Just a game? Everything you need to know about tonight's virtual Supercars showdown
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With the world in lockdown, live sport is incredibly hard to come by. But thankfully, for lovers of motorsport at least, there's a swag of half-decent virtual substitutes — including tonight's BP Supercars All Stars Eseries opener.
Online car racing competitions are sprouting up all over the world at the moment, as the sport realises that it's going to be out of action for quite a few months yet. And the Supercars competition is actually a better proposition on paper than Formula 1, NASCAR, and TCR Australia's offerings.
Why is that?
Well, unlike the others, the Supercars event will feature all of the category's 25 current drivers, all together in cars stickered up just like their real-world weapons. No ring-ins (yet); just all the names we know and love racing from home.
Give me all the details then
The telecast is scheduled to kick off at 9.00pm tonight NZST on Sky Sports 55. If you don't have Sky, I have good news. The series will also be live streamed for free online, via the Supercars Facebook page and via its Twitch channel, and on Red Bull TV.
There will be three races split between the fast and flowing Phillip Island in Australia, and the slip-streaming paradise of Monza in Italy. The former will feature a 9-lap opener and a 16-lap reverse grid race, with the latter packing a long 19-lapper.
Yes ... Monza. Video games make these international venues a Supercars possibility.
Errr, what the hell is a 'Twitch'?
Ah, Twitch is rather interesting.
Think of it like if someone rammed Facebook and YouTube together. It's a video streaming website used largely by gaming streamers. Along with watching people play, you can post comments alongside their gameplay in real time and engage in a bit of banter.
You can follow Supercars on Twitch if you want, but the real benefit of the platform is the ability to follow some of the individual drivers. Since lockdown began, Scott McLaughlin, Scott Pye, and Anton de Pasquale have all been regular Twitch streamers. Expect each to stream their point of view during tonight's racing, with frequent jabs at their competitors a given.
Why should I care about any of this. Games are for kids, aren't they?
I mean, feel free to watch re-runs of Friends instead if you want. Nobody's stopping you.
But, it's worth noting that the platform for tonight's race is a little more sophisticated than Mario Kart or Crash Team Racing. The Supercars Eseries uses iRacing as its platform; a title often touted as the most realistic racing simulator on the market.
The subscription-based game is often used by real-world racers to stay sharp between events. The tracks are laser scanned for incredible accuracy. Tracks gain and lose grip over the course of a session, rewarding consistency in the same way real motrosport does. Some of the Supercars field have been playing it for nearly a decade, and some of the handling and tyre models are even honed by real world racers.
And that's before you get to some of the wheel and pedal set-ups the drivers are using. Some, like Rick Kelly, are using simple rigs made out of wood, paired to Logitech wheels. Others have rigs worth tens of thousands of dollars, paired with pricy Fanatec peripherals and enoromous curved screens.
Okay. So, the game kinda serious. But it's still not going to feel like the real thing
Hey, never say never. To Supercars' credit, they're giving it a hell of a go. For one, a healthy chunk of its regular commentry crew is present. Neil Crompton and Jess Yates will lead the telecast, with Matthew White returning to the crew.
Chad Neylon and iRacing specialist Jonathon Simon will be 'pit reporters', and Craig Baird will be the Driving Standards Observer, just like he is in the real life Supercars series. If someone punts someone else, expect penalties to fly.
One of the key differences is car set-up. As opposed to real life racing, where each Supercar has its own oft-tweaked set-up, all cars in the Supercars Eseries will feature exactly the same set-up; tuned by Dunlop Super2 Series points leader Brodie Kostecki.
Who will win then?
Don't expect the same small circle of teams to be dominating the top five. This will be much more about which drivers are regular iRacing players and which aren't.
Two Kiwis, Scott McLaughlin and Shane van Gisbergen, are big contenders. Both are sim stalwarts, with McLaughlin bringing recent form via a stellar victory in round two of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge last weekend. The other big contender is Anton de Pasquale. The Penrite Racing ace has been practicing plenty, and is often the quickest of the group when they race together.
While Jamie Whincup and David Reynolds are Bathurst 1000 winners, neither competes much on simulators. For them and ahandful of others, it'll be a tall order to be anywhere near the front of the field.
Others to watch include Scott Pye, Will Davison, and Cameron Waters. Each has been putting in plenty of days practicing.
Unpredictable winners, parity, fantasyland track choices ... This might actually be alright!
Yep, there's reason for optimism around this thing. But it's worth being a bit patient with it, too.
As those who've followed other recent esports series will know, there's plenty of window for teething problems; be it internet issues or on-screen lag or crashes caused by 'net code'. There's also the somewhat inevitable situation where some drivers are taking it very seriously, and others are likely to treat it more like fun and games. Pardon the pun.
But, the ingredients are all there for a cracking distraction to the world's current drama. And, regardless of whether you're a fan of esports or not, the success of the series is something we should all barrack for.