This weekend marks a momentous occasion for esports, as the first round of the Fanatec Esports GT Pro Series will be held.
The unique concept – pioneered by SRO and partners AK Informatica – will see real-world divers compete virtually not only for pride but also real-world Teams’ Championship points in the form of the Fanatec Points Boost.
Initially previewed at the beginning of 2021, the virtual series will mirror the GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup, with five rounds starting with Monza this weekend (17th and 18th of April) and drawing to a close in Barcelona this October.
One of the main differences to other pro-esports series seen before, such as F1, IndyCar and IMSA, will be the pro drivers competing onsite at the track; very much full-metal in the morning, sim rig in the evening. Onsite at every race weekend will be the ‘Fanatec GT Arena’ with 24 high-end simulators provided by Fanatec which the drivers will use for the races.
“The merging of real and virtual competition is just around the corner. With all the details in place, the significance of this moment is really starting to sink in,” explains Robert Rossi, Head of Esports at Fanatec.
“Real points are at stake, and esports is being taken more seriously by the drivers and teams than ever before. The Fanatec Points Boost adds a new dimension to race weekends and we can’t wait to get started.”
Talking of the races, each round will only be one hour, one-third of the real-world main event. The short event should not be short of action, however, thanks to a mandatory pitstop and qualifying. How quickly drivers can adapt from real to virtual machinery will be key.
The 24 -strong grid will be made up of drivers competing in the overall Pro or Silver championships in the GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup, but whereas in the real world they would score points for individual and teams titles, in the Pro Series the points scored only count towards the real-world team standings. Alongside Teams’ Championship points, the drivers will still compete for the virtual Pro Series Championship, which will award points in the familiar format but does not affect the real Drivers’ Championship results.
Within the Fanatec Esports Arena, the Rennsport Cockpit V2 will be used in combination with a Podium Wheel Base DD2, Clubsport Pedals V3, Podium Hub, Podium APM, Podium Button Module Endurance and a brand new 320mm Wheel Rim.
Understandably, with such a radical concept being introduced at the top level of international GT3 racing, the concept came under some criticism, but interestingly the negative feedback primarily came from the esports and sim racing community rather than the real-world motorsport fraternity. Since then, an extensive virtual SRO series for esports drivers has also been announced, which begins in May.
This may seem strange, but for a team, there is relatively low risk and perhaps a high reward. The races only award points for the top three, and the numbers involved are small in comparison to the real world. Three for first, two for second and one for third, compared to 25, 18 and 15 respectively, so it would be hard to imagine the points making an enormous difference. What’s more, they are not just competing for points and bragging rights, there is a €125,000 prize pool too which is exceedingly generous.
Finally, and arguably most notably, the current crop of hot-shot GT3 racers are a generation of sim racers, and not only enjoy playing the Assetto Corsa Competizione platform – the official game of GT World Challenge Europe – but they are quick too. The entry list is dripping with GT driving talent including Kelvin van der Linder, Mirko Bortolotti and Ezequiel Perez Companc, all of whom have plenty of experience in the virtual world.
But amongst an array of such driving prowess, is it Ricardo Sanchez who is perhaps our favourite for round one. Winning the GT Academy title in 2014 resulted in a NISMO GT3 drive and was the slingshot for his real-world racing career. He will be representing Haupt Racing Team in the Silver Cup this year.
The first round of the action kicks off at Monza this weekend, with the qualifying session at 18:20 CET, before the race coverage at 18:55 CET. The action will be live broadcast on the GT World YouTube, Twitch and Facebook and we’ll be reporting after each race, so stay tuned.
FANATEC ESPORTS GT PRO SERIES 2021, need-to-know
- 24 car grid, GT3 vehicles, Assetto Corsa Competizione, using Fanatec equipment, on-site during real race weekends
- Five rounds
- One-hour races with qualifying and a mandatory pitstop
- Drivers compete for a maximum of three Teams’ Championship points – this is called the Fanatec Points Boost
- Drivers also compete for the virtual Fanatec Esports GT Pro Series with a €125,000 prize poll
- Friday 16th April – Free practice 10:00 – 19:00 CEST (maximum two hours per driver)
- Saturday 17th April – Warm-up 17:45 – 18:15 CEST | Qualifying 18:20 – 18:40 | Race 18:55 – 19:55 (live coverage from 18:40)
- 16th-18th April 2021(Monza), 28th-30th May 2021 (Paul Ricard), 28th July – 1st August 2021 (Spa Francorchamps), 3rd-5th September 2021 (Nürburgring), 8th-10th October 2021 (Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya)
- Fully entry list for round one