A few weeks ago, we ran an article detailing a promo code for iRacing that straight up let you try the game for three months, completely free of charge. As iRacing doesn’t discourage multiple accounts under the same name, myself, Chris, and a few of our friends weighed our other options for online racing and decided the best use of our free time was to start from the bottom all over again and invade the rookie oval races on iRacing using the free promo code to see if both the physics and the driving quality have improved since we’ve last invested a heavy amount of time into the sim.
Unfortunately, it’s comically bad. For a game that prides itself on a mature community full of clean drivers, and world-class driving physics unmatched by any other consumer sim, the sad reality is that iRacing does neither well, and as these cars will be your first impression of the game no matter how you choose to spend your time on iRacing, a radical new approach needs to be taken in order to ensure a much better first impression is left on new drivers.
For the sake of this experiment, it’s important to say who all got involved in these free account rookie shenanigans. Chris (of PretendRaceCars.net) and Sal are both former Black Stripe drivers on iRacing – meaning at one point they blew the doors off 95% of iRacing.com members and were classified as “Pro” drivers, eligible to drive in the NASCAR iRacing.com Pro Series, whatever it was called back then. I myself won two overall championships in iRacing’s equivalent of the K&N Pro Series car (at the time it was called the iRacing National Series), setting the record for most amount of points earned in a single season that still hasn’t been broken even after the series was used for the PEAK Stock Car Dream Challenge and high-ranked drivers would drop in to farm XP. Mike still manages to destroy all of us in street cars in Assetto Corsa, and Vince wins every other race the rest of us get wrecked out of.
We are more than capable of testing this shit out.
When we all got our free accounts up and running, iRacing was in the final week of their season, which sent the Rookie Street Stock Series to the now demolished USA International Speedway in Lakeland, Florida. To our surprise, it didn’t drive terribly. In fact, our initial impressions of the car were what caused us to write the article notifying people of the free account promotion in the first place. While iRacing has traditionally suffered from some really wonky physics, the Street Stock at USA was actually fun.
The tires got greasy halfway through the 40 lap race, and it took a proper amount of skill to not only bring the car home in one piece, but continue to run fast laps in the process. USA Speedway isn’t a multi-groove track like Bristol or Thompson, but finally being able to drive an oval car that did all the right things and reacted to proper pedal management accordingly was something we’ve longed for from iRacing for quite some time. It was like the physics guys at iRacing finally improved upon NASCAR Racing 2003 Season, it’s just a shame it took them eight years and several sub-par iterations of a new tire model to get to that point.
However, the rest of the field may as well have been driving with Guitar Hero controllers.
The Camaro Street Stock in iRacing is designed to replicate a very common amateur level Saturday Night Short Track class. While the car featured in iRacing is taken from Dale Earnhardt Jr’s personal stable of race cars, the car is still built to adhere to generic Street Stock specifications used all over North America. To those not familiar with oval racing, these cars are designed for sons and daughters of local race car drivers to beat and bang with before their father races later in the evening. Most Street Stock drivers haven’t even graduated high school yet. Whether on dirt or asphalt, these cars are idiot proof, and there’s nothing stopping you from buying one right now because they’re really Goddamn cheap and you don’t need a fancy racing license to show up to your local track.
This concept of low powered, idiot proof oval car seems to be lost on the majority of iRacing members who drive it. USA Speedway is not a difficult track, nor do you ever reach any high rate of speed because the car physically can’t do it. While the tires did get noticeably worn as the race progressed, the car just didn’t have enough power to loop itself had you gotten it sideways. In most cases, being smooth on the wheel and gently rolling on the throttle would prevent the rear end from stepping out for several races at a time.
And yet, it was not uncommon to see a portion of the field wrecked mere seconds into the race. I myself managed to win the first eight races I entered. I have to stress that this car is so slow, you have to try to spin it out, and yet five laps into the race, you’d come across backmarkers who were already junked. And this was a theme that continued from race to race; even as you’d start to see the same guys each race, with the same familiar car liveries adorning the grid, none of them would make any noticeable improvements. Somehow, some way, these guys were managing to total their cars on a track where a lap lasts approximately 22 seconds, there are four identical left turns, and the car rarely hits 90 mph. Again, in real life these cars are built for teenagers to get their feet wet in oval racing, yet in iRacing, unless Chris or Mike were in the field, I’d end up lapping most of the grid.
These same people who were winding up on their lids seconds into the race would then cry that rookie classes are impossible to get out of, and then go onto fantasize about driving things like the IndyCar and the NASCAR Truck Series, vehicles that are much faster than a Street Stock Camaro and much harder to control. Upon watching the replay of each race with iRacing’s incredible replay controls, none of these guys were the unfortunate victim of a wreck that spiraled out of control – most just flat out couldn’t make a lap to save their lives. It was as if they had never driven a car before. Some guys would go full throttle into a corner and plow into the outside wall. Others would crash just coming to the green flag, intimidated by the mere presence of other cars around them. My personal favorite were the guys who quickly attempted to move out of the way for the leaders, only to loop the car as if the high line was made of black ice.
And if people actually made it through the start, you bet your ass nobody had any spatial awareness and dudes would just blindly drive into each other as if we were watching extreme barbie jeep racing.
But to be fair, USA Speedway is a track that takes a bit of skill. As I said earlier, you need a decent understanding of pedal management to challenge for the lead – with how simplistic oval racing is, every hundredth of a second counts, and that’s something that only comes with perfecting the line, not just knowing it.
So what iRacing does is send all of these noobs who can’t control a car under 100 mph to Charlotte Motor Speedway, where the combination of a low-powered Camaro with shitty aerodynamics and high banked corners turns the 1.5 mile speedway into a scaled down version of Daytona.
