Sports around the world are being upended by cancellations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For some leagues, this is resulting in unfinished or postponed seasons. For others, it’s a cause for creativity. Last week, NASCAR and Formula 1 both revealed that they are moving unplayed matches to an esports format.
NASCAR’s virtual plan of action
NASCAR, the American auto racing association, is partnering with iRacing to run the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series. This series now replaces postponed NASCAR matches with simulated ones up until at least May 3rd. Motorsport fans will quickly recognize some of the competitors that have signed on to play, including Dale Earnhardt Jr., Bobby Labonte, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin, along with other NASCAR stars.
It’s obvious that the invitational series came together quickly; matches have already begun to replace the usual Sunday NASCAR broadcasts. The first match occurred on March 22nd and will continue to air every week “following CDC guidelines,” according to FOX Sports. Ross Chastain and Chris Buescher, two of the racers featured in Sunday’s virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway race, found creative ways to participate in order to follow health protocol. Chastain competed using his iRacing rig at home, while Buescher played from Roush Fenway’s campus in Concord, North Carolina using a custom rig.
F1 embraces esports even more
Formula 1 also started replacing matches in a virtual setting on March 22nd with the new F1 Esports Virtual Grand Prix series. These virtual series matches will stand in for postponed real-world Grand Prix events, starting with the Bahrain Grand Prix. Like eNASCAR, this schedule projects out until May. F1 has already dipped its toe into esports, so this should help continue their development of an online motoresport scene.
The Virtual Grand Prix series will use the F1 2019 PC video game by the developers Codemasters. The first tournament featured a 28 lap, 50% length race, with grid positions determined based on drivers’ fastest lap time. You can watch all the upcoming GPs on the official Formula 1 YouTube, Twitch and Facebook channels, as well as F1.com.
Both NASCAR and F1 recognize that real life skill level and in game virtual skill level may not be equal, so both series are aimed at providing entertainment more than anything else. Either way, having content coming out during social distancing is a win-win for motorsport fans across the world.