When F1, NASCAR and IndyCar were all forced to suspend their seasons last week due to COVID-19, millions of fans around the world were left without their favorite sport. Then NASCAR “spotter” TJ Majors had an idea: through eSports and iRacing, offer fans an opportunity to race their favorite drivers.
According to The Verge, Majors figured everyone involved in NASCAR would have some unexpected time on their hands on race day, so he reached out to iRacing, a sim racing game, and Podium eSports, which has the ability to produce broadcast quality sim races. What started as a series of phone calls on a Friday afternoon quickly turned into a virtual race with drivers like William Byron, Parker Kilgerman and a retired Dale Earnhardt, Jr., all eager to participate.
Motor racing is one of the largest sports worldwide, with a legion of devoted fans. In 2018, over four million fans attended Formula One race weekends. NASCAR races can boast anywhere from three million to five million viewers.
Simulated online racing platforms are popular in their own right, so it only made sense that combining professional drivers and existing online platforms could provide some much-needed distraction for race fans during this time.
The Replacements 100 was born. It was a success by all standards. Streamed on Twitch, the two-hour event boasted 23,000 concurrent viewers and over 70,000 original views. The first race was such a success that The Replacements will now be an eight-race series that viewers can see every other Thursday evening. NASCAR will partner with iRacing and Fox to produce a sim race that will be broadcast on television as well as online platforms.
Meanwhile, a similar phenomenon was taking place in the F1 racing world. Darren Cox, who helps manages the Mercedes F1 team has an extensive background in simulated racing. After the F1 season opener, the Australian Grand Prix, was set to be canceled, Cox thought he could do something to help.
“I said, look, you know, let’s do it, I’ll fund it. We didn’t have any drivers confirmed. We didn’t know if anyone would come. And it really was that great old-fashioned line, ‘build it and they will come.’”
Drivers like Max Verstappen, Felix Rosenqvist and retired F1 and IndyCar legend, Juan Pablo Montoya all agreed to participate. Cox confirmed that all the drivers participated without ever seeking compensation or even brand recognition.
The race titled, Not the AUS GP, was presented by Veloce Esports, with a surprise track and even some popular sim racers participating alongside the professional drivers. The idea was to create some lighthearted competition race fans could enjoy.
The strong connection between eSport racing and actual motor racing is one of the reasons the idea was logical. Professional racecar drivers utilize simulators to practice and most serious sim racers use a similar set-up for their eSport competitions. Many professional drivers also have strong followings on Twitch, the platform where a lot of sim racing takes place.
This technological connection enabled the world of professional racing to give fans the thrill of a race with just a few days’ notice, with the prospect of more to come.