The year 2021 has seen real world motorsports come back to life as the world starts to slowly recover and live with the ongoing pandemic, but this doesn’t mean interest in sim racing has slowed down one bit. In fact, it has seen continuous increase in interest as more real world events host their virtual counterparts to help narrow the gap between virtual and reality even further. Aside from new competitions and disciplines seeing an increase in popularity, 2021 also marks the beginning of a new standard in sim racing with a technology that was once considered far from accessible and practical in the years past.
Growth in Diversity
There has been a plethora of virtual racing leagues/competitions this year. Almost every global real life series now have their virtual counterparts, F1 Esports, Le Mans Virtual, GT World Challenge eSports to name a few. Car manufacturers such as Toyota, Porsche, Lamborghini and BMW, and brands such as Michelin (tires) and Logitech (gaming peripherals) are hosting their individual competitions from all over the world for everyone to compete.
One of the biggest surprises though is the growth of competitions in the Drifting discipline. Unlike most other racing disciplines, Drifting is not scored by laptime or race position. Instead there are judges who evaluate the drivers based on their lines, angle and how close they could get to the other car as a chaser.
The IDDS (Indonesian Digital Drift Series) held their biggest series this year with international drivers also joining in the scene with Andika Rama Maulana topping the PRO2 class this year. With the success of the IDDS, we can expect to see more digital drift events hosted from the Asia region, along with other regions perhaps opening to international drivers as well.
Elsewhere, Assetto Corsa Competizione appears to be the new favorite title for many leagues and competitions. Aside from the regular sprint races, more and more organizers are turning into the endurance aspect of the title. The SRO Motorsports group (responsible for the GT World Challenge Esports) has opened competitions for both Sprint and Endurance series. With a regular stream of content updates added to the game this year and continuous tweaks to handling model and car performance, ACC is looking to continue its momentum into 2022 with information of possibly a new class of GT cars sanctioned by SRO joining in the mix.
Sim racing goes to the Olympics
This year also marks the first time sim racing has made an appearance in an official Olympics event. As part of the Olympic Virtual Series, e-racers from around the world were given a chance to compete for a spot in this prestigious event through the Gran Turismo Sport platform.
The competition was fierce as participants attempt to make that one perfect lap around Tokyo Expressway South Inner Loop on the GR Supra Gr.3 car in order to qualify for the Olympic Virtual Series with only a few slots in Asia up for grabs. Four drivers from Asia qualified for the event, namely Takuma Miyazono (JPN), Stanford Chau (HKG), Nathayos Sirigaya (THA) and Taj Aiman (MYS). In the end, Valerio Gallo (ITA) emerged victorious among everyone in the competition. With virtual motorsports making an appearance in the Olympics, there would be no doubt it could also make an appearance in regional athletic competitions in the future such as the SEA games.
The new standard – Affordable Direct Drives
Perhaps the biggest progress in sim racing this year can be seen with how direct drive wheels have become more affordable than ever before. In years past, direct drive wheels start at around the $1000 range for the wheel base alone. This price point is seen as far from practical from the average sim racer or those who are competitive but do not have the means to afford such an equipment.
What started as an April Fool’s post turned out to be a real conception with Fanatec revealing the new CSL DD with the wheel base coming at only $349.95. The new wheel is set to replace the CSL Elite wheelbase which uses a belt drive system. The CSL DD is initially PC and Xbox compatible, leaving PlayStation users wondering if such a compact package will arrive. Photo leaks surfaced shortly after the release of the CSL DD, but PlayStation racers didn’t have to wait too long though as the GT DD PRO was rolled out on December 2021 with the wheelbase design being almost identical to the CSL DD but with PlayStation and PC support. Both wheelbases received very positive response from users and reviews.
Other mainstream brands are also catching up to Fanatec’s move to more affordable direct drive bases, Thrustmaster is due to make an announcement before the year ends, while leaked photos suggest a possible offering from Logitech as well. New players such as Moza and familiar brands like Simagic are beginning to offer direct drive bases at more affordable price points. It is only a matter of time when direct drive wheels become the new standard for most if not all force feedback racing wheels. Perhaps 2-3 years belt driven derivatives would by then be at the lowest budget tier of force feedback wheel sets.
What’s next for 2022 (and beyond)?
As of writing, it is too early to tell what we could expect not only in 2022, but in the coming years as well apart from the upcoming games announced for next year.
Gran Turismo 7 is due to release on March 2022 while the latest Forza Motorsport title is expected later on with new details on the handling model revealed in a recent interview. Both games are aimed at the console gamer market which is expected to have a wide audience with plenty of events and competitions expected following their launches.
Assetto Corsa 2 is not expected until 2024 as announced earlier this year, but Assetto Corsa Competizione is expected to have more updates in the near future which would further diversify the choices of racing in this title despite the lack of mod support. Iracing has also teased their new dynamic weather system featuring rainy conditions earlier this year and is expected to be ready by 2022.
The IndyCar series would also be having their standalone title by 2023 from Motorsport Games, but with the reception for NASCAR 21: Ignition being poor after release, the developers will need all the time from now until then to make their future titles appeal better.
As for sim racing equipment, it is hard to guess what surprises are in store for 2022. The release of Fanatec’s BMW M4 GT3 rim featured a rim that could be used on a Fanatec wheelbase as well as the real life BMW M4 GT3 car. Perhaps in the future we may have a technology that would allow sim racers to use a regular wheel from a car accessories shop without having to unscrew some parts from the wheelbase.
2021 has been an exciting year for sim racing indeed, and we can only look forward to more surprises in 2022!
- Luis Moreno -