I apologize in advance for the endless shit-slinging this will cause, but many in our comments section have been asking for this article to be written at some point, and today seemed like a good idea to address the topic given certain semi-related discussions popping up in the official iRacing member forums.
Most of the iRacers who hang around PRC undoubtedly know me as the guy who was permanently banned from iRacing and has some sort of “evil vendetta” against the company, and depending on who you ask, the stories will vary from modest “he was a cunt on the forums & used up his final strike”, to elaborate musings that showcase the creative writing talents of sim racing’s finest madmen. Regardless of where you stand on the whole PRC vs. iRacing thing, now that the hatchet has been buried (in a way), I can safely say that I was removed from the service for posting a negative review of the simulation that gained traction within the sim racing community. Lots of questions will arise from that statement, so I’ll do my best to answer them in an abbreviated manner which allows us to progress onward with the article.
iRacing has the finest marketing team in sim racing, and they care deeply about their brand. This is not a bad thing, but it means that if you as a content creator have not been satisfied with a recent update or release, and your content happens to gain a bit of a following and people start agreeing with what you have written, the organization will do their best to make sure this internal and external dissent with the game doesn’t continue to spread – especially with some of the partners & sponsors iRacing has attained throughout the years looking on. iRacing is a very large community of like-minded sim racers coming together to participate in an exclusive online racing country club, so having one guy in there who not only could run wild with FRAPS and the Print Screen key, but could articulate the service’s shortcomings in a way that made their efforts look decidedly amateurish, the solution is pretty simple – get rid of that one guy who is diligent enough to expose it all. I’m not saying it’s right, but I at least understand their perspective.
Thankfully, a rival developer appreciated this kind of diligence rather than actively suppressed it, and as a result now I have a cool job and a race car sponsorship to boot.
The sunk cost fallacy of sim racers not willing to part with hundreds of dollars in vehicles and locations over their opinions of a new car or recent patch, coupled with behind the scenes relationships most content creators big and small share with iRacing, are the reasons you will not see any YouTube personalities or sim racing media outlets publish wholly negative pieces on the simulation – only retrospective, stealth comments such as “the new build’s tires are miles ahead of the previous iteration and actually feels connected with the road,” which hold implications that the previous build of the game was a nonsensical pile of shit that didn’t drive like a real car in the slightest. I was essentially the guinea pig to figure out where that exact threshold lay. The nice part of this story, is that after months upon months of waiting around to see what would happen next, considering I had nothing to show for the $993 Canadian spent on content within iRacing, I was indeed given a full refund and a proper apology for my run-in with iRacing’s aggressive marketing strategy. Yes, the rumors are true, iRacing does hand out refunds, though I have to state they only do so in select special circumstances. You certainly can’t start bombarding support staff with complaints about the tire model and hope they reimburse you for two weeks wasted on a racing simulator you didn’t like – that’s not how it works. In my situation, I hadn’t heard from the staff in eighteen months, circumstantial evidence was starting to build a legitimate case in my favor, and we still continued to cover iRacing anyways, because unlike the rumors claiming I write under multiple accounts, we actually did have a guy involved in their $10,000 championship – and still do. So their ban accomplished precisely nothing in the long run, other than hold about a thousand dollars from a customer while denying access to the money he had spent for saying things they didn’t agree with on the internet. Oops.
However, what most people aren’t aware of, is that I was given the choice to return.
Here’s why I didn’t.
In the event that you’ve been living under a rock for the past month, or haven’t noticed the obvious banner change at the top of the page that depicts a very real race car as opposed to the pretend race cars we obsess over, I’ve been sponsored by another major sim racing developer to campaign a stock car that sends almost 500 horsepower to the rear tires. This isn’t a test session or a publicity stunt where I’m on a closed circuit for a few laps and they speed up the footage to make it seem like I was going faster than I was, this is the real deal.
Part of why I landed this gig was because I performed well in an entry level class, and the main reason I was able to be instantly competitive out of the box in said entry level class despite no prior racing experience was thanks to my time spent in certain simulators. Don’t get me wrong, I hated every minute of driving WTCC touring cars in RaceRoom Racing Experience because dear God front wheel drive cars fucking suck, but that shit paid off on day one when my car owner sent me sideways into turn three for a laugh, and I had one shot to get it right. Instead of shooting face first into the concrete wall, I went out and won Rookie of the Year, and almost won the championship had it not been for two separate engine explosions. Bragging? Sure, go ahead and call it that, whatever, but it also speaks volumes about how this software can be used as a genuine training tool, provided you know how to translate what you learn in a simulator into the actual car.
iRacing features what’s basically our exact car in the software – two variants, if you want us to be specific. There’s the Super Late Model (left), and the Sportsman Late Model (right), which to our European readers who aren’t well-versed in stock car racing, it’s like comparing a GT3 entry to a GTE car – same basic premise; one is an evolution of the other. So on the outset, iRacing would appear to be the prime candidate for a personal training tool – tons of short tracks (some of which we might race at in the future), an abundance of online competition, and what’s supposedly the greatest simulated race car physics available to consumers. Why would anyone turn down the opportunity to return to this software after being mistreated by the organization?
