Every once in a while, PRC.net helps us connect with certain people in the sim racing community who know far more than we ever will about the games we love, and today we’ve run across someone special. While he’d like us to withhold his name, partially in fear of suffering the same fate we have when speaking about iRacing in a negative light, the knowledge and wisdom he can offer us about an integral part of the competitive aspect within iRacing begs to be shared on here – it’s just that good. And bad.
As I’ve experienced in ISI-powered sims, setting up cars can be relatively easy. There’s basically one God-Mode setup across a plethora of cars, and adjusting the setup to each track is a matter of tweaking the front and rear sway bars. This is really no different than how road racing teams set up their cars in real life – they all have a damn good baseline, and make minor tweaks based on where they’re racing at that weekend. When you look at F1, the car is unloaded, and the team primarily plays with downforce settings and swaps out the front wing when the situation is dire – the gear ratios have been locked in since the start of the season (which is why you’ll see an 8th gear in modern F1 cars), and there’s a boatload of stuff that isn’t allowed to be changed. V8 Supercars and GT3 cars are very similar in terms of changes needed – it’s primarily downforce and suspension settings getting tweaked based on whether it’s an insanely bumpy street circuit like Adelaide or something flat and smooth like Silverstone.
This isn’t the case in iRacing. It’s basically a game of continuously adapting to updates that break some things and fix others, though there is a glimmer of hope.
I got into iRacing back in July of 2010. I tried it for like, three months or so because I had a potato PC, and I don’t think I started racing hard until 2011, before the New Tire Model beta that a ton of people loved. The reason I got into the game was because I remembered what some guys in the NASCAR 07 league I was in (the one with Sadler on the cover) said about the first beta and had nothing but unanimous praise for it when it finally got released to the public. So when it came time for me to dive into a racing game again a few years later, the word of mouth going around about iRacing and how it was the only NASCAR game worth playing caused me to check it out.
Before I dive too deep into setups, I want to talk about the evolution of the tire models within iRacing, because there’s a ton to go over.
The Old Tire Model was a total drift fest, but it handled realistically on the edge. Exiting the pits was a nightmare, and getting on the gas, the car wanted to crank to the right, partially because iRacing had modeled the differential backwards (more on that later), and partially because guys were purposely setting the cars up to be deathly loose. However, at speed, especially on the limit, it was pretty realistic. The way you had to wheel the car and react to what the car was doing, the way you had to saw on the steering wheel, was very well done. My only gripe was the overall steering wheel position, which was always way off to the right. The rest of the time, it was like driving on ice. The only grip appearing to be of any real benefit was from downforce. You can see in this video below what I mean, it got pretty ridiculous at times:
The first version of the New Tire Model, which came in an update dubbed iRacing 2.0, had massive aero push. To compensate, you had to build super loose setups, and drivers drove the car primarily off the right rear tire, but, and this is a big “but”, the car and tire behaved pretty correctly overall and you saw a lot of real world drivers, lots of amateur late model drivers in particular, absolutely killing kids and some of the DWC guys because it was that accurate, especially when it came to tire management. Then, a huge amount of the DWC guys complained that they weren’t winning anymore. New Tire Model Version 2 softened the sidewall and completely ruined the tire. The car was tight everywhere and no setup changes would make the car turn. The tire acted like a giant rubber band, and you had to run maximum tire pressures everywhere because the sidewall was so soft. Version 4 was the next major change, stiffening up the sidewall yet again, but setup-wise this sent us back to minimum tire pressures compared to the maximum values we ran in version 2. Four versions of the same tire model, three completely different handling characteristics, and every single time iRacing fanboys bragged that this is the one.
People can obviously decide for themselves what they think of Version 5 because it’s the one currently out there for iRacing at the moment. It’s definitely the best it’s been in a long, long time, especially on the oval side, but on the road side, compared to leading titles like rFactor 2 or Assetto Corsa, it’s a giant piece of shit. Overall, there’s an excessive amount of grip, and the tire model just can’t handle high horsepower race cars. Once you get wheelspin, you’ve lost all grip for the next ten laps or so. It’s heat sensitive to the extreme. Also, the way the tires heat up and cool down just isn’t correct. But as a setup builder, I’m satisfied with the oval side. The biggest problem though is that it feels like the tire model is catering to casual racers, and I’m saying that in all seriousness. You can’t wheel the car, and even at pole or front runner pace, it feels as if you’re just driving laps on a track. The edge of the tire is too small and you don’t see the outstanding drivers in the field shine because they can get the last 15% out of their car that others can’t. It can lead to some very dull racing. Dull oval racing has indeed been happening with NASCAR this year, but not because of the tires – it’s been because of downforce.
