Tony Kanaan’s long walk to the starting grid began in his kitchen. It took him through the foyer, past the trophy case, and up the stairs. He headed down the hallway, across the master bedroom and bathroom, before he arrived at his destination––the closet. That’s where the former Indianapolis 500 winner joined a virtual IndyCar race. Kanaan spent the entire day iRacing on a simulator in his closet. (That’s the only place in the house where his wife tolerates his rig.) Two virtual races later, Kanaan joined the first of a six-week series launched to give cooped up IndyCar fans content to cheer for during the coronavirus pandemic.
COVID-19 caused the racing season to screech to a halt. IndyCar suspended the start of its season just 48 hours before its highly anticipated season opener. The Indianapolis 500 was postponed until August. NASCAR, IndyCar, and other 2020 racing series traded packed stadiums for screens. Racing went virtual. NASCAR’s first iRace was the most-watched televised esports event of all time. It garnered more than 900,000 viewers. The second NASCAR iRace took place on an exact replica of the Texas Motor Speedway with Fox Sports’ Mike Joy and Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon as commentators. Driver Timmy Hill clinched the checkered flag.
Seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson made his own iRacing debut at an IndyCar virtual race. Sage Karam won that race, with no prior experience on the race’s virtual Watkins Glen International Speedway track. Felix Rosenqvist, last year’s IndyCar top rookie, secured second place behind Karam.
IRacing rigs are helpful tools to keep drivers’ skills sharp off the track. Drivers representing a wide range of talents join virtual races. Younger drivers use iRacing as a training tool. But many veteran racers are still relatively new to the gaming rage.
Simulators vary in price and complexity. Advanced rigs equipped with motion sensors can cost around $40,000, but simple setups like a wheel and computer at a desk are less expensive while still competitive. Drivers race on simulators from their bedrooms, basements, garages, living rooms, and even closets.
The iRacing platform imitates real world cars, tracks, and racing events. Virtual racetracks are exact copies of real NASCAR tracks. Lasers scan the real tracks to capture onscreen their bumps and imperfections in the asphalt. Stadium billboards, pit lanes, and grandstands are also replicated flawlessly.
It may be a while before track grandstands fill with people again. Until then, virtual racing is a great way to keep fans connected with a favorite sport.