Last week saw the start of the second of the traditional events that kick off the New Year in motorsport. With the Dakar Rally already well underway and the Monte Carlo Rally not until 23rd January, the motorsport world descended on the Autosport International Show at the less-than- glamorous NEC in Birmingham.
With four days and five halls of motorsport heritage, products and launches there was much for enthusiasts to enjoy. Early on Thursday M-Sport were on hand to unveil their WRC driver line-up, headed by Esapekka Lappi, and new livery, a modern take on some heritage white and blue Ford rally colours.
One of the key themes though that we picked up from our visit was the unmissable presence of esports.
At the top level there was the Le Mans Eports Series, with a stage for 12 racers to go head to head, large screen and spectator viewing. The series is a joint partnership between the ACO, the FIA WEC and Motorsport Network, and so finds an obvious home at the show.
Behind this arena was a large and popular esport fan area, built around a display of the Le Mans winning number 8 Toyota TS050 Hybrid. Here fans could partake in a range of titles including DiRT Rally 2 and Forza Motorsport 7, as used in the Le Mans series.
So far, so good you might suggest. What was equally noticeable however was the plethora of games / simulators on the stands around all of the halls. It felt like one stand in every half dozen was featuring a game to bring people onto the stand. They ranged from a seat and a screen to more complex, and expensive, multi-screen motion simulators.
You might argue that it’s just that, a gimmick to drive traffic to the stand. So all-pervasive were these games that it occurred that it’s more than just a marketing tactic. Esports is now an integral part of the motorsport psyche, particularly as one might expect with the younger generation. Without realising perhaps, were all of these stands accelerating towards the future vision of motorsport. One which is predominantly living in a virtual world.
With both cost and sustainability issues a continuing challenge for motorsport at all levels, the question is how will these two worlds come together? This transition presents both a challenge and an opportunity for many stakeholders including automotive companies, sports rights holders, and sponsors.