Pre-Season Testing

What begins in the mindless urban sprawl of Alberta’s capital city soon gives way to an all-out dash across the prairies reminiscent of the North Dakota levels in Need for Speed: The Run, where gentlemen sporting barbed wire tattoos and a not-so-hidden fixation for nose candy hold the throttle on their identical Ford Raptors wide open, blatantly disregarding speed limits in pursuit of an early Calgary arrival. Heading west from the home of the 1988 Winter Olympics, we traverse the provincial flag from the bottom upwards – wheat fields to the Rocky Mountains in the span of about an hour – before cruising through several national parks, eventually settling in the sauna that is the Okanagan region of British Columbia. It’s a fantastic drive for newly-weds and retired folk, offering an extremely diverse glimpse of what makes Canada such a spectacular vacation spot but when there’s a race car with your name on it at kilometer marker 914, it’s rather difficult to sit through.

Google indicated the 900 kilometer journey from Edmonton to Kelowna would last around nine hours and some change, but in reality I clocked in at just over twelve. I spent the night at a friend’s place to try and cut an hour off the drive to Dustin’s house, but this was invalidated first by a speeding ticket, then by two construction delays on the Trans-Canada Highway long enough for people to get out and mingle, and lastly by a trip to Enderby’s ICBC branch to pay said speeding ticket – which caught the receptionists off guard. I was hoping the ramblings of Sportsnet 960 and a partial discography of Sum 41 would make this marathon significantly easier to put up with, but eventually all sound from the radio blends together and you desperately wish life had a fast forward button for these very moments.

PRC shit-slinging scrolls across the top of my phone – which is mounted to my windshield as a GPS during road-trips – but even the most rabid fanboy wars in our comments section have a limited effectiveness in their ability to pass the time. This is the not so glamorous part of starting a shitty WordPress blog, and winding up as an amateur race car driver two years later – sometimes you’re driving across the province on a random Tuesday for a pre-season test session on Thursday, and you can’t bring a friend to keep you company because your friends are at work like normal people.

Regardless of how our readers feel about our newfound partnership with Slightly Mad Studios after years of hyper-critical pieces on the original Project CARS, this isn’t really something X amount of angry comments below can undo. Late May in Canada means the snow has melted in most of the heavily populated areas – thus allowing racing season to commence – which means PRC is now in the process of transitioning from some obscure sim racing blog into an amateur stock car team. It’s certainly a mindfuck to go from arguing about iRacing participation levels on WordPress, to walking outside and seeing a 450 horsepower race car up on jack stands – general sim racing chatter and reading retarded comments out loud helping to pass the time during transmission fluid replenishment and other routine maintenance tasks – but that’s where we are.

So how can I describe the past few months from a personal standpoint?

Absolutely wild.

Upon revealing we’d be campaigning a late model this year, we actually pulled into a Boston Pizza location for that particular evening and watched the phone light up over our meal, but this was really only the pregame show for what was to come. My phone was virtually unusable for roughly 48 hours following our announcement of the race car sponsorship, obliterated with notifications from family, friends, and even foes wanting to smooth things over – while I had to save the influx of emails and other miscellaneous attempts at contact for day number two. Word travels fast through Facebook, so one innocent “like” turns into a spontaneous reunion with people you haven’t heard from in a few years, and many understandably have a lot of questions if you just sort of switch everything on your social media one day.

It’s one thing to grow up with race cars and always have that as part of who you are, but when you’re a rental car jockey one month, and after quitting your job suddenly there’s sponsorship from an international video game company all over your Facebook page, your average classmate, former co-worker, or family member not totally in the loop becomes extremely curious – and they have every right to be; it’s certainly not normal at this age, and in this province.

I have been lucky that so far, this has been relatively easy to deal with. But of course, none of this hysteria actually matters if you can’t deliver on the physical track. Penticton Speedway gave us a test date prior to our season opener on June 3rd, and this is what we’ve been up to.

Knowing how many developers have pushed the sim racing to reality angle as a clever marketing gimmick, I’ve gotta say there were certainly some butterflies about the whole ordeal, but it had nothing to do with the physical act of driving a race car.

Aware of how many times similar endeavors hadn’t gone well, I wanted to ensure things would be different. It helps our genre and community gain a little bit of respect in the eyes of outsiders. Flight simulators are seen as essential, mandatory training tools by private and commercial pilots alike, yet many in the real world auto racing community still see race car simulations as mere video games that can’t and won’t teach you a damn thing.

And obviously, past marketing stunts have sort of reinforced that belief. The Formula E Visa Vegas eRace awarded champion Bono Huis a private shakedown session, but we’ve never actually seen how this turned out – only photographs that could be described as “spy shots.” Greger Huttu – the “world’s fastest alien” and easily the best competitive sim racer of all time if we’re looking at cumulative stats over an entire career – threw up after a few laps in a Star Mazda at Road Atlanta. Ray Alfalla and Pablo Lopez were both unspectacular on the timing sheets in their respective trials, while some personalities tried to outright scam their way into a proper ride that – surprise – failed to materialize.

