If nothing else, a global pandemic does act as a great leveller: we're all unable to go to work, our skills are probably getting a bit rusty, and boredom is likely setting in. Same goes for racing drivers, of course. They aren't going to tracks, aren't getting the seat time, and are surely missing the thrill of competition that comes with going wheel to wheel.
No doubt you'll have seen one or two races on YouTube already, and this weekend sees the start of another championship: the Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup Virtual Edition. Not to be confused with the Porsche Tag Heuer Esports Supercup - and you thought just the Porsche model line-up was taxing - the Supercup Virtual Edition is just that: the Supercup that supports F1 races, only now on iRacing. (Where the Esports Supercup is for gamers, this is exclusively for actual Supercup racing drivers, up to 40 of them.)
Which, when you think about the calibre of Supercup racing, is quite some prospect, particularly with the events being streamed on Twitch and YouTube. Need proof? Nick Tandy, everyone's favourite person from Bedford and Le Mans winner, only came second in the 2010 Supercup to Rene Rast. Kevin Estre, the French wizard that Porsche uses to do its 'ring lap times, came fourth in 2013. Michael Ammermuller has won the last three Supercups, having finished in previous years behind sports car superstars like Nicki Thiim, Earl Bamber and the late Sean Edwards in the standings.
If you can make it in Supercup, then, you can make it any kind of GT racing. Not only do one-make series leave absolutely no place to hide, there's the simple fact as well that the GT3 Cups are difficult sods to drive. With less aero than a full GT3 car but just as much power and fewer driver aids, only the very best drivers can really get the most out of them, and prove their worth in Supercup. Those that aren't the very best spend a night in Northampton hospital, but that's a story for another time.
To the virtual Supercup. While the hand of series manager Oliver Schwab - interviewed this morning over Skype - has been forced somewhat, it's potentially also an interesting development for exposure and awareness of the series. Because with both the 911 GT3 R and RSR competing around the globe, as well as national championships involving the GT3 Cup, there might be a danger of Supercup not getting its fair share of the limelight.
Schwab described his mission for the Supercup role, with this season being his fifth at the top, as two-fold; the first being to better align the national Cup series with the Supercup, but also to "be as international as possible." The plan has been, more broadly, to "live the idea of Supercup as a platform for a global racing community". While the Virtual Supercup may not have been part of the plan originally, it should complement that latter idea well. Obviously it's much easier for fans, particularly young ones, to watch a virtual race than a real one, and there's an argument to say that YouTube and Twitch coverage can be more immersive than conventional TV broadcasting.
And there's more. This format allows for the series, in Schwab's own words, to "bring together drivers who, in real life, would no longer compete anymore." So that means Tandy will be back in action, along with Thomas Preining (3rd in 2018 Supercup), Christian Engelhart (three-times runner-up in Carrera Cup Germany) and Sven Muller (2016 Supercup champ) are all involved. Which should be worth a watch. Furthermore, one of the "key selling arguments", as Schwab puts it, is the Supercup's aforementioned ability to really accelerate a driver's career; now there's the chance for these drivers to race those who've been there and done it in a way that hasn't happened in the past. Given the realism of iRacing, beating any of those names mentioned would be no mean feat...
Moreover, there's the small matter of some drivers who will have greater eSports experience than others. Arguably this set up may favour younger drivers, with Porsche actually delivering hardware (where possible) to Supercup competitors who don't have the right stuff, along with a virtual racing school, sim performance coaching and a how-to guide on setting things up. Once more, it looks like the ideal opportunity for a driver to make a name for themselves - "this project is about being the fastest, as well as being ambitious", says Schwab, as well as something about the family atmosphere of Supercup. But you can guarantee that won't count for much come Saturday.
So while some will still regard Esports as 'not proper' racing, the Virtual Supercup sounds like fine entertainment - and great competition - for those willing to be involved. And, to be frank, right now any racing is better than no racing. The Virtual Supercup calendar for 2020 will follow as it would have done in the real world, taking in Silverstone, Spa and Monza as the season progresses. Don't be surprised if there's more overlap in future, too; for now, interestingly, there are no plans, says Schwab, to have the Virtual Supercup as a permanent fixture, and no driver from the Esports Supercup has yet made it into real-life 911 racing. Given the challenge presented by the cars, and the increasing prominence of sim racing in motorsport, what a PC-to-podium story that could be...