stem the spread of the virus – racing fans and car enthusiasts worldwide have taken to their respective gaming and racing simulation platforms to get their four-wheeled fix.
Powerful racing games like Assetto Corsa, Project Cars 2, Gran Turismo Sport, and F1 2020 offer cutting-edge graphics, life-like environment realism, impeccably modelled car physics such that it is as much fun as you can have without wearing an N95 facemask and getting behind the wheel of your own car.
The major difference in the current time is race bodies like the FIA and NASCAR, major manufacturers, and racing teams are starting to take notice and joining suite in the expansive world of eSports. Could this be the dawn of an entirely new age of sporting and racing? We think so.
Over the weekend, the FIA Formula 1 governing body hosted the first of its kind Virtual Grand Prix, which saw the likes of Nico Hulkenberg, Lando Norris, and Johnny Herbert lined up on Sunday night for a no-holds-barred, 14 lap Bahrain Virtual Grand Prix.
The thrilling race, which saw all cars “equalised” in terms of performance and aerodynamics, threw up close wheel-to-wheel battles and more overtaking than we’re normally used to. Also, because all cars were equal in terms of performance – we witnessed a Williams or Racing Point car challenge front running cars from Mercedes and Red Bull – a breath of fresh air if you ask me.
The race ended with Formula 2 ace Guanyu Zhou taking the checkered flag from Stoffel Vandoorne and (DTM Driver) Philip Eng in second and third place respectively. The big surprise of the night was Youtuber and SIM racing superstar Jimmy Broadbent finishing fifth (after starting 16th), just 0.064 seconds behind F1 driver Lando Norris.
BMW, on the other hand, deployed 10 of its Works racing drivers in a series of virtual races modelled around real-world competitions under the Super Sim Saturday banner. Held on various SIM platforms, these drivers achieved great success finishing 1-2-3 in iRacing's IMSA Sebring Saturday Race, while Phillipp Eng and Maximilian Gunther both finished 3rd and 5th respectively at the second staging of "THE RACE's All-Stars ESports Battle" which took place on the virtual Indianapolis circuit. On the same day, two virtual BMW Z4 GT3s made their debut at the opening round of the virtual Nurburgring Endurance Series.
Separately, beloved American racing series NASCAR has teamed up with iRacing to launch the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series. Following the postponement of the start of the NASCAR season to May 3rd – the new virtual series will see drivers from the NASCAR Cup Series, Xfinity Series, and the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series competing in multiple races starting March 22nd.
Nevertheless, what about after the pandemic is over, do we just go back to regular real-world racing? Well, maybe not, because racing bodies and manufacturers alike are realising that SIM racing has more to offer than just being a fun way to spend your Saturday afternoon…
- eSports has become an ally of traditional sports as it exposes an entirely new generation to certain sports, which have stagnated due to an ageing viewer/ fan population.
- It exposes new players to the sport/discipline at a reasonable cost, no need for expensive equipment – such as a racecar – therefore new players can enjoy the sport first and decide if it is something they want to pursue in real life; this is good for market expansion.
- eSports is mostly viewed online on YouTube, Twitch, and Facebook, which means traditional sports are beaming themselves on the native mediums of the younger generation.
- With more viewership, comes greater marketing returns for sponsors, who can now beam their logos across virtual environments.
- The industry is resilient and ever-expanding – regardless of where you are in the world, a healthy internet connection is all you need to take your skills into the virtual world.
Perhaps the most important aspect of eSports and SIM games, especially in the current time is it serves as a wonderful distraction to the gloom and negativity of the real world around us. So in addition to staying home and staying healthy, it doesn’t matter where you are in Malaysia, dust off that old console, plug it in, and pick up that controller… let’s game!