'Why sim racing is as much of a challenge as any real race car'

Sports Car News

Esports has long been viewed as insignificant but 'old views' need to change according to some drivers


Online racing holds major value to real life drivers despite detractors wanting to believe otherwise

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“The flag drops at real race courses where real race cars race each other in real races. Everything else is meaningless bullshit.”

Racing fans may have nodded in agreement with Steve McQueen’s similar declaration in Le Mans but 50 years on, this statement from Jim Glickenhaus has sparked a spat between him and the growing number of racers who see sim racing as the real thing.

The independent team owner, taking on Toyota at Le Mans with his own Hypercars, found himself under attack when he urged followers to take their cars to drag strips or auto cross competitions instead of spending money on a sim setup.

Glickenhaus may have dismissed the rise of sim competitions during Covid as a fad, but virtual racing is going from strength to strength, attracting serious commitment from professional racers, as well as gamers.

Angus Fender, 20, was one of those taking Glickenhaus to task. The British racer is in an enviable position with a British GT championship slot and work as a driver coach. But he’s also a BMW sim racer and says that much of the time, the racing is better and he has more fun in the virtual world.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to be racing in real life for 12 years now in pretty much all levels from regional karting so I’ve been able to see the different levels of motor sport,” he told Motor Sport.

“Being a BMW professional driver, I see both sides of the coin. I think it’s incredibly narrow minded to put down people who look up and idolise you in the job that you do.

“So, when Glickenhaus came into WEC everyone was really excited and a lot of those fans would have done sim racing or some form of esports, whether it be on a console or computer and I think it’s incredibly narrow minded to just disregard that kind of group and fan base.”

Other sim racers, including James Baldwin, the 2020 winner of the World’s Fastest Gamer competition, and the high-profile Jimmy Broadbent also criticised the implication that sim racing was “meaningless”.

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“The world’s moving incredibly fast at the moment,” Fender continued. “Yeah, sim racing is the new thing and it’s something that’s been picked up incredibly quickly in this game but [there’s been] a huge amount of exposure and talent over the course of the past 18 months.

“There’s a reason why you see F1 drivers coming back to iRacing and sim racing in the offseason is because, guess what, they get just as much of a challenge through that as in any real race car.

“Racing for me is fantastic way to showcase your talent without the fear of damage.

“I know since I started car racing. I learned very quickly how high the costs can ramp up if you go around crashing into people. In the first few years, it took me a little while to get my head around.

“In sim racing, everyone can race hard without a damage bill to pick up”

“When you drive thinking of your wallet, you’ll never finish as well as you can do. Sim racing makes that completely null and void, so everyone can race as hard as they choose to.

“They can damage the car as much as they want they don’t pick up the damage bill for it. So the talented people that maybe don’t have fortunate funding as some others, they can still do just as well.”

With multiple major series starting their own esports championships following the boom in popularity of online racing during lockdown, there is plenty of scope for the virtual racing to continue growing in popularity.

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F1, Formula E, NASCAR and WRC for instance all host their own respective online races, with drivers signed to real-life teams as part of their esports racing divisions. In-house virtual racers have become increasingly commonplace.

“Sim racing isn’t or has never been shown in the same calibre as real racing and that’s partly to do with the younger generation coming through that are interested in sim racing,” said Fender. “I use that term loosely because I know that a lot of people sim race from all age groups.

“I trust the motor sport community to see sense because I think it’s very unfair to put down every person who dreams of driving a Hypercar or Formula 1 car.

“I hope that [people’s views] will change. Do I think it will? I also want to say yes on that but it’s down to the generation coming up and through and the generation that are in place now to accept that, rather than keep their narrow-minded goggles on shutting out the outside world. I think it’s about time to change.”

Glickenhaus has yet to make a serious impact on the WEC season, with a best result so far of third place at the most recent Six Hours of Monza round, but he told Motor Sport, in our current issue, that his low-downforce car is built with Le Mans in mind. “We’re gonna try to win this year, and I think it’s possible,” he said.