I just really wanted to be the change I was advocating for. If one of us goes out with the support of a developer’s marketing department, and doesn’t shit the bed in a real car, it offsets many instances of gear snobbery and message board autism, because you can point to someone and say “this guy is proof that it’s worth getting involved in this sub-genre of video games and putting up with all of the bad shit.” Again, I wasn’t nervous about the actual process of driving a race car that sends 450 horsepower to the back tires – a recent ESPN interview with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the low age requirements for certain late model classes indicate anybody can drive these things – I wanted to make a statement on behalf of the sim community.

We were thrown a pretty drastic curveball immediately after unloading. Penticton Speedway had graciously allowed us to have the facility to ourselves Thursday night, but as luck would have it, the previous weekend hosted Hit-to-Pass competitions; DiRT Showdown and Test Drive: Eve of Destruction aren’t fictional arcade racers – this sort of thing exists in real life, and you could technically call Eve of Destruction a hardcore hit-to-pass simulator.

What this means is that the entire racing surface was coated in glass shards, wood splinters, dust, and other miscellaneous metal bits. My first time in a late model would not be on a pristine track with fresh rubber, but in the most extreme adverse scenario imaginable that didn’t include a torrential downpour – though there were clouds a couple miles away. The positive in all of this, before some of you rage at the track for not cleaning the surface, is that I would receive a major lesson in car control. We didn’t bring new tires to the test session either; the trailer was loaded with compounds that had sat outside for a couple of Canadian winters, so this would be like playing Grand Prix Legends and manually editing the track INI file to give only 40% grip. It also meant that if the debris punctured one, two, or all tires, it was no loss whatsoever – the tires were going to be thrown in a dumpster anyway.

Dustin took the car out for a couple of segments to dial in the setup and ensure everything was running smoothly, as the ride had undergone several major setup changes in the off-season thanks to some very supportive connections in the iRacing community (whose names you can probably figure out based on our past articles) and a lot of SAE reading. His first moderately quick lap, the car jumped sideways shot an enormous cloud of brown dust and glass segments into the sky upon braking for turn one, so it was clear we wouldn’t have a stopwatch out and be comparing times for the rest of the evening – it was all about keeping the car under you and getting comfortable with being sideways while refining the driving line.

I will say this; it’s definitely surreal seeing a guy you met on iRacing a bunch of years ago turning laps in a real car with your number and name above the door. I’m glad I took the time to appreciate the insanity of the moment while also noting where his braking points were, because this shit just doesn’t happen, like, ever. The shot below is us on the front row of some Coca-Cola 600 race back in 2013, an event I eventually won using his setup. Four years later, I’m still using his setup, we’re just not in front of a computer screen anymore.

Sliding into a late model is significantly easier than climbing into a hornet. With the car sitting so low to the ground, and quick release steering wheel freeing up another portion of the cockpit, there’s a surprising amount of room for you to just sort of step through the window. You sit extremely far back – with your head beside the B-pillar – and as low as possible, so the change in visibility from a normal street car everyone’s familiar with driving, to our Chevrolet SS, is pretty drastic. It’s almost concerning when you’re sitting parked in the pits because you honestly can’t see over the hood and basically need people to guide you, but out on the race track it makes much more sense, as the banking pitches the car in a way that frees up your sight lines. It also doesn’t look like much inside, but I’ve always been blown away by just how comfortable these cars are. Proper racing seats installed at an angle are like the best patio lawn chair you’ve ever sat in, the sides conforming to your body just enough to act as an arm rest for holding the steering wheel during long green flag runs, and like Lewis Hamilton once mentioned in an interview, falling asleep sounds like a viable option.

Once the engine turns over – and I have to remind myself to simultaneously feed a bit of throttle during the start-up phase because we’re still on the old-school carburetor configuration – it’s uncomfortably loud. I have been around nitro-powered drag racing for most of my life to where stock car racing seems exponentially quieter by comparison, but inside the car it’s an entirely different story. We don’t have a muffler rule up here and the exhaust travels directly under my seat, so once I figured out what I could get away with on a dusty track, I clicked off about ten half-assed laps before bringing it in.

Any more than 35% throttle and I could feel pressure build in my ear drums, with wheel spin from the sketchy track conditions starting at 45% pedal input. I received some pretty good feedback from the team after my first laps, lots were surprised that I was on-pace with Dustin and had a solid, smooth line given that I’m some random guy from the internet who ran a season in shitboxes – again, we’re on old tires and throwing up clouds of dust and glass shards on corner entry, so there’s only so fast you can go – but I actually told them to disregard anything I’d done during that session; I was sandbagging pretty hard because the car was too loud and it hurt my ears to be aggressive on the throttle.

What I’m saying is I’m a little bitch, but y’all knew that already.