One thing I have my doubts about is if multi-groove racing will finally land in iRacing with the surface model update. Honestly, I don’t think the surface model has anything to do with the lack of multi-groove racing in iRacing. I think there’s a handful of underlying physics issues that need to be addressed, but I can’t put my finger on what. Any progressive banking track, we’re always at the top, no matter what. Then at the traditional speedways, we’re in a conga line at the bottom. Something about progressive banking is just not working as it does in real life. It’s gotta be related to physics and not the surface or tire models. That’s my experience talking.
As for the remaining issues within the game, before we move onto the history of car setups, coil binding doesn’t work in iRacing, and I’ve never understood why. For those who don’t know what coil binding is, coil bind setups utilize very soft front springs and very stiff rear springs to control the pitch attitude of the body, using aerodynamics to produce grip at racing speeds. The key to the Silverado and Xfinity cars within the game is to instead run the softest springs you can so the car doesn’t bottom out. Can you coil bind? Yes. Does it work? No.
And finally, the shocks are inherently broken on iRacing. They don’t work, and it’s really not the dev team’s fault. It’s impossible to make any racing sim have proper shocks without a super computer. The speed at which a processor has to calculate the information for a shock to work realistically is not possible on a consumer PC. Speed is essential for replicating the behavior of a shock, and no sim can do it. Well, kind of. They could do it if they didn’t care about potato PC’s, but then they would use half their userbase. Computers are generally too slow to calculate what shocks are actually doing in real-time, therefore every sim fudges shock values. The ripple effect occurs, and what happens is that every number in the garage menu is a little bit different than what you’d see in a real car, but the overall goal of the setup is the same.
Back when I was new, Richard Towler had just won a NASCAR iRacing Pro Series championship in 2010 with a setup that teeter-tottered on the straights. When his championship-winning setups got leaked to the forums, we all got a look at what a fast guy was doing to win races, and it was pretty absurd. He ran max cross weight (62%), maximum right rear spring (1200 lbs), and the minimum left rear spring value. You wouldn’t dare do this on an actual Cup car. I later learned this was an issue with the way the Winged Car of Tomorrow (COT) was made. There was no flex in the car at all. You were never on more than three wheels at a time, and you could see this visually out on track which was really embarrassing for the devs. The car was also sideways at all times due to the old tire model, and driving took a lot of talent, so at least shitty drivers were filtered out quickly because they found themselves upside down a handful of laps into race.
The Towler setup leak also caused a few unexpected problems. First, because they were so good, the Open Setup series on iRacing suddenly became fixed setup series, because literally everyone was running the leaked setups. And second, people might have to go way back in the forums to see this, but Dale Earnhardt Jr was quoted as saying “if my actual cup car drove like this, I wouldn’t take it off the hauler.” Dale Jr was heavily involved in the NASCAR iRacing Pro Series during this time, and coincidentally was dealing with the worst years of his career out on the real circuit. There’s a theory that he stopped sim racing almost entirely because of how much iRacing put him off his game, but rumors and stuff. Richard Towler went on to work for the Eutechnyx NASCAR games.
These were the days of the Winged COT I’m talking about, and dear God don’t get me started on the wing. It’s a long way back so I don’t remember entirely, but we ran either minimum or maximum wing everywhere – there was no trick to it. For a dose of comedy gold, once NASCAR (and eventually iRacing) switched to the traditional spoiler for the COT, iRacing was still using the Winged COT physics under the hood, but the setup value was fixed so nobody could touch it in the garage and figure out that “oh shit, these retards didn’t even change how rear downforce is modeled even though it’s supposed to be fundamentally different.”
Once the new tire model dropped in the summer of 2011, we were finally able to coil bind the next-generation Nationwide Impala. Nationwide/Xfinity setups have not changed at all in almost five years, so anything you do on the Camaro’s and Mustangs now is what you did back in 2011. Yet, shortly after the 2.0 update, iRacing realized they screwed up the differential values on all the cars, and that they were in fact backwards, which is why every car on the sim had huge oversteer off throttle, and massive understeer on throttle – it should obviously be inversed. Once the New Tire Model was released for the Sprint Cup car, we couldn’t adjust the bump stops so we ran max spring everywhere – I think the only tracks we didn’t were Phoenix and Charlotte.
During the four 2012 seasons we went from max rear springs to 200 lb (soft) rear springs, and this went across the board for all major oval cars. Originally, we weren’t allowed to adjust bump stops. Now, bump stops had always been hard-coded into the physics engine, but they were set at a fixed value because physics dev Eric Hudec, formerly of Petty Enterprises, believed allowing users to adjust bump stop values would make the setups too complicated. Once people who knew what they were doing complained, we finally got adjustable bump stops, but again it only became an issue in 2012, several years after the sim had launched.
