This week we noticed a topic in a professional motorsport group on Linked In about whether virtual racing can be classed as professional motorsport. It is a subject that has been discussed, argued and debated for a few years now with the increase in racing simulators and the rise in popularity thanks to competitions like GT Academy. We obviously have some extensive experience within the simulation sector, but we are also part of the Capsicum Motorsport Group, who own the extremely successful Carlin team. This gives Let's Race a unique opportunity to bring together public simulation and professional motorsport in a way that hasn't ever been done before. More to come on that in the near future, but in reference to the main question, will the virtual racing ever be professional motorsport, or just potentially create professional motorsport drivers?
There are some key words in this question to try to get to our answer. The first is simulation. Virtual racing with simulators will always be a simulated experience. That would mean the 'motor' of motorsport is going to be simulated within the software and therefore cannot be considered the same. 'Virtual motor' on the other hand, is exactly what it suggests. So the word virtual now makes 'motor' have the required meaning in this instance. Next is 'sport'. Well sport is the participation in or viewing of, a competitive physical activity for entertainment purposes. Anyone who has driven a full motion F1 simulator will know it is physical and you do not get much more competitive than racing. So we now have the term Virtual Motorsport. The final element here is the term 'Professional'. Unless a driver is making money out of his racing endeavours he surely cannot be classed as professional, so what possibilities are there for simulation racers.
If all of those hurdles can be overcome, the next and biggest hurdle, will be earning the respect of the real world motorsport fans. Professional motorsport itself has already recognised the potential in virtual racers, with Carlin themselves giving real world track time to a GT Academy winner. The fans who love the smell of burning rubber, the roar of an F1 engine, imagining the fear in a driver when their brakes fail at 150mph - they are not going to be easy to convince. Over time and with the right evidence delivered to them, there is a real chance they could embrace both forms of Motorsport and enjoy each for its own positives. Until then, it is our job at Let's race to start making some steps in this direction and for that, we need to see racers from all walks of life coming in and seeing if there is the talent and heart for racing inside you. If it is, then why couldn't professional motorsport in either form, be a reality to you one day.
You don't get paid for just anything, especially in the current economic climate, so where does the money come from and at what value to the source? Real world racing is reliant on sponsorship, that is the main source of income for teams and drivers. For 'Virtual motorsport' to develop into the realms of professional sport it will require the same source of income, certainly to be sustainable for any meaningful period of time. So the key is to build a platform, like GT Academy, that gives enough exposure to the quality of the drivers but also the quality of the racing. If the racing is as exciting as real world to watch (or more so), then some fans of racing will be interested. Viewers are what sponsors require, to see a return on their investment, if those figures offer enough value then the revenue stream will become available.
This is all easier said than done, not many people expect to jump on their Playstation and race in front of millions of people every night. Most know they will be lucky to even find a race with enough quality drivers to provide them with enough of a challenge to be classed an entertaining race. Finding the quality in the virtual racing world and providing them with a platform that warrants advertisers to stand up and take notice, is the basis of a successful transition from Virtual Motorsport to Professional Virtual Motorsport. What could be a better environment than a centre with 10 simulators on site, ensuring races are regulated properly and a level playing field is available throughout a competition.