iRacing Captures Fans During COVID-19 Pandemic
Sim (or simulated) racing games have been around for gaming consoles for more than two decades with all the major manufacturers like X-box participating in the growth and development of indoor racing. With stay-at-home mandates issued by governments around the globe, major sporting event organizers began to suspend games, races, and tournaments on a scale that had never been seen before. Suddenly, sports fans found themselves obeying “Stay at Home” orders but with very limited options for entertainment on television. That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of reruns being broadcast, but unless you’ve been living off the grid, you probably already know the outcome. Fortunately for racing fans worldwide, eRacing has emerged as a viable alternative for spectators as well as a way for the world’s best drivers to sharpen their on-track skills.
Simulators Take Center Stage
The use of driving simulators is nothing new, especially for many of the younger race fans, but with professional racecar drivers now participating in virtual competitions during the COVID-19 Pandemic, sim racing has taken center stage. Although NASCAR is not alone in its move to virtual racing on primetime TV, the creation of the eNASCAR Pro Invitational series has been the most successful in grabbing a fair share of the ratings. Moreover, the virtual version of NASCAR is more grass roots racing with some of the sport’s top drivers (active or retired) able to qualify and compete with young guns who grew up posting laps on sim circuits. With the explosion of the sim racing events in recent months, comes a look into the “New Normal” for race fans, sponsors, journalists, and competitors as racing broadcasts are pieced together while everyone is practicing social distancing.
eRacing versus iRacing
It is important to not be confused over the use of eRacing and iRacing, as the terms have been used somewhat interchangeably. For the most part, eRacing refers to all forms of virtual racing as an e-sport, whereas iRacing is as online network that has given eRacing sanctioned events a whole new look and feel. In the fast-paced world of online racing, iRacing has applied the latest technologies to create the most complete lineup of race cars and tracks that can be experienced from home using your gaming PC. In addition, advanced racing simulators from numerous manufacturers makes today’s events almost indistinguishable from the real thing. Drivers across all professional series are finding iRacing’s real value to be a serious at-home training tool. Some young drivers, like William Byron who drives the #24 car for Rick Hendricks, was first noticed racing online against future hall-of-famers like Dale Earnhardt Jr. iRacing also allows aspiring virtual drivers an opportunity to post laps driving race cars on racetracks outside their own sanctioning body. Not only can Jimmy Johnson crawl behind the wheel of the #48 at Talladega, he can use the same racing simulator to turn competitive laps at the 24 Hours of Le Mans or the Indy 500. Although the gaming companies do not show a pit road crew over the wall, pit strategy for chassis setup as well as on-track tire and fuel management is the responsibility of the driver’s crew chief who is connected via headset communication in real time. Thanks to iRacing extreme attention to detail, everything from tire wear to new pavement to that nasty bump entering turn three are accurately recreated in this virtual world. Drivers claim you feel everything while experiencing the real character of every track and vehicle.
So… what does it cost to go eRacing?
Well, just like the real sport, that depends entirely on your budget. The at-home setup would include a gaming PC and monitor as well as a sim equipment for steering wheel, shifter, and pedals. Although everyone would prefer crawling behind the wheel of a $80,000 simulator with motion sensors and actuators for the most realistic feel, even at the Pro level some drivers are using affordable gaming tools purchased from a big-box store. For example, Timmy Hill, who just earned his seat in NASCAR Cup Series driving the #66 Toyota Camry for MBM Motorsports, won the eNASCAR event at Texas Motor Speedway using the least expensive equipment setup in his man cave. Even though NASCAR and other sanctioning bodies are planning on bringing back a modified version of their real-world schedule, don’t expect iRacing to just disappear. Drivers worldwide are investing in simulators and off-season virtual championships are already in the works.