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Virtual racing trends as motorsport events get canned due to Covid-19

From the F1 Grand Prix to the Porsche Supercup, there's enough virtual races to keep even the most ardent of car nuts busy during self-isolation

05 April 2020 - 00:00 By and thomas falkiner
Racing simulators such as Gran Turismo Sport are experiencing a surge in popularity during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Racing simulators such as Gran Turismo Sport are experiencing a surge in popularity during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Image: Clive Rose/Gran Turismo via Getty Images

Almost anything you can think of has in some way been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Motorsport is dear to my heart and in just a few short weeks I've watched dumbstruck as more and more series cancel or postpone their scheduled events due to travel bans and social distancing.

Heck, even the local calendar is in tatters: I was supposed to hit Phakisa Freeway in April for the second round of the 2020 Lotus Challenge Championship, but now I've probably got more chance of winning the national lottery.

Luckily us humans are an adaptable bunch and the global motorsport community has already found a way to keep on racing, despite the odds. Simulator or virtual racing has been burning brightly on the sport's perimeter, but over the course of the past few weeks it has been sucked right into its epicentre.

Almost overnight we have seen multi-billion-dollar franchises such as Formula 1 adopt this online playing space, not just as a means to keep their drivers' eyes in but also to keep fans happy.

Through digital broadcast platforms such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitch, enthusiasts are able to tune in and watch a Virtual F1 Grand Prix in the place of the real postponed event. The last one was held at the floodlit Bahrain International Circuit and, the last time I checked, had gained almost 900,000 views.

MotoGP is also hopping on the digital bandwagon, as is NASCAR and the Porsche Supercup. Even on a grassroots level, more car nuts are beating the lockdown blues by picking up a game pad (or sitting behind a steering wheel if they're lucky) and racing their mates on popular racing simulators such as Gran Turismo Sport, Assetto Corsa and Project Cars 2.

Although a fun way to kill time, you could argue that the sophisticated physics native to these titles can actually improve your skill behind the wheel.

Cynics will label it a lark, nothing but a passing craze, but I think in our uncertain future sim racing certainly has the potential to not only hold its newfound momentum but shift into a higher gear too. 


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