There’s an old saying in the world of auto racing that has become increasingly prominent with the introduction of pay drivers and marketing masterminds: “Money can’t buy talent.” Regardless of how much cash one spends on their racing career, whether it be out of their own pocket, or via sponsorship hoping to capitalize on a new demographic – eventually the lack of raw driving skill is exposed, sometimes in front of millions of viewers on live television. And when we cross over into the world of sim racing, it appears the same concept of sim racers being unable to exchange currency for on-track performance exists – albeit for an entirely different reason.
Sim Racing is no longer just a set of Playstation games where players are required to gently brake for tight corners. Re-creating all the intricacies of modern (and historic) auto racing series with pinpoint accuracy thanks to obvious advances in computer technology, there’s a base level of investment required to get your car around the track in a safe and efficient manner. The days of booting up a hardcore driving simulator and turning clean, competitive laps with a keyboard, generic Logitech gamepad, or $30 MadCatz racing wheel have been over for a number of years.
Toy steering wheels priced on-par with the cost of a next-generation gaming console are deemed “entry level purchases” by the majority of the community, myself included. An expensive triple monitor setup is advised for all serious virtual racers, as the configuration allows users to accurately judge the overall sense of speed in a more precise format, as well as safely race with other participants thanks to the increased field of view. Button boxes allow drivers to cycle detailed Heads Up Display menus mid-race, MoTeC data loggers let drivers tweak their personal car setup using the same programs as real world race teams, and for those who can adapt to Virtual Reality goggles, the Oculus Rift offers an experience unlike any other – highly beneficial when driving in close quarters.
Many sim racers have at least one of the expensive additions listed in the paragraph above. I myself dropped $40 on a mere cord that lets me mix and match one type of steering wheel with another type of pedals, a relatively high price considering the racing sim I play the most is a mere thirty dollars. Among the guys I talk to on a regular basis, some have triple monitor setups, others have pricey steering wheels, and pretty much everyone is currently eyeing an upgrade that will set them back a fairly sizable wad of cash. One guy wants a 3D-printed handbrake for around $100, another has already upgrade to Logitech’s new G920, running him upwards of $300.
But despite how much disposable income is being thrown around in sim racing for expensive hardware and equipment upgrades that serve to make the driving experience easier on the end user, a shocking amount of “serious” online races still resemble late-night public Forza lobbies. Sim Racers love to boast that their beloved PC titles feature a more hardcore group of users than the mass-marketed offerings on console, but the reality is that many sim racers are just as awful at driving as the stoners on Xbox Live – they’ve just spent a lot more money. Sadly, money can’t buy talent.
One recent online race at Oschersleben inspired me to put these thoughts online. While I’ve made it very clear here on PRC.net that I can’t stand the mod, the EnduRacers Flat 6 mod for rFactor 2 routinely attracts full 28-car fields on Race2Play, an online racing service similar to iRacing. Enough quick drivers show up and give me a small group of racers to battle with, that I temporarily ignore the obvious physics flaws in favor of a genuinely good battle with respectful competitors. It’s not the first time I’ve pushed aside physics issues in exchange for the thrill competition, as most of my time on iRacing was spent during the early years of the New Tire Model. You knew something was wrong with how the oval cars drove at the limit, but it was hard to argue with the sheer level of competition when high ranked drivers were in the room.
Like iRacing, Race2Play operates on scheduled start times, though with the relatively smaller userbase compared to the mammoth entity of iRacing, most events operate in a league-style format. In the case of the FKR Porsche Cup Series, there’s one race a week on Saturday afternoons, and everyone is welcome to participate so long as they’ve registered for Race2Play and put their name on the entry list. The schedule for the championship is laid out well in advance, giving you every opportunity to familiarize yourself with the upcoming tracks on the calendar. Going the extra mile, Race2Play allows you to check detailed statistics regarding other drivers in the room, including valuable info such as prior race pace, track records, and the ability to share car setups. Basically, you can sign up for the race on Tuesday, and be more than prepared for the 45 minute race when Saturday rolls around. I realize I may sound like a Race2Play shill, but for the sake of this article, the site allows you to enter a “serious” online race more prepared than you were for your high school mid-terms.