I think we found some ear buds in my bag from the radio system I use in Edmonton, and as a result I was able to attack the track exponentially harder – to the point where I was bottoming out in turns 1 & 2 from throwing the car in there. We didn’t have the cameras on for most of the evening as I didn’t want the pressure of all my mistakes being potentially recorded and uploaded to YouTube, but sadly this ended up being a bad call as instead of backing the car into the wall like a pleb and embarrassing myself, I ran pretty well and hung the rear end out on a few occasions. I have no idea how to drift, but there was one lap in particular I chased the rear end up the race track and according to Dustin it looked pretty sweet from the pits. It’s also not something rookies should know how to do, so it calmed a lot of the nerves of throwing someone completely green into a car this quick & powerful.

The only footage we have of the evening is from the final stint, which was cut short due to a part failure. I actually think I ran a bit slower in this session, but it gives you an idea of the sound, speed, and wheel inputs needed in such treacherous conditions.

But being a sim racing blog, a lot of you obviously want to know how video games compare to the real thing, and this is where I think tons are going to be upset with my findings. Even with the track surface being a mess, this is the easiest race car I have ever driven, across both simulators and reality. Within three or four laps, I immediately understood how teenagers are climbing into these down in the states and causing tons of scandals by lying about their age to officials, and why Dale Jr. in an ESPN interview said driving a race car is so easy “anybody can do it.” In testing I couldn’t go any faster because of the insane wheel spin from the lack of track grip & shitty tires, but I certainly wasn’t overwhelmed by the experience.

The absolute one hundred percent truth is that it handled like a fusion of Grid Autosport’s V8 Supercars, and the 1995 SCCA Mustang in Project CARS. It felt like you had insane turn-in grip and an overall heightened sense of nimbleness, and the throttle pedal directly correlated with how sideways you wanted to be on corner exit. Balancing the throttle to maintain a bit of a slip angle, the right rear felt ultra-mushy as it does in Project CARS, while over-doing it still felt like you had complete control of the vehicle, which is what you’ll experience during heavy oversteer situations in Grid Autosport. It was comical how easy it was to rip around in such disastrous conditions, and I remember thinking to myself real life would most definitely be called simcade by Reddit’s sim racing community.

Also, the visibility is about the same. I sit a little lower, but it’s basically this:

The challenge comes not from driving, but knowing that if you fuck up and hit the wall, you’re probably going to the hospital on top of the man hours & cash needed to fix the car. As I mentioned above, it’s also quite loud, the smell of burnt race fuel is overwhelming, and you can physically feel shit pinging off the underside of the car – which sometimes is the entire goddamn race track if you bottom out. The sheer sensory overload is what fucks with people – especially in a car this loud & powerful – but provided it’s not something that personally will bother you (a good test is to see if you get bored on rollercoasters or public karting), it’s certainly doable if you put your mind to it.

The biggest takeaway I got from testing is that my taste in simulators and other miscellaneous racing games is now broken beyond repair, but let me explain why.

I’ve spent the entire off-season driving as many different simulators and car combinations as I could in the hopes that some of it would translate into reality, sticking to cars with a power-to-weight ratio in roughly the same ballpark as ours.

I love how Tire Model V10 on Assetto Corsa feels – especially considering I was one of the several sim racers advocating for that “classic Assetto Corsa tire behaviorto return – and was stoked to see them include a personal favorite car of mine, the Maserati MC12 GT1 in their most recent DLC package. Before taking off for Kelowna, I ran a couple of shakedown laps at the Nurburgring GP circuit, and was blown away by how much fun the car was to drive. I thought it was awesome, and couldn’t wait to get home to give it a more thorough look.

Yet after driving the late model (450 HP at 2500 pounds, we didn’t have any ballast in), the MC12 GT1 in Assetto Corsa (600ish HP at 2750 pounds) now feels unnaturally heavy, as if the track was coated in sludge, and the car itself suffered from enormous understeer – a common complaint about Assetto Corsa, but I didn’t really understand where these complaints were coming from until now. In my personal opinion, the GTR 2 – and subsequent Race 07 conversion variant – both of which feel like the cars are on rails and dart around with a nimbleness that seems almost too fast to keep up with, are instead basically what our car felt like. So I’ll be on GTR Evolution a lot more in the future.

NASCAR Racing 2003 Season, a simulator I’ve held in extremely high regard since starting this website, now feels entirely incorrect save for one element – the braking. The way the rear end flares out in this game under heavy braking, that’s what our car does, and it’s a large part of why I was able to start throwing the car into corners very aggressively only minutes after being strapped in – it honestly felt like I was at home playing NASCAR, but that’s unfortunately where the similarities ended.  It’s enormously difficult to generate wheel spin at short tracks in NASCAR 2003, and when you do, the tires heat up so quickly they become sludge – an old Papyrus defect still present in iRacing – and the car spins out at 30 km/h in first gear if you do so much as breathe on the throttle. Real life isn’t like this; I’m no drifter, but I figured out how hang the ass end way out around an entire corner, and getting that level of sideways on the computer is impossible in NASCAR 2003; you’ll instantly spin and wreck the car because the tires nuke themselves.

