Virtual GP’s rise and future

The Mercedes-Benz Virtual GP championship began its eighth season this year, and is the premier sim racing competition of the Czech Republic going from strength to strength since its inception.

Some major sim racers have been through their ranks, such as Jaroslav “Jardier” Honzik, multiple VGP champion Michal Smidl, and Williams Esports’ Martin Stefanko, and with some very talented newcomers looking to make a name for themselves in the sim racing world.

VGPs producer Lukáš Redl from the company’s base in Prague gave us some insight into where it all began:

What started the journey for VGP? What was the inspiration?

It’s such a long time ago already! But of course, it was the real Formula 1. Back then, we’re talking 2013, 2014, when sim racing was just a thing for specific communities, while other esports was just starting to get traction.

I was involved with RE-PLAY, the most popular TV show about video games in the Czech Republic, and its producer was a huge F1 fan just like me. He wanted to launch his own esports championship, so we thought why not to try something different and we decided to give it a go.

Motorsport was popular here, and we just went for it. Of course, we didn’t know what to expect, but we thought it might be fun. And it worked.

Mercedes-Benz is the title sponsor of the VGP, how did that relationship come about?

In the most unusual way! We really wanted to get a car manufacturer on board. We saw that as the highest possible goal and our main ambition. The thing is, you need to have contacts in this world, but we didn’t. And we just tried to message them on Facebook, and they connected us! Mercedes-Benz was just researching the esports world and how to get involved, and we arrived at the right moment.

Just this one bold move that wasn’t supposed to work, but it did and we’ve worked together closely since then.They like we do virtual racing, that we focus on realism and simulation, rather than shooting games, violent games and in the end, virtual racing is easily understood by casual audience and people, who love motorsport but they’re not involved in gaming, and that is a huge bonus for them as well.

How much input has Mercedes Benz had in the running of VGP?

Not so much actually, they let us to do our stuff. Of course, we have to driver in Mercedes-Benz cars, and they take care of the main prizes, but all they want is a serious and fair competition for everyone, and that’s what we do as well.

You are based in the Czech Republic, your drivers are either Czech or Slovakian, yet you have an English speaking broadcast, what was the reasoning for that?

Two reasons for that. First, I’ve always loved racing, since I was very young. I’ve started to watch F1 back in 1998 or 1999, when I was just 4 or 5 years old. However, my passion for Motorsport has reached its height in 2010, when I had the pleasure to watch F1 on BBC (British F1 broadcaster at that time). I was amazed by the professionalism, by how great and passionate they were about the sport, like I’ve never seen.

Back in 2017, when we launched the English coverage for the first time, we thought that people around the world might enjoy it, and I saw many English speaking commentators who were on the top level already. And I just thought it would be fun thing to have, and it could push us to the next level, and who knows, maybe even start an international championship over time. It actually got traction and we’ve got our fans from many countries. And it really pushed us, made us think differently, and be even more inspired.

Also, it really was especially popular when Smidl and Stefanko were having their biggest battles in the series at the time, when they just joined the Haas F1 Esports Team. People came here to watch and see that these guys are a real deal. It was a proud moment, even the official F1 website mentioned us and that was great. Only because they could also take a look and actually find out who we are.

What are the long term goals for VGP?

Obviously, we’re passionate about racing, so for us, it never ends. The motivation is always there and we want to be the best virtual racing competition in the region, but we also love broadcasting, we do esports full time and we use Virtual GP as our shining star.

The goal is to keep offering the best show, to connects esports and real racing, and to still pushing boundaries in all areas. We love what we do.

Thank you Lukáš and we wish you the best of luck in your new season, and for the road ahead with Mercedes-Benz.

Image © Virtual GP

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Chris Buxton
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