Earlier in the week here at PRC.net, I published a short piece on iRacing’s Pablo Lopez, who was given the opportunity to enter an invite-only Mazda Miata cup time trial challenge traditionally reserved for real world SCCA drivers thanks to his performance in a sponsored iRacing tournament. As anyone with a functioning brain was able to predict, Lopez didn’t fare so well, adding his name to an elusive group of sim racers whom iRacing has propped up as these online racing Gods, only to struggle when given a shot in a real car funded by iRacing, because the simulator didn’t teach him jack shit and in many ways actually ingrained a number of bad habits into his driving style, habits he was unable to shake while turning laps at NOLA Motorsports Park.
Saturday night’s Reader Submission comes from an individual who has written to us before – though he wants to remain anonymous in this instance – regarding how absolutely stupid these publicity stunts are, and how developers such as iRacing could adjust their marketing pitch to continue with the same concept yet make them more effective in the long run.
I was reading your last article about how companies such as iRacing try to put sim racers into a real life race scenario – and often failing – and it reminded me about how absurd the concept is of taking people who have never raced in reality and putting them into a situation like that is.
I want to stress first of all that, yes, I know the people who have won past GT Academy competitions can race pretty well in reality and have made great careers for themselves in the motorsport business because of it. However, most of those who have been on GT Academy have had racing experience before, but at an amateur level. For example, before he appeared on GT Academy, Josh Muggleton had competed in a few amateur sedan races in order to get his racecraft and techniques dialed in, before he took part in the filming of the show. Lucas Ordonez was also a semi-professional kart racer before appearing in GT Academy; his karting career only put on hold due to a lack of funds.
While those, including myself and James, who have got some kind of racing license at a NASCAR or even a local level, are ineligible to compete in the contest, those who are in GT Academy aren’t just teenagers that happened to be really good at Gran Turismo; they had some prior practice in real racing, even if it was only just going to a local indoor kart track every week with mates.
What irks me the most about these publicity stunts, is that people are somehow shocked that the sim racers don’t do as well in real life as they do on iRacing or Project Cars and what not. This is because, in reality, the sims that are publicly available don’t actually teach you how to race in real life. Sure, you can learn about racing lines and how to race clean side-by-side, but once you’re in a real race car, that all changes dramatically. Sims don’t allow you to feel the suspension compressing and the car bottoming out and going light over the hill at Eau Rouge or Radillion like it does in real life, they don’t replicate the wind and g-forces knocking you and the car around and the debris that flies around. Because that shit is scary. And race car drivers know this, though they don’t admit it.
The difference is, however, that both amateur and professional racers have learned to overcome the fear. They still get nervous before a race, but they know how to block it out and get on with the job. They can go wheel to wheel with someone and not think about the consequences of touching or colliding, which is another thing sims can’t replicate. They can feel and react to what the car is doing and how to work with each reaction. Sim racers simply don’t have that. The ones that get thrown in without any experience apart from “oh, they won an iRacing NASCAR League a couple of times” have never had to feel the initial anxiety of overtaking a real car without wrecking themselves and costing themselves a lot of financial stress, they have never felt the car lose grip and start sliding with the g-force being so strong that you have to fight the wheel to get it back in control and no amount of a Logitech G27 vibrating like a sex toy is going to prepare you for that.
And before someone in the comments points it out, yeah, the real life racers use iRacing and rFactor in their time off. But it’s not because the default version of those games are super realistic and helps them find setups to use in the real races. They basically only use it to practice hitting apexes, and racing against other humans. That’s not really that groundbreaking in the scheme of things, it’s only really keeping the basics of racing fast refreshed. And in regards to teams using purpose built sim, they usually commission a software company like Image Space Incorporated to provide a specialized sim for them that is far more realistic, and in turn harder for mere mortals to handle.
So, in conclusion, the advertisement that a sim is so realistic it can make any sim racer a racing superstar is really just public relations fluff that isn’t true in the slightest. What needs to happen in the long run is for companies like iRacing to stop putting people who are not actually qualified to drive in a real racing environment for the sake of tooting their own horn and prancing around how great they are. If they did something similar where an up and coming racer is having a MX5 Cup debut at Laguna Seca, and uses iRacing to help prepare and talk about some of the similarities he or she found, that’s fine, because they at least know what they’re doing.
Sorry for the long rant, but it’s just a frustrating concept that is so elementary when you look into it. I’d like your thoughts on the matter. Cheers anyways.
I’m glad you started things off with mentioning certain GT Academy champions, because it’s a misconception I’ve wanted to address for the longest time here at PRC.net, but didn’t really have the incentive from our readers to do so.
The more you research into who exactly the winners of GT Academy happen to be, a lot of times you find out they certainly aren’t random teenagers from around the world; as you mentioned with Ordonez and Muggleton, they were amateur racers with actual on-track experience, who happened to be talented enough to sit down and haul ass on Gran Turismo when the opportunity was presented to them. I personally wish more and more people other than myself would be willing to touch on this aspect of the GT Academy festivities, because if you talk about this stuff openly and don’t adhere to the narrative which Sony, Polyphony, and Nissan instruct web sites to push, it prevents individuals like the delusional segment of the iRacing crowd from getting lost in their fantasies and believing there are legitimate NASCAR scouts spectating random races on the service.
