Leading lights in virtual motorsport gear up for globe-trotting challenge
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The world of virtual motorsport exploded during the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic, as racers and real-world championships all over the planet pivoted to provide an esports alternative. Among the most successful was the BP Supercars All Stars Eseries, which completed its 10-round season earlier this week.
Dunedin's Simon Bishop [pictured below] and Christchurch's Matt Smith [pictured above] are among New Zealand's leading esports racing competitors. Bishop is a former Gran Turismo Sport world champ and currently sits atop the local rankings for the game. Smith, meanwhile, is a former eSports World Rally Championship finalist, Gran Turismo Sport finalist, and is a defending Logitech G Challenge winner.
“It's almost overwhelming as a sim driver as with many of these series having elements open to public participation you don't know where to focus,” said Smith.
“In a few years we've gone from not really having any exciting global sim racing opportunities to having more than you can count with various formats and motorsport disciplines. With the lockdown we've seen public perception now catching up to how great sim racing has become.”
“It went from being a curiosity to being mainstream overnight,” Bishop added. “The general public's view changed so much. What was initially 'stupid fake racing' quickly became 'this is so much fun to watch!' Some people view it as an alternative to actual motorsport when in reality it’s an addition to it.”
The pairing are currently gearing up for their next virtual challenge; the 2020 Logitech McLaren G Challenge. Making use of the Project Cars 2 platform, he series is grouped into four divisions — North America, Latin America, and the Asia Pacific. Finalists from each quadrant will progress to the (all expenses paid) worldwide grand finals.
The outright winner will earn themselves a four-day trip to London where they will tour the McLaren Technology Centre, receive coaching from McLaren F1 driver and former Castrol Toyota Racing Series winner Lando Norris, and drive a McLaren road car at the 2021 British F1 Grand Prix as an event VIP.
To compete in series' like this one is about much more than simply being good at the game. Participants will need to resist pressure and craft passing moves and defenses, much like real life. And, typically, they will need to deal with a relatively packed media schedule.
"I've seen a few drivers perform outstanding in online qualifying events only to get flustered and finish near the back in the big finals," said Smith. "If you can be calm and focused in those pressure situations you'll have that edge over the competition that just might be the difference between winning and losing.
"Being fast is one thing but then being able to put that performance together in the one race that means the most when your up on stage or you know it's being live streamed to an big audience is another."
"There’s so much that goes on behind the scenes for the events that I think people wouldn’t realise," said Bishop, citing his experience travelling overseas to compete in numerous live Gran Turismo Sport events. "Its the PR stuff that often surprises people. Our days are very long at the events, doing a lot of promotion, interviews and photoshoots.
"Its effectively a full weekends work and that can be hard to find a balance for, as you’ve got to find time to do all that but also find time to focus on the job at hand which is the racing. This is all part of what someone playing any other sport would do on a weekly basis, but people are surprised that it is similar in the esports world too."
McLaren's connection to esports runs more than skin deep. The firm has its own division dedicated to the growing world, called the McLaren Shadow Project. Winners not only get drafted into McLaren's esports team, but they also get put through training programmes to help with developing themselves as potential future motorsport stars.
“Nowadays the Logitech G Challenge has grown even bigger, and the McLaren integration is a huge drawcard. Being able to enter that competition across all platforms, only needing a standard controller, and a regular copy of the game is pretty unheard of for accessibility,” said Bishop.
“It’s great to see prominent organisations like McLaren increasing their involvement in the esports scene, for sure. It represents a relatively low cost way of reaching both traditional motorsport fans and new fans, and anytime you can grow the sport as a whole that’s a massive bonus. [...] I suppose it remains to be seen what impacts Covid-19 has going forward, but I personally think the future is bright."
“I definitely think we will continue to see more and more of these big organisations getting on board,” added Smith. “The opportunities that are possible with a powerful motorsport brand like McLaren involved in sim racing are truly incredible.”
To learn more and enter, visit the Logitech website by clicking here.