An image of David Tonizza, Tommy Ostgaard, Patrik Holzmann and Max Benecke.

Sim Racing Silly Season is in Full Swing

The first month of the new year is always a fascinating time in the world of esports racing, with drivers making moves. It has already been pretty eventful, but could we be seeing the beginnings of a major shift with the arrival of some new teams?

Motorsport fans will be very familiar with the term ‘Silly season’, but for those unaware, it’s the term used to refer to what is essentially the transfer period. Contracts are up after the last day of the year, and drivers are sniffing around to see what offers they can get.

2023’s silly season has been an eventful one to say the least. Some very big names have parted with their teams when nobody expected them to, and there are plenty of rumours of some big new teams entering the sim racing world. There’s plenty to be intrigued by, so let’s speculate! Here are some of 2023’s biggest sim racing moves so far.

Redline Exodus

In the world of virtual motorsport, one team stands above them all. Team Redline have been involved in competitive esports racing for years and have proven to be the most successful team of all time across all kinds of games.

So if anyone wanted to leave Redline, surely they must have had a very lucrative offer from another team, right?

That appears to be what has happened with two of their top drivers: Maximilian Benecke and Patrik Holzmann. Whilst Redline of course have plenty of drivers in their arsenal, Benecke and Holzmann are both top iRacing drivers and have both their iRatings above 10,000. Their departure will be huge for the team, but the question now must be asked, where are they going?

Simply put, we don’t know. But it’s safe to say that if Redline can’t keep them, wherever they are going must have big funding behind it. We will get into this later, because with potentially a huge landmark sim racing championship on the horizon, we could be entering a new age for the scene and the departures of Benecke and Holzmann could be catalyst for it.

Tonizza Leaves Ferrari

Of all the many moves, perhaps this one was the most surprising. 2019 F1 Esports champion David Tonizza burst onto the scene when he was drafted by Ferrari and won the Pro Championship title at the first time of asking. It seemed to be a partnership made in heaven; an Italian F1 game racer and the Scuderia. But then came the big news that they were going their separate ways.

It’s no secret that Tonizza hasn’t been able to replicate his previous F1 Esports success, but he did win a few races in the seasons following. With how close and competitive the series is, even the drivers qualifying last are only a tenth or more off the pole time, so it’s not like Tonizza has lost his speed. It begs the question, where could he be going?

It wasn’t just Tonizza leaving Maranello, as his F1 Esports teammate Fabrizio Donoso and SRO Esports teammate Kamil Pawlowski are also leaving. Whilst Pawlowski has plenty more options since he doesn’t race on the F1 game, Tonizza and Donoso realistically only have the other nine F1 Esports outfits to choose from.

It’s safe to say that plenty of them will be making attempts to secure an F1 Esports champion, even if Tonizza only managed 14th in the standings having only raced half of the races in 2022. Anyone’s guess is as good as ours. But it’s hard to believe that the 2019 champion will be disappearing off of the F1 Esports grid.

Østgaard Leaves Porsche

On the same day that Max Benecke announced he was leaving Redline, the other big name sim racing outfit saw one of their drivers jumping ship. For 2022, Coanda became the official works esports outfit for Porsche and will be spearheading their efforts for the Le Mans Virtual Series in the LMP class. They took five of their sim racers who previously competed in the Porsche TAG Heuer Esports Supercup.

One of those drivers was Norwegian racer Tommy Østgaard, who was part of the winning GTE team in the inaugural 24 hours of Le Mans Virtual. As a result of Østgaard leaving, he won’t be part of the Porsche Coanda line-up for this weekend’s 24 hours race. His place in the team will be taken by two-time Aussie Supercars Eseries champion Dayne Warren.

Unlike the aforementioned sets of drivers, we have something of an idea of where Østgaard could be going.

Our sources indicate that Østgaard may be joining a major organisation in the world of esports. The Norwegian team Heroic who are known in the Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, Rocket League and Rainbow Six Siege scenes.

This, of course, could end up not happening, but it would make sense if these big names are willing to leave their very established teams.

Esports Orgs in SimRacing?

There have been plenty of rumours circulating the world of sim racing that we’re about to see a whole bunch of mainstream esports organisations joining. Previously, the sim racing world has existed in its own little bubble with very few from the wider esports scene becoming a part of it. The likes of Unicorns of Love and G2 Esports are the noteworthy exceptions.

This has been in part due to the prize pools in sim racing competitions paling in comparison to ones in mainstream esports. The most money on offer in an esports racing championship is in F1 Esports at $750,000, but that’s only exclusively for the Formula One teams. The next best is $250,000 from the Le Mans Virtual Series that is open to all kinds of teams.

Compare that to the highest prize pool mainstream esports, the 2021 DOTA 2 International, which was a little over $40,000,000! So there has been very little incentive for these gaming orgs to invest in sim racing, but there may very well be a reason now.

ESL is one of the world’s leading esports competition organisers, and have forged a partnership with the upcoming sim racing title Rennsport. They wouldn’t do that if there weren’t plans for a competitive series, but could ESL be cooking up something huge?

They have been involved in esports racing championships intermittently over the last few years. Running some of their own tournaments on Live for Speed and they were also involved in the official series for Project CARS and Forza Motorsport.

But with Rennsport‘s specific focus on esports, maybe with the strides being made in sim racing, ESL could be seeing a potentially big return on investment within Rennsport.

Any news on whether this ESL Rennsport series is going ahead or has a huge prize pool is still yet to be made official. However, with these big name moves happening now, could it all be linked? May be absurd to say, perhaps 2023 could be the year of the mainstream esports revolution in sim racing.

Could we see racing divisions of FaZe Clan, Cloud9 or Fnatic? If it happens, we will be sure to let you all know.

Which esports organisations would you like to see in sim racing? Tell us on Twitter at @OverTake_gg or in the comments down below!

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