Lamborghini Lays Rubber Into the Esports Phenomenon With a Virtual Race

A chance to peel out with the pros—or just watch from the sofa

In January, Paul Miller Racing’s Lamborghini Huracán GT3 EVO won at Daytona. Now, the automaker hopes virtual racing will provide at least a piece of that thrill. Lamborghini
Headshot of Robert Klara

Key insights:

It feels like years ago, but it was only Jan. 26 when Paul Miller Racing’s car No. 48—a Lamborghini Huracán GT3 EVO—took the checkered flag at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, holding the lead for 340 of the race’s 765 laps. It was a thrilling dash if you happened to be there. But fans who weren’t in the bleachers missed their chance to hear the scream of that low-slung car’s 5.2 liter V10 engine as the speedometer needle tickled 121 mph. And even those who held tickets had little hope of scraping together the $261K it takes to drive this quick little number for real.

But for those who missed out, today’s a lucky day.

Lamborghini has announced “The Real Race,” its entry into the realm of esports, a virtual competition built around the Huracán that will allow drivers of every stripe a chance to take the wheel. In addition to positioning the marquee nameplate in the wildly popular category of esports, the virtual competition represents a marketing maneuver for the brand as well, increasing Lamborghini’s visibility with legions of younger consumers, some of whom—one day, perhaps—may be in a position to purchase an actual car.

One of the Huracáns that will race in the virtual realm

“It is an extension of our brand, an opportunity to reach Generation Z,” Lamborghini’s CMO Katia Bassi told Adweek. “We know for sure that those who are going to watch and participate in esports are people who love Lamborghini, so for us it’s the most important thing—more than the business.”

Like every brand in the super-luxe category, Lamborghini’s been broadsided by Covid-19. In March, its upholstery department at its Sant’Agata Bolognese, Italy, factory stopped stitching car seats and began making face masks instead. But Bassi is focused on a post-pandemic world when she’s confident that sales will pick up again. Meanwhile, though e-racing was already an initiative she’d been working on for over a year, and there’s no better time than now—with millions of people still sitting at home—to get the Lamborghini name out there.

Lamborghini developed the Real Race in partnership with computer racing simulator Assetto Corsa Competizione, an offshoot of video-game developer Kunos Simulazioni. The inaugural race in the series begins at noon today, Eastern Time, and will feature a 24-driver mix of professional racers and participants the company has selected from a pool of automotive journalists and influential YouTubers.

Watching is free, and fans who feel ambitious enough can also sign up to participate in four remaining races. And there’s a big incentive to do so: Lamborghini will treat the top three players from the final to a three-day trip to Italy in September, where they can train with the company’s official drivers and even get a spin in an actual Lamborghini race car on the company’s own track.

It is, Bassi said, an “opportunity to make your dream come true—the opportunity to drive your dream car.”

But even if that “driving” is only on a computer (via the Real Race series or on the racing game that Assetto Corsa Competizione sells for $44.95), the esports initiative should deepen the engagement that racing fans and gamers alike can have with the Lamborghini brand.

“Esports is more than a trend,” Bassi said. “It’s becoming even more relevant than physical sports. At Lamborghini we watch very closely and we want to be meeting the opportunity to be a part of and reach a new generation.”

CMO Katia Bassi hopes esports will allow Lamborghini to reach new customers.

As a category, esports had already grown by 12% between 2018 and last year, when its volume surpassed $1B for the first time. But the coming of Covid-19 has accelerated that trend. Forced to cancel their real-world competitions, sports including soccer, Major League Baseball and the NFL have turned to online competition to retain fans. In March, traffic to video-game streaming platform Twitch surged by 23%.

But no live-action sport is better suited to video games than auto racing. In mid-March, Nascar rolled out its eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series. On March 22, Formula One staged its first e-race—the Virtual Bahrain GP—allowing drivers to compete using an interface based on the Codemasters F1 game. Fans watched the race via F1’s official YouTube and Facebook pages.

Like those franchises, Lamborghini has been drawn to esports because of its growing volume of participants, but demographics is a key factor as well. Players tend to skew young, and that’s the audience the brand wants. A recent report from gaming insights firm Newzoo, for example, found that nearly a quarter of male millennials (22%) watch an esport of some kind. And while it’s safe to say that most 20-something or 30-something consumers don’t have the six-figure asking price for a Lamborghini, younger drivers are the brand’s bread-and-butter customer.

And who knows? A teenage fan watching the races for the next few weeks might well go on to found their own company and one day be in a position to wander into a Lamborghini showroom and buy a car.

“We sell [only] 8,000 cars a year, so it’s a niche,” Bassi said. “But [this race is an] inspiration that a brand like Lamborghini can give to a large number of people, especially the younger people.”

@UpperEastRob Robert Klara is a senior editor, brands at Adweek, where he specializes in covering the evolution and impact of brands.