Two Toyota Supra racecars in Olympic colours, one with an Italian flag and one with a German flag.
Image credit: Polyphony Digital

The Olympics are doing Sim Racing Wrong

As part of the Olympic Esports Week, Gran Turismo drivers competed for glory in the Motor Sport event. But is it the best example of sim racing in the Olympics?

Motorsport is famously not a part of the Olympics. It hasn’t been since the 1900 Paris Games, although e-karting was in the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires. But for the most part, motorsport was never an Olympic sport.

Therefore the racing world decided that if the Olympics weren’t going to allow them to compete, they’d have their own Olympics. Starting in 2019, the FIA Motorsport Games hosted various motorsport disciplines like GT, Touring Car, Formula 4 and also, sim racing.

But when the International Olympic Committee announced their venture into world of gaming in the lead-up to the Tokyo games, virtual motorsport was surprisingly featured in their line-up.

There have since been two Olympic events and two renditions of the FIA Motorsport Games. But which one gets the idea of motorsport right?

FIA Motorsport Games

Firstly was the one that started it all back in November 2019. The FIA Motorsport Games was an evolution of the FIA GT Nations Cup. It was held at Vallelunga in Italy, and the sim racing competition was called the Digital Cup. The racing took place on Gran Turismo Sport, and gold was won by Kodi Nikola Latkovski who represented Australia.

Costa Rica’s Bernal Valverde took the silver, and Italy’s Stefano Conte earned bronze. The final was on the Barcelona circuit in the Gran Turismo championships’ signature car, the Red Bull X2019 Competition. But there were also three Semi Finals and a Repechage race, which had different car and track combinations.

The Semi Finals utilised the Fittipaldi EF7 on the Interlagos circuit, and the last chance Repechage race was the Pagani Zonda R on the Red Bull Ring. All three very different cars and tracks to provide a unique challenge.

Gran Turismo Sport was the chosen platform because of the FIA’s connections to Polyphony. The Gran Turismo championships were FIA-certified at the time, so it made sense. But the FIA Motorsport Games was a joint collaboration with the SRO Motorsports Group, whose favoured sim racing platform is Assetto Corsa Competizione.

So when the FIA and Polyphony relationship ended, for the 2022 Games (delayed twice because of COVID) the newly renamed Esports Cup was held on ACC.

The UK’s James Baldwin – who just missed out on a medal in 2019 – dominated the event and won gold. Netherlands’ Chris Harteveld kept Baldwin on his toes throughout and got silver, whilst bronze went the way of Alberto García Gómez of Spain.

Since the event was on ACC, the drivers raced on the Paul Ricard track where the Games were taking place, and only raced GT3 cars. That was already a big departure. The competition went from having to race three types of cars and tracks at most to just the one. It’s a similar story with the actual Olympics event.

Olympics Gran Turismo

For the first running of the Olympic Virtual Series in 2021, the IOC and Polyphony partnered up with Toyota. The best 16 drivers of their respective countries from online time trials would compete in three races, all in Toyota cars.

Race 1 had the drivers racing a Toyota 86 Gr.4 on the Tokyo Expressway East Outer Loop and Race 2 was the GR Yaris on Sardegna Road Track B. Then for the Grand Final, it was the GR Supra on Dragon Trail Seaside.

In the end, eventual 2021 Nations Cup champion Valerio Gallo took home the gold. Mikail Hizal earned silver for Germany, and France’s Baptiste Beauvois got the bronze medal.

Then for the newly renamed Olympic Esports Week this year onsite in Singapore, it was on Gran Turismo 7. The top qualifying drivers from each country competed across two Semi Finals and the Final.

Gold ended up going the way of World Series Showdown superstar Kylian Drumont of France, with Britain’s Will Murdoch getting silver and Chile’s Angel Inostroza earning bronze. The car and track combination across both the Semi Finals and Final were the same, the Toyota GR010 hypercar on Deep Forest Raceway.

Therein lies the issue. For the first rendition of the FIA Motorsport Games and Olympics’ own sim racing events, there was some variety. But for the second, they’ve regressed into just the one car and track. These are some of the best sim racers in the world, they should be tested with all kinds of cars and tracks.

The Motorsport Spectrum

When it comes to Nations-based sim racing competitions, one stands out when it comes to testing the best sim racers. Running for the first time in late July 2020, the VCO Cup of Nations covered pretty much the entire range of motor racing disciplines.

Aussie Supercars, GT, NASCAR, IndyCar, Rallycross and more featured in all three editions of the event. All are heavily varying types of cars with different techniques to drive them.

In the FIA Motorsport Games, there are so many disciplines like Rally, Karting, Touring Car, F4 and of course GT3. In the Esports Cup, they just raced GT3 cars, but they could have had so much more.

The wide spectrum of motorsport disciplines were represented in their variety with all the other events going on. That didn’t mean that the only types of cars to be found in sim racing were GT3.

An anonymous source told us before the 2022 edition that prior to the FIA and Polyphony relationship ending, they intended to use both ACC and Gran Turismo. They even considered adding the WRC game and KartKraft. All would have provided a heavily varied set of games for one driver to get used to.

For next year’s edition at Valencia, a new category is opening up: Esports Rally. Although it won’t be mandatory for drivers to compete in both, it would be entirely possible that a driver can compete in both if they wanted to.

The majority of people who know sim racing esports predicted that Baldwin would win the FIA Motorsport Games Esports Cup. With it being on ACC and him using the same car he had won two SRO titles with that same year. It’s fair to say that as far as ACC GT3 racing goes, Baldwin is the best. But there’s so much more in sim racing.

Not taking anything away from Baldwin or Drumont, what they did still takes a huge amount of skill. Both have proved quick in a wide range of sim racing disciplines. But for an all encompassing event like the FIA Motorsport Games or the Olympic Esports Series in their sim racing competitions, they need to cover as much of the basis as possible.

The winner should be one that has proven not to be just the best GT driver or best single seater driver or best rally driver, but the best all-rounder. Like how if there was an Olympics Summer Games Esports or Motorsport category, Counter-Strike and Touring Cars would not cover the entire spectrum.

Our own Emily Jones was in attendance at the Olympic Esports Week event in Singapore. Check out her video above on if Gran Turismo was the right game to represent sim racing in the Olympics.

Which sim racing Olympic-style event was your favourite? Tell us on Twitter at @OverTake_gg or in the comments down below!

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