How sim racing is paving the grid for the next generation of IndyCar drivers

Crystal Scuor
How sim racing is paving the grid for the next generation of IndyCar drivers

There’s something so magical about being able to turn on your PC and instantly be transported into a race car, all from the comfort of your own home.

Bedhead included.

The best part about sim racing? Everyone can do it.

Sport has always been special to me. In fact, it was always my dream to interview athletes around the world and tell their stories. Why? Well, behind every athlete is a wide-eyed child with big, crazy dreams and an endless pocket full of hope.

Enter 2021 IndyCar Champion Álex Palou.

“It was a dream of mine to be part of IndyCar,” he said during our Zoom chat. “And it was another dream to be a champion.”

In just his second year in the US, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver accomplished just that. Like many at the top of their game, Palou started with Go Karting at a young age. He was only five years old when he began, actually.

Álex Palou, IndyCar 2021 champion, Jake Galstad, Motorsport Images
Álex Palou, IndyCar 2021 champion, Jake Galstad, Motorsport Images

Over at Arrow McLaren SP, 2019 IndyCar Rookie of the Year, Felix Rosenqvist hopped in the driver’s seat at the age of nine.

He, too, manifested a career in motorsports. The Swedish driver is now entering his fourth season in IndyCar. And while he’s leaned on some expert’s advice throughout his tenure in racing, Rosenqvist believes it’s crucial to trust yourself above all.

“I think the one you should listen the most to is yourself and just have fun along the way.”

With the 2022 season kicking off on 27th February, Rosenqvist and Palou have been spending some time in the sim to stay sharp. The two fired up their PCs to compete in the inaugural INDYCAR Pro Challenge recently, with Rosenqvist taking first place honours and a whopping $10,000 donation prize to the charity of his choice, Conquer Paralysis Now by Sam Schmidt.

Felix Rosenqvist, IndyCar, Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet, Long Beach, Phillip Abbott, Motorsport Images
Felix Rosenqvist, IndyCar, Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet, Long Beach, Phillip Abbott, Motorsport Images

At the heart of the event was an underlying silver lining for both professional and sim drivers: IndyCar is coming to Xbox, PlayStation and PC in 2023 and the INDYCAR IR-18 is now within rFactor 2.

Yep. You and your bedhead will get to race at Indianapolis.

“It’s cool where you can do it on the simulator. It probably generates a pretty realistic experience of what it will be,” said the Pro Challenge Champion.

Palou echoed his on-track opponent and says it’s amazing that folks at home can experience what they do. Sim-style, of course.

Álex Palou, IndyCar Pro Challenge, Sim Racing

“It’s so close if you get a proper steering [wheel], proper pedals… I think it’s really close, to be honest. Simulators, I think, evolved a lot during the past years. And it’s insane that you can have those feelings at home.”

He says the collaboration between IndyCar and sim sports is extremely exciting. Another benefit?

More eyes on the real thing.

“We can reach some more audience that doesn’t really know IndyCar that much or doesn’t really get interested because they don’t know the track. So, I think that them having the ability to see the cars, test the cars and build the cars and do races and see how fun it is, they’re going to then convert into real fans of our races,” said Palou.

The reigning champion recently announced that he will be joining esports giant Team Redline as an ambassador and taking part in this weekend’s iRacing Bathurst 12 Hour, yet another sign of continued growth in the online racing realm.

Felix Rosenqvist, IndyCar Pro Challenge, Sim Racing

Rosenqvist welcomes the future of sim racing with open arms and says the alliance will most likely attract a younger crowd to IndyCar.

“We have a great fan base, but we want to have a younger fan base. We want to introduce this to kids with dreams and show that they can also do this. When I was a kid, I was playing racing games and that’s pretty much how I got introduced to my sport. It’s a great portal for all those kids and anyone my age or older, as well.

“Everyone is welcome to enjoy this game and simulator.”

The motorsport gaming industry truly takes pole position when it comes to inclusivity amongst its users. Boys and girls worldwide have more opportunities to dream bigger than ever before.

And thanks to esports, their dreams of being a race car driver aren’t so crazy, after all.

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