It takes more than gasoline to make a racecar run. It requires money. And money requires sponsors. And sponsors require spectators who they hope will become customers. Which became a problem for motorsports when Covid-19 shut down tracks worldwide early last year. The cash drought put teams, tracks and race series in danger of extinction. From a report: The industry turned to an emerging phenomenon — simulated racing. In these highly realistic video games, cars obey the laws of physics and race on reproductions of real-life tracks that are accurate down to the last pavement seam. In an experiment, NBC and Fox replaced the canceled races with sim races. No one knew if digital cars would draw viewers and pay off for sponsors. Traditionally, racecars served as high-speed billboards leading consumers to clamor for the engine oil proved superior by the winning car. Could a sim car sell engine oil, having neither an engine nor oil?
Ten months into the experiment, sim races seem to be paying off, as television and web audiences helped to salvage the 2020 season. And now sim racing gives teams a new source of revenue, gives sponsors a more accountable form of marketing and has interested a young audience that motorsports have struggled to capture. Soon sim racing will face the real test: Can it retain fans and sponsors when real cars are back on real tracks and real spectators are in the stands?