GT World Challenge to pioneer initiative integrating real-world and virtual racing

It was announced yesterday that the SRO Motorsports Group – the promoter of the GT World Challenge – will be forming a partnership with sim-racing hardware developers Fanatec, who provide the wheels for all the drivers in the F1 Esports Series. Fanatec will become the title sponsor for the GT World Challenge (across all regions) as well as this year’s new GT2 European Series.

However, the main announcement was a revolutionary, world first amalgamation of both real-world and virtual racing. At all five rounds of the GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup including the flagship 24 hours of Spa, there will also be a designated zone in the paddock for simulators with the official GT World Challenge game Assetto Corsa Competizione.

The teams that compete in the Pro Cup and Silver Cup classes will nominate a driver within their line-up to compete in a race that will count towards points in the team’s championship. Thus making the GTWCE Endurance Cup the first series to have virtual racing count for points in a real-world racing series.

Image courtesy of Assetto Corsa Competizione gameplay

Last year during the halt on real world racing, both professional and sim drivers competed in their own championships. SRO ran its own GT E-Sport Series in which F2 driver Louis Delétraz won over McLaren factory driver Ben Barnicoat. However the races they did were not then counted for points towards the real-world racing that returned later that year, this is a world first to see virtual racing count towards a championship in real world motorsport.

But it’s not like it hasn’t been attempted before. After the success of the Las Vegas eRace in which sim drivers competed against full-time Formula E drivers in a standalone race, Formula E were evaluating whether to have a sim race to replace a cancelled ePrix and have it count towards the championship. There was also potentially some suggestion of some sim races making up a part of the NASCAR Euro Series schedule, but the idea of doing that is not an extremely popular one amongst drivers and fans alike.

Will it work?

I love sim racing and as much as I love seeing the barriers between the two be broken down, it’s definitely a different ballpark from real-world racing and I don’t think it’s a good idea to combine them together if it means the drivers are obligated to do both. I’d personally opt to keep them separate so no one driver is disadvantaged in the sim racing side that would negatively impact their chances in the real-racing championship.

There is a vastly different set of skills needed to succeed in Esports racing and the fact now that there is a chance that a real-world racing championship can be decided by points from a sim race is very conflicting to me. All I can say is, I’m glad it’s only towards the team’s championship and not the driver’s championship.

Image courtesy of Assetto Corsa Competizione gameplay

It does seem to be a bit of a missed opportunity that instead of the real world drivers doing these races, that the manufacturers and teams don’t instead have a sim driver compete for them. At the very least, a professional driver and a sim driver could share the driving duties, like maybe reigning GTWCE Endurance Cup champion Alessandro Pier Guidi could swap out the virtual Ferrari 488 he’s driving halfway through a race with, for example, 2019 F1 Esports champion David Tonizza.

A bit like what Tonizza and his many F1 Esports counterparts will be doing when the F1 Virtual Grand Prix series returns at the end of this month. That being where the Esports racers will do a five-lap qualification race to decide the grid, and then hand it to the F1 drivers and other competitors racing in the VGP itself.

What I’m saying is, the concept could certainly have been executed much worse. But in the end, I feel rather conflicted because I love seeing the Esports racing side being embraced but having the real world drivers compete for points that will end up affecting the real-world racing championship, it’ll certainly be a challenge for a lot of them, that’s for sure. But I’m still not sure exactly how to feel about this.

For better or for worse, this will certainly be an interesting experiment but I certainly hope it doesn’t become the norm. Nevertheless I’ll be watching when this format takes shape, which will be at the opening round of the GTWCE Endurance Cup at Monza on the weekend of April 18th.

Feature image courtesy of SRO / Patrick Hecq Photography

Quick 10 With…..Jody Fannin

 

He started his career in karting from 2006 to 2009, becoming the Midlands Minimax champion  and Bayford Meadows Winter Champion in 2008. In 2010 he finished 4th in the Ginetta Junior Championship with 2 wins, 4 podiums, 2 fastest laps and a pole. 

The following season he finished third in the Ginetta G50 Championship and then moved onto become the GT4 champion in the British GT Championship for 2012. He was selected as BRDC Rising Start in 2013 and raced in the Blancpain Endurance Series and various European GT events.

