Pro Drivers Face Punishment For Online Racing Misconduct
How much does virtual racing matter? To drivers who are used to taking real risks in real cars, it can be difficult to take even the most realistic games seriously. But in the eyes of teams and sponsors, their conduct has consequences. Throughout the COVID-19 quarantine period, three high-profile professional drivers managed to damage their careers via misconduct in sim racing events.
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In early April, professional NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace was one of 32 drivers competing in the Food City Showdown at a virtual Bristol Motor Speedway in the iRacing simulator. He crashed on the 11th lap of the 150-lap race and, feeling it had been the fault of Clint Bowyer who had cut in front of him and then put him into the wall, he quit the game.
Some drivers have been known to engage in riskier driving in the game compared to real life, and Wallace claimed Bowyer’s behavior on the virtual track was an example of this. “That’s why I don’t take this shit serious,” he said before adding, “Peace out!” and doing just that.
One of his sponsors, Blue-Emu, wasn’t thrilled about his flippant attitude and dropped Wallace. This was the earliest indication that misconduct in virtual racing could have real-life consequences, but unfortunately for the next two drivers, they seemingly hadn’t paid attention.
Later that month, NASCAR driver Kyle Larson was fired by his team and Chevrolet, and dropped by his sponsors after he said the n-word during a streamed race. He was also suspended from using the iRacing online service indefinitely.
Even more recently, Audi Sport’s Formula E driver, Daniel Abt, admitted he had employed the services of a professional sim racer to race in his stead in the ABB Formula E Race at Home event for charity. He was disqualified from the race for cheating and Audi Sport suspended Abt with immediate effect.
With sports on hold and people staying at home, there has been a massive uptick in professional drivers going online and attracting viewers to virtual races. But while these are non-championship races that offer no points, teams and sponsors are still keen to see their drivers behave like they would at the track. As Wallace, Larson, and Abt have demonstrated, it’s possible to get a little too comfortable.
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Kurt Verlin was born in France and lives in the United States. Throughout his life he was always told French was the language of romance, but it was English he fell in love with. He likes cats, music, cars, 30 Rock, Formula 1, and pretending to be a race car driver in simulators; but most of all, he just likes to write about it all. See more articles by Kurt.