With NASCAR, Formula One, Racing Becomes Virtual eSport

With the absence of live sports on TV during restrictions due to the coronavirus, FOX Sports and NASCAR together came up with the idea of virtual races. On March 22, the first ever eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series race was a huge hit, drawing 903,000 viewers on FS1, making it the highest-rated eSports TV program to date as well as the most-watched broadcast on FS1 since the cancelation of live sports events and broadcasting. As a result, FOX Sports plans to simulcast the remainder of the NASCAR iRacing series on FOX, FS1 and the FOX Sports app.

Engadget reports that the subsequent races will start with one “at a simulated Texas Motor Speedway on March 29th at 1PM Eastern.”

“There’s little doubt that NASCAR and FOX had the advantages of both an audience with nowhere to go as well as a bevy of real-world pro drivers, including race winner Denny Hamlin,” it says. “This does show that people are willing to watch eSports on TV in large numbers given the right circumstances and suggests that more than a few people got their first taste of competitive gaming this past weekend.”

FOX Sports, in its press release, noted that, “according to rankings by Twitter interactions, the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series on FS1 was the #1 most-social TV program overall on Sunday … [with] NASCAR-owned content related to the event also produc[ing] more than one million engagements throughout the weekend.”

Jeff Gordon, Mike Joy and Larry McReynolds, “the FOX NASCAR broadcast team,” will continue their coverage from FOX NASCAR studios in Charlotte, “with NASCAR Cup Series driver Clint Bowyer providing ‘in-car’ commentary.”

RFI reports that the Formula One Grand Prix has become an “eSports Virtual” event due to the postponement of races in Australia, Bahrain, Vietnam, China, Holland, Spain and Monaco. The racing will start, said the Formula One executives, in Azerbaijan on June 7. They have also asked “current F1 drivers to play a racing game featuring as-yet unnamed celebrity guests.”

“The first race of the series will see current F1 drivers line up on the grid alongside a host of stars to be announced in due course,” they stated. F1 drivers Max Verstappen and Lando Norris already “took part in two separate virtual races last weekend following the cancellation of the Australian Grand Prix.”

TechCrunch reports that the virtual Formula 1 races will use Codemaster’s official Formula 1 2019 PC game and “fans can follow along on YouTube, Twitch and Facebook, as well as on F1.com.” It adds that, “the races will be about half as long as regular races with 28 laps … [and that] the first-ever virtual round of the Nüburgring Endurance Series kicked off on March 21.”