Toyota focuses on esports to boost fan base as motorsport shuts down

As motorsports events are canceled or postponed around the world amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Toyota Motor Corp. is focusing on esports car racing to increase the motorsports fan base. Toyota Gazoo Racing, Toyota’s online motorsports promotion project, jointly organized the esports car racing event e-Nurburgring Race with Subaru Corp. on YouTube on Sunday, after the 24 Hours Nurburgring race scheduled to be held this month in Germany was postponed to September.

Japanese drivers from four racing teams participated in the livestreamed event, which attracted thousands of viewers.

Toyota’s racing team has been taking part in a number of racing series such as the World Endurance Championship and the World Rally Championship. But this year, due to the spread of coronavirus infections, most car races will not be held at least until the end of July.

Toyota also announced earlier this month that it decided not to take part in the Nurburgring race this year, taking into consideration the safety of the people involved. The race track, famed as the world’s most demanding circuit, has been regarded by automakers as a place to test the vehicles they have developed.

In such a situation, Toyota and other carmakers are placing increasing importance on esports as a key factor in their motorsports branding strategy, with the number of players soaring, especially among young people.

Toyota announced in March 2019 that it will enter the esports business in full, launching GR Supra GT Cup, an esports championship for the firm’s sports car brand GR Supra. In mid-April this year, it set up an esports studio with racing simulators to offer contests between top racing drivers as well as online lessons.

In late April, as people refrained from going out to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 infections, it organized an online esports event with drivers including Kamui Kobayashi, attracting 30,000 views.

Toyota has been utilizing a variety of data collected through car races to develop vehicles sold on the market. Recently, along with the technical advancement of esports games software, its ability to virtually replicate various features of its vehicles has improved drastically.

This has enabled Toyota to make use of esports in developing its vehicles, such as by taking in the opinions of top players of GR Supra GT Cup.

“Although we are in a difficult situation right now, we want people of all generations to become familiar with motorsports and sports cars and enjoy them safely (through esports),” said a Toyota employee.