June 20, 2019

Automobile racing can have an extremely costly barrier of entry with weekends at a track costing thousands of dollars, even for amateur drivers. Most people will never be able to afford to race in a real car without having any funding from a team.

Luckily this is where racing simulators come in.

Last weekend, racing sim driver Enzo Bonito defeated former F1 driver and current Formula E world champion Lucas di Grassi by more than half a second at the 2019 Race of Champions.

With Bonito racing in a real car, esports racing sim drivers from around the globe begged to be taken seriously from the racing world. Bonito’s win at the Race of Champions sparked the debate that we might be getting to a point where racing sims are now a viable option for drivers to be scouted by teams while also saving money on the costs of owning and maintaining a real car.

In December 2018, Porsche announced that it would be teaming up with iRacing to launch a new league – the Porsche iRacing World Championship Series. Forty drivers from around the world will race over 10 different weekends across 2019 for a shot at a $100,000 prize pool.

“We couldn’t be more thrilled to have Porsche as a partner for the Porsche iRacing World Championship Series,” commented Steve Myers, executive vice-president and executive producer, iRacing. “This is a milestone year for our world championships – it is the 10th year we have hosted and sanctioned world championships and to be able to offer a $100,000 prize pool shows how far we have come. We wouldn’t be able to do this without the fantastic partnership we have with Porsche.”

Over the past few years, racing esports have steadily grown alongside the rest of the gaming industry. Many drivers are now being scouted from their performances in games like iRacing and Gran Turismo and they are now being given a shot at racing in a real car. With the costs of racing sims having a significantly lower entry cost, many driving and racing enthusiasts have been given the opportunity to give it a go from the comfort of their own home.

“A sim for being a pro would cost about $5,000 to $8,000 at the low end,” commented Lukas Hensel-Williams, a computer programmer/analyst student at Conestoga College.

Hensel-Williams is a racing enthusiast who has also used racing sims like iRacing in his spare time. He admits that although the cost of racing sims can be cheaper than owning a real car, they can still get quite pricey depending on how competitive you want to be.

“You could purchase a cheaper rig to lower the cost, but if you always want the best you would have to update items in your rig like motors and computer hardware. For instance, a full motion racing simulator could cost $80,000, so it’s all up to the user to purchase the items they feel would give them the best advantage.”

Driving a car on iRacing is still very different from driving a car on a real track. There are factors such as weather conditions and G-force that can affect the overall experience that a driver has. iRacing has weather effects and additional features built into the game to help make it feel as real as possible, but the lack of G-force is the main thing missing.

Amateur race car driver Tyler Cox of Maine says that he is able to translate the track feel from iRacing and apply it to racing in real life.

“If it’s a track that I have never been to before, I can practice on iRacing and learn the line and get laps of practice in before I even go to the track. The G-force factor changes from track to track. High speeds and the more banking, the more G-force you pull. iRacing and other sims are a great alternative to real life racing and they’re the closest thing you are going to get. Other than the G-force factor it’s a pretty good base line to what real life is like,” Cox said.

A racing simulator rig in a home in Waterloo, Ont., on Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019.

He also commented on the difference in cost between racing on a sim compared to a real track.

“For example, my racing sim with everything costs about $6,000. If you don’t crash and have a perfect season (in a real car) you are going to be at a bare minimum $80,000 to $100,000 to be semi-competitive to run an entire weekly series for a super late model. Last year we spent $226,000 to be the top car at the track. Our return on the investment or total winnings was around $18,000.”

As a scouting method, Cox also believes that racing sims are the future for up-and-coming drivers.

“NASCAR has started using iRacing as a tool to scout drivers. What most people lack is money to fund a team as to run a NASCAR cup car for one season is around $30 million. Sims are a cheap and fun way to get into racing without having to pay the big dollars each year to run a race car and worry about being in a crash. Bare minimum price for a weekend at a track is $2,500 to $3,000 if you don’t crash.”

Racing sims are definitely the future for being scouted and they have a much more friendly barrier of entry. With the rapid growth of the esports scene, many professional drivers will now get their start in games like iRacing rather than the more traditional path of karting and amateur racing.

It’s an exciting time for racing enthusiasts around the globe, with many people being given an opportunity to get their start in the comfort of their own home.

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