After a hiatus in 2020, when the pandemic forced its cancellation, the ADAC SimRacing Expo returned to the Nürburgring last weekend stronger than ever. For three days, the world’s most popular sim racing shows, gave the industry a 3000m2 stage for brands to show their latest developments and technological advancements. With lots of virtual racing in 2020, is this the start of the next new era in sim racing?
Let’s start with a definition: What is sim racing exactly? It stands for “simulated racing”, i.e. simulations of cars racing on a digital platform (PC and consoles).
Sim racing has been around for more than 20 years and, as any motor racing enthusiast knows that the big teams from Formula 1 to endurance racing have been developing their own driver simulators since the early 2000s. In recent years, largely thanks to the improvements in hardware and software at a commercial level, the gap between enthusiast and professional simulators has narrowed considerably from full-motion rigs to SIMTAG’s latest product featuring a D-BOX-enabled brake pedal that provides the feel and sensation of a real-life pedal. This world’s first is one of this year’s latest developments to showcase how close sim racing can bring us to reality.
So, what happens when suddenly the world comes to a standstill, and we all have to stay at home because of COVID-19? Well, the main motorsport organisations (F1, WRC, Formula E, NASCAR, etc.) all looked for alternatives to allow driver to continue racing digitally, bringing sim racing to a much wider audience.
During 2020 it was not uncommon to see images of the world’s best F1 drivers in their respective home simulation cockpits. Some thought it would be a passing fad and that, once real racing returned, sim racing would return to its old place, but the reality is, sim racing is here to stay. The landscape has changed, and it is now commonplace to see Lando Norris live on Twitch racing alongside Max Verstappen and other top drivers, such as Rubens Barrichello and his sons.
Moreover, after nearly a year of uncertainty, the Global Meetings & Events Forecast 2021 Report by American Express Meetings & Events confirms that industries have been quick to adapt their event programmes to keep customers, prospects and employees engaged. Although there is still much to be learned, event organisers are already implementing new security and safety protocols and have embraced the use of technology for virtual and hybrid events. Online conferencing platforms have revealed both benefits and limitations to running events virtually, and organisers are always looking for new strategies to improve participation and avoid disengagement during virtual meetings. Sim racing is another virtual avenue for brands to get on board with. The
platform boasts a unique situation where fans can interact closely (in a virtual manner) with their favourite athletes and stars. This presents opportunities to generate new revenue streams.
Getting back to the racing itself, simulators are now helping young drivers develop driving skills and race craft as part of their journey to becoming professionals. Looking at the current F1 grid, we can see that most of them have been racing karts from ages as young as 4 or 5. These are the few that have made it, but what about all the others whose parents made huge financial outlays for the ones that turned out not to enjoy racing it or not talented enough to make it? What about those who may have the talent but cannot afford to go racing or even have access to a motorsport pathway?
At SQN we are convinced that simulation can facilitate greater accessibility to racing and motorsport. In the future we will see ever more competitors make the jump from sim racing to a professional real-world career. Grass roots racing teams now have access to a wider range of talent and soon we will see them investing more in sim racing as an entry level talent finder to bring them their next champions. If we look the other way, more and more real-world drivers are practicing and training on simulators, even at the top drivers like Charles Leclerc and Pierre Gasly have been found taking to not just their team’s simulators, but also their own at home. Many others had abstained until seeing the results of their competitors that regularly sim race.
The sim racing world is still in its infancy and the future holds a wide spectrum of possibilities. It is going to be an exciting few year,-seeing who really takes a grasp of this highly competitive, fresh landscape and uses its potential to the fullest.