The University of Lynchburg is partnering with Unified Potential Inc. and other collaborators to offer students a chance to try their hand at race car driving — virtually.
The new program will offer more than just a way to play esports. Students can earn certificates, participate in community outreach and mentorship, and engage in various internships.
Last year, Dr. John “J” Salmon and the iRacing team DeltaSport donated an iRacing rig to the University. An iRacing rig is a seat for racing devices and includes racing wheels, shifters, pedals, and entire monitors. Racers use the iRacing software to connect to a network that organizes virtual races with participants across the globe. Students can use the rig in the esports lounge, currently located on the lower level of Rainsford Townhouse.
Lynchburg’s partnership with the iRacing team and Salmon came out of the University’s Center for Innovation and Strategic Partnerships and its innovation committee.
Committee chair Trish Cerulli said members saw potential when Salmon presented iRacing to them, and are glad to have supported the project and see it take shape at Lynchburg.
“Our partnership with DeltaSport is exciting because it brings various interdisciplinary opportunities for our students and community,” she said. “We’re eager to grow our team and build a strong connection with the Jubilee STEM Center, to become a showcase collegiate iRacing leader.”
Cerulli added that DeltaSport’s virtual collegiate league concept is innovative because it allows teams to compete and connect with others from anywhere in the world, while also creating impactful relationships with local youth organizations.
Students can also work with the International STEM League and the Jubilee Center in Lynchburg to teach area middle schoolers about science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Salmon donated a couple of iRacing rigs to the Jubilee Center so that students can help mentor kids who are interested in STEM and iRacing.
Salmon emphasized the variety of skills students will learn while participating in iRacing: vehicular dynamics that detail how suspensions, springs, and dampers work; aerodynamics theory; and optimal fuel and power use. Students will also learn about hybrid drivetrains, teamwork in the digital age, marketing techniques, human physiology, and sports psychology.
“I don’t intend for this to be a program just about simulated racing. It’s about using sim racing to help support the community, and it’s fun to watch,” Salmon said. “The league we want to build is completely novel and we are hoping [Lynchburg] will help us design it.”
A long-term goal of Salmon’s is to develop a collegiate league with the University and other colleges to host events and races on the iRacing platform.
Students can also assist in app development. Salmon and the DeltaSport team are developing a social media app for racers, spectators, and iRacing teams or leagues to interact within a “safe, non-toxic platform,” Salmon said. He is working on a partnership with a school in Lynchburg to study the mental health effects of his new social media app.
He said DeltaSport is working with a software development team in Ukraine to help build the app. This will be a chance for students to see how software development works and to help with the development of the app. The app development piece, Salmon said, could even be done remotely.
iRacing is a paid subscription service that saw a lot of growth during the COVID-19 pandemic. While real-life racing leagues were on hiatus, people turned to the realistic and detailed simulated racing service as an esports broadcasting platform. As a result, the number of racers on iRacing increased from 110,000 at the beginning of 2020 to over 200,000 today.
Drivers race in licensed car replicas designed in cooperation with real-world race teams. The cars are mechanically and dynamically accurate, based on real-world models. Races take place on licensed replicas of the world’s greatest racing circuits.
As part of the partnership with Lynchburg, students can join DeltaSport as marketing interns, drivers, or team support. DeltaSport also has connections with iRacing teams Hardpoint Racing and Race Factory. These companies “support the development of young people through involvement and mentorship,” according to their websites.
And it’s not just about the races, Salmon said — they are also streamed, which engages a lot of followers and fans on social media. Some Lynchburg students are already providing social media marketing support to racers on the DeltaSport team.
“Really, I wanted to work with Lynchburg because it was the best fit. This school has a lot of connections with the community. So, that’s what we wanted. If I wanted just sim racers, I can get them anywhere,” he said.