Supercars driver Todd Hazelwood can now add ‘Gamer’ to his resume after successfully contesting in The Supercars All Stars Eseries last night.
Competing from his lounge room in Melbourne, the Brad Jones Racing recruit lined up on the iRacing simulator platform with 24 other Supercar drivers for two races at Phillip Island before heading to Monza for a 16-lap thriller.
In a new experience for the 24-year-old, virtual racing has provided a unique opportunity to stay ‘race fit’ during the coronavirus induced postponement of the Supercars 2020 Championship.
“The Eseries definitely fills the void for us, qualifying feels just like the real thing,” Hazelwood told Hatch.
“It was a crazy feeling to be racing and being broadcast live around the world, but it’s great to be able to bring some new content to those who really want to watch it from their homes.”
It was only two weeks ago that Todd had the simulator installed in his home, sharing a timelapse video of him setting it up on March 27. With the Eseries launching last night, both the Supercars production team and drivers have been working around the clock.
“I was desperately trying to put something together as I was one of the drivers that didn’t have anything at home, so I had to do it the hard way and work with what I had,” he said.
“The skills to be fast in iRacing are very unique compared to the real life Supercars, which I am desperately trying to get my head around. It’s been a very tight timeframe since it got announced, but nothing like a good challenge while in isolation.”
There were mixed results throughout the three races, with reigning Supercars Champion Scott McLaughlin winning the first and third races of the night. Tickford Racing’s Jack Le Brocq claimed his first Supercars Eseries win at the second race at Phillip Island.
Race 3 in Monza was a chaotic contest which saw a first lap 10-car crash and half the field suffering damage in the opening lap.
With the iRacing platform aiming to be as realistic as possible for both competitors and fans, it requires more behind the scenes responsibilities than the drivers are used to.
“It is like real racing to the closest degree, we have to do the math and calculate fuel, tyres and our pit lane strategy,” Hazelwood said.
There were drivers blowing up on the open communication channel almost at every corner because of it, it was humorous for us all.Todd Hazelwood
“We talk to our engineers about it all before the race, but there’s only so many buttons you can press before the race begins. It’s a lot of responsibility on us, that we don’t have to do in the normal race format.”
Another benefit of the online racing form is the significant saving of no repair costs, presenting the drivers with the alluring prospect of settling old scores, albeit in the virtual realm.
“If your car is toast and the race is almost over and you see that driver in your rearview and if the camera’s aren’t watching you, you are very tempted to give them a return serve,” said Hazelwood.
“There were drivers blowing up on the open communication channel almost at every corner because of it, it was humorous for us all.”
“It is a serious matter and a golden opportunity for our sport but we are competitive by nature so it was inevitable we would all take it seriously.”
The Eseries has proven successful for live sports-starved fans and broadcasters with over 70,000 watching the inaugural round on Fox Sports 506.
Those numbers are expected to climb with the three-race session being streamed via Kayo, Supercars.com, social channels and game streaming service Twitch. The average live viewing number for Twitch was 6,500 for the duration of the three races and the Supercars Facebook live video has been viewed over 330,000 times.
The popularity was reflected on Twitter with the hashtag #VASC trending at number one less than one hour after the live broadcast began.
Fans shared their excitement over the new racing format, seeing all 25 Supercars drivers contesting the races from their homes live via webcams and noticeably without their racing helmets on.
Adding to the realistic look of the on-track action, all 25 cars displayed their familiar liveries for much needed support for their sponsors during the COVID-19 crisis.
“We all had a sigh of relief that it was so well received. In these tough times for our sponsors we are doing all we can behind the scenes to support them” Todd said.
“As a category we have had to adapt very quickly and we worked really hard together to achieve something really great for us all.”
The Supercars All Stars ESeries continues on April 15 with races at Silverstone Circuit and Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. – @charliejbullis