Real-life motorsport might be on hiatus, but online racing endures
As a result of travel bans and health precautions, auto races worldwide have either been rescheduled or completely suffered the hatchet. With no definite end in sight, how are race drivers, teams, and fans coping with the lack of racing?
By racing—online. Since the cancellations, sanctioning bodies and drivers have teamed up to provide an online alternative, and ultimately a distraction from these strange and unprecedented times. While it’s not exactly the real thing, it’s all we have for now until the green flag drops again in the real world.
iRacing is the key platform for racers to get their go-fast fix. The subscription-based racing simulator has been the software of choice for top-tier pros and basement drivers alike for more than a decade, due in part to its real-world accuracy across multiple driving disciplines and tracks. A couple hundred bucks can get you the software, steering wheel, and pedals, though pro-racers such as Kyle Larson have spent more than $6000 on simulation rigs, replete with racing seat and wraparound monitor.
On March 12, IMSA announced that the 12 hours of Sebring would be shuffled to the end of the season and take place from November 11-14. With Sebring in the real world now postponed, IMSA drivers logged on to iRacing this past Saturday and hustled their virtual race cars around a virtual version of famed track in a one-driver, one-winner 90-minute competition. Fans watched the affair on iRacing eSports Network on YouTube and Twitch. BMW swept the podium, with BMW GTLM driver Bruno Spengler taking the win. “I was nervous! It’s definitely real racing. I was sweating a lot,” said Spengler in an interview with IMSA. Real-life sweat, we assume.
In other racing news, NASCAR has announced that it will postpone all race events through May 3. Once competition resumes, the intention is to complete the season’s full schedule of 36 races. (Perhaps now would be a fine time to try out that mid-week race format that NASCAR executives have been toying with over the past few years.)
While the real Homestead-Miami Speedway was dormant Sunday afternoon, the digital track took center stage on Fox Sports 1 for the first-ever eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational. Thirty-five drivers from NASCAR’s top three divisions strapped into their rigs to compete in the 100-lap exhibition race around the 1.5-mile oval, with nothing but bragging rights on the line.
The field was stacked. NASCAR legends such as Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and Bobby Labonte came out of retirement to race in the event. Also taking the green was Chase Briscoe, real-world driver of the #98 Ford Performance Racing School Mustang and 2019 Xfinity series Rookie of the Year. At age 25, Briscoe has been iRacing since 2011, amassing more than 1500 starts and 300 wins on the platform. His rig, just like Ford Performance’s development simulator in Concord, N.C., has motion in the seat for added authenticity. Briscoe notes, “The most realistic thing is the tracks. iRacing laser-scans the tracks so every single bump, billboard, and visual marker is in its exact location.”
Where it deviated from a traditional race at Homestead was in the amount of accidents. The 100-lapper was a wreckfest. Briscoe finished fourth, citing the only big differences between this virtual race and others in his iRacing career was that he knew everyone competing and the cautions were drawn out to make time for commercials.
F1 also participated in the online-racing world on Sunday, just on a slightly different platform. F1 drivers and other stars competed in the Virtual Bahrain Grand Prix, using the F1 2019 video game. This was the first in a series of virtual races to run in place of every postponed real-life F1 Grand Prix.
In other open-wheel news, IndyCar canceled racing through the end of April as well, eliminating races at St. Petersburg, Birmingham, Long Beach, and Austin, though it has not given any indication that the canceled races would be rescheduled this year. The first, big, digital race occurs March 28 on iRacing. The race (at a venue yet to be determined by a fan vote) will kick off the IndyCar iRacing Challenge, a six-race schedule running through May 2.
Midway through the eNASCAR Pro Invitational Erik Jones was involved in a wreck. Announcers Jeff Gordon and Mike Joy joked that the accident may have been caused by a “glitch.” Unfazed, Jones drove down onto pit road and cashed in on iRacing’s “reset” option, where a simple pit stop completely repairs a mangled car. Not exactly like the real thing, but certainly an interesting twist.