Chris Leone on why the influx of real-world teams at iRacing’s Rallycross World Championship shouldn’t be feared.
Photo credit: iRacing
The 2020 iRacing Rallycross World Championship kicks off this Saturday at the famous Lankebanen Circuit near Hell, the first event in the nine-round schedule. The biggest change for this season is the arrival of multiple real-world racing teams.
The news was met with a mixed response, with some areas of the iRacing community fearing that the smaller community teams would be swallowed by the real-world racing behemoths. However, many see the change as an opportunity for the virtual championship to be taken to new heights.
A link between real and virtual racing
Among them is Chris Leone, Marketing and Communications Director at iRacing, one of the key people behind securing the involvement of the real-world teams in the latest iRacing Rallycross World Championship season. He explained the nature of the yet-to-be-announced teams that will be involved in the series:
A lot of rallycross teams, but some open-wheel teams of various levels. There are some links to some different worlds like NASCAR, Supercross, so it’s going to be very diverse just like real-world rallycross.
The sport itself is kind of an amalgamation of, in some ways, off-road racing, touring car racing, you name it. It’s kind of a mash-up of a bunch of different things, that’s what the team roster will look like as well.
Leone understands the benefit that real-world racing teams can bring to a virtual esports competition and equally the advantages that the real-world race teams gain. The inevitably increased exposure that the arrival of real-world teams is about to cause will serve to raise the profile of the existing sim racing stars – now with a bigger platform to prove themselves and become more of a household name.
“We’re not assigning anyone anywhere”
Following the announcement, one of the main rumors within the community suggested that the series may adopt a ‘draft’ or assignment-type process. This proved to be wide of the mark, with a free-agency style driver market that put the emphasis on drivers having a free choice to negotiate with whichever team they wanted to.
BREAKING: We are getting word the upcoming @iRacing RX World Championship will have a DRAFT like the @eNASCARCocaCola!!— SimRacingDramaWorld (@DramaSim) September 8, 2020
Do you agree with existing iRacing teams being pushed to the side for real life teams to draft their drivers??
“It’s not a draft process or an assignment process,” Leone further explains. “The closest comparison is basically a free agency type model, where the drivers and the professional teams coming in will have the conversations and they will start making alliances based on things that best suit drivers.”
The false impression of what the ‘draft’ is may be linked to systems in earlier iRacing series. He adds:
I understand where people have got the draft impression from because that was the first model that iRacing used to do eNASCAR in 2019. Even eNASCAR in this past year moved to that free agency model. We’re not assigning anyone anywhere.
14 drivers are returning from the 2019 iRacing Rallycross season and they will be joined by 14 new drivers. There are three real-world ‘wildcard’ entries within those 14 new drivers: American rallycross drivers Cabot Bigham and Travis Pecoy are joined by Norwegian RX2 competitor Henrik Krogstad.
Building a pipeline for simracers
Leone has lofty ambitions for further real-world crossover, with the aim of helping many of the sim racers on the grid transfer to the real-world competition if they wish. He confirmed that the series will feature All-Star events where races for real-world stars and races for the sim racing professionals will share a broadcast – similar to what eNASCAR did earlier this year.
My goal is to keep building that pipeline for sim racers to get into real-world motorsport. That is the long-term end goal of this. The short-term goal is to have the largest viewership base possible for all of these events.
For the long-term, what I want is for the drivers who are in this championship and some of the team managers to be in a position that when real-world race teams are looking for new talent, I want them to look to the world of sim racing, and think: ‘Yeah this person can be a real asset to our real-world program.’ Their skills are going to translate from the sim racing world into the real-world.
iRacing’s plan is working
Most of the real-world to sim racing crossover has occurred in the opposite direction in rallycross. Red Bull athlete Mitchell deJong is the most famous example, having taken the 2018 iRacing Rallycross crown four years after becoming the real-world Global RallyCross Lites champion.
Leone is striving to ensure that deJong’s competitors, such as defending iRacing rallycross champion Sami-Matti Trogen, have the opportunity to transfer their skills to the real-world.
He dreams of a golden future for those players who will be forged in their competitions. “I’d love to be able to look at the world championship ten years from now, and see four or five guys who were contending for wins and contending for the title, and be able to say: ‘That driver was a part of the 2020 iRacing season where we introduced these real-world teams.'”
It remains to be seen whether iRacing’s bold vision will pay off, but one thing is for sure: the latest iRacing Rallycross World Championship season – when it kicks off this Saturday at Hell – is going to be the biggest yet.
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