For six minutes, it appeared all was well. The 2017 iRacing Peak Anti-Freeze Series season, an officially sanctioned virtual NASCAR championship that hands a $10,000 USD prize and a trip to Homestead-Miami Speedway at the end of the year to the the overall victor, was set to kick off earlier this evening with a new roster of drivers, a relatively new points system which had drawn inspiration from past NASCAR playoff formats, and a whole host of competitors serving as genuine threats to Ray Alfalla’s dominance – the three time series champion who has spent the better part of a decade establishing himself as the guy to beat within the iRacing service.
Though Daytona can often be a shitfest in an online racing realm, full of cars getting launched into the catch fence at supersonic speeds while teenagers giggle with excitement over voice chat, there was an atmosphere unlike any other leading up to the event; our informants mentioned important personnel from NASCAR would be tuning in to see what this newfangled eSports craze was about, while a Peak Anti-Freeze representative was interviewed during the brief pre-race introduction as a way to add some sort of legitimacy to the event – iRacing’s attempt to display that this was much more than a group of nerds spread across multiple Teamspeak lobbies competing for bragging rights in a series viewed by just 600 bored sim racers aimlessly wandering through YouTube.
Yet instead of capping off the months spent planning the 2017 season with a solid event to finally convey what makes iRacing so special to the corporate suits who were begged for just one more season of sponsor money, they were instead greeted with a competition where absolutely everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. The 2017 NASCAR iRacing Peak Anti-Freeze Series event at Daytona was not the first of many successful races for what promotional material aggressively proclaims to be a growing eSport, but instead a showcase in iRacing’s ineptitude that many diehard fanboys are desperate to hide from the general public, or belittle those who openly discuss it; power-tripping, biased stewards, widespread technological issues, and a disorganized core event structure embarrassed the iRacing service in a fashion that hasn’t been seen before, and for those who shell out an arm and a leg just to play the damn game in some sort of casual fashion, hopefully won’t be seen again.
For a company who has spent the past eight years specializing in worldwide online racing simulator competitions, justifying an outlandish cost with a service fanboys claim is second to none and dubbing themselves to be the original eSport, what happened tonight at Daytona is the ultimate example of why a selection of sim racers openly mock the team behind iRacing. On select occasions, they simply can’t hide that a majority of the staff and stewards were simply friends hiring other friends, not adequately prepared to handle such a complex piece of software, nor a community expecting software to merely work as it should.
Talk of widespread organizational issues first began on Peak Anti-Freeze Series competitor Logan Clampitt’s personal Facebook page, where he mentioned the game put him in the wrong car number for the first major event of the season. While iRacing typically assigns your car number based on your iRating, with car #1 going to the highest rated driver in the session, the Peak Series is a custom event, where drivers are allowed to choose their own car number. Many Peak drivers began publicly questioning how iRacing – a team with enough money to acquire licenses for Ferrari, Porsche, and the Nurburgring Nordschleife – managed to screw up something so insignificant despite hosting this championship since 2010.
Before the YouTube stream was switched on, I already began receiving multiple messages from PRC-affiliated Peak Series drivers, describing “the ultimate shitshow”, in which a certain driver who had legitimately raced his way into the Peak Championship by placing well in the iRacing Winter Pro Series, was unable to enter the race server despite meeting all of the proper requirements to participate. So not only were the car numbers messed up, thus creating a situation where the custom graphics created just for the event didn’t match the car numbers on track, a guy who 100% was scheduled to run the race at Daytona, was not allowed to join the room by the iRacing software itself. No connection issues, no eternal loading screens; he simply couldn’t register for the session.
When the introduction to the broadcast had concluded, and the pace car pulled into pit lane to signify the start of the race, the field didn’t accelerate towards the green flag. Users in the accompanying live chat box began stating the start of the event had been called off, and the pace car promptly pulled out of pit lane to confirm that these people knew something the average viewer tuning in out of boredom didn’t.
Rather than the event commentators making note of the confusion unfolding on the monitor and doing their best to explain why the race hadn’t started as scheduled, it was instead iRacer Colton Bermudez notifying spectators that iRacing stewards had been forced to throw a manual caution flag due to “screwing up a bunch of stuff”, confirming that a driver guaranteed a spot on the grid had been accidentally denied access to the race.
With important NASCAR and Peak Anti-Freeze Series representatives in attendance, the field continued to click off caution laps, with the broadcasting crew eventually admitting that iRacing officials had been working through some technical difficulties. The first laps of the 2017 Peak Anti-Freeze Series season were completed under yellow flag conditions, and not even the commentators could give a straight answer to the viewers – Facebook playing an integral role in keeping people informed on the shenanigans.
The green flag was finally waved on the fifth lap of the scheduled one hundred lap affair, though none of the viewers actually saw it in real-time thanks to quick thinking by the virtual camera crew to obstruct yet another round of shenanigans. While it’s not discussed very often on the iRacing forums, users occasionally have encountered a race-ending pace car glitch, where even if the pace car is driving down pit lane and the automated official is about to throw the green flag to commence the event, the game incorrectly registers the caution period as “still in progress”, and therefore accelerating towards the start/finish line generates an automatic penalty once you pass the pace car’s current location, wherever it may be in relation to your car.
