Opinion: Motorsport stars have a responsibility to treat sim racing with respect

Thomas Harrison-Lord
The weekend’s Golden Toast GP wasn’t about one incident, opines Tom, but a wider debate about taking sim racing seriously enough – or not, as the case may be.
Opinion - Motorsport stars have a responsibility to treat sim racing with respect

Having a real-world, established, motorsport driver involved in broadcasted sim racing is an honour and a privilege. 

Here’s someone who gets to experience the hurtling down the Mulsanne Straight at 200mph or the intense g-forces when running through the Maggotts-Becketts complex. 

They don’t need to sim race. Simulator sessions at the team’s base to improve the race car’s set-up – a necessity. But to compete online against ‘video gamers’? Nah, way down the priority list. 

But for others, the 99 per cent who aren’t professional racing drivers, sim racing is as close as they can get. Especially competitive, or organised, esports competitions. 

I think you can see where I’m going here… 

VCO ProSIM SERIES Round 4 Sebring, Max Verstappen leads
The VCO ProSIM SERIES is an example of a mix of professional sim racers and motorsport stars. Here, Max Verstappen leads

When an established star takes part in a virtual, yet real, event, they bring with them more viewers thanks to their fanbase in tow. It’s also intriguing to see if someone with racing esports credentials can take on and beat a Formula 1 star when in the same environment. 

It also brings with it an apparent clash of priorities. A sim racing event might mean the earth to one competitor, but a weekend folly for others – waiting for the ‘actual’ racing sometime soon. 

Either way, in my opinion, I think drivers from both backgrounds should take organised sim racing events seriously. 

I suppose that opens me up to my definition of ‘seriously’. To which I would say adhering to the rules of engagement. To which the next query would likely be what do you mean by ‘organised’? 

I believe any event that has a set of rules is organised. Simple as that. Throw in a competitive field, stewards, commentators and a live broadcast, and things are taken up a notch. In my world, it’s irrespective of prize or charity funds. 

My Traxion.GG colleague Piers Prior, who has real-world Formula 3 experience I might add, put it rather succinctly: 

“Sunday league football isn’t taken seriously, but if you two-foot someone to stop them from scoring a goal, it’s still not okay. Red card.” 

1:34:11 for the replays

This takes us, handily, to last weekend’s Golden Toast GP, an event that used GT3-specification cars at Spa-Francorchamps within iRacing. It was organised by Virtual Competition Organisation’s Florian Haasper and sim racing content creator Pablo Araujo and proceeds will be heading to charity. 

The race was broadcast on VCO’s YouTube and Twitch channels (alongside Araujo’s), with production and commentary from RaceSpot TV and, here’s the extra kicker for me, there were stewards. It’s their role to determine what’s acceptable and what isn’t. 

The entry list was impressive too, with 2022 Porsche Esports Supercup champion Diogo Pinto, BS+Competitions’ Rainer Talvar, iRacing Nürburgring 24h GT4 winner Josh Tompson and real-world Supercars title protagonist Brodie Kostecki amongst others. 

Oh, and did I mention reigning F1 world champion Max Verstappen? 

Yes, Max was there and promptly slapped his Team Redline Porsche 911 on pole position in an emphatic display of driving heroism. 

In the race, which used a unique three-hour format of throwing a safety car every 50 minutes and eliminating the last 15 drivers during the caution periods, Verstappen and Grid-And-Go.com Esports driver Sven-Ole Haase came together while fighting for third coming out of the final chicane. 

Haase went for a clean move down the inside of the current F1 championship leader, but upon the corner exit it appeared as if Verstappen had other ideas and forced the Ferrari driver off the circuit. 

Alexey Nesov, Urano Esports, wins 2023 Golden Toast GP

I say ‘appeared’ because several commenters were claiming this was due to a particular quirk of the platform in use, known off-handedly as ‘magnet tyres’, or a ‘netcode’ error. 

Anyway, that’s by the by really, the ‘net’ result was Haase being pushed off the track and then, come the next corner, La Source, he looks to have retaliated. 

In, what I think was an unacceptable red-mist-enabled move, the rear of the Porsche was punted, which in turn caused contact between Verstappen and team-mate Pinto. 