As a tool to learn the racing line though, it’s perfect. This guy under the name of Wild Kustoms & Cars made a stellar recreation of Dells Raceway Park in Wisconsin – which is roughly the same layout as Penticton – and I must have turned at least two thousand laps there over the past six months. The first laps at speed, it was like visiting an old friend. So there’s that.

But it was actually Project CARS – in particular the 1995 SCCA Mustang – that gave me the best second impression, and it’s hilarious given how everyone – including myself – had previous;y written off this game as a rushed simcade title intended to generate the most sales possible.

Let’s start with the basics. The cockpit view is identical to what I see, though I sit much lower, so it’s a good prep tool to learn how to deal with the lack of visibility as the overall windshield dimensions are roughly the same. The engine sound, a point of contention in the sim community for being too over-the-top and aggressive compared to the real thing, well, unfortunately for some I’m here to say that the real thing is like that, to the point where I pulled in and dug some ear buds out of my suitcase because it was so distracting.

A lot of people, including myself, complained that the cars in the original Project CARS felt too nimble and had too little weight to them. Well, again, this is how our car drives. It darts everywhere and feels like it’s on rails on corner entry, and that was in adverse track conditions with a trail of wood splinters and debris shooting up behind it. Tire behavior, something that was a major point of contention considering how in some cars – including the SCCA Mustang – you could have these crazy slip angles going and it felt like the outside rear tire was made of silly putty, flexing at an enormous rate… Yeah, that’s pretty much what the car was doing under me. I think careful attention to detail should be made to ensure the team doesn’t over-do the initial turn in grip for Project CARS 2, but after blasting around in a late model, I’m here to say that the “on-rails” feeling people had complained about is actually pretty close to reality.

But the throttle management aspect has to go to Grid Autosport, and yes I’m actually being serious here. Dustin and I bought this game out of boredom over the winter, as the online multiplayer allows you to fill private online sessions with AI bots and still earn XP/buy cars/acquire sponsors, but this game ended up being much more than a time waster – it taught me throttle control. You’ll see in this video that the cars float around in a pretty unrealistic way, and things look all sorts of bad on corner entry, but the way the car snaps under power when exiting a corner and does this really pronounced wiggle (which the guy actually shows off)… Our car does that too. Thanks Codemasters, you’re the real MVP.

Our schedule for the season is under the Team PRC tab; it’s certainly subject to change (welcome to racing), but I can confirm we’ll be in Penticton on June 3rd if any of you guys are in the Okanagan region and want to come hang out for an evening. This whole ordeal is insane, and I’d certainly like to thank both the Lengert family and Ian Bell of Slightly Mad Studios for allowing it all to happen. We’ve got a small Facebook page going if you’d like to keep up on our week-to-week activities, but I’ll do my best to keep y’all updated on our season through here as well.

 

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Thank You For Complaining About Assetto Corsa

No, hell hasn’t frozen over; Kunos Simulazioni have indeed pushed out an objectively fantastic update for their indie PC racing simulator Assetto Corsa, with the recent version 1.14 update bringing along a wonderful set of artificial intelligence upgrades that have turned the offline experience into much more than just a Chris Harris hotlapping simulator as many have previously joked about. I can assure you this is not a belated April Fool’s joke; it appears that overnight, the AI drivers were seemingly given world-class racecraft, and the end result is simply stunning – Assetto Corsa’s single player lifespan has now been exponentially extended, with the AI behavior leap-frogging every other modern racing simulator at the market in a resurgence akin to what we saw with Honda and Brawn GP between the 2008 and 2009 Formula One seasons. If you own Assetto Corsa on the PC, and have either shelved it or completely uninstalled it due to the lackluster AI opponents, I can say with 100% certainty that now is precisely the correct time to give it another whirl.

However, in this article I will take a drastically different approach than what many are expecting from an otherwise positive piece on Assetto Corsa. I will not praise Kunos Simulazioni for the contents of this recent update, because they simply aren’t responsible for what has been implemented. Instead, I will praise the community.

I shouldn’t have to give a lengthy history lesson to readers of PRC, but if you’ve been living under a rock for the past three years, the chain of events are quite simple to comprehend. When Assetto Corsa first shipped and started to reel in a very zealous group of diehard supporters, it did so primarily by offering a very engaging, intuitive driving model that felt leaps and bounds ahead of anything else on the market – an especially profound achievement given iRacing’s dominance over the sim racing genre. However, those not willing to bleed the colors of the Italian flag discovered that beyond the driving model, there wasn’t much else to do in the game. Online multiplayer was about a thousand times more painful to configure than already established offerings, and the game’s artificial intelligence was simply atrocious; absurdly slow on even the highest setting, driving straight into walls if the track grip was anything other than optimal, unable to pass slower cars, and downright embarrassing if you were a cheeky cunt and merely stopped on the track to see what they’d do – which was nothing.

