Sim racing’s life beyond real racing’s return

As a lot of you will have been saying, I’ve been the one championing sim racing’s rise to the fore in the absence of real-world action and it’s still going strong of course. However, we must now turn our attention to how sim racing fits in with a post-sim racing world, if you will. A lot of people tend to be quite absent-minded about how sim racing is being treated, and make very ignorant statements assuming it’s trying to replace the real deal.

This all started the weekend that the Australian GP was cancelled. We had The Race with their All-Star event and Veloce Esports hosting their first rendition of the Not The GP. Since then, so much more has happened! Off the top of my head, we’ve had Formula E’s Race At Home Challenge on rFactor 2 and IndyCar and Aussie SuperCars hosting their own championships on iRacing. Then there’s also FIA World Rallycross Championship have doing races on DIRT Rally 2.0, DTM and WTCR have their Esports series on RaceRoom, GT World Challenge doing the SRO E-sports GT Series on Assetto Corsa Competizione, MotoGP’s Virtual Races on the MotoGP 20 game and last but not least, Formula One’s own Virtual Grand Prix events on F1 2019, with the addition of the F1 Esports drivers doing their Pro Exhibition event and now drivers from a plethora of junior formulae competing in the F2 Virtual races.

There’s definitely more I’ve missed, but at least you understand the vast scale of the impact of Esports. Not only that, we’ve started to see a lot of drivers turn to streaming on Twitch, with Lando Norris leading the charge and being joined by a lot of his peers including Charles Leclerc, George Russell, Alex Albon and many more. Just last Friday, I saw those four all playing Rocket League together; it was so indescribable, the joy I felt seeing four of my favourite F1 drivers playing car football.

This difficult time for all of us will hopefully soon be over. There are plans for the F1 season to finally begin in Austria on the weekend of July 5th, with efforts in place to hopefully prevent anyone from contracting the virus and with no crowds. By that point, you could say that we don’t need sim racing and in a sense you’re right. It wouldn’t be filling any voids, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it has to stop.

When racing isn’t going on during the traditional European winter, you would have Formula E as well as some other winter series like F3 Asia or Toyota Racing Series. But I think sim racing can still work very well in that time-frame, maybe not with a lot of the same active pro drivers but I still definitely think a few will still want to take part.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

The trouble would come by making it an obligation. We’ve seen drivers being made to take part and losing sponsorship from treating a properly sanctioned event too casually. Whilst we would expect a broadcast and sponsored race to have some form of etiquette and professionalism, the trouble would come when these drivers are told to compete when they just want some down-time.

We’ve seen some casual races from a few of these guys looking to mess around. The famous clips of Alex Albon being punted off in some way by George Russell in lawnmower race or on the F1 game coupled with the sound “GEEOORRGGEEE!!!” come to mind, and as long as they mind don’t use abhorrent words (think of Kyle Larson) then that’s all good. But, for some fun yet still sporting events that drivers can compete in, they should be able to decide during their own time whether they want to do them or not.

We could even see in the future, a lot of championships adopting a type of sim racing to fit in with their race meetings. Formula E have been doing that for years, where a pick of their drivers go to a sim racing tent in the paddock between qualifying and the race and go up against a group of fans who have entered into it through some kind of qualification.

Mercedes AMG Esports

Those may not be the most professional of races but it’s something. A lot of the sim races that have been going on are treated as their own thing and are being held with the philosophy of entertaining fans first and foremost, and even though it’s never going to match up with the real thing, it’s a better than nothing at all.

Also, keep it online for free. The brilliance of sim racing is that it’s so easily accessible both as a viewer and a competitor, and I don’t want to see a paywall for sim racing. I get it for real racing, but I’ll be very disappointed if a championship is not streamed to YouTube/Twitch etc. and is only on a channel like Sky Sports, BT Sport or Eurosport.

Heading forward, organisers can still use sim racing to compliment the real racing. Both as entertainment during a point where the real racing isn’t happening that can be open to entry, or in the lead up to a real world event. Plus why not throughout the week? Who is to say that there should only be racing at the weekend?

There’s nothing wrong with something more. If it isn’t your thing, you don’t have to watch it.

Sim racing to the rescue?

Is 2020 about to become the year that digital motorsport raced to the forefront and is taken seriously?

When I agreed to be a contributor to ThePitCrewOnline, I wasn’t going to restrict myself to what I was going to write about and I would write about anything that took my interest. My first article was about Igor Fraga, a Brazilian racing driver whose involvement in sim racing through competitions such as F1 Esports, FIA Gran Turismo championships and the McLaren Shadow Project Final has resulted in him sealing a place in the FIA Formula 3 championship.

I originally wrote that with the notion that the first round of F3 – which was set to take place alongside the Bahrain Grand Prix – was still happening, then we had this pandemic happen and it has thrown a minor spanner in the works with regards to all these motorsport events getting postponed and cancelled. I don’t think it needs to be said but in case it’s lost on anybody; the health of others is more important than some cars going around a track.

In my previous article, I mention a lot of success stories from the world of sim racing but the other beauty of it is that during such horrid circumstances, something very beautiful can come from it. Having mentioned it briefly since it was all happening very last minute when I was writing it, events were organised by The Race and Veloce Esports that took the place of the real-life racing that was cancelled over the weekend of what was supposed to be the Australian Grand Prix.

The first event by The Race was called the All-Star Esports Battle and had participants ranging from professional drivers such as Max Verstappen, Simon Pagenaud and Juan-Pablo Montoya, sim racers such as Rudy van Buren, James Baldwin and McLaren Shadow Project winner Kevin Siggy Rebernak, and also online personalities like the incredibly beloved Jimmy Broadbent.

