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Exclusive interview: Managing Director at Studio 397 Marcel Offermans - Part 3

Welcome to the final part of our conversation with the managing director of Studio 397, Marcel Offermans. The main topic is esport and which role rFactor 2 have played in recent years and months and where they are going in the future. Enjoy! Esport has escalated as a business in the last few years, but sim racing hasn't had its big break. But with the 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual being such a huge success, do you see things changing? It’s true that within the esports world, sim racing is a niche. You could even argue that, except for maybe F1, the same holds true for racing in the world of sports. That said, the last year or so we see an increase in interest for esports from the world of motorsport. There are probably several reasons for this, apart from the current situation in the world. Most importantly, sim racing and real racing require a very similar set of skills and as we get more successful in simulating cars on consumer grade hardware, there is a growing interest to use rFactor 2 for all kinds of training purposes. At the same time, sim racing democratizes racing, lowering the barrier of entry into motorsports, which traditionally has been labelled as a sport for the very rich only. I would like to see the two worlds merging even more, and that is definitely a trend we are seeing right now. It’s hard to predict the future of motorsports. With the changing ways we all think about future mobility, it’s clear to me that there will be big changes. We grew up with the car as a status symbol. The current generation sees it much more as a way to get from A to B, with many alternatives that are more environmentally friendly. Over time, I’m sure that will make the big car manufacturers rethink their huge investments into motorsport and that might actually be a good thing, as it pushes the sport in a direction where it’s not all about money, but about competing on equal terms where the skills of the driver are decisive and not the research and development that goes into the cars. While we are at the esport topic, Studio 397 is working on a competition system for rFactor 2. How will it work? Will it be a matchmaking system as we know from other platforms and how will drivers be sorted or will you do something completely different? We have a couple of goals with this system. First of all, we want to provide people with daily races, where they can pick their favourite series and compete against people of similar skills as well as race with their friends. We focus here on making this as easy as possible by obviously hosting the races, but also by making sure it is easy to download the content, required for such a series. We realize that a large part of our community enjoys racing and the competition, but not everybody has the talent or the time to compete at the highest level. Secondly, we want to build a system where people can move up the ranks, from regional and casual racing with friends to national and international series. This is where we also want to involve existing leagues, integrating them into the system and providing them with the benefits of the system. Finally, this system should also cater for a few “special cases”. We’d like to be able to use the same system for people who enjoy racing the AI in offline championships, where they are free to race whenever they want. Other cases we are targeting are LAN environments and esports tournaments, where an automated system needs to be flexible enough to also be used with humans doing race control, live broadcasts, etc. Last question. What does the future of rFactor 2 look like? In short: bright. We started on this journey four years ago and year after year we have managed to increase the user base, grow our sales and extend the world of rFactor 2 in many interesting ways. It’s our intention to keep evolving the platform over time and stay relevant for many years to come. Those words conclude our conversation with Marcel who was very open and transparent about the issues the studio are facing in their effort to unlock the potential of rFactor 2. A big thank you to Marcel Offermans for the talk and Studio 397 for their contribution to grow sim racing as a whole. More information about rFactor 2 can be found on https://www.studio-397.com/

