Exciting Virtual Sports Car Racing is Available by Computer, Console or Smartphone
By John Oreovicz
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship doesn’t have its own exclusive video game franchise – not yet, anyway. But IMSA fans still have many ways to enjoy National Video Game Day today.
Whether you want to race using a PC-platform computer, a gaming console such as Xbox One or PlayStation, or even your mobile phone, IMSA has you covered.
Let’s start with gaming on the go. Available for Apple, Amazon and Google devices with over 400 million downloads, the Real Racing 3 app from EA Sports puts sports car racing in your pocket anytime, anywhere.
The racing is simplified, with artificial intelligence handling acceleration and braking duties while the user steers by tilting or rotating their phone. You can patiently work your way up the racing ladder, but you always have the option of in-app purchases to speed up the process.
But even if you go the free route, without too much time invested you can unlock some basic time trials at Daytona International Speedway in an Acura NSX GT3 and WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in a Cadillac DPi-V.R. You can eventually gain access to a full IMSA championship, on those and other notable worldwide tracks, with the Mazda RT24-P DPi and three other GT3 machines from Lamborghini, Ferrari and BMW as additional car choices.
Though it features more than 30 tracks and a staggering number of production and racing cars, Real Racing 3 isn’t as comprehensive and detailed as some other racing games. However, you can play it while you’re relaxing on a beach or reducing stress during an airport delay.
In terms of portability, a gaming console beats a full-fledged PC, but many of the racing franchises are available across multiple platforms. Console-based games can be played with the supplied controllers and do not require the purchase of ancillary equipment such as a steering wheel, pedals or seating rig. All feature the ability for players to compete against other online competitors in real time in officially sanctioned events and championships.
While restricted to Xbox One and PC, Forza Motorsport 7 gives gamers the most IMSA options, with 100 percent of the WeatherTech Championship’s manufacturers represented. More than 450 cars are available, including over 100 featuring historical American sports cars including the iconic Bob Sharp/Paul Newman Nissan 300ZX and the Team Penske Porsche 917/30. As usual, expect to build your car collection through a combination of online achievements accentuated by key cash purchases.
GRID is the 10th and most recent release in a series of Codemasters games focused on sports car racing which dates to 1997. It’s available for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Windows and Google Stadia, and it includes half a dozen IMSA cars, including DPi cars from Acura and Cadillac, the Corvette C7.R, the Ford GT and the Porsche 911 RSR in 2018 and 2019 livery.
Project Cars 3, from Slightly Mad Studios, is offered for PS4, Xbox One and PC. More than 120 tracks are available, including IMSA venues Daytona, Long Beach, Road America, Watkins Glen and Laguna Seca, as well as 15 IMSA-themed cars. Most are the GT3-based machines that race in the GT Daytona (GTD) class of the WeatherTech Championship, as well as the defending GT Le Mans (GTLM) champion Corvette Racing C8.R, but a couple interesting outliers include a Ford Mustang GT4 like those that compete in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge and a 1980s-vintage Audi 90 Quattro.
Of course, there’s also the most popular choice for those serious about online racing: iRacing.com. A subscription-based service for the PC platform that gains users access to the world’s most popular simulation experience, iRacing boasts a variety of more than 100 cars across the motorsport spectrum (pretty much everything but drag racing) and 100-plus tracks with some 350 configurations. Memberships range from $13 per month to $199 for a two-year plan, though those prices are currently discounted 40 percent for new members.
For that basic rate, subscribers gain access to 16 cars and 22 tracks, including road courses, ovals and even off-road events. IMSA fans will appreciate the inclusion of a Mazda MX-5 Cup car in the basic package, as well as WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca and two iterations of Lime Rock Park (2008 and current). Without spending an extra penny, that enables you to compete in approximately 80 official series or among 400 private leagues. IMSA is affiliated with two mixed-class online racing series: The IMSA Hagerty iRacing Series and the iRacing IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge.
Cars across all IMSA classes are available for $11.95 each, though some are discounted to the $3-5 range. All 12 tracks on the 2021 WeatherTech Championship slate are available for purchase at $11.95-14.95 each.
During the COVID pandemic, many forms of motorsport, including IMSA, staged online events for their real-life competitors. More professional drivers turned to iRacing to keep their racing skills sharp at a time when the return to on-track competition was in question.
In general, the role of computer simulation, whether via video games or in proprietary simulators created by manufacturers, has become increasingly important as a tool for driver training and car development. iRacing received a nice bump in popularity in 2020 as fans realized that not only could they use the same online simulation program the pros use, they might also get the chance to actually race with their real-life heroes in a virtual environment.
So, on National Video Game Day, pick up a controller or settle in behind the wheel, if you are so equipped, and take a couple hot laps around your favorite racetrack. And no matter how much you might invest in a simulation rig, remember this:
Virtual racing is cheaper than the real thing.