Although tyre manufacturers have been linked with motorsports for a long time through strong partnerships, a new virtual concept has appeared recently. With the professionalisation of gaming and the large number of physical events cancelled in 2020, more and more brands are appearing on virtual tracks in eSports.
The rise of eSport competitions
Le Mans 24-Hours, Formula 1, Formula E, Nascar, MotoGP, WTCR, DTM, etc. Some of these world-renowned races, which have been around for almost a century, have seen their organisation disrupted due to the health emergency. And yet, the races have taken place on virtual tracks but with real stakes. The development of mechanical eSport races has thrived with the lockdown measures and the commitment of tyre manufacturers has followed. Michelin, Goodyear, Hankook and Pirelli: discover these brands that have moved to a virtual mode.
Today, video games are breathtakingly realistic. Whether graphically or technically, racing on simulators is extremely realistic, to the extent that Michelin has become the official tyre supplier in the Gran Turismo game.
With the world health crisis, the French tyre manufacturer has extended its collaborations by building on existing partnerships. The Le Mans 24-Hours, which should have taken place on the Sarthe track on 13-14 June 2020, has been postponed to September. But no question of waiting any longer for the legendary endurance race which took place virtually for the first time in its history. Michelin was at the heart of the race with its Pilot Sport tyres and a real strategy defined by the 50 teams present for the event. In total, the simulation brought together 200 drivers and simracers such as Pierre Gasly (F1 - Toro Rosso), Charles Leclerc (F1 - Ferrari), and Fernando Alonso who abandoned the race when he ran out of fuel!
“eSports is a reality, it's no longer a fantasy or a game”, said the Spaniard, two time Formula 1 champion and owner of a professional eSport team, before the race. “It’s a platform that works not only for gamers, but for professional drivers too. We have been using simulators for a couple of years now, learning tracks and developing cars. Now, we have a fantastic fanbase outside motor racing, they love what we do, but they do it differently. It’s not better, it’s not worse.”
The Rebellion Williams eSport team won the LMP class whereas Porsche dominated the GTE class.
But it is not the only race in which Michelin is involved. The French tyre manufacturer is also present for the virtual versions of the Formula E championship (Race At Home Challenge) and MotoGP which has seen the best drivers in the world battle it out virtually.
Goodyear in video games and eSport
Goodyear also took part in the virtual Le Mans 24 Hours. Although the American tyre manufacturer did not supply tyres for the cars on the grid, it was present through its marketing agreement with ACO, the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (West Automobile Club) before physically returning in September in the LM P2 class. During the event, we were able to see a reproduction of the Goodyear blimp sporting the brand’s colours.
The manufacturer, originally from Akron in Ohio, is the official tyre supplier to the WTCR. Here again, the dates of the FIA World Touring Car Cup have been postponed until later in the year, but the organisation took the chance to move to a virtual track.
This gave Goodyear the opportunity to test its Eagle F1 SuperSport tyres for the first time in a race. Even virtually, this presence can benefit everyone according to Ben Crawley, Motorsport Director at Goodyear: “eSports has benefited from a huge growth in popularity during the lockdown. Even when real-life racing begins, we predict eSports to continue its growth as it truly connects fans with their racing heroes. Long term, we will be looking for ways to bring tyre choice decisions and pit stop strategies into eSports by helping programmers accurately replicate the real-life performanceof Goodyear racing tyres. In the short term, it’s an opportunity for us to connect with fans and bring our famous brand to a fast growing virtual racing world.” This is a real strategy for Goodyear since the brand is also present in the eNascar League and the European Truck Racing Championship Digital Racing Challenge.
Exclusive Formula 1 tyre supplier, Pirelli was also available in the gaming version of the world’s biggest motorsport championship. The F1 eSport Series, with a total of 8 races, accounted for more than 30 million spectators online and on TV. Bringing together F1 stars and other celebrities such as the footballers Sergio Agüero, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Thibaut Courtois and the singer Luis Fonsi, the event was a great success for the Italian tyre manufacturer who was present from start to finish.
Pirelli is also a major sponsor of the Trans AM competition, the American Touring Car Championship. Here again, the competition was forced to stop but continued virtually with the presence of professional drivers.
Despite the DTM being postponed for a few months, the German Touring Car Championship granted itself a digital break: 4 races with 20 drivers and simracers using historic cars from the 1992, 2013, 2014 and 2016 seasons. An opportunity for Hankook, a long standing partner of the competition to take part: “It was only logical for us to drive our joint and successful cooperation forward in these challenging times in the DTM Esports Classic Challenge”, said Manfred Sandbichler, Hankook Motorsport Director Europe. “As the DTM's tyre partner, we also bring the required expertise from the real world to this virtual format as motorsport and the joy of fair competition are not bound to a specific platform”.
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