Exclusive interview: Managing Director at Studio 397 Marcel Offermans - Part 2

We are continuing our chat with the managing director of Studio 397, Marcel Offermans. In part 2 we got to some of the flaws of rFactor 2 and how they are solving those. We also got around their plan for current and future content. rFactor 2 is known for its great physics. However, bugs have been a known issue for some time. Some might think it can’t take years to fix those issues. How are you sorting these out and how complicated is it? That is a very broad question, as there are a lot of bigger and smaller bugs and wishes that have been brought up by the community. I agree there are issues that have been around for many years. Most of them we “inherited” with the original codebase. Typically how we work is that we are focused on a specific area or topic as a development team and try to make a big improvement there. We’ve done so for graphics, writing our own DirectX 11 based engine and adding VR support, and during that process, we fixed a lot of long standing bugs. Just to pick one, when we started out, alt-tabbing back to the desktop did not work too well and would often freeze or crash the game completely. In terms of wishes our community has, we know we still need to work on improved cockpits and possibly a brand new HUD concept. We are still working on the UI, which, admittedly, took us a lot longer than we anticipated, but this is the basis for a lot of future extensions and improvements, as well as our competition system. One area where we still need to go in and make big improvements is our physics engine. We did make a bunch of smaller improvements, but there is still a long list of things to do here, from improvements to our AI to a more extensive drive train model. How will the new UI improve the experience of rFactor 2? What can people expect in the final version? Probably the most important point to make is that the new UI should not be seen as an end goal but as a new beginning. We are fundamentally changing a big part of the codebase to future proof it and allow us to add innovations more easily. As you know it is fully based on HTML, which means it’s much easier to extend and integrate with online services. Soon we will make the switch to the new UI and will start this process of improvement. The first thing we want to do is to improve the way to set up rFactor 2 after installation. We will also start our journey of the integration of the competition system. Smaller things we will tweak are the opponent selection system as well as finding and filtering online servers. You have released a lot of content focused on endurance racing. Is that something you plan on continuing, or are you aiming for a wider range of motorsport disciplines in the future and what’s in the pipeline in terms of cars and tracks? Our focus is certainly broader than just endurance racing, even though that shows off a lot of strengths of our engine, like the dynamic weather and track, and the 24 hour cycle. We want to offer a broad spectrum of racing cars, so really anything on 4 wheels that drives on asphalt is in scope. Track wise I think we needed to catch up a bit on our iconic tracks, but now that we have the full “triple crown” in as well as other unique experiences like the Nordschleife, we are looking to broaden the spectrum there, adding tracks across the different continents that cater to the wide range of cars we have planned. Our pipeline currently includes another iconic European track, and we’re also discussing a few other tracks that are related to future esports events. Long overdue is a new “sample track” for the modding community that will come with extensive documentation on how to leverage our new shaders to make tracks that look awesome and are future proof as we continue to evolve the engine. On the car front expect more cars to fill in gaps we still have in our portfolio. We are also still working with our stock car community to bring a huge update that will also see some improvements in our stock car rules plugins. This is the end of part two in this article series. The third and last part will be about the increasing interest for rFactor 2 in esport and how the new UI will improve that side on the platform.

Exclusive interview: Managing Director at Studio 397 Marcel Offermans - Part 1

rFactor 2 has been the simulator of choice for many of the big sim racing events in the last couple of months, such as The Race All-Star Esport Battle and the 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual. In this article series of three parts exclusively here on GSRH, we are having a chat with Marcel Offermans who’s the managing director of Studio 397 that develops rFactor 2. Firstly we are gonna talk about where it all started and both the positive and negative surprises since then. So lean back and enjoy our conversation.  Hi Marcel, thanks for taking time for this interview. Let’s begin at the start. In 2016, Studio 397 took over development of rFactor 2 from Image Space Incorporated. What’s the studio’s past before rFactor 2 and why did you decide to take over from ISI? This is a story that started in spring of 2016. At the time I was working for Luminis and in my spare time helping out ISI with various tasks. We were in fact just wrapping up the migration of rFactor 2 to Steam, which I had done at the time when one evening I was casually talking to Gjon Camaj. In that conversation, he asked if I would be interested in maintaining rFactor 2 and I thought it would be a great opportunity to run with it and see how we could evolve it. The conversations that followed led to the creation of Studio 397 as a new entity that was part of Luminis. The initial members partially were contractors that had been working for ISI on rFactor 2 before and partially people who already worked at Luminis. We quickly started recruiting others from the sim racing community and now, four years later, we have grown to over 30 people. So why did we decide to do this? Because we believed that the foundation of rFactor 2 is a solid base with a lot of potential. Sure it needed a lot of work. The community at the time was critical that we did not have VR support, that our graphics engine was still based on DirectX 9, that we hardly had any licensed content in the simulation and that our user interface was showing its age. So we started working on those issues, one by one. Is there something that has surprised you in a positive and/or negative way since you took over in 2016? I really can’t think of any negatives. Well, maybe one, but it was not new and it’s not just related to rFactor 2 either. It’s the constant bashing by a few people in our sim racing community. I mean it’s great that you like one sim better than another and quite frankly, there is a lot to like in each of them, but there is no need to be so negative about the sims you don’t like as much. Sim racing is still very much a niche in the esports arena, and we should grow it together. A strong ecosystem and different simulations are catalysts to that growth, so let’s all embrace it. On the positive side, we were pleasantly surprised by the amount of interest there is in our technology. Within our first year, we were already talking with Amazon Games about licensing our physics engine and helping to integrate it into the Lumberyard game engine for The Grand Tour Game. Since that, there have been many more of these and they show the versatility of our technology. That concludes the first part of the interview with Marcel. In part two, are we going into some of the flaws rFactor 2 has and how they are solving those with the new UI.

