As the World Goes Quiet, Sebring Roars to Life–Virtually, At Least

A year ago, Tom O’Gorman was cruising to victory at Sebring in the Michelin Challenge Pilot Challenge contest, taking the checker in his Honda Civic Type R TCR

This March, though, Sebring International Raceway has gone quiet–with the reason being fairly obvious. On March 21, however, MSA hosted the Sebring SuperSaturday on iRacing.

More than 45 drivers–mostly from IMSA–participated in the 90-minute race, with everyone driving GTLM-class machines. It was billed as the largest GTLM race ever, and a day after the race, the YouTube broadcast recorded more than 71,000 views. 

Familiar voices called the action as IMSA Radio’s John Hindhaugh was joined by Nick Daman and Ben Constanduros. More comfort foods of racing: some recognizable liveries, slow-mo replays and plenty of in-car coverage. Sadly, though, no virtual burning couches. (On the plus side, no sunburn, either.)

BMW drivers dominated the race, sweeping the podium in the process. BMW factory pilot Bruno Spengler passed teammate Nicky Catsburg 5 minutes into the race to take lead and held it until the checker. Spengler’s margin of victory over Catsburg: just 3.172 seconds. Fellow BMW factory driver Jesse Krohn–who won at Daytona this year–finished third. 

We have to underline the fact IMSA organized this event with so many incredible cars and drivers at Sebring,” Spengler said after the race. “It’s safer for everyone to stay home and do the best we can to entertain and still race. Thanks to all involved for setting this up. Passing start/finish, I had goosebumps. I was almost screaming on the radio!

But I had my dog and wife sitting next to me as I was racing. Normally they are far away. Thanks to BMW and everyone involved.”

Some racers, however, faced logistical issues. From the IMSA release: “A second BMW Team Black entry, the No. 23 expected to be driven by IndyCar standout and 2019 Rolex 24 At Daytona winner Colton Herta, did not make the race due to connectivity issues.”

O’Gorman, a familiar face across our motorsports scene–from IMSA to SCCA to #Gridlife–was also in the field, finishing 12th in a BMW, just 1:47 back. After the race, we talked with O’Gorman.

GRM: Are you a regular iRacer?
O'Gorman: I would say I'm a fair-weather iRacer. smiley When I'm not traveling for racing and work, I do end up playing quite a bit. 

We have a good group of guys to race with in a #GRIDLIFE iRacers league, and we find races to get together outside of league races to stay entertained. 

That said, it can be extremely polarizing for me; I love racing with friends, I love when I have a good race, and it brings out the absolute worst in me when I do poorly. 

I actually got my start in video games, first with console games back to the Gran Turismo and Forza days, then moving to PC sims like rFactor and GTR2

I stopped playing them so much when I started autocrossing, and working to pay for autocrossing, and as I've spent nearly all my time in real cars since then, my feel for the games has significantly diminished. I find that I know why I can't be as fast as others but can't do anything about it because my ability to "feel" the car isn't there. 

GRM: How did you get picked to be one of the racers in this iRacing showcase?
O’Gorman: It was actually an open entry for current and past IMSA drivers. The series reached out via email about a week before, announcing the race to gauge interest, and clearly the demand was there from the drivers to put it together! I'm impressed at IMSA and iRacing to get such a quality racing and streaming product together in such short notice.

GRM: How was the experience itself?
O’Gorman: It was a blast! I'd be lying if I said it wasn't stressful, though. The pressure of playing iRacing is enough–anyone who's played iRacing knows the pre-race jitters are even more intense sometimes than real racing–but to race against some of the biggest names in IMSA, guys I've looked up to my whole life in some cases, was pretty wild. 

IMSA hosted private practice sessions in the days leading up to the race, and the pressure was real the first day we were all practicing together. That wore off to some extent by the race, which left just enjoying the race to do.

GRM: How was the actual racing?
O’Gorman: The racing was higher quality than a lot of the iRacing public races–you could tell the whole field knows racecraft and did their best to run clean, and mistakes that happened were mostly due to unfamiliarity with iRacing. 

There was also an extra layer of racing against drivers I've never been able to race against in real life that made the racing even cooler.

GRM: Anything else to share about the experience?
O’Gorman: I'm excited about eMotorsports being thrust into the limelight so suddenly–it's been a part of my life since I was a kid, and it doesn't always get the respect it deserves. 

But you can learn a lot, have a lot of fun, and play with cars in a way that the real world doesn't allow to keep things interesting. We're gonna keep racing the #GRIDLIFE iRacers league and more, all that has been broadcast through SYM TV on YouTube for over a year, and the longer the real motorsports world stays dark, the more frequent and fun e-racing will be.

 

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Comments
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pinchvalve
pinchvalve MegaDork
3/23/20 1:05 p.m.

That guy! Thanks for this, it was really interesting.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
3/24/20 12:44 p.m.

It was interesting--and entertaining. 

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