Every single racing series across the globe is trying to stay afloat while not being able to hold physical events that have been scheduled since last year. There are many ways to adjust to the COVID-19 epidemic worldwide; series have been doing their level best to acclimate to the new normal.
NASCAR has taken its racing online, as we saw this past weekend with its eRace at Homestead-Miami Speedway; IMSA presented a SuperSaturday and Formula One went, virtually anyway, to Bahrain. This weekend will be no different, with both NASCAR and the late-arriving NTT IndyCar Series in action on both television and online platforms.
NASCAR’s Pro Invitational eRacing series turns to the Texas high banks on Sunday, with television coverage on FS1 and the national Fox broadcast channel. After Denny Hamlin aced last weekend’s eRace at Homestead-Miami Speedway, against Dale Earnhardt Jr. following up with another win on a platform where he’s plenty of success would make the Virginian a shoe-in. Or not. That’s why we hold these races, virtual or not.
Last week INDYCAR announced it would commence with a series of six virtual race events featuring current and former open-wheel standouts in the series. The INDYCAR iRacing Challenge begins this weekend, and each virtual race will consume an equal time to most current INDYCAR contests, 90 minutes to two hours, beginning at 4PM each Saturday and starting March 28.
The INDYCAR iRacing Challenge events will be on virtual tracks where the series either has raced in the past or races today. At Tuesday’s semifinal fan vote, it looked like a duel for the first venue between Watkins Glen International’s road course and the two-mile Michigan International Speedway oval.
The initial race will be followed by Barber Motorsports Park on April 4, the “Driver’s Choice” track on April 11, a “Random Draw” track April 18, Circuit of the Americas on April 25 and a non-INDYCAR “Dream” track on May 2nd, with the series looking to be back in real action on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course the following weekend.
Many current and former drivers, including four-time INDYCAR champion Dario Franchitti, two-time Formula 1 champ Emerson Fittipaldi , Gil de Ferran, Juan Pablo Montoya, Tony Kanaan, David Brabham, Helio Castroneves, Adrian Fernandez and Paul Tracy are intending to take part. Among current drivers, Sage Karam, piloting Dreyer & Reinbold Racing’s No. 24 WIX Chevrolet – who successfully competed in IMSA’s SuperSaturday last weekend – intends to take part.
Karam, who practices on his personal computer almost daily from his Nazareth, PA home and is a member of a sim team, spoke with INDYCAR about his iRacing competition and what he expects. “I’d say about 30 percent (of current INDYCAR drivers) are into sim racing and about 15 percent are religious about it. If you’ve jumped in an actual simulator and know how to drive a race car like we do, there’s a pretty decent chance you’re going to be competitive,” Karam said.
Because he’s religious about gaming, the 25-year-old has some pretty enviable equipment. When he began gaming, Karam had a $300 pedal/steering wheel unit. “Now my pedals alone cost $1,500 and I have three monitors. It can get pretty crazy, like racing does.”
Whether held in upstate New York or due west from Detroit, the INDYCAR iRacing Challenge’s first race will be live-streamed through INDYCAR.com and will also be available on INDYCAR’s YouTube and Facebook channels as well as iRacing’s Twitch.
INDYCAR and IMSA entrant Juncos Racing is taking the gaming situation seriously with its launch of an eSports team to compete in many series through iRacing and Gran Turismo Sport. Ricardo Juncos’ squad also intends to build their own eSports League and an online Juncos Racing Driver Development program that would identify upcoming talent for an opportunity to race with the team in the many different series.
“Over the past few years,” Juncos said, “we have been working on ideas and how and when we should enter into this eSports world of racing, but finding the time to work through these details was just not there. Not being on track is very difficult for our teams,” who race in INDYCAR, the Road to Indy support series and in IMSA’s WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, “but [the current situation] has presented us with the time to go through and make our eSports program a reality.”
By Anne Proffit