Victory for Rebellion Williams Esport and Porsche at 24h Le Mans Virtual

The scene was set for the biggest event in simracing history and it was an action packed race which shows what simracing is capable of. Friday we had the qualifying session where Jernej Simončič in the ByKolles Burst Esport car took pole position in the LMP class closely followed by E-Team WRT and 2 Seas Motorsport. In the GTE class, it’s was a Porsche 1-2-3 with the two factory entries locking out the front row and Dempsey-Proton Racing in third. Tom Dillmann lead the 50 car field when the green flag was shown but later he got a drive through penalty for a jump start. Kelvin Van der Linde in the E-Team WRT car took over the lead, with the pole sitter dropping down the field due to the penalty. That, however, wouldn’t be the last we saw of them. Team Redline arrived with a very high profile line-up in Formula One driver Max Verstappen and Lando Norris who shared the car with huge name from simracing in Atze Kerkhof and Greger Huttu. They showed lighting pace right from the start and looked as a contender to win the race for a long time, but due to technical issues, they had to retire the car during the night. It was a close fight all race in the GTE class between the Porsche’s who swapped position multiple times. R8G Esport was interrupting the German manufacturer dominance in their Corvette C7R. Also, Aston Martin Racing with Nicki Thiim as usual in the no. 95 car setting his mark that he was up for the task of giving the British car brand a victory at Circuit de la Sarthe. All race through, the battle for the lead in the LMP class was ever close. After 6 hours and 20 minutes of racing, the ByKolles Burst Esport car, who had served a drive through at the start of the race retook the lead with Jesper Pedersen behind the wheel. But just one lap later he suffered a wheel failure, which forced them to make an early pitstop and get Tom Dillmann back in the car. Devin Braune, who recently won the LMP2 championship in the Virtual Endurance Championship and Rory MacDuff was showing great pace too in the #33 2 Seas Motorsport car which always was present at the top. With 4 hours to go, the gap between top 3 in the LMP class was down to just 25 seconds. The no. 1 and 13 Rebellion Williams Esport and the no. 4 ByKolles Burst Esport car. A very intense fight for the win unfolded and with a brave move around the outside on the entry to the Porsche curves, Jernej Simončič took second place and were on the charge to catch Nikodem Wisniewski who had a 20 second lead with just 20 minutes to go. Simončič wasn’t able to catch the Wisniewski and therefore, the no. 1 Rebellion Williams Esport car of Louis Deletraz, Raffaele Marciello, Kuba Brzezinski and Wisniewski himself, crossed the finish line as winners of the 24 hours of Le Mans Virtual. ByKolles Burst Esport finished in 2nd place with the other Rebellion Williams Esport in 3rd. In the GTE class, the 93 Porsche with Nick Tandy, Ayhancan Güven, Joshua Rogers and Tommy Østgaard took the win after starting from pole position followed by the 95 Aston Martin Racing taking second place in the closing stages and R8G Esport on the last step on the podium. The Automobile Club de l'Ouest, FIA WEC and Motorsport Games produced a milestone in simracing history. A truly incredible event which could be the start of a big future for simracing.