I fully expect people to be stuffing it into the barriers during practice, as that’s the whole point of the session – figure out where the limit is and work out all the bugs in both your driving line and your setup. But then the event advances into Qualifying, and throughout the ten minute session it’s a literal war zone. There are cars parked virtually everywhere, and missing bumpers litter the racing surface. Cones and corner markers intended to keep participants on the racing surfaces have instead been blasted into the stratosphere. With five minutes to go in the session, I plow into a driver mid-corner who’s so far off the pace, he doesn’t even have time to react as I approach. I grab a new car and hit the track for one more flying lap to end the session, and throughout the final sector I’m subjected to dodging two separate drivers who quite frankly have no business being there. One guy misses clipping my car by mere inches as he merges back onto the track, and while passing him I’ve got my eyes on a car spinning in the distance, guessing its trajectory in the hopes that he won’t ruin my lap. Thankfully, I get around him as well and grab the pole.
I don’t have a problem with guys who are slow. Not everyone is able to set blistering lap times that stretch the physical abilities of what their car is able to do, and that’s just the nature of the game – there are winners and losers. But for an event that many had a week to practice for, to see half of the field conducting themselves as if this was their first time ever in a racing sim – period – is absurd. Dedicating this much time to a hobby where you own an $80 online license for a relatively obscure sim in rFactor 2, have signed up for a small competitive online racing service such as Race2Play, own at least one expensive hardware or software upgrade to improve your sim racing experience, but then being unable to make a lap when it comes time to hit the track…
I struggle to understand how you can invest so much time and money into a hobby where your skill always increases the more you participate, yet instead the majority of participants would have been better off not showing up. And ripping on the lack of overall driving skill isn’t just aimed at some of the guys in this race at Oschersleben, because even the high profile iRacing leagues suffer from constant carnage.
So before the race even starts, I knew I was probably going to write an article regarding the outright lack of driving skill in organized races. It was that bad. But nonetheless, I run the race and have a fantastic battle with Finnish sim racer Tero Dahlberg for the win. And as we’re turning laps, the lack of driving skill in the field only becomes more apparentl. Twice, even three times per lap, there’s a constant stream of yellow flags popping up in the corner of the screen warning us of on-track incidents. As the version of Oschersleben we were racing on had been a shitty conversion from what appears to be Race 07, I assumed there was a glitch in the AIW file; deeming some parts of the racing surface as “out of bounds” and therefore wrongfully displaying the yellow flag.
Then I checked the replay.
I knew there would be a lot of incidents to take pictures of for this article, but it got to the point where I could pause the replay during an on-track incident; some guy spins or takes out another car, and as I clicked through the list of drivers in the field, another, unrelated incident would be occurring at the exact same time on a different part of the track. While John Smith is wrecking himself and another car in sector one, there is an entirely separate multi-car incident in sector three.
Oschersleben is a track that first appeared in SimBin’s legendary GTR 2, before making additional appearances in Race 07, Project CARS, and as part of the numerous DTM expansion packs for RaceRoom Racing Experience. If these guys hadn’t driven on this track even casually over the past decade, they had a whole week to practice just for this event. And instead, several drivers rode around as if they had just taken their Logitech G27 out of the package thirty minutes prior.
As the replay progressed, I became familiar with some of the more problematic drivers thanks to a plethora of missing body parts indicating which guys had previously been involved in a wreck. In a stunning display of incompetence, these guys would continue to ride around off-pace with a clearly damaged car, and then proceed to get into further hilarious accidents. Some of these wrecks were so brutal, it was as if they’d passed off the controls to their wives and/or girlfriends. Walls, barriers, or sandpits that would be impossible to hit after getting loose under normal racing conditions were being plowed into head-on. We’re talking barriers that were a distance of a hundred feet or so in the complete wrong direction, these guys were managing to destroy with ease.
Even more shocking was the lack of spatial awareness between competitors. On multiple occasions I saw the same guy get wrecked out by two separate drivers, both of which were well aware that he was in front of them. The victim had done basically nothing to warrant getting dumped twice, the aggressors simply drove into him due to a lack of skill.
