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Assetto Corsa Competizione

Real racing besides simracing: The next thing in driving esports?

We sneak into Festival de la Velocidad at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya to follow the Fanatec GT World Challenge closely, a flagship in modern Esports events.

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Last weekend, on October 9-10th, we were lucky enough to be invited by Fanatec to attend the Fanatec GT World Challenge, a competition event with the world's most relevant GT class machines, which took place at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, formerly known as Circuit de Montmeló.

The particular thing about this event was that there were real races taking place on the tarmac of the racetrack, sort of mashed up with the virtual world of simracing, which has thrived incredibly in the last decade. To be more precise, there were four Gran Turismo events: GT4 European Series, Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS, TCR Europe, and Porsche Carrera Cup France, all of which, together with the final of the Fanatec Esports GT Pro Series tournament, knocked off a bubbly and exciting race day for every motorhead.

It was a remarkable experience. This hybrid concept between simulation and reality, the chance to see how the teams and drivers work in the paddock, and then seeing the same cars that you heard roaring on the track just minutes ago but on the screen - it could become the standard fans will demand in simracing in the esports scene.

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[caption:] The sim racing tent at the Circuit de Catalunya.

But how did they do it?

As a simracing hardware manufacturer, Fanatec was in charge of setting up a tent, which was called Fanatec Arena, just behind the pit stop area, located in the middle of the Paddock. The 23 Fanatec simulation cockpits that were placed inside featured the powerful Fanatec Podium DD direct drive wheel base (probably still awaiting the brand new Fanatec CSL DD, not widely available to the public yet), were lined up as if in a grid and were equipped individually with their own curved display screen to get the most out of each car.

The new Podium Steering Wheel Fanatec GT World Challenge debuted at the competition straight away

Outside the tent, Fanatec also set up a couple of booths with the official racing event pedals and steering wheels, which were available to every visitor. And while the Podium DD1 was the motor base, the steering wheel itself was a total surprise, as Fanatec used the event to unveil their new competition product. Its name is Podium Steering Wheel Fanatec GT World Challenge and it's designed for the professional racing arena, featuring a 32cm diameter leather wheel rim, the Podium Hub, a pro button module and authentic paddles.

All races were simulated using GT3-focused Kunos Simulazioni's Assetto Corsa Competizione, a partner in this event. Many races took place outdoors in a friendly manner with the intention of determining who set up the fastest lap among the amateur drivers. Gamereactor didn't end up with a good mark, but that would be the fault of yours truly.

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Fanatec / Jules Benichou

[caption:] The new Podium Steering Wheel Fanatec GT World Challenge was already present in Barcelona. // Fanatec / Jules Benichou

Some of the drivers were spotted throughout the morning around the Fanatec Arena to test the set-up of their cars hunting for surprises, but it wasn't until 17:45 that they met up to put the finishing touch to the Fanatec Esports GT Pro Series. New champions of simulation driving would be crowned in Barcelona, inspired by authentic races, the arena's atmosphere and the smoke and burnt rubber scent.

Qualifying took 20 minutes and it was Puhakka's Mercedes, from the Madpanda Motorsport team, who took pole, followed by Nielsen and Dienst. The race started with a bunch of incidents: there was a yellow flag on the first lap while Nielsen was gone due to connection issues, followed by Mapelly and Dontje after a clash. The duration of the round was exactly one hour. In the first four minutes of the race, and with the last points still to be determined, the tension could be cut with a knife and some of the drivers made some mistakes at very technical sections of the track, such as the RACC chicane. Bastian and Barnicoat returned to the pit lane next. From the second lap onwards, the podium ranking didn't change until the end of the race: Puhakka, Vanthoor and Dienst left the car pack to fight their own battles.

Halfway through the race, the pit was opened to show the strategies of every team. The mid-table participants started earlier, trying to undercut and therefore dealing with less traffic, but it was of little use for them. The three leaders were more than 5 seconds ahead of the rest of the pack.

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Fanatec / Jules Benichou

[caption:] Puhakka, winner of the Fanatec GT World Challenge 2021 in the Silver category. // Fanatec / Jules Benichou

As for Marciello, he starred some of the highlights of the race pulling two amazing manoeuvres which were applauded by the entire room. Gradually, the seats were clearing up as the drivers left the race, until a number of 11 simracers were disqualified. The day in Barcelona ended with no surprises: Puhakka, driving his Mercedes AMG GT3, delivered the title in the silver category and the victory on the circuit to Madpanda Motorsport. Dries Vanthoor got the second place and his team, Team WRT, was crowned champion of the Pro category. Both of them went home with a prize valued in €6,000, along with a ClubSport Steering Wheel Formula V2.5 wheel by the organiser.

It was an undoubtedly great experience at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, and it was carefully, impeccably and comprehensively organised. The SRO Motorsport was largely responsible for this, who set up a first-class hospitality area for the guests, but the alluring and tangible accent was clearly the luxurious sports cars that were on display in the VIP area. The McLaren P1, McLaren 720S GT3X, Lamborghini SCV12 or Maserati MC12 were the high notes of a weekend with too much horsepower and too much driving class, both on and off the tracks.

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