24h Le Mans Virtual - Preview

Tomorrow is one of the biggest days in the history of sim racing. The 24h of Le Mans Virtual takes place with a star filled line-up. Fernando Alonso, Charles Leclerc, Nicki Thiim and Nick Tandy is just a few of the names who will compete during the 24 hours. 30 LMP2 and 20 GTE cars make a total of 50 starters for the biggest sim racing event in history. The LMP2 class will all drive the Oreca 07, which has been dominant in the real life version too in recent years. In the GTE class, the competition is a bit different, because just like in real life, multiple car manufacturers will battle out for the victory. Ferrari, Porsche, Aston Martin and Corvette have all put together strong line-ups of their own factory drivers combined with the very elite of sim racing. The platform used for this event is rFactor 2 which is developed by Image Space Incorporated with Studio 397 taken over in 2016. Last weekend, the official endurance series of rFactor 2, the Virtual Endurance Championship finished the final round their 12th season. With a great variety of cars and experience with hosting endurance races on a very high level, the scene is set for an event, which could take sim racing to the next level. You can watch the race all over the world. Beside big TV companies purchasing right to broadcast the race, you will be able to tune in on Twitch, Youtube, Facebook and on Motorsport.tv. YouTube broadcast link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qGzoLSmAvPY Spotter guide and much more can be found right here: https://24virtual.lemansesports.com/

What can you look forward to in F1 2020?

In early July, the 2020 Formula One season will have its season opener at Redbull Ring in Austria. Shortly after, the official video game made by Codemasters will be releasing and like the last couple of years, they have added some exciting new features to the 2020 edition. Last years saw the introduction of driver transfers in career mode, customization options for multiplayer and last but not least, Formula 2. This year's edition is building on all of that. Instead of starting career mode with three F2 races before getting into F1, you can now drive a full season to prove your skills before joining one of the ten teams in the pinnacle of motorsport. You can also choose a short and medium size F2 calendar or even skip it all and go straight to Formula One. The biggest introduction to F1 2020 is the brand new MyTeam feature which makes it possible to create your very own F1 team in career mode, where you have to choose a sponsor, engine supplier, build facilities and hire drivers to the team. You will be able to sign drivers from the Formula 2 grid as your teammate. Split-screen is making its return to the franchise together with a new steering assist which makes the game even more accessible to everyone, no matter how much experience you have with the game. Codemasters has announced that we will have a Schumacher edition to celebrate the 7 time world champion, Michael Schumacher. You can drive the Jordan 191 which he made his F1 debut in at Spa in 1991, the Benetton B194, the championship winning Benetton B195 and the Ferrari F2000. The official F1 2020 video game will be released on the 10th of July on PC, PS4, XBOX One and Google Stadia. To find more info about the new game, visit codemasters.com/game/f1-2020.

FSR R6: Brljak takes victory at Silverstone

The first half of the 2020 Formula SimRacing world championship season has been strong dominated by Burst Esport and especially Jernej Simoncic. With 4 wins in the first 5 race, with Jernej taking three of them himself after Michi Hoyer won the season opener in Malaysia. Round 6 took place at the Silverstone Circuit which delivered tons of action. Tom Satherley secured his maiden pole position ahead of the two Burst Esport cars in Michi Hoyer and Dawid Mroczek. Championship leader Jernej Simoncic was all the way down in 11th. The New Zealand pole sitter had a great start and held on to the lead, with the two Burst cars close behind and the 2017 world champion Muhammed Patel, who was returning to the series in 4th place. Things went pretty calm until Michi Hoyer send it down the inside of Tom Satherley into Stowe corner on lap 10, to take the lead of the race. meanwhile, Petar Brljak was sitting in a solid P5 and going a bit under the radar, but that changed later on. Championship leader Jernej Simoncic struggled in qualifying and struggled as well getting through the field. He didn’t seem to have the pace he usually has, and he reacted with going on an alternated strategy compared to the competitors around him by going onto a second set of medium compound tires. Now he was charging through the field and just two laps after his pit stop, he could see the red HM Engineering car of Jeroen Kweekel. Those two collided at Indianapolis and Estoril. Coming into Brooklands corner, there was contact which sent them both off the track. Both of them was able to continue. At the front, Petar Brljak pitted to fit on the soft tires for a late charge to get his second win of the season, but first, he had to pass Bracsok, Mroczek, Hoyer and Petal who have had a brilliant race in his return to the series so far. The tires advantage was obviously huge, and after just 3 laps, he was back into a podium position with the two Burst Esport SimPlexity cars ahead. Muhammed Patel felt back to P4 after what looked like a race incident with Michi Hoyer in a fight for the lead. The Croatian Edge Esports driver passed Mroczek with two and a half lap to go and was now hunting down Michi Hoyer and one lap later, he overtook the german around the outside of Stowe corner and crossed the line to take his second race win of the 2020 season. Michi Hoyer finished in 2nd while Muhammed Patel secured the last step on the podium with a brilliant move in the last couple of corners on Dawid Mroczek. Despite a bad day at the office for Jernej Simoncic, he stays at the top of the standings, but the gap to Brljak is down to 22 points with four rounds to go.

