WORDS BY STEPHEN BRUNSDON | IMAGES BY SQUADRA CORSA
The crossover between real-life racing and Esports was never more apparent than when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020. Bereft of physical events for a large part of the year, motorsport was plunged somewhat into disarray. Step up Esports, which filled the gap when racing couldn’t take place admirably.
Not that Esports hadn’t existed before, far from it. Indeed, Esports was already well established by the start of 2020. The problem it had was its niche, almost disparate fanbase to the real thing.
Amid all the uncertainty of when racing would eventually return, a number of championships decided to launch their own Esports competitions, blending established gamers and real-life drivers. The goal was, primarily to get fans something to get behind while locked down at home.
But the longer-term victory was that Esports suddenly became a mainstream motorsport discipline, after years of running somewhat in the dark.
One such Esports competition to make its mark during the pandemic – and which has continued to flourish since – has been The Real Race, run by Lamborghini’s motorsport division Squadra Corse.
Now in its third season, The Real Race is not simply an Esports competition. It has real life motorsport to aim for as Lamborghini strives to bridge the gap between the virtual and real world.
Such has been the demand for places in the The Real Race – over 3000 drivers took part in the second season last year – that Lamborghini has not only offered a real-life test in one of its Huracán GT3 EVO cars at a racetrack in Italy, but it has recently announced its first officially backed Esports team, with a trio of Factory Drivers.
South African Jordan Sherratt dominated the second season of the Real Race and will represent the brand this season.
“Being chosen by Lamborghini to be the Official Sim driver still feels like a dream,” said Sherratt. “All the hard work and sacrifice I have put in behind the scenes have been recognised and I finally get to live my dream!”
Sheratt is joined by Italians Gianfranco Giglioli and Giorgio Simonini for the 2022 season, highlighting the success of the Esports programme which has Lamborghini’s full backing from the top.
“Sim racing is an important platform in today’s motorsport scene,” said Lamborghini’s Head of Motorsport, Giorgio Sanna. “Video games were born to allow those who didn’t have opportunities for real-life racing to impersonate the professional drivers.
“Now, after several decades of development in the industry, simulated racing is getting closer and closer to its real-life counterpart and now has nothing to envy from professional motorsport.
“Moreover, sim racing is an additional tool for us to develop some of the fundamental aspects of real racing, such as car setups and software applications that will play an important role in the future of our brand.”
While Sanna is quick to highlight the importance of sim racing in today’s cost-effective age of motor racing, it is pertinent to point out that there is a stark difference between old-school “video games” and simulation.
The Real Race takes place on the Assetto Corsa Competizione platform, which showcases some of the most comprehensive enhancements in racing simulation games ever. It’s little wonder, in that case, that it is used extensively by Lamborghini’s factory drivers to prepare for race weekends, with in-season testing reduced and time between each weekend equally limited.
“I have a sim rig at home, and I use it almost all the time,” recounts Albert Costa Balboa, who has been a Lambo works driver since 2020 after winning the International GT Open title with Emil Frey Racing alongside fellow factory driver Giacomo Altoè.
“It’s really useful to prepare a race weekend, especially if it’s a new track for me. Even though it’s not the same as driving a real car there, there are many benefits you can see in the simulator.
“I try different setups with the car, maybe something we have been testing previously with the team, get used to how the car behaves on some of the bumps and corners. And then, I can check all these things on the track walk at the circuit and then the various setups on the actual car.”
The virtual/real life crossover has been evident across the motorsport spectrum for a number of years now, via dedicated simulator drivers but very few have actually made the direct switch from gaming to the racetrack.
Notable examples in the past have been Jann Mardenborough and Lucas Ordoñez, who came up through the GT Academy system with Nissan, while YouTuber Jimmy Broadbent has made it onto the UK National racing scene in the Praga Cup recently.
Whatever the path, Esports and real-life racing are becoming closer relatives by the day. And, who knows, perhaps we’ll see a Real Race champion take on the very GT3 drivers in the world before long.