How IMSA pivoted to virtual competition amid real-life cancellations
This year started out for IMSA pretty much as it did for the rest of us: gearing up for the 2020 racing season and looking forward to plenty of on-track excitement. Then, everything began to change.
“We started hearing rumblings that events were being affected by this thing called coronavirus,” recalls Gregg Elkin, director of communications for IMSA. “We were monitoring it closely, and we were in constant communication with our teams.” In early March, it became apparent that the situation was serious; then on March 12, the NBA canceled its season. “We realized that with the international scope of our series and related travel bans, we would have to reschedule Sebring from its dates in March. Luckily for us, we were able reschedule the real-world Sebring event to November 11 through November 14.”
That’s when IMSA turned to iRacing to take racing from the real world to the virtual one. “We already had a relationship with iRacing, so in that respect, the transition was easy, and Sebring already existed in iRacing’s portfolio of tracks,” says Elkin. The stage was set for the competition to go fully digital.
Fifty racers were on the starting grid when the virtual green flag dropped, with the drivers behind the digital wheels of either a BMW M8 GTE, a Ferrari 488 GTE, a Ford GT, or a Porsche 911 RSR. At the end of 90-minute race, the checkered flag dropped on three M8 GTEs, with Bruno Spengler taking first, Nicky Catsburg taking second, and Jesse Krohn taking third. The race was a success and recorded 2.2 million video views. BMW’s M8 GTE cars swept the next race on April 16 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, with Spengler again taking first, Shane van Gisbergen taking second, and Catsburg taking second.
The next event on the schedule takes place (virtually) at Mid-Ohio on Thursday, April 30, with Hagerty presenting this third of six rounds for the IMSA iRacing Pro Series. Hagerty’s partnership with IMSA began earlier this year with a heavy focus on digital elements and turn-key trackside activations. Of the 50 drivers on the entry list for this 90-minute event, only a handful have had real-life success at the Lexington, Ohio, circuit. At roughly midway through the race, announcer John Hindhaugh—who is also the voice of Radio Le Mans—will interview CEO McKeel Hagerty to get his perspective on current events.
“Mid-Ohio should be very similar to the Laguna Seca race, with very tight groupings of cars that will make for exciting racing,” predicts Elkin. “It will reward drivers who make risky moves, with lots of beating and banging and no repercussions. It will be a real survival of the fittest!”
Thursday’s race will begin at 6 p.m. ET and will be available on the iRacing YouTube channel and Facebook for fans to stream live. The Torque Show will stream a pre-race show once again beginning at 5:00 p.m. ET on its Facebook page.