Stephane Ratel says SRO Motorsports Group has taken a “progressive approach” to its integration of esports into the Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS points structure after the idea was met with a response of “about 50/50” from teams.
SRO recently announced that all 2021 GTWC Europe Endurance Cup rounds will be accompanied by an on-site esports competition involving up to 24 drivers from the series.
The top-three finishers in each virtual race will earn prize money and points for their real-world team in the overall GTWC Europe championship, which this year combines scores from Endurance Cup, Sprint Cup and the new esports initiative.
Ratel explained that the initial proposal about esports integration came from new GTWC title sponsor Fanatec.
The idea was then put before the Endurance Cup teams during the 2020 season finale at Paul Ricard in November.
While the feedback was mixed, with some teams opposing the influence of esports races on the real-world points system, Ratel said that the general response was positive enough for SRO to go ahead with the concept.
“If we had a really strong pushback, we would have certainly forgotten about it,” Ratel told Sportscar365.
“But we didn’t. I have to say that the answer was about 50-50. Some were a bit reluctant, and others were saying they already had partners in the world of esports.
“All that taken in consideration, we said let’s be innovative and push for something new, with a progressive approach because the points that we are awarding for these esports competitions, we’re talking three points for winning, two for second and one for third.
“So compared to the overall points attribution, it remains reasonable.
“Also it doesn’t consider the drivers’ title because simply we couldn’t have the number of simulators we would need on-site. That would have been too complex.
“But each team has to nominate one driver. I think out of all the teams, most will have one talented esports driver anyway.
“In addition, when we have fans it will bring an extra activity and attraction on the track, because we will have a village with a very nice display of these on-site competitions.
“Step two is hoping that sim racers will be able to join it on-site, so we have a development project which in our opinion is making a lot of sense.”
Ratel admitted that he initially thought the concept of merging real-world and virtual racing into the same points structure sounded “too ground-breaking” at first.
SRO launched its own sim racing competition, the SRO E-Sport GT Series, during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic last year.
Its events involved grids for real-world drivers, esports professionals and public qualifiers and occurred at a time when social restrictions made standard race meetings untenable.
“We had quite a lot of success during the first confinement,” said Ratel. “Our marketing team managed to attract Fanatec as a title sponsor for our esports competition in Europe.
“I had the opportunity to meet the boss of Fanatec and he came up with this quite innovative idea to say, it would be fantastic if we should combine both and have an element into the real championship.
“At first it looked maybe too ground-breaking, even if we are experts in breaking ground.
“I remember very well the reaction I had in 2005 when introducing the Balance of Performance.
“There was an outcry: people were saying it was a negation of racing. Balancing didn’t make sense to most people. And even driver ratings, mixing Platinums and Golds with [amateur] drivers with credit cards.
“I always remain open to any innovative ideas. But this time my first reaction was: that’s maybe a little bit one step too far.
“Then I saw the release of the series presented by ADAC and DMSB, presenting it as a combination of real sport and esports. And I saw the tender of the FIA for Electric GT that of course we looked at, again with a mix.
“I said, why should our racing be like the old guard? With GT we have very attractive categories in the world of esports, and in gaming in general.
“We have the cars that are attractive for sim racers. I think we were in the best position to do it before anyone.”
Esports Initiative “Making Sense” in “Every Corner”
Ratel believes the integration of esports into GTWC Europe will be supported by SRO’s different stakeholders, including the manufacturers that produce GT3 vehicles.
He also expects European team numbers to remain “strong” this year, indicating the potential for a full esports grid. 2021 entry applications are open for two more weeks.
“One team sent me an email to say that you shouldn’t do it, it’s not the same thing [as real-world racing],” said Ratel.
“But the team has entered the series, so we have not lost them. Apart from that, nobody called me to say, ‘what are you doing? Are you out of your mind?’ Even the manufacturers.
“I said jokingly last year, for four months the only voice raised was for the manufacturers supporting our esports competition. And there were a number of them.
“I think it makes sense for all these manufacturers because it opens to a new audience and to people that are not motorsport fans, that are only interested in the sim competition world. It’s probably also a younger audience.
“It’s of interest for us, for our sponsors, and of course a big interest for Amazon Web Services. It is completely in their world of technology, communication and data.
“When you have a chance of having a partner as important as AWS, you want to be in this environment because it’s what they like. To every corner, in the end, it’s making sense.”