A last-minute online race, staged after real-world race cancellations, attracted Red Bull F1 driver Max Verstappen, plus Indy 500 winner Simon Pagenaud, Le Mans champion Neel Jani, Formula E winner Antonio Felix Da Costa and many others.
Torque Esports chief executive Darren Cox said the game-based event attracted an outstanding audience.
“More people watched today’s ‘The Race All-Star Esports Battle’ online than watch a Formula One race on Sky TV in the UK — that is an incredible statistic,” he said.
“Race fans around the world are starved of entertainment at the moment — but the beauty of esports racing competition is the fact you can set up events anywhere around the world at any time.
“With the current Covid-19 situation around the world, the ‘stay at home economy’ is surging and Torque Esports is ideally positioned to provide the fan base with compelling virtual versions of real-world motorsport.”
The coronavirus could be the tipping point for esports racing reaching a much wider audience.
NASCAR changed forever when a snowstorm on the east coast of the US kept hundreds of thousands of people stuck at home — and they viewed the 1979 Daytona 500, creating leagues of new fans overnight.
Cox has invested heavily in sim racing. The former head of global motorsport for Nissan was instrumental in establishing Gran Turismo’s place as a platform for professional online racing.
Sunday’s Torque Esports race was supported with publicity from race teams such as BMW Motorsport, which was represented by real-world racers Colton Herta and Max Gunther.
The first-ever THE RACE All-Star Esports Battle is a wrap! P10 for @ColtonHerta and a DNF for @maxg_official. Overall both BMW drivers showed an impressive pace in a field full of experienced sim racers. On to the next one!#BMWSIM #BMWSIMRacing @wearetherace pic.twitter.com/202hTU5xxk— BMW Motorsport (@BMWMotorsport) March 15, 2020
Sim racer Jernej Simoncic defeated the likes of Verstappen in a race based on the rFactor 2 game.
In another race hosted by VeloceEsports, McLaren driver Lando Norris and F1 man turned Formula E ace Stoffel Vandoorne competed against the likes of Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois — with commentary by fellow ex-racer Jolyon Palmer.
Norris finished the race in sixth place but notched an important victory of another kind — his channel was the most-watched stream on online video service Twitch.tv.
Norris’s online racing experience proved more popular than streams based on games such as Fortnite, Minecraft, Call of Duty and League of Legends.
Veloce Esports reported that 180,000 people watched live streams of yet another event based on the popular F1 2019 game, which was won by sim racer Dani Bereznay.