Fanboys kicked and screamed inane phrases such as “you just don’t understand the point of Assetto Corsa; it is a DRIVING SIMULATOR, not a RACING SIMULATOR” upon valid criticisms of the AI cars being discussed in many areas of the sim racing community, while developers themselves on Twitter came out and said that the AI would never be able to pass faster cars and “probably never will”, adding that “people should work with the software, not against it.” The arrogance on the part of fanboys and developers was nothing short of mind-blowing; it’s like these people who loved Assetto Corsa like their first born child, didn’t actually want Assetto Corsa to improve – satisfied with mediocrity and internet “likes” for kissing the asses of developers on the official forums.

Regardless, sim racers unsatisfied by the single player experience in Assetto Corsa kept complaining over a period of years. At some point, these complaints must have been too much for Kunos Simulazioni to tolerate, as they have finally gone out and shut everyone up with an objectively wonderful batch of AI personalities to beat and bang with. Just the footage alone is impressive, which is why I’ve linked a couple videos that show off just how good the new update is.

Again, if you own Assetto Corsa for the PC, this is probably the time to either re-install, or fire up the application and spend a few hours messing around with the new AI code. It’s worth it, I promise.

However, there’s also a dark cloud in the distance that we should probably talk about. The long-awaited inclusion of private lobbies in Assetto Corsa launched only a few short days ago, but it’s been a bit of a mess. There have been a couple of people in our comments’ section ragging on Kunos for a disaster of epic proportions on consoles, and at this point I’m actually inclined to agree with them, again sticking to my belief that launching Assetto Corsa on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 was a huge mistake, as it’s only serving to damage the reputation of the company far worse than what a shitty little WordPress blog could ever do.

So for starters, the Xbox One version of the update didn’t actually launch. Microsoft and Sony have vastly different Quality Assurance testing processes, and the PS4 version was able to pass all of the mandatory checks, while the Xbox One update has been delayed by about three weeks. However, this is the least of the team’s worries. In implementing custom lobby functionality, the PS4 update actually broke online play for the Xbox One version of the game altogether, presumably as both variants were operating under the same basic server farm 505 Games had acquired for the two variants of Assetto Corsa. So while PS4 owners have a rocky yet useful implementation of custom lobbies, Xbox One players are struggling just to enter any sort of online race at all. On the Xbox One side of the Console Lounge forums, it’s basically mass confusion as users are completely unsure as to why online functionality in Assetto Corsa stopped working the moment the PS4 update launched.

I mean, thank God I own a solid PC, but I spent several years primarily using an Xbox 360 as a preferred gaming platform, so I’m aware of what it feels like to be at the mercy of a developer making countless mistakes behind the metaphorical wheel and unable to troubleshoot for workarounds in the meantime.

Regardless, there’s a silver lining to this custom lobby update. Like the AI upgrades, custom lobbies were also demanded by critics of Assetto Corsa for several months after launch – the bizarre dedicated server approach defended by fanboys and staff members who repeated the hilarious line of “our priority was to ship a stable game”  just as the shitty AI of the PC game was a few years ago – only inserted in because the tirade of angry customers upset that a common feature was left out for no justifiable reason wouldn’t stop.

So to those who have been very abrasive in their criticisms of Assetto Corsa, thank you. Kunos Simulazioni are finally listening to you, and it is resulting in a drastically better game than the one we once ripped on in the past. I can’t imagine how horribly unfinished this game would be if you guys kept your mouth shut and let fanboys and staff members bully you into silence.

Reader Submission #140 – Calamity Forces HSO to Re-Schedule Indianapolis 500

An incredible package of open wheel cars warranted an equally captivating online championship, but for the Historic Sim Racing Organization, things on the competition end of the spectrum just aren’t going according to plan.

A few months back, we here at PRC introduced our readers to the stellar CART 88 mod for the original rFactor, a download bundling every single vehicle variant and driver combination that took the green flag during the 1988 American open wheel season into a light-weight download for the legendary rFactor simulation. While many were blown away by the sheer challenge of pushing these cars to the limit, and borderline-autistic attention to detail that replicated engine improvements and chassis swaps across each event, CART 88 as an rFactor mod was only part of the complete sales pitch; HSO would conduct their own full-length, full-distance online championship throughout the 2017 calendar year, allowing hardcore sim racers to step back in time and subject themselves to the same challenges their favorite drivers faced depending on their car of choice – whether that meant limping an under-powered backmarker entry to the finish line, or repeating Danny Sullivan’s dominance.

Yet after only two and a half events, HSO’s CART 88 championship is being remembered not for the intense battles, crafty race strategies, and stellar displays of sim racing prowess, but instead for ineptitude on the part of its entrants. Today’s Reader Submission from an anonymous sim racer competing in the series is here to tell us that while the mod is amazing, the series it was built for, isn’t.

Hello PRC. As I’m sure most of you know, the long process of practicing, qualifying and eventually racing the Indianapolis 500 is well underway. To coincide with this, the Historic Sim Racing organization are holding their own virtual rendition of the event. Using their exceptional, in-house developed CART 88 mod, HSO are running a full season using the mod, with the Indy 500 event being the jewel in the crown. However, this race – the most notable on the entire HSO schedule – has been absolutely plagued by issues. It has been memorable for all the wrong reasons, as the Indy 500 was cancelled (and promptly re-scheduled, to the credit of HSO) without even reaching a tenth of the proposed distance, as ignorance from competitors reigned supreme.

