BMW Motorsport factory driver Philipp Eng believes that sim racing has the promise to be regarded as a sport in itself in the future, following huge recent advancements.
With a lack of on-track action around the world due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, many motorsport fans have been turning their attentions to YouTube and Twitch in order to watch some of the world’s best drivers battle for virtual bragging rights.
DTM Series driver Eng took part in Formula 1‘s new official championship earlier this month, finishing third at the Bahrain Virtual Grand Prix in a Red Bull Racing car alongside six-time Olympic champion – turned racing driver – Sir Chris Hoy.
The livestream and resulting replay video has amassed over 1.7 million views on F1’s YouTube channel at the time of writing – less than a week after the event.
Austrian Eng described sim racing as his “substitute racing drug” in the off-period, allowing him to keep his racecraft and instincts sharp for when the real world recovers back to some sense of normality.
“I am glad I have my race simulator at home at the moment,” said Eng.
“In these times, when everyone has to avoid moving about in public as much as possible, it is basically my substitute racing drug.
“The virtual races help me to stay in race mode, particularly mentally.
“Although the simulator doesn’t feel exactly the same as reality, my instincts are the same as on an actual racetrack. It allows me to keep them sharp.
“For me, sim racing is more than just fun, it also really helps me to improve as a professional racing driver.”
Eng says that the kit he uses now is a far cry from his simplistic first setup over a decade ago, with simulator rigs providing the perfect housing for a plethora of wheels and pedals that can almost mirror the forces a real racing car can provide.
“I was 17, I think, and my simulator was such that I had to shift my exercise books to one side, clamp my steering wheel on my desk, and fasten the pedals to the floor using tape,” he recalled.
“The way sim racing has developed since then, and particularly in recent months, is very impressive.”
Despite the increasingly similarities, Eng still believes that there’s a steep learning curve between being an elite sim racer and a real racing driver – in part down to the introduction of fear and the need for risk management.
“I am sure that the best [sim racers] have the necessary technical know-how and driving potential,” he mused.
“However, in a real race car, they must first learn to deal with the fact that they could get hurt if they make a mistake.
“I notice that with myself. I always take more risks in the simulator than I do in a real race car.”
BMW has continued to increase its presence and interest in sim racing, with GT trio Bruno Spengler, Nicky Catsburg and Jesse Krohn locking out the podium at the IMSA Sebring SuperSaturday race on iRacing last Saturday.
Its drivers also take part in iRacing’s Nürburgring Endurance Series, while the marque’s Junior Team turns to rFactor 2 for the BMW SIM M2 CS Racing Cup.
Eng believes that the support of a huge car manufacturer, such as BMW, can only help boost the profile of sim racing worldwide.
“In my opinion, BMW Motorsport’s intensive involvement is currently giving sim racing another huge boost,” Eng added.
“When a major manufacturer like BMW gets involved to such a degree, the general public picks up on it and the perception of sim racing changes in a positive way.
“I see it this way: as a motorsport fan, watch the DTM race at the Nürburgring in the afternoon and then why not watch the livestream of the sim race in Sebring in the evening.”