Virtual Rallying: Making the Most of a Bad Situation

You might have noticed a few trends in the last few blog posts I’ve written here – a lot of them talk about video game companies and some of the negative things they’ve been doing in the current situation the world faces.

After two rather damming posts from me on what EA and the official Formula One series have been up to, this time I’m going to be writing something more positive about a virtual sport.   

Rallying as a sport is somewhat of a niche thing to be such a massive fan of I’ll be honest. I’m guessing you as the reader has probably heard of Colin McRae – probably because of the games his name is part of – and that’s about it? (Sorry to any rallying nerds at this point!)

Well believe it or not the sport goes a lot further than someone’s PlayStation, with thousands of competitors around the world. But with no real-life events taking place for the foreseeable future, how do these competitors keep sharp and keep the competition going?

Well look no further than what drivers such as up and coming driver Oliver Solberg, defending FIA European Rally champion Chris Ingram in partnership with weekly newspaper Motorsport News and the British Rally Championship have all announced in recent weeks.

Up and coming World Championship driver Oliver Solberg launched the virtual Solberg World Cup compeittion during the COVID-19 panedmic.

All are creating rallies and championships using DiRT Rally 2.0, widely regarded as currently the most realistic and easily accessible rally and rallycross game on the market, to set up competitions both between professional drivers as well as the general public.

As I’ve talked about before, eSports and online racing is something that has grown rapidly in recent years and with the world the way it is right now is essential for giving fans of the sport a much-needed fix of the thing they love.

It’s not the idea that you could physically win something if you set a fast time on a stage that I’m talking about, but more of the idea of this whole togetherness and rather bizarrely giving fans the opportunity to do something they wouldn’t be able to do otherwise – compete against their real-life heroes and share their stories on social media.

Each competition I’ve mentioned, all designed basically as a bit of fun to encourage people to stay home and stay safe, feature hundreds if not thousands of entrants, all ranging in ability and skill.

But why does this work so well? For starters, it doesn’t matter if you have a £5000 Sim Racing setup with the latest computer components and the fanciest steering wheel on the market or (like me!) a rather more basic setup costing less than three figures – the game and the idea about it is the same.

Defending FIA European Rally Champion Chris Ingram launched his own competition too for anyone to enter. Photo Credit: MN Chris Ingram Rally Challenge

This is added to by the fact the cars you drive on that said game are all the same relatively speaking and all you need to get going to be part of this huge community is an XBOX, PlayStation or half decent PC with a game you can now buy for less than £30 if you shop around.

You’re probably thinking how exactly does this link to Public Relations? Well as I’ve said on numerous occasions through the last few months, PR is all about reputation and what the publics of an organisation think of them.

Well from what I’ve read on several Facebook groups, people can’t get enough of the events taking place and everyone feels as if they’re competing in a real life event and all have different stories to tell as a result.

From a personal point of view, I’m very happy to compete in an event some of the leading rally drivers in the UK are in too, even if they are a lot faster as it’s more than likely going to be the only chance I get to compete against them.

Entrants to the more real-life driver focused eBRC can win a real-life test with EDSL Sport. Photo Credit: British Rally Championship

I mentioned the BRC before, and they need in my opinion singled out for special praise.

As well as the open eBRC series where anyone with a Motorsport UK or Trackside licence can enter with the winning driver earning a real-life test in a EDSL Sport Ford Fiesta, they’ve also designed a ‘invitational’ championship over the next few weeks specifically for drivers in the real championship with live coverage of each event on their social media platforms planned for everyone to watch.

Yes, it’s not a real-life event and no you don’t have to stand in a chilly Welsh forest to watch, but it is making the most of the current situation and they from what I can gather are trying to put on a real show for both the real life competitors as well as the fans watching at home.

These points I’ve made I think all add up to as much as praise being given to everyone involved with the projects – Codemasters who develop and maintain the game, the drivers I’ve mentioned and the series’ they’re involved in. It really does feel as if this community is “all in this together”.

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