In short, if you as a video game company go out and tell the general public that random motherfuckers are getting pulled from their crusty sim cockpits and handed a professional racing career for merely being good at their particular video game, there are indeed many people within the community who will take that to heart. And we saw it last week when Jason Jacoby revealed to the world that he dropped a whole lot of money he didn’t have on a custom sim rig, complete with his own fire suit. When you don’t know that GT Academy is a bit of a smoke and mirrors show, or in Jacoby’s case, aren’t aware that NASCAR driver Josh Berry wasn’t just handed a JR Motorsports ride because was friends with Dale Earnhardt Jr. through private online NASCAR leagues over the years, you end up basing your knowledge of this world on quarter-truths and hearsay. Believe me, there are many people in the sim racing community who are like this, and hopefully if our boy finishes his homework in a timely fashion, we’ll have someone on PRC.net willing to put his name out there and confirm some of the insanity I allude to.
I understand I’m a bit of an anomaly when it comes to crossing over from sim racing into reality; I’m that asshole who once tore up his own neighborhood in a Rotax kart just for something to do, but I’ll admit it: performance driving is a bit hectic, and you learn real quick if you’re cut out for it or not. Whether you’re out with friends at the local indoor karting complex, shitting up your local oval track, or at the wheel of an extremely powerful purpose-built race car, walls hurt. Hitting other cars also hurts – and even light contact is fairly loud and unsettling. Dancing on the edge of a tire, or willingly letting the rear end of your vehicle hang out on corner entry because that’s how you’re supposed to go fast in front wheel drive cars, is not a feeling most people are going to be comfortable with; there’s a fine line between getting it right, and getting it oh so very wrong. It takes a very strong mind to stay focused in that situation and continue to push.
I got over that portion of anxiety by reminding myself that driving in circles is something I’ve wanted to do since I was a toddler, walls only hurt if you hit them, and it’s not like I have a female companion expecting me to come home at the end of the day. That kind of positive self-talk may not work for others, but it worked for me. And of course, there will be people who comment things like “who are you to speak about this subject, you only drive indoor karts and shit boxes at some oval nobody cares about” – and to that I say it all evaporates into thin air when you’re strapped into something via five-point safety harness.
Now for the last portion, I will contest your underlying point about racing simulator experience not transferring to the real thing aside from basic driving lines and race craft. I’ll honestly go out on a limb and say racing simulators are roughly 85% accurate, with the final 15% boiling down to sensory overload elements that no full motion rig can reproduce. I’ve talked about this in the past, but no sim setup will be able to replicate the PA system fading in and out depending on the part of the track you’re on, the smell of Hot Dogs in turn one, the bits of rubber bouncing off the windshield, or the broad range of vibrations you receive from every inch of the car. It’s just not happening.
But just like in a simulator, all you drive a car with in real life are a set of pedals and a steering wheel. In theory, provided the software itself is of particularly high quality, the same wheel & pedal inputs on a simulator should carry over to real life with one to one accuracy – also known as muscle memory. The reason iRacers have such trouble adapting to real cars is because the physics engine is still largely a work in progress project. From one month to another, iRacers are basically given brand new cars requiring a totally different driving style thanks to a constant stream of updates, with tires that most people on the service still can’t comprehend in the slightest, and weird weight transfer effects leading to bizarre tank-slappers that can destroy even the most talented of sim racers. What this does is royally fuck up the muscle memory sim racers acquire through practicing iRacing.
At the risk of sounding like a shill, other games prepare you in a more adequate fashion. One of the greatest things ever to happen to me in my sim racing career was receiving a lifetime ban from iRacing, because it effectively forced me to try out and get good at other simulators, titles actually drove like a real car.
But even with the ability to branch out and try other games, merely owning a bunch of different simulators and jumping around to each of them isn’t the recipe for success. I was lucky enough to be surrounded by like-minded sim racers – some of which who write for the site – who were able to tell me things like “rFactor 2 gets this portion right, practice this car on this track in rFactor 2 to prepare yourself for element A”, or “NASCAR Racing 2003 Season models this correctly, practice this car on this track in NASCAR 2003 to prepare yourself for element B” Dustin jumping on Teamspeak and saying “Assetto Corsa sucks, but put in a ton of laps on the Lamborghini Muira because that will teach you proper throttle control” is valuable advice which helped me in my own journey, but it’s also advice that a lot of these iRacers simply weren’t getting prior to these marketing stunts.
And that’s what the team at iRacing really need to do – before Lopez or Alfalla or Huttu find themselves in a real life car with the cameras rolling and the entire world of sim racing watching, someone needed to pull them aside and say “here are the specific areas you need to practice on our simulator to prevent from embarrassing yourself.”
If their simulator isn’t up to snuff and teaches them bad habits, maybe get your fucking shit together and build a competent simulator before you go out and do all of this crazy PR stuff. Because in my experience, managing tire wear was indeed pretty damn close to how it worked on rFactor, and I let the rear end hang out on corner entry the same way I did in RaceRoom Racing Experience. These are developer teams operating on a tenth of iRacing’s budget, and I can safely say the WTCC cars in R3E made me pretty damn good at driving a shitty Cavalier in real life.
Lastly, your views on how iRacing – as well as other sim developers – should change their marketing tactics are correct. I really don’t want to see these random online racers get a shot in a real car and proceed to establish themselves as a back marker, because any idiot can read between the lines and determine the simulator didn’t really help them at all. Go out and find talented drivers who race the simulator in their spare time, and talk to them about what elements help prepare them for the upcoming race weekend. Not only is it cool to hear about each individual driver’s training techniques, it reflects well on the community that you have these really obscure games actually playing a genuine role in the real world counterpart.
I agree that it’s frustrating to see these PR stunts fail spectacularly, time and time again. Maybe we’ll move on from them in the future once companies figure out it’s just making ’em all look like morons.