24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual could take Sim racing to new heights

Esport has exploded as a business in the last couple of years, but sim racing hasn’t got the same attention. Not until now. Amid the global COVID-19 pandemic, sim racing has replaced the real life counterpart and with great success. Current and former racing drivers along with top level sim racers have been battling on track and the viewing numbers from the live streams are showing the increased popularity. Millions have been watching, which is an enormous increase from a couple of thousands that normally tuned in before the pandemic. Since it was decided to postpone the 2020 edition of the 24 hours of Le Mans till September, the ACO and FIA WEC have decided to host the first official virtual edition of the legendary endurance race. At the time of writing, Ferrari, Porsche, Aston Martin and Toyota have all announced their participation. Never have that many manufacturers been represented in a sim racing event of this size. So what could this mean for sim racing as a whole? It shows how far sim racing has come and how serious it's been taken. The increased attention brings sponsorships, which creates growth. Just like in real life motorsport, manufacturer support has a great impact both for marketing and financial purposes. Sim racing in the world of esport isn’t just a game, it has become serious business and with racing teams partnering with sim racing operations, it could open up for the possibility for more making the transition into real life motorsport. The 24 hours of Le Mans virtual is set to become the biggest sim racing event in history, but it seems to be the start of a very bright future for not only sim racing but motorsport as a whole.

Fernando Alonso takes on the Indy 500 in THE RACE Legends Trophy

Last weekend, Fernando Alonso joined the already star cast Legends Trophy, in the All-Star esport battle by THE RACE. He showed brilliant pace in the practice sessions leading up to the event and topped it off with qualifying in 4th place on his sim racing debut. The races themself didn’t go as well, but it was clear that the two time Formula One world champion and 24 hours of Le Mans winner - quite easily adapted to the virtual part of motorsport. Since he left Formula One back in late 2018, he’s been targeting the Indy 500 in his quest to claim the Triple Crown, which so far only has been achieved by the great Graham Hill. This weekend, THE RACE is hosting a special edition of their Legends Trophy series, where Alonso will be racing against the likes of Jan Magnussen, Dario Franchitti and Emerson Fittipaldi at the brickyard on rFactor 2. The 2020 edition of the Indy 500 was originally scheduled to take place on the 24th of May, but amid the global COVID-19 pandemic, it was rescheduled to the 23rd of August. That doesn’t hinder the Spaniard in his attempt to get a taste of being only the second person in history to win the Monaco Grands Prix, 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Indy 500. The entry list for the Legends Trophy at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is as follows: Fernando Alonso Mario Andretti David Brabham Jenson Button Helio Castroneves Tom Coronel Mario Dominguez Emerson Fittipaldi Adrian Fernandez Gil de Ferran Dario Franchitti Bryan Herta Michel Jourdain Jr Tony Kanaan Vitantonio Liuzzi Jan Magnussen Tiago Monteiro Juan Pablo Montoya Max Papis Emanuele Pirro Jason Plato Andy Priaulx Scott Pruett Mika Salo Oriol Servia Petter Solberg Darren Turner

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