In a current world bereft of live sport, motorsport will still play a key role in sating competitors and fans thanks to virtual racing series amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
As the coronavirus crisis grips the world, sports leagues have been postponed and cancelled in a bid to slow and prevent the spread the virus.
Many competitions are unable to provide many alternatives to fill in the gaps, but motorsport categories, with the benefit of virtual races and online competition, have already planned to keep interest high.
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Formula 1, which is facing an 11-week layoff due to the first seven events of the season being affected by the virus, has launched a new Esports Virtual Grand Prix series which will run as replacements to the postponed races.
The virtual series – which will use F1’s official 2019 game – will take place for every race postponed, starting with the Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday (March 22).
The series will pit current drivers against other stars, with racers to compete remotely with a host broadcast live from the Gfinity Esports Arena. The Bahrain race will be a 50% length race – 28 laps – and will be broadcast live on F1’s YouTube, Twitch and Facebook channels.
“We are very pleased to be able to bring some light relief in the form of the F1 Esports Virtual GP, in these unpredictable times, as we hope to entertain fans missing the regular sporting action,” said Julian Tan, Head of Digital Business Initiatives and Esports at F1.
“With every major sports league in the world unable to compete, it is a great time to highlight the benefits of esports and the incredible skill that’s on show.”
Last week, The Race kicked off an All-Star Esports Battle which pitted current drivers against online stars and athletes from other sports.
Supercars has also confirmed plans for an Eseries, which will also feature current championship drivers.
The Supercars Eseries will use the iRacing platform – which features the current model Ford Mustang and Holden Commodore – used in last year’s Gfinity competition, with drivers to race their own virtual cars in their team colours.
The competition will be broadcast live on Fox Sports and Kayo, as well as on Supercars.com, Supercars social media channels and streaming platform Twitch. Start dates and competition partners will be confirmed in the coming days.
Drivers have lauded the initiative, with many using simulators at home to sharpen their skills away from race weekends.
With the championship on hold until June amid the virus outbreak, the Eseries will not only keep drivers’ skills sharp, but also provide fans with entertainment while the real show is on ice.
Supercars plans to have 10 rounds in the virtual series, with teams confident all drivers will participate.
Last week, Supercars CEO Sean Seamer said: “Our number one priority with the Eseries is to fill the gap between now and when we go racing again.
“All of the feedback from the teams to date in the past 48 hours is that their drivers have the available hardware and connectivity to participate.
“We expect a full grid.”
Alongside the Supercars Eseries, reigning two-time Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin has signed with professional sim racing squad Apex Racing Team, and has also been named as part of Team Penske’s line-up for the IndyCar Eseries. NASCAR and IMSA have also set up virtual competitions.
An added bonus of Supercars’ Eseries, according to Team 18’s Scott Pye, could be the category’s ability to trial new formats which be could implemented in the real-world series.
Pye also expects the Eseries to provide a healthy mix of serious competition and light-hearted entertainment.
“It will be interesting to see who does take it seriously and who has fun with it,” Pye said.
“I think we can have a good laugh with it and the entertainment element will be there for the fans watching at home.
“The organisers have a real opportunity to mix up the formats and play with some reverse grid races and trial some new things.
“I think we’re going to see some formats we wouldn’t normally see in real life and it will be interesting to see what they come up with.”