Roger Diez: Young drivers dominating virtual racing
It is becoming obvious that the stars of NASCAR’s iRacing season are the young drivers with the most experience in the virtual racing world.
William Byron, with literally hundreds of virtual race wins, went on to take his second event in a row at Richmond last Sunday while the seasoned veterans struggled. Joey Logano and Clint Bowyer both complained that lack of “seat feel” handicapped their driving styles.
So when might they get back to a seat with feel? Well, NASCAR is selling tickets online for live racing, beginning with the All-Star race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 16. Despite the ticket sales, it’s still not at all certain that spectators will be on hand for the first of the on-track events.
Tickets are also on sale for the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte on May 24, the May 31 Kansas 400, and the rest of the season. No word as of yet on rescheduling earlier postponed races.
The first live race I’ve heard about is the Open Wheel Nationals, set to take place tonight at Park Jefferson International Speedway in South Dakota. Originally, track owner Adam Adamson planned to sell only 700 tickets to the 4,000-seat grandstands in order to maintain six feet social distance between fans. However, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem urged fans not to attend, so plans were changed, and the race will run without spectators. Fields will be limited to 32 cars per class for 410 Sprint Cars and IMCA Modifieds.
NASCAR isn’t the only racing body doing iRacing. Formula 1 is also doing the virtual race thing, with aggression just as evident as in the NASCAR events. Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc, upset by Alex Albon taking him out last weekend, is concerned that the aggression will carry over to the track, if and when the real season starts. With a reduced schedule, there will be much more pressure to score points in each race. And the possibility of doubleheader races at some venues probably won’t help.
There’s also serious concern about revenue loss and the continued viability of the series. The FIA has proposed spending caps on the team, with annual outlays of $175 million and $100 million being discussed. Ferrari has threatened to pull out of the series if caps are enacted, but as many as four teams may withdraw if they aren’t. Red Bull boss Christian Horner has advocated a return to “customer cars,” purchased by the teams rather than developed. Research and development, along with ever more exotic technology, is the big cost driver in the series. The use of customer cars was a common practice in F1 from the 1950s through the 1970s, although purists seem to be appalled at its possible return. It is going to be a turbulent couple of years for F1, and I hope the series survives.
IndyCar, on the other hand, has taken the “spec car” approach to technology and costs, and fields promise to be more robust this season than previously.
Of course, the series is also suffering lack of revenue from postponed and canceled races. Fortunately, new owner Roger Penske has deep pockets and a strong desire to make the series, and Indianapolis Motor Speedway a success. IndyCar is also filling the time with virtual racing, and tomorrow you can catch their iRacing round at Circuit of the Americas on NBC Sports at 11:30 a.m. today. There’s a 33-driver entry list, which happily includes Robert Wickens, who was paralyzed in a crash at Pocono in 2018. I’m looking forward to watching him race.