I’ve been busy, but don’t worry; I still lurk. As someone who’s involved with the iRacing.com Peak Anti-Freeze Series on a technical level, certain sim racers rely on me to push the software to its limit in order to be successful when the green flag drops, which means I can’t always be giving everything away on PRC.net. However, with a new build landing in our hands just a few short days ago, it’s time for me to give my impressions on what iRacing has to offer in March of 2016.
Now, as is the tradition with how iRacing operates, a brand new build during the off-season brings us a bunch of new cars, and for the oval guys, the low downforce aerodynamic package you’ll see on Sundays in the real life NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. But before I scrutinize the current oval racing physics model, I’d like to go over what the other half of iRacing’s userbase are in for.
For starters, the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Playboy Cup car has finally arrived after months of hype and fanfare. According to iRacing’s own preview, the car was developed alongside a Mazda MX-5 team building their cars for the 2016 racing season. The extra effort in development appears to have paid off; this is the absolute best car I’ve ever driven in any sim as far as fun factor goes. In real life, Mazda achieved a perfect 50/50 weight balance, and the handling characteristics have carried over into the virtual world of iRacing. Unlike many iRacing vehicles that seem to be prone to astronomical levels of understeer, the 2016 MX-5 allows you to flick the car into the corner with a snap of the wrist. There’s no more bullshit of cranking the wheel 90 degrees just to make it through the corner. The harder you drive it, the more it wants to turn, and when it finally gives up grip, it enters a perfect four-wheel drift like a proper race car should.
The only downside to this car seems to be the fact that as a rookie car, a lot of people are struggling just to find out how to drive a car that’s prone to oversteer throughout the entire corner. Don’t get me wrong, it’s manageable, but for the rookie road racers just starting out in iRacing, they’re in for a bit of a rude awakening.
Alongside the MX-5 came two all-new GT3 cars; the Audi R8 LMS, and the Mercedes AMG GT3. Both of these cars feel very much like the other GT3 cars already available – they’ve got tons of grip and they’re extremely hard to get out of shape. As usual, iRacing tends to struggle with low-speed grip levels in high powered cars, even with traction control at the max setting, and the updates to how traction control is processed by the software have done little to rectify the abundance of wheel spin in first gear. Luckily, we’re not in first gear all that often, and most of the fast guys turn off TC regardless thanks to excellent throttle control on their part.
Compared to the rest of the GT3 entries available, including the BMW z4 which received an update this build, the new cars seem slower almost everywhere. This is to be expected, since iRacing has decided to wait how people adapt to the new cars before working on the Balance of Performance settings prior to the start of the Blancpain Pro Series.
Lastly, the endurance racing guys will love to know we’ve now got the ability to flash the high beams at other cars, allowing them to signal for lapped traffic to move the fuck over.
To Sev’s dismay, the Formula Renault 2.0 has been released, and already iRacers are comparing this car to one of the first cars ever available in iRacing, the Star Mazda. The Formula Renault 2.0 drives very similar to the old Star Mazda, albeit with an abundance of grip thanks in no small part to the extensive research iRacing has done on their ever-evolving tire model. The new amateur open wheel car is exactly what most people expected it to be – a nice step up for all the Skip Barber drivers, and a refreshing European-based series for all the Star Mazda fanatics who may not enjoy the oval tracks on the Indy Lights schedule.
Now the FR 2.0 isn’t without its flaws. The car does seem to have too much grip overall, especially in low speed corners, but that just seems to be the typical iRacing issues where cold tires are for whatever reason producing more grip than they ever should. Once the tires generate some heat, the car’s overall behavior tends to balance out to a realistic level.
Sadly– and I’m going to get shit on here by the fanboys – iRacing tends to have a problem with being good on only one side of the software, and never both at the same time.
The Xfinity Series car finally received bump springs as per 2016 NASCAR rules, which will allow us to stop using the same stale setups we’ve been using for about two years now. Other than that, the car hasn’t gone through any fundamentally different changes, and drives relatively the same.
The Generation 6 Sprint Cup car received a full overhaul, featuring the new low downforce aerodynamic package, as well as some adjustments to the tires. However, iRacing has seemed to have gone overboard, to the point we have what seems to be no grip whatsoever – as if the only grip we’ve ever had to begin with was from the aero itself. After PEAK Series testing at Phoenix, we soon learned that the cars in iRacing were over two seconds slower than the lap times being run in real life, and this is at a track where aerodynamics don’t play an integral role in the car behavior. iRacing’s physics guy Eric Hudec believes rectifying this is too time consuming, as per PEAK Anti-Freeze Series driver Michael Conti:
Speedways are affected by these issues to a comical extent. The cars have literally no grip whatsoever, to the point where the only way to go fast is to set the car into the corner with the brake, and then go into a half-throttle input drift. Among the top drivers we’ve had nothing but complaints, but on the flip side you could argue that there’s more talent involved with the actual driving aspect.
And that would be fine if it wasn’t for the fact that this car has always suffered from insane understeer, and now the problem has been made worse. It’s at the point where you can run 40% cross weight and a 7000 pound right rear spring, and yet still be cranking the wheel in the middle of the corner begging the right front tire to finally generate some grip so it doesn’t just snap sideways when you get on the throttle. Basically, this setup would be a genuine safety hazard when applied in real world conditions, and in iRacing, it plows.
This, combined with the huge fall-off that was introduced with the new surface model and NTM V6, creates quite a difficult car to drive after ten laps at any track, and makes the people who can build a good, balanced car for a long green flag run get a huge advantage. This advantage is limited, as you can’t do a whole lot to stop the car from pushing in the corner. Sadly, the low downforce package has seemed to demonstrate how many flaws iRacing’s tire model still has.
Hopefully, next build we’ll receive a major tire model update that responds to heat better, as the current one is all about driving slow early on and giving up a bunch of spots just so you don’t have to pit every 25 laps. Meanwhile, on the road side, you can abuse the tires every single lap so long as you keep the temperature below the 240 Fahrenheit mark, as the tires never really fall off past the first five laps or so until they start to cliff around lap 20. Every iRacing World Championship road race has been won by a 1-stop strategy thus far, highlighting the fact that the tire model still needs a bit of fine tuning.
All in all, the new iRacing update fixed some stuff, broke other aspects, and eventually highlighted the eternal tire model issues which serve to plague the sim. The most we as sim racers can do is hope enough people complain to warrant iRacing having a look into some of what I’ve addressed above.