NBC is joining Fox in televising online sim racing in the absence of real-world races during the novel coronavirus pandemic. The network and IndyCar announced on Wednesday that the second race of the open-wheel racing series’s virtual replacement season, which features star drivers competing on the iRacing platform, will be broadcast on NBC Sports network on Saturday, April 4th, at 2:30PM ET. IndyCar says it’s currently not sure if the race will also be streamed online.
Much like what Fox has been doing with NASCAR’s pop-up sim racing series, the virtual IndyCar race will feature the same broadcast crew that NBC Sports typically uses in its coverage of real-world competitions. NBC and IndyCar will likely be looking to re-create some of the early success that Fox has found, as this past weekend’s televised NASCAR sim race drew 1.3 million viewers — which is about as many people who watch some of the least popular real-world NASCAR races. IndyCar streamed its first virtual race this past weekend and has garnered over 200,000 views on YouTube.
It was only three weeks ago that the world’s top racing series suspended their seasons in response to the pandemic. But unlike most other major sports, and for a number of reasons, the motorsports world was uniquely well-equipped to spin up these sim racing substitutes. For one thing, there are multiple robust, hyper-realistic online racing platforms like iRacing and rFactor 2, each of which already hosts hundreds of sim racing leagues. Pro drivers are not only familiar with these platforms, but many have setups of their own at home. The major racing series themselves have also recently embraced esports, with both NASCAR and Formula One running or sanctioning their own sim racing leagues.
In fact, the first few virtual replacement races held two and a half weeks ago were organized by these various communities without any real involvement from the sports themselves. They were so successful that it sparked NASCAR, F1, and IndyCar into action, with each series starting up a virtual replacement to fill the hole left by the postponed real-world events. And now TV networks, hungry to make up for lost airtime, are joining in as well.
They won’t necessarily stop at the most well-known racing series, either. Just yesterday, Fox announced that it will start televising a weekly series of “iRacing events across multiple disciplines and various virtual racetracks.” That starts tonight, April 1st, with a virtual World of Outlaws dirt track sprint car race.