Motorsport in Asia is still on hold due to the pandemic. Motul, continually committed to supporting motorsport in all its forms, recently partnered with Craft-Bamboo Racing for the GT World Challenge Asia Esports Championship. Craft-Bamboo Racing will race four Motul-liveried Mercedes-AMG GT3s in the five-round championship season. To find out more, we caught up with team director Craft-Bamboo’s Darryl O’Young.
Darryl, was the pandemic the motivating factor behind Craft-Bamboo Racing’s move into eSports and the virtual GT World Challenge Asia, or were you always wanting to do this?
I think a lot has changed in 2020 as Asia continues on with the travel bans across the region. Motorsport has been forced to come to a screeching halt, which means we haven't had a race in Asia for nearly a year now. Esports was not in the team plan before as we had a heavy race schedule in the real world and sim racing had not yet risen to prominence. With that being said, the entire global view towards sim racing has changed for sim enthusiasts, motorsport teams, manufacturers, and drivers in 2020 in the wake of the pandemic. It has certainly re-shaped and fast forwarded the importance of sim racing and I think it has created a very interesting platform now, especially for fans to not only watch racing, but to physically get involved and get closer to motorsport than ever before.
Could you talk us through the season for the rest of the year?
The GT World Challenge Asia Esports Championship presented by Tarmac Works is the first of its kind for the region, as it’s the first major real-world GT championship that launched a professional esports league in the region. SRO had already created an esports series in Europe and the USA earlier in the year, but they saw an opportunity in the region to bring together Asia's drivers and top sim racing talent to compete at a high level and with strong visibility. We will join the full five-race championship and aim for both the driver’s titles in the Real-Pro, Real-Am, and Sim-Pro categories, as well as the team championship.
Do you and the team feel the same pressure going into a virtual race as you might a real one?
Simulators are something we have used as a tool for driver training and race preparations before, so it is not something that we are unfamiliar with. However, sim racing and simulator driving are two different things, because when you add in the competition aspect, we must push the drivers and engineers to the limit to ensure everything is perfect. We have seen that in esports. Every tenth of a second counts, just like in the real world. So, it has certainly brought back to life the competition aspect that we all enjoy so much. In reality, the mindset is that simulation is still not real racing, so therefore the pressure is not as high as there is less at stake, but I do believe this is quickly escalating as the perspectives continue to change.
Do you think, post pandemic, eSports will become a more prominent and integrated part of motorsport, and why?
Yes, as mentioned above this has already taken a major step forward as a serious platform in motorsport. This was already on the path such as FIA including esports in the FIA motorsport games in 2019, but the pandemic has certainly fast forwarded this entire category. I actually think it always had great potential, but the sheer volume of people that bought sims in 2020 means there is now much more access, more competitors, more manufacturer and more sponsor involvement in esports. This naturally raises the involvement and profile, opening a new category of motorsport which I do believe is here to stay for the long run. It may not be the full focus of real drivers and real teams as the amount of preparation for an esports race is actually quite staggering, but certainly there will be more leagues, sim racing talent, fans and esports team rising out of the 2020 pandemic, which is great overall for motorsport as a whole.
Do your drivers come from a real racing background or did you bring in eSports drivers? And how hard is it for real racers to get accustomed to racing virtually?
Motul is title sponsor on four out of our eight cars on our esports campaign this year, and out of those four cars, three of them are accomplished real world drivers (Melvin Moh, Alex Jiatong Liang, Kevin Tse) and one is an experienced sim racer (Charles Theseira). It was very important to have Charles as part of the team, as his experience and knowledge in esport made a major impact in getting our drivers up to speed. I was actually quite surprised that our real-world drivers were all very quick, as several of them already had sims. I think putting in that quick lap is not the big issue, but more so building the consistency to deliver lap times and results on a consistent basis. From what I have seen so far, consistency is one of the key factors in sim racing, which goes beyond just lap times, but finding a way to stay out of trouble, finish races, and score points.
What are some of the key similarities and differences between real and virtual racing?
I think the biggest factor is our virtual car doesn't use Motul oil so we lose a major advantage! [haha]. Jokes aside, I think not having motion and G-force is probably the most difficult part to adapt for a driver. They rely on that feeling to find a limit in a real race car. In simulators, this is completely missing so it’s understanding the car through vision and steering feedback, which is very different. For the race team, I'd say it’s like learning a whole new car. Of course, we start with some base setups from the real world, but how the car reacts, how the tyre degradation works, and how the changes react for the driver are all different. This has forced us to start from scratch and work on setups with one of our race engineers Duarte.
Does virtual racing give drivers an easier springboard into professional motorsport? Is it easy to make the move from a virtual to a real car?
I think the key word here is accessibility. Obviously, motorsport has a high barrier of entry. Now with esports, it has opened up the ability for drivers to hone their skill and understanding for racing digitally, which has completely re-written that barrier of entry. It has already been proven that drivers talented in sims can become professional race drivers, but as esports grow, the number of sim drivers globally will continue to rise, hence raising the level and bringing forward more talent. With car manufacturers getting involved globally, sim drivers that were never heard have now been given a voice in the motorsport world, and it’s quite exciting.