Racing in 2012-style F1 cars on rFactor 2 at the Nürburgring GP circuit, and organised everyone into heat races; one for pro drivers, one for sim racers and the final one for drivers who entered online qualifications. Pro driver heat was won by Verstappen, the sim racer heat by van Buren and the qualifying heat by a driver named Jernej Simoncic. It was an incredible event seeing all these contrasting characters unified in the face of adversity, and the final was won in the end by Simoncic.

Moving onto the Veloce event – dubbed the #NotTheAusGP – Lando Norris was participating and he was joined by YouTuber WillNE, Real Madrid C.F. goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, and was even joined by James Baldwin and Jimmy Broadbent, who participated in the All-Star Esports Battle. On the F1 2019 game at the Melbourne circuit with a 50% race distance and the event was incredibly entertaining! Particularly as we saw Lando Norris having to fight through the field after getting disqualified during qualifying, and for most of the race he fought with Tiametmarduk, who I boldly claim makes the best F1 centred content on YouTube.

The event was won in the end by Alfa Romeo F1 Esports driver and friendly giant, Daniel Bereznay. Both these races are available to rewatch on YouTube from the weekend of March 15th on both The Race and Veloce Esports’ YouTube channels, but from the last weekend of March 22nd, we have had follow-up events from both of those and also an officially sanctioned event by F1 itself being referred to as the Virtual Grand Prix series.

Round two of the All-Star Esports battle took place on rFactor 2 again but this time at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s Grand Prix circuit in Indy Pro 2000 cars. The event consisted of two heat races for pro drivers, one for sim drivers and then a last chance race for the pro drivers who didn’t finish in the top five in the first two heats. The first pro driver heat was won by IndyCar driver Felix Rosenqvist and the second by Rudy van Buren, with Kevin Siggy Rebernak winning the sim racers heat and the last chance race being won by GP2 race winner Tom Dillmann.

In the end, the overall event was won by Rudy van Buren ahead of Kevin Siggy Rebernak and the top real world professional driver Daniel Juncadella just beating out Felix Rosenqvist for that honour. Other notable competitors in this event were former F1 drivers Nico Hülkenberg, Stoffel Vandoorne and Esteban Gutiérrez, all three of whom would compete in the next two big events.

On Sunday, both Veloce Esports put together the #NotTheBahGP and F1 themselves put together the Virtual Grand Prix. Along with those three former F1 drivers that I mentioned, we had Lando Norris also competing in these races, Jimmy Broadbent having done the All-Star Esports Battle doubled up his Sunday with both events and joining them would be professional golfer Ian Poulter.

In the Veloce event, instead of a 50% distance race like the proceeding Veloce event, it was two 25% distance races with the second of those races utilising a full-on reverse grid where the first race’s winner would start last with the slower running drivers up at the front. As again, the alien that is Daniel Bereznay swept the first race and despite starting last for the second race, he was near the front before spinning and having to settle for third, with Red Bull Esports driver and real-world GT4 racer Cem Bölükbaşı taking that race. That second race in particular was incredibly entertaining, and pretty much like the whole concept of these races taking place, it’s difficult to describe without anyone seeing it with their own eyes.

Moving onto the officially sanctioned by F1 event, dubbed the Virtual Grand Prix which included the likes of Johnny Herbert, Anthony Davidson, Luca Salvadori, Sir Chris Hoy, Nic Hamilton and Liam Payne. The race was won by Renault F1 junior driver Guanyu Zhou ahead of Stoffel Vandoorne and DTM driver Philipp Eng, the event did have a few technical hiccups and of course it didn’t feature the most professional drivers but it was fun!

That is something I want to touch upon. In these events, you may not see a lot of professional racing but it’s just some fun and entertainment whilst we all go through this difficult time. If you want to have the event that is in terms of driver ability the best, then you will want to watch the All-Star Esports Battle. The Veloce Esports organised events are a good middle ground of driver ability and people looking for some fun who are there to entertain, then the F1 Virtual Grand Prix is pretty much an all out celebrity race for the most part.

It may, unfortunately, be a while before we are back to normal, I hope it is very soon but until then, don’t be a miserable mush and dismiss any digital forms of racing. What’s happening right now sucks, but as a result of it all has come something beautiful, a bunch of people from varying walks of life have come together to try and entertain all of you lot.

One of the best things about this is seeing these guys stream their races to Twitch and YouTube. There’s an entertaining video that Benjamin Daly a.k.a. Tiametmarduk uploaded which featured him battling with Lando Norris, and seeing the reactions of the pair of them was just brilliant.

It may not be top quality racing like we come to expect of professional drivers but it’s something.

I hope I haven’t put myself in a bubble here by writing about Esports-related articles, especially as my next intended article was putting the spotlight on James Baldwin, a driver who has ascended to new heights thanks to Esports just like Igor Fraga. It’s not the circumstances I’d have preferred but I think for the time being, Esports is what may keep us lot sane!

I will provide links to the YouTube videos and also the subsequent channels of a fair amount of these sim races. The All-Star Esports Battle, the Veloce ‘Not The GP’ and the first F1 Virtual Grand Prix, along with an event that Team RedLine (the Esports team that Max Verstappen and Lando Norris are a part of) held recently as well. They’re all the raw footage from all the live streams, so since a majority of you are stuck inside, you’ve got some time to kill, haven’t you?

Keep on the lookout for any more major Esports racing events taking place over the next few weeks. I know they aren’t planning on slowing down any time soon!

Anyway, hope you’re all doing well and hopefully we’ll be out of the woods soon.

We will race on.