The race was due to start at 20:30 CET, but was delayed for over half an hour due to connection issues experienced by the head administrator. Inconvenient, but very understandable that we’d be required to wait for the primary official, because that’s who is going to guarantee us a fair race. However, this would be the most minor of problems all night, as in my opinion it descended into anarchy.

HSO’s Indy race called on a total of four manual formation laps. The first one was to be completed in rows of two, the next two run in single file, and the field assembling in the iconic rows of three for the final lap. One may ask how competitors were to know when to get underway considering rFactor can only support one formation lap, and the answer lies in hiring a manual pace car driver to do the dirty work for the three additional laps, and then typing “green” as a way to indicate a live green flag.

This is where the first start faltered. After four formation laps, the pace car driver miscounted the laps. He didn’t type green into the chat, and was still on the course. Confused, an admin further back down the field gave the go-ahead. This was disastrous, as the pace car was still on the racing surface. Despite the driver’s best efforts to get out of the way, the field was flustered and a major turn one pile up ensued, with the race restarting.

From that point on, the race was unable to restart smoothly. Several drivers who had partaken in the first start now had connection problems and could not see any cars, as their games did not sync with the server. There were several attempts at formation laps, many of which resulted in additional crashes due to some drivers not being able to see anyone. This was an unwise decision as the people having connection issues could have their problems solved by quitting the server and rejoining.

A short break was taken after the race failed to launch in a clean fashion, with the event now running an hour behind schedule.

Unfortunately, things got even worse. There were more pile-ups on the formation laps, leading to more restarts. In some instances this wasn’t the fault of HSO or any admins;  some drivers just had incompatible internet connections yet still tried to race when they should have thought twice signing up for an online league knowing their internet can’t handle it. As a result, the last restart sealed the fate of the race. A caution was called during the start procedure, adding an extra lap before the start as more sim racers embarrassingly crashed on the formation lap. The race did eventually get underway, but the group failed to complete a green flag lap before the yellow flew again. One driver, who had caused full race restarts in the past due to poor internet, put his foot to the floor way earlier than anyone else. He plowed through stationary cars, taking out no less than ten drivers while somehow managing to remain undamaged thanks to shoddy netcode. This ended up being the final straw for HSO admins, who cancelled the event shortly thereafter.

For HSO to operate properly in races of high notability and of a large entry list, they really need good restrictions on the quality of their competitors’ connections, and begrudgingly bar anyone with connection issues. If you can’t see anyone or are lagging like crazy, you should have the decency to park your car, simple. I’m not placing the blame totally on HSO here, the competitors should have the sense to pull out if their connection is like this. However, the admins should regulate how good their entrants’ connections are. I hope there are plans to do so.

This is not a hit-piece on HSO. I compete in the league on a regular basis and wholeheartedly enjoy it. Their in-house mods are the stuff of dreams and most of their races (which are on a smaller scale in terms of entrants) are meticulously organized and go down without issue. However, I would like them to learn some lessons from this farcical occasion. They are a non-profit organization at the end of the day, however their recent gigantic success in the area of mod development has catapulted them into the spotlight, and they need to be giving off a better showing than this.

I agree some effort should be made to impose internet connection requirements not just in HSO, but as many sim racing leagues and clubs as possible. Yes, back in 2005, high speed internet was a bit of a luxury, and at the time it would slightly inappropriate to demand the average sim racer to fork over a pretty penny just to continue what were essentially “gaming nights with the boys,” but times have changed. It’s been twelve years since the original rFactor came out, and cell phones can now download high resolution pornography at light speed while sim racing as a genre has grown exponentially, so there’s really no excuse for dropping loads on pricey wheels, pedals monitors, and button boxes while simultaneously lagging all over the fucking place because your ass suddenly can’t afford anything more than Wal-Mart WiFi.

Call me a major asshole, but you’ve had twelve years and a few console generations to put some money aside so you can upgrade your internet. At some point you have to stop pandering to these people.

However, I will say that the old adage of “sim racers turning five off-pace laps in a historic car before running to the forums and bragging they’re unable to drive it” is a large portion of why the CART 88 series isn’t going the way many have wanted it to. Though we rightfully gave HSO heavy coverage for a phenomenal mod, myself and Dustin ended up backing out after just two races because it was becoming very apparent that only a fraction of the grid could handle these cars for multiple laps in a row. Not only was building a setup for these beasts extremely finicky, they were very difficult to master on warm tires – we’re talking Grand Prix Legends in fast forward. By comparison, most of the guys who signed up for the league weren’t capable of driving the cars in a safe fashion; they either grew up watching the cars, or had an interest in historic online racing. That combination works well in other HSO series that use big, bulky classic GT cars with the weight and general performance characteristics of a modern family sedan, but certainly not here with these speeds.

There is a silver lining to all of this: I’ve been told that HSO will re-schedule the race and do everything in their power to force their league members to prove themselves (and their internet connection) in a different class before moving up to higher-powered cars such as 80’s CART monstrosities, it just sucks these things weren’t figured out prior to the season starting.

