IMSA President John Doonan says he was “blown away” by the response from last weekend’s IMSA Sebring SuperSaturday and is considering future iRacing events as well as establishing a permanent esports championship for fans.
Saturday’s 90-minute virtual race at Sebring International Raceway, run in place of the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, featured nearly 50 drivers from the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, Michelin Pilot Challenge and other professional series, in a first-of-its-kind for the sanctioning body.
While having been put together in the matter of days in the wake of the coronavirus epidemic and postponement of Sebring and other IMSA races, Doonan said the event, which was streamed live on YouTube, Twitch and also featured pre and post-race shows on The Torque Show, was well-executed and surpassed his own personal expectations.
“Going in, I think we were all super enthusiastic that we were going to do something positive in what is obviously an extremely challenging time,” Doonan told Sportscar365.
“So I think everyone had that impression and that when it actually happened, to be honest with you, I was blown away.
“I think [I was] mostly blown away by how real it felt and how excited everyone was. But then to read the comments, and I spent most of my time on the YouTube live coverage, from the fans.
“A lot of people said the same like, ‘I was skeptical going in.’
“I’m just thrilled with how it came out. Huge kudos to our marketing and communications team for basically putting a race together in four or five days.
“The iRacing folks did an amazing job and not only on our stuff but what I saw at NASCAR yesterday was was extremely well done.
“Mr. Hindhaugh did an awesome job [with the commentary] and overall, I think the comments I heard from both drivers and fans alike was ‘We want more.'”
Doonan said IMSA is still compiling numbers from the events although said viewership was “insanely impressive” and well-exceeded that seen of a WeatherTech Championship qualifying show that’s typically streamed online.
The IMSA iRacing event was held less than 24 hours prior to the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, which, in an industry first, was broadcast live on FS1.
“For me, what was cool, it was so fun and I know NASCAR did this as well yesterday, were the camera shots and interviews of the drivers from their simulators,” Doonan said.
“To see [Bruno] Spengler and those guys in their rigs, doing their interviews post-race, was really sweet. I think that was a really nice addition and put some personality around it.”
Additional iRacing Events Under Consideration; Full Championship for Fans Possible
Doonan said it’s “too early” to announce any additional pro iRacing events although they should know more on its feasibility by later in the week.
“We’re going to do a debrief as a staff with how it went, what we might have been able to adjust here and there and what we can do going forward,” he said.
“I’ve got to say it was no no easy task to pull that off. There’s a lot of moving parts with people over the world working from home and things like that.
“We should know here mid-week and then we can make some announcements here as soon as we have more detail.”
When asked if a full esports championship could be created on the heels of last weekend’s success, Doonan admitted it’s been something that he’s personally been in discussions about for nearly six months.
“When I had the opportunity to start in my new role, one of the early meetings I had was with David Pettit [SVP marketing and business] and [the IMSA marketing team] to get a handle on where we were as an organization with esports,” he said.
“Obviously iRacing falls into the simulation category.
“I think the initiative overall is something that we see as an opportunity to do on a more regular basis once we can get all the resources in place, both people, financial and [the] infrastructure, engaging [people] outside of our driver lineup.
“[It would be] with fans, the younger generation, to help grow our audience and help get them engaged.
“Blue sky, I’d love to see you know these types of events happening on a more regular basis.
“Extra blue sky, I’d love to see us actually having and hosting live events at WeatherTech [Championship] race weekends, such that people could come and be competing while the actual real race is going on around them with all the sights and sounds and smells that is IMSA racing.
“It sort of pains me to think that something this serious that we’re all facing could be a catalyst to that but I do think that as people are in… a stay-at-home situation, it could be a catalyst to seeing this grow for the whole industry.”