It should come as little surprise that Formula E, which shook up the world of motorsport as the first all-electric series, is once again looking to revolutionize racing. This time, though, it’s also sending shockwaves through the eSport community.
FE at the Consumer Electronics Show on Saturday hosted the first “Vegas eRace,” a sim racing competition between pro drivers and pro sim racers. Competitors raced around a 3.1-mile 20-turn “Las Vegas Strip” circuit using rFactor 2 software for a share of a $1 million prize pot.
The “Vegas eRace’s” pot was the largest cash prize in eSports racing history, marking the beginning of a new era for both sim racing and traditional motorsport. By partnering with ELeague, FE brought a novel sport to the attention of a relatively mainstream audience, and demonstrated what makes it so unique.
Because sim races take place on digital models of tracks, organizers are able to host races on any circuit imaginable, even ones that don’t exist in reality. Most series would love to have an event on the “Las Vegas Strip” — Bernie Ecclestone has even expressed interest in hosting a Grand Prix there — but FE actually did so.
Sim racing also provides viewers with a broadcast experience that isn’t possible with other forms of motorsports. Because cameras aren’t needed to capture video, the race can be shown from impossible angles, which allows commentators to give more analysis in real time.
Since drivers are not actually in the cockpit of a car with a helmet on, fans can see their reactions to the on-track action. This lack of isolation also means competitors face certain challenges that they wouldn’t in traditional racing, such as maintaining focus on their screens.
Also, because drivers aren’t at risk of injury, and damage to cars doesn’t cost them any money, they are able to race without the element of fear. As a result, there are often some daring overtakes, which they might not attempt in reality.
Unlike other sports’ video games, sim racing is very closely related to its real-world counterpart, as competitors use the same controls as they would in a real car. The difference is drivers have to rely solely on visual stimuli — of which, virtual reality can provide more — and feedback through the steering wheel, whereas, in a race car, they can often feel things through the seat of their pants before they can see them.
What makes that special, is the sim racers were competing with them on a level playing field. Everybody’s “pod” was comprised of the same Thrustmaster wheels and Playseats, and everybody raced with identical setups. That level of parity is almost impossible to find in other motorsport categories.
If FE continues to help sim racing grow in popularity, we could see more drivers use it as their path to a career in traditional racing.
All photos via Formula E