Though the inexcusable server outages have caused long-time iRacing members to question what their subscription and content costs are going towards given what has recently transpired during the this year’s virtual 24 Hours of Daytona, there’s a new wave of optimism that can be found within the iRacing service. After nearly a decade of botched tire models drastically changing how cars would drive from one build to the next, goofy exploits which saw massive performance advantages given to those who managed to load the session with a different skybox, and unparalleled elitism that has turned diehard supporters into an online cult of sorts, there are two very specific signs that point to a new era of iRacing taking the sim racing community by storm.
It’s pretty ridiculous that it’s taken iRacing almost ten years to get to this point – especially given entire series of simulators have come and gone during the time iRacing has existed – but those who have stuck around through thick and thin might actually see their investment pay off. To their credit, the team at iRacing are now busting their asses for the better of the simulator.
It certainly won’t appeal to the European residents among us, but iRacing’s biggest project has done more than you’d think to rejuvenate the service as a whole. With the majority of iRacing’s userbase located in North America, dirt oval racing is something that many subscribers can go out and spectate on a Saturday evening themselves – without spending more than an hour on the highway – meaning that of the entire active iRacing audience, the majority of them really want to drive these unique cars in a simulator.
Because of how strange these cars behave compared to any traditional circuit car that competes primarily on tarmac surfaces, iRacing have basically been forced to re-build the game from scratch just to accommodate this abstract discipline of racing. While amateur modders have tried to fudge numbers within the isiMotor engine to properly replicate Sprint Cars or Dirt Late Models within the original rFactor, absurd numbers are simply no substitute for tearing apart the physics engine at its very core, and allowing it to natively support loose surface racing from the start. During this process, the team in Bedford would have obviously learned a thing or two about how tires behave under duress – something they’ve desperately needed in their arsenal for quite some time.
And according to their most recent press release, the development has paid off in a big way. iRacing’s own Tyler Hudson writes:
“iRacing’s version of a dirt late model took me by a huge surprise. From the start I had the sensation I was back in my race car; not from the adrenaline rush as much as the fact that the driving sensation and feedback were like no other car I’ve ever driven in the sim. it took some messing around in the garage, but it does. I haven’t found a way to make the car as far up on the bars as I’d like, but maybe that’s another item in development — or for a crew chief way better than me! I was able to twist the rear end and float the left front – everything you see in pictures of real race cars. I’m telling you guys, I am amazed at what iRacing has done.
The track changes…. A LOT, visually and grip wise. That is a huge part of what makes dirt racing what it is, so you’ll be happy to hear that. You legitimately have to search for moisture in the track for grip. After 10 laps around the bottom at Eldora, the grip had fallen off by half a second and – visually – you could SEE the track change color from wet to dry dirt. I followed the moisture every lap until I was up by the wall. Then I went back to the bottom and was 3 tenths slower than up top where it was still a little damp. Eventually, I had gotten all the initial moisture out of the track from the bottom to the top, and virtually from the inside wall to the outside wall ran almost identical lap times.”
While Tyler is listed as an official employee of iRacing.com, and there’s a chance he’s contractually obligated to publish only positive feedback of the service, Hudson is someone I’ve had the pleasure of battling during my own time spent on the iRacing service – so I can vouch for the fact that he does know what he’s talking about at the end of the day. And our internal informants whom prefer to remain nameless are giving us roughly the same feedback on dirt oval racing as well; for as many cars that iRacing have monumentally screwed up to the point where the userbase has abandoned them, supposedly dirt oval racing is the magic jump in quality many iRacers have been waiting for. It’s allegedly the first car on the iRacing service that one hundred percent nails what the simulator was intended to be about since day one. Critics like myself will obviously ask what the fuck they’ve been doing for eight years, but the hardcore fans looking past the inherent flaws will obviously be very happy to hear they’re on the right track.
And traditional European circuit racers can see the results of iRacing’s dirt adventure for themselves, right this minute.
Released earlier this week, the Porsche 911 GT3 Cup marks the first vehicle from the iconic German brand to appear in the iRacing simulator, replacing the aftermarket RUF cup car that basically every developer aside from Turn 10 and Electronic Arts have been using as a stand-in for several years. The 911 GT3 cup is the first car iRacing have built after their time spent ripping apart their simulator in a quest to accurately reproduce dirt oval racing, and it certainly shows. The reception to this car, unlike many cars on the iRacing service, has been unanimously positive. Several of iRacing’s biggest critics have showered this vehicle with praise, claiming that the tires finally exhibit realistic heating & cooling patterns, slides are extremely manageable, getting up on the edge of the tire on corner exit is now beneficial within the simulator like it should be, and the car in general feels very connected to the track compared to the vague and confusing driving experience in the current flock of GT3 cars.
It’s a drastic change of pace to the mixed reception iRacing road cars have received over the past three years.
And iRacing have even managed to woo individuals they’ve once snubbed, as Elliott Skeer – an American road racer infamously left out of iRacing’s beta program – can be seen losing his mind on the official forums at how accurate the car is. Late last year, we penned an article that focused around Skeer’s disdain with iRacing refusing to consult real drivers (such as himself) for feedback during the creation process of upcoming cars, and it appears something has certainly changed behind the scenes.
“I’ve done a couple laps at each track I’ve raced them at, with the setup directly off the real race car. And my answer to that is…. Holy Fucking Shit! Oh My God! YES! Every tendency that I’ve picked up to drive this car properly works exactly as is on here. Little quirks that happen at Watkins or Sebring happen the exact same way. I’m in absolute love with this car. Top job iRacing, this is next level!”
Though the honesty of individuals contributing to iRacing’s testimonial’s page is still up for discussion, this kind of feedback is certainly a far cry from what real drivers used to say about iRacing on public forums.
Currently, there’s just one car on the iRacing service that is being praised as some sort of divine entity. The other 40+ cars available for a price of $15 per vehicle, plus VAT tax where applicable, are still powered by a largely incomplete tire model that very rarely handles like a real race car on the limit of adhesion. Even though the new Porsche 911 GT3 cup supposedly drives like a dream and is indicative of what the future holds for iRacing, the same can’t be said about the pair of historic Lotus Grand Prix entries, nor the now-outdated Corvette Daytona Prototype or Mercedes AMG GT3 currently competing on the service right now. iRacing have currently gotten one car within the simulator to a point where it drives in a predictable manner, when other games on the market – such as Automobilista or rFactor 2 – feature entire rosters of cars that generally perform as they should.
And given how updating each vehicle within the simulator is a lengthy process for the iRacing staff, we’re looking at a situation where iRacing is finally on-par with other simulators in terms of the raw driving experience by the summer of 2018, a whopping fifteen months from now. Most people don’t want to wait that long, especially since some have been waiting since 2009.
Is it too little, too late? Or is this the start of a new era in iRacing? That’s for you to decide, but given simulators such as DiRT 4 and Project CARS 2 are on the horizon, there is indeed a time limit for iRacing to kick it into high gear and provide an experience that lives up to the marketing babble. As more and more people are beginning to jump ship due to inexcusable server outages, the sudden introduction of VAT taxes to online content sales, and no tangible increase in online racing cleanliness, now certainly isn’t the time for iRacing to remain an eternal science project and introduce these improvements in a very gradual fashion.