This lead to a situation where after waiting five laps to iron out the first round of technical issues, half of the field was disqualified due to a known bug that dates back to the inception of the service in 2008 and still hasn’t been fixed, creating an additional flurry of problems for the stewards to sort out in front of a live audience with key personnel looking on. A manual yellow flag was then thrown a second time, resulting in the first twenty minutes of the event spent awkwardly turning laps behind a pace car, though viewers knew something had gone haywire before the words caution had been displayed on the telecast – for a track known for massive packs of cars, it was certainly odd that the entire field was strung out to the extreme, twenty seconds after taking the green. During the second extended caution period, iRacing made the abrupt decision to suddenly turn Daytona into a non-points exhibition event, which was then passed onto the broadcast crew, and eventually the viewers themselves. According to several people involved in the competition as spotters, crew chiefs, and even drivers, the event was not outright cancelled or postponed for a thirty minute break to sort out the clusterfuck, because according to iRacing stewards keeping drivers updated on the situation with the in-game chat functionality, too many representatives from NASCAR and Peak would be unwilling to sit through stoppages, and the event itself – regardless of whether it would be contested for points or pride – absolutely needed to happen at that very moment.
Speaking to those inside the session watching the chaos unfold from their virtual spotters box or crew chief bench, veteran sim racers competing in the event unanimously voiced their disapproval over how iRacing officials and staff members had been handling the situation. Shannon Whitmore, the main steward of the Peak Anti-Freeze series, was reported to have been typing in the chat with extremely poor spelling and the overall competence of an angry old man upset his private NASCAR Racing 2003 Season online league was going to hell in a hand basket – a far cry from the professional atmosphere the promotional material advertises.
Several sources note that two competitors, iRacing Pro Series champion Ryan Luza, as well as his rival Logan Clampitt, were both given “final warnings” by iRacing for merely agreeing with front-runner Bryan Blackford’s suggestion to reschedule the Daytona race at a later date. So while the event is a complete mess thanks to the incompetence of iRacing’s staff members, rather than work to address the situation at hand, staff members instantly start looking for reasons to remove certain competitors they have a tangible bias against – or as in the terms Mr. Whitmore has stated himself, confirmed by multiple in-session witnesses: “The Peak Series isn’t for everyone.” Several other drivers also had their in-game chat functionality temporarily disabled by iRacing staff members for vocalizing their frustrations.
Even more embarrassing than the twenty minutes of caution laps and subsequent 180-degree switch to a spontaneous exhibition event in a desperate attempt to retain the attention of corporate big-wigs, would be the iRacing staff’s insistence that an online series spectated by a whopping 600 people and consisting primarily of teenagers not possessing a valid drivers license must be ruled with an iron fist, where any hint of dissident from the competitors is explicitly prohibited. The 40-car field was obviously frustrated with the amateurish organizational skills displayed by iRacing and had every reason to put their collective feet down in this situation, especially after years of marquee World Tour events plagued with connection issues, and major championships with legitimate cash prizes on the line determined by exploits discovered within the software – such as the surface model bug.
And the hits just keep on coming. PRC has learned of at least one iRacing member who had qualified for the Peak Anti-Freeze Series season by placing well in the off-season Winter Pro Series, had done so by dwindling his skill points by signing up for a multitude of events and intentionally not participating in them, allowing him to contest the winter series in a lower split of opponents for easy victories, and what’s essentially a free entry into a $10,000 championship.
When iRacing were directly confronted about the issue with the above data display after a similar incident produced a drastically different ruling from officials, as well as links to individual race results where the user had registered for a vast array of events in a short period of time during the week before an important off-season championship, only to never set foot on the grid, iRacing staff members claimed this was a non-issue.
And of course, a lot of people are probably wondering what sporting code rules this violates – don’t worry, it’s these two: Actions detrimental to iRacing, and the purpose of the iRating system. Sandbagging for a shot at $10,000 is disrespectful to other users, and goes against why the iRating points system was established on the service in the first place.
Of course, none of this was ever enforced on this particular driver, and it was instead all basically ignored, because as you can see from the Facebook screenshots uploaded below, it just so happens to be a “development driver” of Ray Alfalla’s team – last year’s champion and iRacing’s poster-child for sim racing super stardom for the past five years.
For a company jacking up the cost of the product under the guise of a premium service, receiving official endorsement from both NASCAR and Peak Anti-Freeze, proclaiming themselves to be the “original eSport racing game”, pushing out high-fidelity trailers supposedly offer a “second to none” experience, as well as allegedly possessing infrastructure that dwarfs what other developers can churn out for their online experience, what happened this evening at Daytona was an absolute train wreck for just how long iRacing have been in this business.
From the embarrassing behavior of the officials, who bully, intimidate, and hold obvious biases against teenagers who are just stoked to be playing a NASCAR computer game against a talented group of drivers, and the abundance of technical issues that quite frankly shouldn’t be popping up at this stage in iRacing’s lifespan despite the staff’s knowledge of their existence for almost a decade, all the way to the six hundred or so viewers that clearly indicate sim racing isn’t taking off as an eSport like the advertisements are suggesting, tonight is exactly why I’ve made an effort to educate sim racers about the other side of iRacing. This is the kind of shit-show that has been brewing for quite some time; one which iRacing apologists will undoubtedly be desperate to sweep under the rug and pretend it’s all some major conspiracy by a delusional former member.
Now is the perfect time for a rival developer to come along and do things better.