Change lanes: virtual races accelerate to full speed

The Covid-19 pandemic may have accelerated the mainstream appeal of sim racing as popular motorsports competitions or series began organizing their own initiatives.

In 2020, the virtual F1 Esports Grand Prix was announced following the postponement of the real-life racing season due to the pandemic, where racers competed in the F1 2019 game developed by Codemasters. In a statement, F1 said the virtual Grand Prix attracted more than 30 million viewers across television and digital platforms during the lockdown period.

The event saw the participation of 11 drivers and other sports personalities, such as former Manchester City footballer Sergio Agüero, who also contributed to the popularity of the sport by broadcasting the events from home. In the end, Williams F1 driver George Russell, 23, was crowned Virtual Grand Prix champion. Russell was reported to have never tried sim racing before the virtual Grand Prix and didn’t have a rig setup, but he made up for it with practice.

Russell said the Virtual Grand Prix was a great initiative to keep riders busy during lockdown.

“It has kept our competitive side busy and interested. I put in a lot of hard work and effort and I’m glad I got good results to show for it,” he said in a statement issued by F1. A new season was later announced for 2021 in which 10 teams competed for a charity prize fund.

TechCrunch reported that the virtual version of Nascar or eNascar, which launched in March 2020, has also seen a surge in viewership during the pandemic where drivers compete on the iRacing platform. In the same year, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, an endurance race, also moved to the rFactor 2 virtual platform, where racers can experience real-life elements such as changes in weather conditions and pit stops for repairs. in case of any damage.

growth prospects

Malaysian sim racer Naquib Azlan, 21, started racing professionally in 2020. He shared that his daily routine includes two hours of practice every day on his platform at home.

“It’s like real life racing because the fundamentals, the mental challenges and the preparations are the same. You just have more flexibility and scope to explore and practice because with real-life careers, you’re limited by time and money,” she shared.

Naquib recently took first place in eRacing GP at the SEA eSports Championship which concluded on January 9, 2022, where he took home a prize of USD 2,000 (RM 8,378) from the USD 10,000 (RM 41) prize pool. RM890). On January 16, he also led the Sem9.Axle Sports team to fourth place in the Virtual 24 Hours of Le Mans. The same event featured F1 world champion Max Verstappen, who crashed out of the race after losing control of his vehicle.

“It was intense. We spent a whole month practicing where we were driving up to three hours a day. It feels surreal to beat an F1 champion. I guess all the practice really helped us,” he said.

For an endurance race like Le Mans, Naquib shared his strategy which includes taking toilet breaks into account: “You have 50 seconds to rest and you have to be very quick. Otherwise, you’re just focused on the race. At the end of the challenge, I weighed myself and found that I had lost 2kg.”

He adds that for each competition, racers are expected to adapt to different platforms or game titles.

“Each game has its own characteristics, so going from one simulator to another provides a steep learning curve,” he said.

Naquib is optimistic about the growing popularity of sim racing in Malaysia and beyond. Recently, along with fellow sim racers Nabil Azlan and Alister Yoong, they signed with Sem9, a local esports organization that hosts teams like Sem9.Gank (PUBG Mobile) and the recently acquired Berjaya Dragons for League Of Legends: Wild Rift.

“I feel very lucky to have signed with Sem9, which is an esports team. It’s a good sign when sim racers get more opportunities to compete professionally. I think more people are starting to see sim racing as an interesting sport that they can get involved in,” he said.

Naquib admitted that participating in sim racing is expensive, as the driving equipment needed to practice and compete can cost up to six figures to set up, adding that passion is the key to success in sim racing. sport seriously, then that’s the perfect way to start,” he said.