What happened next was flabbergasting to me. Before the stewards could interject, seemingly, the two-time F1 world-champion sought revenge by running across Les Combe and then driving into Haase with laser-focussed accuracy at Bruxelles. The Ferrari flew into the wall and crumpled like a discarded can of Coke. 

Verstappen was disqualified almost instantly. 

Alexey Nesov won the race for Urano Esports by the way, did you know that? 

You see, from where I’m sat, the vast majority of social media discourse is purely about the 43-time grand prix winner and not the race itself. 

Haase vs Verstappen, sim racing, Toast
Sven-Ole Haase hits Max Verstappen during the 2023 Golden Toast GP

There are articles by The Drive and the Express. That’s 16.2m automotive enthusiasts and 87.4m gossip fiends per month (source, Similarweb) reading those websites, outlets that don’t go anywhere near sim racing usually. 

But they did this time, because an F1 star was thrown out of the race. While the Golden Toast GP will now go down as one of the most infamous sim racing events this year (and perhaps cement itself in the fabric of the scene), I think that has a negative impact on sim racing. 

The headlines aren’t ‘Verstappen wins epic sim racing on the last lap’, but inevitably, about wiping someone out. In turn that has led to a barrage of comments about it ‘just being a video game’, belittling the sporting aspects. 

Which is correct to an extent. It is a video game. But so are Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Rocket League and Fortnite. It doesn’t mean, because it’s a game, it isn’t competitive. 

Max Verstappen bot Twitter account
In the aftermath of the race, the Twitter spam account ‘Formula1captain’ tweeted this sentiment 105 times

Watching a bunch of people deliberately crashing into each other is embarrassing. For competitions to build a sustained audience, find sponsors and grow media coverage, it cannot have the driving standards of an open Wreckfest lobby. 

Of course, this isn’t the first time the leading Dutch and Belgian driver has made headlines – his rants about the Le Mans Virtual organisation created headlines on Top Gear.com, Sports Illustrated and the Washington Post

In some ways, the outburst (“clown show”) was a force for change at least. It was one of the many voices contributing to the decision that until the upcoming Le Mans Ultimate platform is ready, the series will not return. 

But let us also not forget, the car – shared by the champ with three sim racers – was withdrawn from the event after a rule (14.11, fact fans) was not changed for the #1 Team Redline entry mid race. This was blown over by the portentous criticisms of the platform. Try to imagine that happening during the Hungarian Grand Prix… 

There are other instances too of motorsport stars being involved in contentious sim racing wrecks. Take three-time Supercars champion Shane van Gisbergen making contact with championship-contender Collin Fern on the opening lap of last year’s Monday Night Racing final

I also try to forget Simon Pagenaud wiping out Lando Norris during an IndyCar Challenge event, but that one is burned into my cerebrum for eternity, sadly. 

Curiously, Verstappen has shown resolve in the recent past – in March, whilst driving in the GT3 class of the iRacing Sebring 12 Hour, another alleged ‘netcode’-related platform error left his team’s Ferrari crippled. Publicly at least, there was radio silence. Although, the car was, again, withdrawn when it was possible to continue – albeit down the order.  

Apologies for bringing this up again…

My point is this: real-world motorsport competitors bring a spotlight with them to sim racing, and they must be respectful of this. If not, it can portray the virtual racing scene in a negative light, acting as an industry deterrent, not a stimulant. 

Several motorsport drivers do take simulation events ‘seriously’ by the way, and that’s fantastic – I’m thinking the likes of Bruno Spengler, Tony Kanaan and Raffaele Marciello. Sure, they make mistakes, everyone can in life. 

But only a few are seemingly deliberately wiping out competitors, going on livestreamed rants or retiring when things don’t go their way. 

For many, sim racing is more than a hobby, it’s a passion or even a career. Professional racing esports drivers and teams are reliant, to make a living, on the industry growing and developing in a mature fashion. 

If motorsport drivers can’t appreciate that, it’s probably best if they don’t turn up at all…

Where do you stand on motorsport competitors taking part in sim racing events? Let us know in the comments below.

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