The Virtual Racing School GT World Championship is set to move at the end of the current season from GT3 to GTE spec vehicles, the first time that iRacing has changed category in their Endurance esports series. The move is designed to bring iRacing more up to date with current racing series however has conjured up some major hurdles moving into 2019. To say the least, it is a bold move that if pulled off correctly could carve a platform uniquely for iRacing, however if things don’t go as planned, there may be a lot more trouble for iRacing’s number one series based on viewership.
VRSGT this year has been fraught with backlash and has been very entertaining to watch. The main point of controversy moving from 2017 into 2018 has been the Balance of Performance issues that have been present since the start of the season, such has been the dominance of the Audi since the Audi became the yard stick. Further from that, every round seemed to be a tinkering process with that balance of performance, with iRacing not content to leave the vehicles at a stable and consistent BOP, which has seen them shift from the landmine of GT3 to their newer and shinier GTE category.
And with it comes positives as not only will there be faster lap times across the board, it also brings in an already well balanced BOP between the Ferrari, Ford and Porsche which all lie very similarly, if not the Porsche slightly needing tweaked backwards into the other two. It also makes sense from their business perspective as due to current limitations on the iRacing platform, the six cars in the GT3 field is already maxed out, leaving room for more additions to GTE which not only helps support the VRSGT, but also the iRacing Le Mans Series and their World Tour events.
However there are a lot of problems that come into this move, and from my view it seems like iRacing are trying to avoid competition as much as possible. When iRacing lost its Blancpain sponsorship at the end of 2017, many people began to think that iRacing’s endurance days were numbered, which iRacing responded along the lines of “Blancpain leaving opens more opportunities to do what we want with the series.” However because of their issues this year in fixing GT3 along with an ever hungrier iRacing player base, it has prompted the move to GTE.
Part of me thinks this is all too conveniently timed with Assetto Corsa Competizione expected to be released in full in March next year, which has a full roster of GT3 vehicles along with many systems of rating drivers as well. If iRacing didn’t feel confident enough to outdraw ACC and not only outdraw it but keep their own professional race teams, then to stave off competition, moving to a different category would be one of the more radical measures they could have put in place to negate this.
The big problem however, if iRacing were angling towards exploring a WEC styled series, that has been shut down thanks to the announcement of GTR3 which will be a fully licensed game on the FIA World Endurance Championship. The GTR series has been one of the most critically acclaimed platforms in all of simracing history and the inclusion of a third GTR game is bound to attract some of the best in the world to it with an expected 2019 release. However it is a move that puts iRacing into a quagmire when it comes to standing out in their GT championship.
iRacing can’t afford to lose their biggest championship in terms of viewership but what they have to do is work out where they can go in the current market. With WEC firmly cornered off by Forza and now GTR3 and Blancpain a huge no-go after ACC, it leaves iRacing without many options of a top tier GT championship. Feasibly, IMSA may have to be the next port of call, which would also see an improvement in the prototype division ahead of just the Corvette as well as the same focus on GTE. Outside of that would be the Pirelli World Challenge however with that series ran by the SRO group, (not us,) there is definitely a chance that the series would be seen as inferior to ACC and GTR3.
The only other option then stems from a race to get Super GT from Japan with GT500 category vehicles needing to be scanned along with the GT300 compliant GT3 vehicles. Obviously with DTM rules merging with Super GT, it means that Raceroom are primed to take on the Super GT category however all of this stems from if Gran Turismo has a specific deal with Super GT, which has seen the Playstation title be one of the few sources of the category.
The way I see it, iRacing have been backed into a pretty difficult corner which won’t be seen to get out of for at least another year. There are still questions about whether this is all worry about two unreleased games however with Blancpain’s firm decision to leave iRacing and the fabled reputation of GTR3, its a move that leaves iRacing in a lot of jeopardy moving forward with endurance. Not only do they have to find a unique selling point with their endurance championship, they have to start thinking about ramping up the prize money at the highest level instead of trying to add more and more world championships for less and less views. And that has to come with a clear game plan, which is one even I don’t think I can see at the moment.
My course of action would have been to push towards a Super GT format with a pro division in the GT500 and an amateur division in the GT300, with a promotion and relegation based on both the road to pro and the 2018 season results. Of course, the question remains if iRacing can truly be a world platform or just an American based platform with an international audience, and if iRacing wants to shake off that stigma, they are going to have to do more to bring in the European and Asian player bases. This isn’t the beginning of Grid 2, this is the battle for supremacy in simracing esports.