It’s a Sunday night and me and 13 other males have come together as we do once a fortnight. We’re buckled into our respective vehicles and there’s idle chitchat about the coming formula 1 race that evening, the season finale, while we wait for the gates to be opened for practice.
It’s like your local golf course on tournament Sunday morning. We’re all enthusiasts of motor racing and we’re all here to pit our skills against one another and hopefully get the race result we’re looking for, even if it’s not a win. Not all of us are super serious but we do want to beat each other and that side of each of us will come out on the track in a few minutes.
The competition we compete in is much like any other competition. There are rules and objectives. There are penalties if you break the rules. There are anxious competitors and there are people who get annoyed if they’re on the receiving end of some “foul play”.
As we line up on the grid, the starting order sorted out after a hectic 10 minute qualifying period, people start to get their “game faces” on as the noise drops. Just before the lights come on to signal the start of the race, a few good sports are heard to say “good luck” to their friends and fellow competitors, before those 5 red lights going out suddenly turning friends into opponents, someone to use your cunning and ability against to gain their position.
We’re sim racers. We’re not gamers. We don’t turn up to ram people off the track and laugh about it. We come to determine, over the course of 8 rounds and 16 races, which of us is the best.
While we’re not playing for sheep stations, friendships have been eroded over what happens on the virtual track, and new friendships have been made as we gain respect for those we compete against.
While the casual onlooker may think it childish, these simulators are state of the art, using complex mathematics involving hundreds of variables to model tyres, tracks, weather, cars, and collisions (but hopefully not often) and more. These software programs are similar to the programs used by multimillion dollar race teams to prepare for race meets everywhere around the globe.
Some sim racers spend thousands of dollars procuring the latest, most realistic, hardware to help them feel at place; these are motion simulators. What’s more, it’s well-known and publicised that these sims are in some cases the stepping stone to a professional career racing motor vehicles in some of the biggest series in the world, such as the World Endurance Championship at Le Mans, where a previous Sony Gran Tourism champion has raced. An iRacer recently beat out numerous other real world race drivers to win the coveted Mazda Cup drive. When was the last time someone made it to the English Premier League playing FIFA? Never.
Sim racing in a league is as close to sport as you’re ever going to get in the virtual world. The controllers closely resemble the real thing, with force feedback through the steering wheel, the brake pedal using a hydraulic system to give real feel, motion supplied to simulate the effect of g-forces caused by cornering, acceleration, and deceleration. People, including me, even wear real race gear and for a functional reason, not just to look the part.
Look at the demographic of the sport, or at least of my current league, and leagues I've participated in in the past. Sim racing isn't inhabited by kids playing in their bedrooms. Even on public servers on iRacing, the vast majority of racers I've encourtered (and yes, I refer to them as racers and not players) are well out of their teenage years.
Here are some reasons I think simracing is a sport
- Organised competitions
- Simulation software created to model real world conditions as realistic as possible. Often this means the "fun" element doesn't factor highly.
- Race series sponsored by real world motorsport series such as Blancpain, NASCAR, and more.
- Races are broadcast and commented on in a professional manner.
- Races attract audiences who spectate and banter with fellow spectators.
Despite computers being used to supply the playing field Sim Racing has all the attributes of any other sport.