Virtual sport takes off as athletes move online to get their competitive fix

Australia

Updated April 06, 2020 14:51:00

Sport has moved online during the coronavirus pandemic, with a variety of competitions moving into the virtual realm.

Motor racing, horse racing and cycling have all been forced to cancel events around the world as authorities move to reduce the spread of coronavirus.

While some have adapted well to their new virtual world, others have run into teething problems during their online endeavours.

Charles Leclerc wins (virtual) Australian GP

Formula 1 cars finally got around to racing around Melbourne’s Albert Park on Monday morning, albeit online.

Six current drivers, including Ferrari’s Monegasque star Charles Leclerc — who teamed up with his 19-year-old brother Arthur — took to their consoles to simulate a 28-lap race as part of F1’s Esports Virtual Grand Prix series.

The 22-year-old, who has won two F1 races away from the virtual sphere, only started playing the F1 2019 video game last Sunday, although he has dedicated around five hours each day to it since.

“It was unbelievably hard,” Leclerc said after winning the virtual race.

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“The muscles are not hurting but the concentration and everything, I’ve been sweating a lot and it’s very hard. Great race.”

Current McLaren driver Lando Norris was listed as a competitor, but had problems with his computer at the start.

They were joined by ex-drivers Johnny Herbert and former world champion Jenson Button, as well as England cricketer Ben Stokes (who finished last).

McLaughlin excels in Indycar debut

Meanwhile, Scott McLaughlin beat some of IndyCar’s biggest names in the second round of the iRacing series.

The reigning Supercars champion was racing for Team Penske in the IndyCar iRacing Challenge event at a virtual version of Barber Motorsport Park in Birmingham, Alabama.

McLaughlin had to log on at 4:00am Queensland time on Sunday morning to race in the event that was shown live on NBC Sports.

Robert Wickens, who was severely injured in a horror crash at Pocono Raceway in August 2018, also competed in the race, finishing in eighth using a modified steering wheel with hand controls.

McLaughlin beat Toowoomba-born IndyCar regular Will Power into second spot.

McLaughlin was expected to drive a real IndyCar at the Indianapolis circuit in June, but that has since been delayed due to the coronavirus-enforced shutdown of the competition.

Virtual Grand National horse race raises $5 million for NHS

The Grand National horse race in England was another event that switched to online after it was cancelled in mid-March.

The BBC reported that a peak audience of 4.8 million tuned in to watch the ‘race’ live on ITV, in a half-hour show that included a mock race of champions, won by Red Rum.

CGI technology and special algorithms were used to show avatar horses racing around a computer-simulated edition of the race.

The Grand National is one of the biggest races of the year, attracting a global audience of about 500 million people annually, according to the BBC.

The 2020 running of the race was set to be the 173rd edition of the 6.9km, 30-fence epic, raced at Aintree racecourse in Liverpool.

The Grand National has not been cancelled since 1945 and was first run in 1836.

Tiger Roll, the favourite, was gunning for a record third-straight victory, but was foiled in the virtual race by 18-1 shot Potters Corner.

Bookmakers took bets on the outcome and donated all profits to the NHS, totalling more than 2.6 million pounds ($5.27 million).

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Husband cuts triathlete’s race short

Australian triathlete Mirinda Carfrae was cruising along in second place in a virtual bike race when she unexpectedly lost her way.

The former world champion, competing from her home in Boulder, Colorado, was suddenly left facing a blank screen during the inaugural Ironman VR Pro Challenge women’s race.

Husband Tim O’Donnell, a former Long Distance triathlon world champion, turned out to be the culprit.

“He decided to bring my trophies in here as motivation and when he walked around the back he kicked out the plug,” she said with a laugh on Instagram.

“What an idiot!”

Cyclist Nicolas Roche hoped to avoid a similar situation ahead of his virtual Tour of Flanders race, pasting a note on his door to avoid being interrupted.

The Irishman was one of 13 pro riders who took to their online platforms to race a 30km, online version of the Belgian classic.

The real race was scheduled to take place this weekend before coronavirus lead to it being cancelled for the first time since 1918.

Olympic road race champion Greg can Avermaet won the race.

Roche’s efforts to avoid being interrupted did not count for nothing though. He came home in third place.

ABC/Wires

Topics: infectious-diseases-other, respiratory-diseases, covid-19, cycling, horse-racing, indy, sport, motor-sports, formula-1, australia, united-kingdom, england, belgium, united-states

First posted April 06, 2020 14:47:57

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