As We Predicted, iRacing’s Dirt Content Experiences Sharp Decline in Popularity

What was once sim racing’s biggest long-standing April Fool’s joke has now officially made the transition from reality into relative obscurity. North American and Australian dirt oval racing fans rejoiced back in 2016 when they learned it would be none other than iRacing tasked with taking a shot at replicating Dirt Late Models and Sprint Cars – taking a very popular discipline of local auto racing into the hyper-competitive environment of the online motorsports platform – but now that this content has been out for a little over a month, the honeymoon phase has concluded, and some are going as far as calling it a waste of resources. Though we praised iRacing’s muddy adventure when it first launched, with the cars being objectively the most realistic and believable vehicles available for purchase on the service after years of confusing tire model updates, we questioned the staying power it would have among the userbase considering dirt oval racing is seen as relatively low on the global auto racing totem pole.

A recent thread on iRacing’s official SubReddit has proven our primary concerns were right on the money, if not profoundly accurate. Reports of over 7,000 active users signed into the iRacing servers for the launch of dirt oval racing have now been replaced by woefully pathetic car counts that struggle to eclipse 20 total participants for the most well-attended events. This is a pretty big deal, as iRacing’s format relies on an abundance of entrants for each race so the service can split people into multiple groups based on their skill level. With so few drivers to split, and a maximum car count of just twelve vehicles for each race, it’s leading to situations where races are total shitfests because the talent pool is so diverse; barely competent drivers are forced to drive against highly skilled veterans.

And it’s not a fun experience for those involved.

Though the two users above each offer their own explanation as to why there’s been such a sharp decline in popularity for the dirt content, I don’t feel either are accurate, so I’ll put my own spin on things.

Dirt oval racing is actually extremely difficult; the cars by nature are configured to be fundamentally broken from a setup standpoint, and the driving style required is essentially flat-out drifting. The sim community by and large simply do not understand car setups enough to get the most out of their virtual sprint car or late model – quite hilarious given these games are intended for a hardcore audience who should in theory be all over that shit – and most sim races do not possess the car control necessary to run thirty five straight clean laps while dead sideways among an equally crazy pack of cars. I’m under the impression many iRacers bought the dirt content out of curiosity, realized they had nowhere near the talent level to drive the damn things, and gave up on it after only a few days.

You would think that the dirt content would bring a whole host of new users to the iRacing service, especially with talk of how accurate these cars are compared to the rest of the vehicles on iRacing, but there’s a fundamental flaw with this hypothesis.

As it stands, dirt oval racing is a very niche motorsport in both North America as well as Australia; World of Outlaws events haven’t been nationally televised since Spike TV was known as TNN back in the late 1990’s/early 2000’s, and currently the only way to watch these races live is through a relatively obscure website that locks footage behind several pay walls. I’m not saying DirtVision is shit, I’m just saying that the average auto racing fan has no idea it exists in the first place. So the potential audience is significantly smaller than it was ten or fifteen years ago.

By comparison, the Ratbag World of Outlaws game for the PlayStation 2 sold half a million copies because everyone with a basic cable television package could watch sprint car racing on a Friday night with a familiar set of announcers such as Steve Evans and Ralph Sheheen introducing outsiders to the sport, while little kids or teenagers could point at a PS2 game in Wal-Mart and instantly have an entirely new type of car racing to dive head first into because it wasn’t much of an investment. This doesn’t happen anymore; iRacing requires an elaborate steering wheel setup, beefy computer, and a serious mentality just to get some base level of enjoyment from the title. Neither your average short track audience member, nor their offspring want to get screamed at by some elitist iRacing cuntwagon for ruining his safety rating.

Those who do brave those elements discover they can’t make a lap to save their lives because the cars are so difficult to drive, and the cycle repeats.

So you have a situation where after the honeymoon phase has ended, there’s twenty people signing up for dirt events. And on the outset it looks like a waste of resources, but I’m actually here to defend iRacing and tell you why it was worth the year of development time.

In learning how dirt oval racing works, how track surfaces evolve, and how dirt tire compounds behave, what iRacing learned on dirt will slowly apply to the tarmac vehicles. I gave the brand new Porsche a shakedown at Dustin’s house when we were shooting photos with the race car, and while I’m not going to say it’s this night & day difference that’ll make me come crying back to iRacing, it’s certainly something that indicated a few eureka moments were had behind the scenes. If iRacing continue in this direction, along with allowing Steve Reis to really dig through the software and undo some of the past mistakes from previous staff members, the dirt content will be seen in hindsight as a necessary evil to get the simulation back on track.

Sequel to The Crew Announced, But Does Anyone Care?

