GT racing joins the game
The 2020 motorsport season is unlike any other in years gone by: Covid-19 has made sure of that. With travel restrictions in place, borders locked and mass gatherings banned, exactly when racing will resume from its extended off-season is unclear.
Like much of the world's population, racing drivers are forced to adapt to the conditions and find their own ways to keep their competitive juices flowing, as well as remaining fit and sharp.
E-sports plays an important role filling this gap, but there's more to virtual racing than meets the eye. Formula 1 stars – and keen gamers – such as Lando Norris and Max Verstappen have given e-sports an impressive platform recently and continue to take part in live-streamed online races, with an engagement and humour which is undoubtedly helping to raise spirits during what is a difficult period. And give people something to watch.
GT racing is also in on the act, with the new SRO E-Sport Championship launched following a successful one-off ‘Covid-19 Charity Challenge' at a virtual Monza last month – which was due to host the first real round of the GT World Challenge from 17-19 April.
The lack of real racing may have motivated the decision, but the popularity of e-sports is becoming impossible to ignore.
SRO's E-Sport Championship will kick off this month at a virtual Silverstone on the Assetto Corsa Competizione platform – the official game of the GT World Challenge Series – and will be split into Professional and Silver Class (Pro) and Amateur (Am) categories.
What's even better is that real-world GT World Challenge drivers and teams will also be involved, giving us the opportunity to see how virtual racers stack up against the professionals. The one-off charity race attracted 52 real-world drivers, with Lamborghini factory driver Dennis Lind ending up as the best non-Sim driver with 10th place in the final.
Such is the high standard of the professional sim racers that Lind was the only real-world driver inside the top 10, which is why SRO has now decided to divide real-world professionals and professional sim racers into two different classes.
The Pro class will be disputed by as many real-world racers as possible whereas the Silver Cup will be fought between the sim racers only. It's a smart move by the organisers.
The Am championship runs for five consecutive weekends and only 40 drivers will make it onto the grid courtesy of a pre-event hot-lap qualifying round.
Getting fans involved
A key element of a race weekend is the spectators and, clearly, online races are not going to have the same sort of atmosphere as you would normally experience at a real-life circuit. Which is why fan engagement is at the top of the priority list for e-sports.
Part of what makes SRO's E-Sport Championship stand out is that, although the calendar is largely set in stone – with the opening round at Silverstone followed by the virtual 24 Hours of Spa in May, then Nurburgring and Barcelona rounding out the regular season – fans get to choose where the championship ends.
A public vote will be held, giving fans the chance to see their favourite drivers and cars fight it out for the title at their favourite track, which may or may not be a regular fixture on the real calendar. It may not even be a typical GT track.
The possibilities of virtual racing actually offer far greater creativity and imagination than the real world, which is at the heart of the digital world's appeal.
And like most e-sports championships, all rounds will be live streamed on Twitch (SRO Motorsports), Facebook (SRO Motorsports), YouTube (GT World) and Dailymotion (GT World) for maximum reach.
Perhaps it's the only thing that motorsport can do right now, given the global circumstances, but what's sure is that e-sports is delivering what everyone who passionate about the sport is craving: exciting, live racing with the best drivers. Let the battle commence – and for once, you can even be part of it.
Pre-registration is open now on www.sro-esport.com, with further details and race formats for the inaugural SRO E-Sport Championship set to be revealed next week.
Calendar Pro and Silver Cup
Round 1 - Silverstone - 26 April
Round 2 - Total 24 Hours of Spa - 10 May
Round 3 - Nürburgring - 17 May
Round 4 - Barcelona – 31 May
Round 5 - Track to be decided by public vote – 14 June
Grand Final TBD
Calendar Am Cup
Round 1 - Silverstone – 16 May
Round 2 - Total 24 Hours of Spa - 23 May
Round 3 - Nürburgring - 30 May
Round 4 - Barcelona – 6 June
Round 5 - Track to be decided by public vote – 13 June
Grand Final TBD