The honeymoon period lasted a total of four hours. After waiting the better part of a year for ISI to bring Modern American Stock Cars to rFactor 2, technical inaccuracies have caused most of the virtual drivers and engineers who were once all aboard the hype train to toss aside the newly released set of content mere hours after it was available for download on the official site. Based on the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, complete with a selection of downforce packages and wheelbase adjustments, the alternative option to iRacing that most people had extremely high hopes for, has fallen flat on its face.
The new addition ships with over 75 different liveries, all of which are loosely based on the current Sprint Cup Series season – carefully swapping out all real world brands for fictional spoofs while still remaining true to the source material. Each driver has multiple different liveries to select from, and In some cases, the unlicensed liveries are actually superior to what you see on track. ISI has also managed to make the three fictional manufacturers even more aggressive than their real life Fusion, SS, and Camry counterparts. On the outset, it looks like a really fucking fantastic mod that’s doing everything in its power to become a heavy hitter among American sim racing fans.
But then, we start running into problems.
There aren’t a whole lot of tracks. It’s no secret that rFactor 2 doesn’t have the sizeable following compared to rival titles like Assetto Corsa and Project CARS, and for a game that’s intended to be a modding platform, this really starts to work against the entire Stock Car experience. Because of the hit-or-miss environment of rFactor 2, one that makes great mods shine and average mods utter shit, there are basically five oval tracks for rFactor 2 worth downloading: Charlotte, Daytona, Indianapolis, Joesville, and Nazareth. It’s not a whole lot of variety, and this is made worse by the userbase itself. Most servers will simply not be hardcore enough to seek out Joesville and Nazareth, two of the most technical circuits available, and hardcore NASCAR fans know all to well that a trip to Daytona is only to appease the people who are just being introduced to Stock Car racing. You’re left with a lot of servers alternating between Charlotte and Indianapolis, tracks people will soon grow tired of.
While this falls in line with the general selection of content available for rFactor 2 – a handful of tracks for each series offered – NASCAR fans need more than five tracks. Each oval on the real life NASCAR schedule is different in its own unique way, and part of the challenge is fine-tuning the setup to suit not just Charlotte, but the sister tracks of Atlanta and Texas as well. I get that we’ll have to wait for new tracks and conversions to pop up over the coming months, but there’s no guarantee they’ll be any good, especially if they’re converted quickly from other games. ISI’s default content has set the bar extremely high, and reusing models from other games will make some tracks stick out like a sore thumb.
Once you’ve selected a track from the five available, the Garage menu makes no effort to welcome newcomers into the world of Stock Car racing, and that kind of sucks.
Both myself and PRC.net Staff Member Maple are licensed Stock Car drivers, with Maple having infinitely more experience behind the wheel. We don’t have a problem with the plethora of configurations available in the Tuning menu, but a lot of people do. ISI has given people the option to change the overall chassis configuration, brake configuration, downforce package, wheelbase length, steering ratio, and a couple other options unique to oval racing. It’s a lot to comprehend, and it’s different for each track.
For those who follow NASCAR each week, or have already spent countless months on iRacing, these options are pretty straight forward. For those who don’t, it’s an entirely different story. NASCAR teams bring a totally different car to each type of track, and it’s not uncommon for a team to build anywhere from eight to ten different cars over the course of a season, all of which are intended for different events. ISI lets you replicate this within the tuning menu, but no effort has been made to explain why you’d pick the 110.0/110.5 wheelbase for a certain track, or how a certain downforce configuration is beneficial on specific tracks.
It’s essentially going to lead to a lot of people coming to the track with the outright wrong downforce, chassis, brake, and wheelbase configurations, smacking the wall a few times or being woefully off pace because of it, and going “wow this is shit” before disconnecting and never touching the cars again.
To illustrate how complicated this can be for new guys, I joined an Indianapolis room last night, and a handful of people were using the Superspeedway configuration with the default downforce package. Their lap times were a few seconds slower than everybody else, they had about half the horsepower we did, and they would have never known what they were doing wrong if someone hadn’t told them that a Superspeedway refers to only Daytona and Talladega. I can’t see this getting any easier over time. Driving assists also prevent these cars from behaving the way they should, so people running TCS or ABS in GT3 cars who jump into a Stock Car room without adjusting their settings will also fall to the bottom of the leaderboard and have no idea why.
From a drivers perspective, they’re pretty fun, although you can drive them way too hard without being punished. If you’re looking for Stock Cars without signing up for iRacing, this is your only option, but it’s not necessarily a good one.
My first few laps, I drove it the way I was taught how to drive a stock car and I really enjoyed myself, but as I became comfortable with the way the car reacted to my inputs, I found I could push the car in a manner similar to ARCA Sim Racing. During our testing, we found that we could push beyond what was anywhere near comfortable, and easily get away with it. You could cook the right side tires as much as you wanted to, and the car suffered no negative handling effects. In fact, overall there was just too much damn grip at any given time. The more laps we drove, the more we found that the car was just totally inaccurate in every single way.
The absurd grip levels have been demonstrated by well-known iRacer Ian Plasch while on his Twitch stream. Further testing at Charlotte with the help of Maple and a few other guys allowed him to go flat out around Charlotte with the low downforce configuration, something that would absolutely not happen in real life – that was the whole point of NASCAR designing a low downforce kit in the first place. You can watch the three lap stint HERE, where he basically just laughs at how terrible the whole package is.
The driving physics are not the only portion of the mod that lacks attention to detail. Whereas NASCAR mandates that you must start the beginning of each session with a full tank of fuel, rFactor 2’s Stock Cars allow you to take out fuel whenever you want. Whereas NASCAR doesn’t have a ride height rule, allowing for some pretty ingenious setups, rFactor 2’s Stock Cars strictly enforce it. It’s the little things, here and there, that start to add up.
And there are other issues. The NASCAR-style spotter isn’t nearly chatty or descriptive enough to help you navigate through a crowded race track, which will rear its ugly head when online leagues inevitably start up. While there indeed is a spotter plugin, most people will not even think to go looking for one given rFactor 2’s lack of third party mods to begin with. Virtual Mirrors are completely useless if you run a high Field of View setup and move the seat position too far forward. Lastly, the baseline setups ISI give you as a starting point for both Indianapolis and Charlotte are pretty awful. I myself wrecked the car coming out of Turn 4 at Charlotte because it just snapped out from under me, yet when I threw my own setup at the car offline, it was a completely different story.
As oval setups can be pretty complicated and intimidating for all but the most dedicated of Stock Car enthusiasts, there is a chance most people will struggle with these cars and dismiss them as “too hectic” due to a shitty default setup, when in reality, all of the quick guys have already found out how to glue the car to the track and are laughing at it on their Twitch streams.
Sim Racers know all too well what it’s like to wait for an update or new piece of content for months on end, only for it to be released in a less-than-stellar state and collect dust after only a few hours of playtime, and ISI’s Stock Cars for rFactor 2 are no exception. Long thought to be serious competition to iRacing’s online oval racing monopoly while they were being teased throughout the summer, now that we’ve got them in our hands and have gotten our hands dirty in the Garage menu, the cars are extremely underwhelming. Too easy to drive and way too damn fast compared to the real thing, oval racing fans are now forced with another unnecessary trade-off: deal with iRacing’s constant stream of bugs that threaten the competitive balance people shell out big money for, or drive a Stock Car that in no way represents how a 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car behaves under racing conditions.