This allowed us to continue to run small springs at every single track, and even though we were given a bump stiffness selection from 1 to 16, for most tracks we always ran 1. Some teams ran 16 for a slightly lower ride height, but it really hurt the handling because the bump stop became your spring once you were on it. During this time the cars would not turn in the center of the corner no matter what you did.
In the smaller series on the old tire model, such as the NASCAR Silverado, our goal was always to run the softest springs possible without bottoming out. When the New Tire Model was implemented on the Silverado, we stopped giving a fuck and let the trucks completely bottom out, always with 375lb or 400lb springs up front. Don’t do this in a real car, it’s dangerous.
For many years, during the COT era of iRacing, setups remained unchanged. I think the Gen 6 update in 2013 is when things got interesting because nobody knew what to do aside from bump stop settings. iRacing fixed the 200lb spring issue by allowing the car to travel more on the rear. For the baseline setup, we set the front as we did on the COT, attempting to pin the nose with soft springs and broken shocks, and then the rear end we went as soft as we could get away with because the car was faster when it was lower, but definitely stiffer than the 200lb minimum. You’d set the ride height so that it would travel as much as possible without bottoming out. So I guess minimum ride height and then as soft as we could go on the springs was the overall goal. And this was all based on telemetry data in an effort to get the car as low as possible, not just eyeballing it or doing it by feel. Every track was about running the softest spring you could. At the time, it was not realistic. The shocks in iRacing didn’t allow stiff springs. In real life, they were running 1000lb springs or higher and pinning it with the shocks, but because of iRacing’s inherently broken shocks, we had to run the smallest springs we could to keep the nose down.
iRacing did implement a bit of a tech inspection rule during 2013, as well as the real life ride-height rule for Sprint Cup teams, but despite it being enforced in the garage area, it wasn’t actually enforced on the track, nor was it enforced during the post-race festivities. So what would happen is, all of the fast guys on iRacing would set their cars up in a way that would intentionally fail tech inspection and abuse all of the new rules that had been implemented, and in order for it to pass and get on the track, raise the car up with the right rear spring offset to barely meet the ride height requirements. They’d go out and run the first ten laps of the race with what was a completely broken, fucked up setup, and during the first pit stop, either raise or lower the right rear spring offset to the proper value needed to make the setup hella quick – a value that wouldn’t pass tech had they been adjusting it in the garage. The result is similar to what you’d see happen in the final part of the 2014 Sprint Cup season where teams would flare out the side skirt as much as they could during the first pit stop for extra downforce. On speedways, you’d lower the offset for speed, and on short tracks, raise the offset for downforce.
If you didn’t know about this exploit, you got blown out in every major Open Setup oval race because it took iRacing several weeks to fix it.
When NASCAR did away with the ride height rule, it also got the boot in iRacing as well, and in the same update they added the ability to run 10,000lb springs. At the beginning of this update, some guys ran around 2,000lb – 3,000lb springs, while others ran as soft as they could to capitalize on the bumps stops. We personally went the way of soft springs. Big springs were realistic, but they weren’t fast because of the broken shocks. In the rear of the car we stiffened up considerably due to the lack of a ride height rule; the goal was to keep the rear end as low as possible at all times. Guys ran anywhere from 400lb to 6,000lb springs. Then, we received bump springs, which is what we’re on now, and it’s the most realistic setups we’ve had in iRacing to date. Everyone’s running big front springs, which is realistic, and the goal of the setup is the exact same as real life – as low as possible. In real life you’re able to get away with much softer springs up front because of the shocks.
I’m tired. That’s all I know. Please don’t ban me, iRacing.
I think what’s crazy is that for several years and several updates in a row, iRacing fanboys loudly proclaim “this is the build that cements the game as the #1 sim racing title ever”, only for a build to be released a few months later that drastically changes how the cars drive, and then you’ll see the fanboys say “yeah, the last build was kind of shitty, this new build is miles better though!” – it’s a pattern that has repeated itself for years, to the point where it’s very hard to take anything from their camp, or their users, seriously. One of the reasons this site exists.
I think what sucks is that for Open setup racing, it’s basically like, if you weren’t around for the past five years, you wouldn’t know what’s broken and what’s not. Like, I love oval racing, but unfortunately I have more skill when it comes to campaigning for a championship in road cars. I know what to do, setup-wise, with road cars. I neither posess the mechanical knowledge nor experience with one game alone to know that by the way, the shocks are fucked in iRacing and Eric Hudec said years ago that they will never be modeled properly. You don’t know going in that all the values setup-wise are wrong because they’re accurate in every other racing sim. So how do you even start to build something competitive?
Well, you can’t. That’s why guys are paid to be dedicated setup builders on iRacing.
That’s really shitty compared to something like R3E, or Stock Car Extreme where I can just jump in, throw some rough numbers at it, and build myself something nice in a few minutes.