This doesn’t make things any better.
For starters, you don’t need to brake or lift at all. The car isn’t fast enough to generate any handling discrepancies. The Street Stock Camaro essentially becomes an IndyCar in slow motion; glued to the race track and impossible to lose control of. This makes for some really garbage racing among people who know what they’re doing because there is no way to pass the leader, or anybody for that matter.
Myself, Chris, Mike, Sal, and Vince were all fortunate to be put in the same split with each other numerous times. Cruising at a constant 140+ mph, it was impossible to slingshot around anyone. Drafting in iRacing doesn’t appear to work as it does in real life. Out in the real world, you’ll suck up behind someone, and then at the last second pull out to shoot around them. For whatever reason, you can’t do that in iRacing. The game doesn’t let you. The result is that every single race looks the exact same – a conga line of cars in a row, usually in the exact same order they started the race in. The draft lets you keep up with the car in front, but that’s about it. On the flip side, venturing outside of the draft guarantees your race is pretty much over. It’s a slow motion restrictor plate race, without the fun parts of a restrictor plate race.
This also means that you’ll never have enough of a run on somebody to physically knock them up the race track. Among good drivers, the race at Charlotte turns into a twenty lap parade. But as we’ve said, there’s a complete lack of good drivers.
Even better, the game’s lackluster tire model prevents any sort of alternative groove from being experimented with. You don’t have the option to run in the middle of the track or out by the wall to avoid chaos as they do in real life. Venturing away from the white line on the bottom will cause you to drop like a rock through the grid. You are literally forced to run nose to tail along the bottom of the race track until turn four of lap sixteen.
So what happens in turn four of lap sixteen?
iRacing’s clearly built in some scripted tire wear with the current build. As of this writing, we’ve done ten races at Charlotte. In all ten races, in turn four of lap sixteen, it’s almost as if a switch is flipped on the entire field and the car becomes noticeably loose. While we didn’t exactly have a problem with this sudden change in handling, it was not uncommon to see a large portion of the pack completely lose it, all at once as if the game magically turned on tire wear at the exact same time for everybody. At this point in the race, you still can’t pass anybody, nor can you get a proper run on anybody, but at least the car is sort of enjoyable to drive for the final two minutes of the race.
Yet this is not the end of strange physics oddities. In one race, Sal’s force feedack inexplicably turned off without warning while on the pace lap. For reasons even he struggles to comprehend, his car miraculously found two tenths of a second, and he proceeded to run down the leaders after starting mid-pack, eventually winning the race. Wanting to replicate this, Mike turned down the force feedback on his own wheel and attempted a qualifying session, and he improved his personal best time by a tenth of a second – a big deal on a track where there is no need to lift off the throttle.
And this frustrating environment where everyone is in a conga line along the bottom of the race track causes tempers to boil over. As one comment on another article put it, less aliens and more forum-elitists trying to make up for sucking at racing – and this accurately sums up the online experience:
Our first glorious taste of this elitism was in a pretty high ranked room among statistically good drivers. Mike qualified around mid-pack and decided to exploit a well-known loophole in oval racing rules to shoot up to the front in a few hundred feet. In stock car racing, each lane of cars is treated as its own separate entity, and once the green flag drops, you are allowed to pass on the right side of the row you started in. What Mike does here is 100% within the rules, and it’s why you’ll see on single file restarts in real NASCAR, everybody lines up by the wall – it’s to prevent this from happening.
Most of the field bitched out Mike over voice chat for jumping the start, and this continued well into the race, with threads of protesting and all that jazz. Again, this is 100% within the rulebook, and a fantastic driving job to thread the needle between the huge pack of cars.
This guy went into the pits, repaired his car, and waited for Mike to come around again to try and wreck him back. Mike isn’t a shit driver, so he was able to easily avoid this childish maneuver and sent the 5 car flying into the infield.
As many long-time iRacers will tell you, there’s also an abundance of Careful Charlies on the starting grid, belting out stereotypical phrases like “play it safe in the first corner, guys”, and “no jumping the start, please keep it a fair race.” These guys are usually the first drivers to cause gigantic pileups because they have no idea what in the fuck they’re doing.
My favorite display of elitism was during a race earlier in the day where the front two cars began to break away from the pack. As I said above, staying in the draft here is essential to keeping up with the leaders, and if you stay in line, you can always run down the cars in front of you, erasing the gap by several tenths per lap. Instead of staying in line after a start where the leaders had a solid jump on the rest of the field, some clown kept trying to poke his nose under me, totally fine with dog fighting for third place on lap four instead of running down the leaders and giving both of us a shot to win at the end of the race. Anytime I tried to physically force my car in front of his, followed by typing into chat “stay in line so we can catch the leaders”, I was called a fucking asshole and the dude threatened to report me for blocking.
iRacing believes the best way to ease newcomers into the daunting sim is to place them into a car that is almost mathematically crafted to exhibit all of iRacing’s biggest flaws – you can’t draft properly, can’t get runs on anybody, can’t pass anybody, can’t run multiple groves, the tires are scripted to become shit at precisely 16 & 3/4 laps, and then surround them with other drivers who will cuss at you for shit that sometimes doesn’t even make sense and drive as if they were never given a chance to wheel mom’s sedan around the block. Better yet, in the same breath they will advertise a yearly subscription price of $90 and then expect you to spend $15 anytime you want to check out a new track or car.
As a group of sim racers who have progressed up the ladder and seen all there is to see in iRacing, we can safely say that it doesn’t get any better once you start paying for stuff.
Something should probably be done about this.