In 2014 he had a wind and a second place in the International GT Open at Silverstone with Darren Turner in an Aston Martin which was followed up in 2015 by being selected for the Aston Martin Racing Evolution Academy. He took two podiums that season in the British GT Championship

For 2016 he competed in the GT Open at Barcelona where he obtained a podium place and again competed in the British GT Championship.

This season he competed in and won The European Le Mans GTE class with Rob Smith for JMW Motorsport in a Ferrari 488 GTE. He took a win and four podiums.

His helmet design is based on the South African flag, where his father originates from and the Union Jack, for his mother. He also has his name on the side of his helmet, exactly the same as Jody Scheckter, the 1979 Formula One World Champion who he was named after.

These are his Quick 10 questions, the newly crowned 2017 ELMS GTE Champion and he is….. Jody Fannin.

What is your favourite racing circuit?

Spa-Francorchamps because of its massive elevation change and speed. If you are walking along the Kemmel Straight, there is a bit where you can look across at the Bus Stop Chicane. You realise then just how much elevation change there is on the track; it looks so far down! Also, through the middle sector of the lap especially, each corner leads into the next, so if you make a mistake through one, it will affect your run through the next, amplifying the error. It’s a real challenge… and obviously Eau Rouge is a proper corner in a GT car!

Who was your racing idol?

Allan McNish because of his undoubted speed and killer instinct through traffic.

Who would you regard as your toughest opponent?

Difficult to single anyone out, but competing in the European Le Mans Series against multiple factory drivers is as tough as it gets in GT racing!

Considering racers of all time, you are a team principal and money is no object. Which two racers would you have in your team?

Mario Andretti because of his versatility, being successful in so many different sorts of cars, and Ayrton Senna because of his prodigious speed.

 

If you could invite four famous people to dinner (past and present), who would you invite?

It would be fascinating to have people, each from a different era of motor racing, so I could learn about eras that I haven’t lived through and get first hand accounts of what life was like back then. Stirling Moss, Derek Warwick, James Hunt would have some very interesting stories I’m sure..!! Then probably Murray Walker because of his inside knowledge of all aspects of motor racing over many decades.

Your personal racing number? What is it and the reason behind it?

27 because it was Gilles Villeneuve’s number and I admire the way he drove and raced!

What is the best race you have been involved in?

At Monza this year, it was the swansong race for the Ferrari 458 Italia GTE after 7 years of service. No one expected us to have a chance against the newer cars, but we had a fairytale race and managed to win. I had to hold off the Aston Martin of TF Sport for the final stint and gave it absolutely everything. It was an amazing feeling to get the job done! And that chassis actually won its very first and last race, so it was a perfect end to the chapter for the car.

Is there a race or series you have not competed in that you would like to or had wanted to?

Le Mans is the ultimate race for me; I have been to watch the race 15 times, and everything about it is just magic. Racing through the night is an amazing experience, and to race there would be a privilege. To compete in the World Endurance Championship as a factory driver would be very cool.  The Bathurst 12 Hour is a race that I would really like to do as well. The track looks awesome and the race is growing in stature year on year.

How did you get interested in motor racing? What ignited that spark?

My Grandad and Dad were both into motorpsport (didn’t have any direct involvement though), so I grew up watching F1, Sportscars, MotoGP, just about anything, so I was surrounded by it from a very young age. I didn’t start karting until I was 11, but I haven’t looked back since! I have always wanted to be a racing driver for as long as I can remember, and being named after Jody Scheckter, guess I was always destined to have something to do with Motor Racing!

What is the best advice in racing you have been given?

Always be ready for the next step up in category/car (both mentally and physically), because if you suddenly get asked to test/race, you need to be immediately ready to go and do the job.

I want to thank Jody for taking the time out of his busy schedule to take part in the Quick 10 feature. Always ready for a quick chat and a very friendly person Also want to congratulate him, Rob Smith and JMW Motorsport on their ELMS GTE title win. The Pit Crew Online wish Jody even more success for 2018.

(c) all photographs courtesy of Jody Fannin

Neil Simmons

Twitter: @world_racing