NASCAR, IndyCar, F1 drivers take to the track for a virtual race day
So, thanks to the COVID-19 coronavirus, there was no actual racing this past weekend. Despite this, motorsports fans, drivers, and industry people from the world of NASCAR and open wheel still had races.
NASCAR, the IndyCar series and Formula 1 have all postponed races due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Shortly after the postponements were announced Friday, behind the scenes drivers and those who work in the industry began to scramble and Sunday stock cars were racing on a virtual version of Atlanta Motor Speedway, while open wheel racers took to virtual tracks halfway around the world.
Sunday, Podium eSports hosted the Replacements 100, an iRacing event that had several NASCAR drivers along with spotters, TV analysts and a couple of NASCAR team PR representatives.
The 100 lap The Replacements 100 had a fitful start with several crashes on the opening laps. The second half of the race however was run under a green flag with Josh Williams, who normally spends race days as a spotter for NASCAR Cup driver Ryan Blaney, taking the lead on lap 52 of 100 and leading from there for the win.
The 35-driver field included drivers from the NASCAR Cup, Xfinity, and Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series. Hendrick Motorsports driver William Byron won the pole but had nothing in the end for Williams coming home second by 2.217 seconds. Steven Steffen who works for JR Motorsports in several roles was third with T.J. Majors, who spots for Joey Logano fourth and former driver turned TV pit reporter Parker Kligerman fifth.
Tyler Overstreet, PR rep for Martin Truex Jr. was sixth, driver Garrett Smithley was seventh, former driver turned TV analysts Dale Earnhardt Jr. was with driver’s Bubba Wallace and Coleman Pressley rounding out the top 10.
“It was tough,” Williams said. “I was more prepared to run the long runs so I was trying to take care of my stuff a little bit but we never really got long runs the first half of the race, so you just had to defend pretty hard the first few laps until everybody got single file. Just try to defend the lead, and once we got ten or fifteen laps on our car, I was pretty comfortable with it.”
The open wheel drivers had their own virtual races, one on a track that wasn’t revealed until the race itself to avoid drivers gaining an advantage. The racing on that platform featured F1 driver Max Verstappen, Simon Pagenaud along with his fellow IndyCar competitors Felix Rosenqvist and Colton Herta. Also racing was former driver Juan Pablo Montoya and his son Sebastian. The field of 40 was set with the final 20 drivers determined through a single lap qualifying session which took place on Saturday.
The “Not the AUS GP” run by Veloce Esports, was won by 2018 F1 Esports runner-up, Daniel Bereznay while the later The Race’s All-Star Esports Battle, staged by Torque, was won by Jernej Simoncic. It was held on a virtual version of Germany’s Nürburgring, a track no longer on the F1 calendar.
Rosenqvist was the highest placed real-world open-wheel driver in either race as he finished seventh in the All-Star Battle.
IRacing reported 25,000 viewers at its peak, while Veloce reported 180,000 live viewers across all channels for their event, while Torque reported over 160,000 cumulative live stream viewers.
There are plans for future virtual races in the coming days starting Thursday and NASCAR is reportedly making plans to help with the virtual racing. Sports Business Journal’s Adam Stern, reported that iRacing is working with NASCAR to create an eNASCAR race, featuring Cup Series drivers to help fill the nation-wide sports hiatus. NASCAR currently sanctions a championship series on iRacing and had their championship race broadcasted live on NBCSN last year.
Late Monday NASCAR announced their intention to return to racing in early May.