But I think the sand traps and other miscellaneous earth-flavored out-of-bounds areas claimed the most cars throughout the race. I’m aware there are a few technical sections of Oschersleben that can unsettle the car, but none of them are overly difficult segments that couldn’t be perfected through a few practice laps – approaching the section a bit faster each time until you find the speed where the car gets uncomfortable. Yet self-spins were extremely common, and some drivers refused to park the car despite clearly not knowing the track. In real life, officials will actually send you to the pits for the night if you bring out too many cautions. Here, the 45 minute race with an actual points battle on the line may as well have been ladies night at the local karting facility. There were cars pretty much everywhere.
The real-world Porsche Cup car is essentially a Spec Miata for rich people, an amateur road racing car designed to prepare drivers for a long and exciting Sports Car racing career, though some participate in yearly Porsche Cup races around the globe strictly as a hobby. EnduRacers have taken an interesting approach when creating this car for rFactor 2, as an analysis of the tires EnduRacers have built for this car displays something bound to cause issues when discussing the simulation value of this mod. Even when the tires have been heated to the preposterous temperature of 400 degrees Celsius – twice the temperature needed to cook a pizza – the tires still provide 105% grip.
For those who may not understand these fancy graphs provided by a random PRC.net reader, you can abuse the tires and totally disregard driving in a conservative manner, as poor driving will have no adverse effect on your car’s handling. This car is built by EnduRacers in such a way that guys who have no idea what they’re doing can still turn competitive lap times and not be punished for blatant mistakes. If you want baby mode, this is baby mode.
Analysis of the tire behavior alone confirms there’s virtually no reason for people to be driving as if they’d just purchased rFactor 2 thirty minutes prior to the event. EnduRacers designed these cars so even the guys who lack the most basic of driving fundamentals can still turn satisfactory laps around the race track – and yet here we are taking screenshots of people who were literally wrecking multiple times per lap, then proceeding to limp their broken car back out in a quest to hit everything on the track.
As I browse message boards such as Reddit, NoGripRacing, VirtualR, InsideSimRacing, and a whole host of other sim racing communities, there’s always constant talk of sim racers upgrading their current hardware to pricey alternatives which serve to be some sort of competitive advantage, to the point where I feel a bit left out. I’m sitting here with a Driving Force GT that has quite frankly seen better days, and a set of Logitech G27 pedals that will probably die on me within a year or so. Guys also love to talk about the benefits of their new triple monitor setup, and of course we can dig deeper and start bringing up load cell pedals that improve braking performance, direct drive wheels which serve to provide the driver with more detailed force feedback, and even the few people praising the Oculus Rift – because there are moments where it works exactly as advertised.
So hardware-wise, I’m definitely in the minority. I’m rocking a ghetto setup. It’s safe to say that 99% of the drivers on the grid – any grid – have a better sim rig than me. And if you ask them why they upgraded their wheels, pedals, or monitors, they’ll say the same thing: “It makes the racing experience more realistic, and I feel as if I have more control over the car.”
But when the green flag drops, there’s a shocking lack of driving skill that doesn’t reflect the money sim racers are dropping on hardware that supposedly provides a tangible advantage. I boot up RaceRoom Racing Experience, and unless I’m in a league on Race2Play with eight dedicated guys, most drivers are gone by the first three corners. When Chris or Travis jump in an iRacing IndyCar race, they spend more than half of the event under caution. Despite the list of tracks in Assetto Corsa being a little on the light side, every car is running in their own zip code by lap three. And now you have people with all the time in the world to practice for an event in rFactor 2, and instead multiple sessions turn into a graveyard of cars that should have never been on the grid in the first place.
I just don’t understand how sim racers can invest this much into high quality hardware, but struggle to complete a lap when it comes time to actually play the game. What are these guys doing with their time? It goes beyond the gear snobbery mentioned in prior articles here on PRC.net; it’s as if guys are buying brand new skates, pads, and hockey sticks without knowing how to skate.