It started out as an ambitious project to re-capture the hidden magic of Test Drive Unlimited, but the end result was a run-of-the-mill open world racer with no compelling elements, and we’ve now learned through a message board post of all things that this sub-par package has somehow warranted a sequel. Though nobody will place a gun to your head and force you to buy The Crew 2 when it inevitably lands on store shelves for both major console gaming platforms and UbiSoft’s own uPlay service, it’s mere existence is the prime example of developers who refuse to see video games as interactive pieces of art, instead building an uninspiring experience designed solely to tick boxes of key features and distract customers from their own mundane personal lives for a few hours during the course of every evening.

In case you haven’t figured it out, I am obviously not too thrilled about The Crew 2’s existence, but it has nothing to do with blind hate for a product I don’t entirely understand; I feel UbiSoft and Ivory Tower simply aren’t capable of making The Crew as an idea for a video game, into something you’ll be racing home after work to play for hours on end. I’d prefer for them not to waste everyone’s time with a second go.

Open-world driving games, when done right, can be fantastic. Need for Speed: Underground 2 and Rockstar’s Midnight Club Series blew the doors wide open on the sub-genre with stellar releases that allowed you to explore large environments at your own free will, with other developers scurrying around to try and attain some slice of the proverbial pie thanks to just how well gamers had responded to these all-around great offerings.

But there was a science behind the reason Midnight Club and Need for Speed had succeeded in a market dominated by Gran Turismo, Forza Motorsport, and Mario Kart; the driving model was something that could be understood and practiced to perfection by dedicated players, the customization – even now – was unprecedented, the environments were memorable despite their comparatively smaller size due to technological limitations, and the background narrative was just that – a loose story that sort of tied it all together, but wasn’t something the player even needed to pay attention to. That is your formula for a successful open world driving game, and it’s why the offshoot Forza Horizon was able to come out swinging in 2012 and immediately establish itself as one of the greats; Turn 10 paid close attention to the groundwork laid by Need for Speed and Midnight Club, while putting their own spin on it.

Ivory Tower failed to do any of this with The Crew, essentially embarking on one poor design choice after another that indicated the team hadn’t even bothered to understand why people might be drawn open world driving games in the first place. The driving model was often described as floaty and vague by wheel and pad users alike, meaning the core gameplay was something users “put up with” as opposed to learning and mastering, and that’s kind of important when your video game is all about cross-country marathons behind the wheel. Customization and progression had been intertwined with incessantly grinding for experience points – something that driving game enthusiasts have never taken kindly to in the history of the genre – while the giant map made it impossible for the team to ensure every square mile served a purpose; long, empty highways connected select areas of interest. And though there was at least some attempt at a generic Fast & Furious rip-off narrative, the story was just so over-the-top , intrusive, and forced that it worked against the game itself; you wanted it to go away so you could focus on other areas in The Crew, and UbiSoft kept throwing it at you.

It’s just a package that indicated UbiSoft needed a token open world driving game on their roster of products and just sort of shit something out. What’s even more surprising, is that UbiSoft Reflections were once behind the stellar Driver series of the late 1990’s, as well as the phenomenal Stuntman for the PlayStation 2; both entities known quite well for their stellar vehicle physics, so a regression between then and now is quite strange.

It didn’t help that the PlayStation 4 version of The Crew failed to support Logitech’s G29 racing wheel, considering racing games are universally much better experiences when under the command of a traditional car control input method and third party wheels are skyrocketing in popularity. The bugs and shoddy servers also threw a curveball into the mix; for a game that boasted tons of seamless online integration, UbiSoft struggled to ensure a smooth experience for gamers – something that should have been priority numero uno for a game of this scope.

But in my opinion, the most prominent display of UbiSoft’s lack of dedication to ensuring The Crew would be a successful venture, was in their stunning lack of creativity. The game’s first expansion pack,Wild Run, straight up copied the theme of Forza Horizon with a fictional automotive festival taking place in the middle of a vast rural area, while the second, Calling All Units, lifted police pursuit weapons from the 2010 reboot of Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit.

Furthermore, The Crew continues to make use of UbiSoft’s obsessive tendency to place objective towers within the game world as a means of unlocking new tasks or events. This sort of makes sense within the context of a third person adventure game such Assassins Creed, but the fact that it has been shamelessly copy & pasted into a racing game of all things when it clearly does not pertain to the subject matter in the slightest is pure laziness.

All of these little details add up to a racing game that was designed by a team that not only fail to understand what makes an open world racer fun, they are unable to polish the product so key elements work as they should, and shamelessly rip ideas from other teams and shoe-horn in repetitive elements from in-house franchises, regardless of how well those gameplay design choices will benefit the end user experience.

So with The Crew 2  confirmed, it’s hard to be even the least bit excited at what the sequel might bring to the table. UbiSoft were simply not interested in creating a good driving game with the first iteration in the franchise, clearly neglecting to research what constitutes as an enjoyable open world racing game in favor of shitting out a hodgepodge of ideas and design choices that actively worked against each other. This is not the result of impending deadlines and rushed segments of development, but a team actively making poor choice after poor choice when it comes to the creative vision of the game, and it’s a problem that can’t be rectified overnight. Unless there is a drastic re-construction of The Crew’s fundamental makeup, you can write off The Crew 2 before we even see it in action.