So, you want to race in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, but you don’t have a fat wallet or haven’t spent years working your way through the ranks.
There’s always iRacing.
One of the original eSports, iRacing gives members an authentic simulation of what it’s really like to drive an IMSA prototype, GT Le Mans (GTLM) or GT Daytona (GTD) race car on most of the racetracks that host WeatherTech Championship events. How authentic?
Put it this way, this isn’t your dad’s video game. The race cars are sensitive to the slightest inputs by the driver and can be set up just like their real-world counterparts. It’s so close to the real thing that many IMSA drivers regularly use iRacing as an important tool in helping them prepare for upcoming races.
“From the beginning, that’s kind of what we’ve built our product to be,” said iRacing director of marketing Kevin Bobbitt. “So, it’s the most accurate consumer simulator that you can get access to, and that does two things.
“One is it allows pro drivers or aspiring pro drivers to get some practice and learn some things. But it also allows our core customer – which are mostly fans – to understand that this is the real deal. These cars drive like the real cars, the tracks are spot on. If they’re experiencing it, it’s the same perspective that the real-world driver that they root for has.”
For example, if you’re a fan of Ford Chip Ganassi Racing, you can get on iRacing and get a feel for the experience Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe had in their No. 67 Ford GT last weekend at Lime Rock Park. You can learn the racetrack, learn how the car handles and what it likes and doesn’t like in an unlimited amount of practice laps all by yourself on the racetrack.
Once you’ve got a handle on that, to borrow a phrase from the “Days of Thunder” character, Rowdy Burns, “Let’s see how you do in a crowd” in online races against other iRacing members. You can relive the thrilling battle between Westbrook and Earl Bamber in the No. 912 Porsche 911 RSR in last weekend’s race.
“We have a partnership with IMSA that affords us the ability to run IMSA-like series online,” Bobbitt said. “Our customers love it because they get to participate in IMSA events. It helps kind of brand positioning us, it helps legitimize what we do.
“We’re another branch of motorsport and that’s what we’re striving to do. So, we’re the online version of what people do. It gives (IMSA) fans the opportunity to experience on some level what it is that they watch on the weekends when they’re going to a race or watching it on NBC or how ever they’re consuming the product.”
As far as the iRacing product is concerned, new cars, tracks and features are constantly being developed to enhance the experience for members.
“We currently have a great IMSA online series that features Daytona Prototypes, GTE cars, as well as some GT3 cars,” Bobbitt said. “We call them GT3, because that’s what they’re classified in iRacing but they’d be like a GTD car, so multi-class racing. That’s one of our more popular series that we run online on the road side, which is fantastic. We run four 12-week seasons throughout the year, crown champions in all those classes, multiple manufacturers, all that kind of stuff.
“Maybe even more relevant is that we replicate some of IMSA’s events like the Daytona 24, Sebring 12 hour, Watkins Glen six hour, Petit Le Mans, to name a few. This year was big. We rolled out day-night transitions. So, we’ve been doing these long events for, for a few years now, but it was always a static time. So, the sky never changed and never got dark or never got light. We either ran the race at night or we ran it during the day. But now we have real time changes. So, if you run the Daytona 24, it starts at whatever time we decide. We usually line that up with the time that IMSA starts, around three o’clock in the afternoon.”
The response has been huge. Bobbitt said the 2019 Daytona event, run the weekend before the real-life Rolex 24 at Daytona in January, had more than 4,600 drivers and 1,100 teams participating. iRacing has a skill ranking to create a level playing field and split the entries into different levels depending on a driver’s ability.
And yes, just as in real-life WeatherTech Championship competition, iRacing also allows for multiple drivers to share cars. Even drivers from different parts of the world.
“Part of the service that iRacing has is the matchmaking,” Bobbitt said. “Putting them on the right servers and allowing all these people to participate. That’s a lot of people to be racing on our servers from all around the world.”
Beyond the racers themselves, fans can watch iRacing events through live online streaming with commentary and a format that closely resembles a normal IMSA race telecast.
Those leagues and special events are for the uber-serious. What about the more “casual” driver or somebody who’s new to iRacing? The company has exciting plans for those drivers as well.
“One of the biggest features we’re working on now is AI (Artificial Intelligence) racing,” Bobbitt said. “Right now, everything on iRacing, anytime you race, you race against real live people from somewhere around the world. It could be your neighbor it could be all the way around the world. But we’re going to be adding the ability to race against the computer, which we think will open up the door to iRacing to kind of a new group of people who maybe might be intimidated by online racing.
“I think that there’s going to be a lot of people that are kind of excited to try iRacing without the worry of messing up somebody else’s race. And once they see how cool it is that they’ll still venture into the the online world. So, the thought is that that’s going to bring a whole new group of customers in.”
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