A virtual pioneer

Romain Grosjean, we really want to focus on Esports Racing – but still we have to ask, how is life in the United States and being an IndyCar driver?

I love new things and I have been enjoying my time here in the United States. Of course it is a brand new experience for the whole family but we have really been enjoying it a lot. Miami is a great place to live, we’ve got good weather and the kids are very happy. And the IndyCar championship is a championship where I enjoy myself a lot. I am very happy with the move.

You mentioned Florida being a great place to live, so good chances to enjoy your hobbies as well?

I always like being outside. Even when I lived in Switzerland, I used to go skiing or cross country skiing in the winter and cycling or kitesurfing in the summer. I always used to do a lot of stuff outside. But now obviously things have changed. For example, I was at the beach with my family on the first of January. I still like to be outside as much as possible, the big change is that here in Miami you can be outside all year.

You are the head of the R8G Esports Sim Racing Team. Your team follows a rather broad spectrum of activities – you are driving on different platforms, organising your own cups, have access to a large group of drivers. What is the strategy behind this broad approach to Esports racing?

I love Esports. The team is almost two years old and I came into Esports racing during the time Covid hit in 2020. I eventually had a little bit of time to get involved and I really wanted to bring my experience from real life to virtual life. We really grew much faster than we thought we would. We’ve been lucky to have some amazing drivers, good partners and to be able to evolve and be part of big championships. I think we are in a place where the virtual world is growing. It has not yet completely exploded, but we can see more and more constructors coming in the virtual world. Official cups and big series are happening and all of that together, Esports racing will eventually become a bigger business model as well. Right now, it is still a bit of a niche, but I am hopeful that within the next five years, this will change.

Let’s talk about five year plans then – What has to happen for Esports racing to become a bigger business model in that time?

I really think that it will come with more and more constructors getting involved. They are the ones with the biggest marketing budget. We have seen Porsche doing a lot and BMW as well. It’s funny that it’s the German brands who are ahead of the game on that. If more constructors come into Esports racing, we will have more viewers, more sponsors, more money in the Esports racing world. That is where I really hope we go.

Besides growing a bigger business, what’s the big goal for R8G Esports in the future?

Next to the business side of it, there is of course the sporting side. That is where I want us to be always at the top. I want the racing team to be very successful. If we can, on top of that, make a good business – that’s great. But the core of R8G Esports is to win races and to fight Coanda Simsport, Team Redline and all of those guys.

While being a busy and very successful driver in the real world yourself, how much time do you actually have to take care of your team and also to be driving in the simulator?

I don’t spend as much time behind the simulator as I would like, but that it is what it is with three kids and a busy life. Behind the scenes of the team, I actually spend quite a bit of time. I keep in contact with the guys that run the team pretty much every day. They know that they can contact me at any time and that I am always available, so in that aspect, I am very involved.

You have been in Esports racing for two years now. What is your favorite memory?

It has been so nice to watch – from our first 24 hours race at the Nurburgring, where we finished 3rd, to the Formula E on rFactor2 where we competed for the championship until the last round. There also has been the first edition of the ERWC where we finished second. It has been really good to follow the development of the team and to give the youngsters a chance to develop themselves. We picked up some very young drivers and they are doing really well, also in the F1 Esports Championship, where we represented the Haas Team last year. Then we organised the Predator Cup last year as well which is a huge event for us. So a lot of really good memories already.

Which qualities does a driver need to have to become part of R8G Esports?

They need to be fast, that’s for sure, but they also need to have racecraft. We keep an eye on everything that is happening, who is coming through in the different games, who is fast? We also have older drivers who can have a look and help us finding new ones. We also need them to be able to stream and to communicate – just like in real life. Communication and visibility are really important. Our drivers need to be very professional in the way they drive but also in the way they behave and work around.

You were able to bring a lot of your real world sponsors into Esports racing. Was it hard to convince them?

It was a mutual agreement. When we launched the team during the first Covid year there was less Formula 1 racing at the time. My partners loved the idea to go into Esports racing and they got involved even more than I was expecting. That has been really good. Of course, you always want to achieve more. If we have more budget, we can have more drivers and spend even more time on the project. But we are in a good position and are very happy with the way the team runs. I think the sponsors were surprised – in a very good way – about the reach and visibility that we are able to create with Esports racing.

How has your personal view on Esports racing changed in the past few years?

Two years ago, you were playing from your basement with your backpack and some dirty clothes in the background. Now you have to race properly and make sure you have a professional background. Drivers now represent the brands and teams they are racing with much more. Esports Racing has definitely made a big step in the right direction. I still think we can do better and do more, but I am excited about the way it is going. I keep pushing with the boys every day. Let’s keep working hard, let’s develop new ideas, let’s engage with the fans. Esports racing for me is a very important and good way to engage with the fans. For example, we are going to launch a new challenge called “Catch the Phoenix” where people will be able to beat my lap time in a virtual IndyCar. I really like that and I am happy to give out some cool giveaways in the end. Esports racing is just a great way to engage with the fans as well as getting partners in a good spot to make sure that our drivers get what they deserve.

We know about a lot of drivers from Formula 1 and from IndyCar who are also engaged in Esports Racing and who see this as a positive development. But did you also receive some negative feedback on being involved in Esports racing from the real driving world?

Honestly, I have never had negative feedback. Both worlds are different, but all in all it is a very good combination. They work together. And I only had positive comments from the real world about being involved in Esports racing.

Interview: Daniel Becker

Image Credits: R8G Esports