The answer is one word: Tires.
My real world crew chief this year is Ryan Luza’s virtual crew chief, whose team has swept the first three rounds of iRacing’s Peak Anti-Freeze championship, not to mention winning some absurd number like nine out of eleven races in the iRacing Pro Series this past winter. Together, they have found some shit when trying to gain that extra tenth of a second on their opponents, who are vying for the same $10,000 USD cash prize.
Since iRacing’s New Tire Model experiment, which began in August or September of 2011, one oddity in the underlying tire physics have always remained a constant: the tires do not take kindly to generating any sort of heat. Ever wonder why your first lap at speed is always the fastest, and the car drops off like a rock afterwards? Cold tires are faster. I’ll let you process that for a second.
The more you heat up your tires, the less grip you have, which means unlike how a real driver would go out and properly work in their set of racing slicks to optimal grip levels before plateauing for a few laps and then proceeding to naturally fall off, iRacing’s tires operate best at room temperature, and get progressively worse in what feels like a linear fashion from zero until they liquefy at a temperature of 230 – which is where the iRacing death slide so many cars exhibit comes from. Once a tire hits that magic number on the nose, the car immediately tries to kill you.
This is actually a problem that dates back to IndyCar Racing II; a specific temperature was hard-coded into the tire model (which varies from game to game depending on the racing series depicted) to determine when the tires considered to be at a state of overheating, and the car would instantly break loose if the tires were at that precise temperature or above. Papyrus titles have always made use of this concept – and surprise, it’s the same guy behind all of the tires – though NASCAR Racing 2003 Season does the best job at providing a convincing, natural heating and cooling cycle, whereas the issue is most noticeable in IndyCar Racing II thanks to the fact that you’re traveling upwards of 230 mph and putting ridiculous G-loads on ultra-lightweight single seaters.
What this means, is that with iRacing failing to fix how cold tires are inexplicably faster than hot, sticky tires, as a driver I can’t use iRacing to practice how to work in a set of racing slicks or learn to deal with a tire’s natural life cycle, because any kind of tire heat in iRacing is detrimental to your car’s performance, and I’d basically have to unlearn everything I know about tire life and management just to be competitive in iRacing – which certainly isn’t how a racing simulator is supposed to work.
Long before we announced our 2017 season plans, when putting together the car was just a secret Teamspeak thing that only a few people knew of, Dustin sent me this video of late model driver Ty Majeski lighting up the tires before his qualifying run at New Smyrna in February, with “do this when you go out” attached to the link. Burnouts aren’t for show, they serve a purpose – to heat up the tires and give you substantially more grip on an otherwise dormant race track.
If you want to be fast in iRacing, here’s something that might cause problems: do the opposite – crawl around the race track at fifteen miles per hour, only accelerating on the final stretch of asphalt to give you a flying start at the timing line. I don’t care whether you’re at Road Atlanta, Bristol, or the Watkins Glen – coast around the track at school zone speeds for your outlap if you want to knock a few tenths off your personal best. Tires are so sensitive to any kind of heat, wasting time on a Power Wheels out lap is genuinely worth the extra minute or two spent looking like a dumb-ass on the apron.
I can’t say I’m too keen on abandoning real-world racing skills and techniques to run bogus out laps and pussy-foot around the track on tires that loathe heat and elasticity, when my real car will ask me to generate heat and sidewall flex to produce results on the track. Just think of how much that would fuck up my driving style, not to mention how iRacing’s poster-boy Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s,suspiciously seemed to suffer a career-defining slump from the summer of 2008 to the summer of 2012, during the exact time-frame he was an incredibly active user on the iRacing service?
But that’s just the qualifying process we’ve covered.
A couple weeks back I got to watch an iRacing Peak-Anti Freeze Series event from the virtual spotters box, witnessing how a top level sim team operates in a points-earning championship round. Now a lot of iRacing members around the 1000 to 2500 iRating range outright accuse Ryan Luza of hacking because the guy has been on an absolute tear starting with last winter’s Pro Series, but the answer to his on-track prowess has nothing to do with third party hacks, but rather issues with iRacing itself.
As I’ve outlined above, any strain on the tire which could generate heat is a bad thing in iRacing, and that includes minuscule stuff you otherwise wouldn’t think of, like sidewall flex and general tire slip – which is almost unavoidable while racing at competition speeds. As you accelerate out of a corner on any oval track, the car pivots on the right rear tire, causing forces to be exerted on the sidewall or the vehicle to sway around a bit, and thus, generating heat. This is what you strive to achieve in a real car, as balancing on the sidewall separates an average driver from a great driver, but again, you don’t want to do this in iRacing because it produces heat, and tire heat slows you down. The dance that racing legends such as Ayrton Senna perfected during their time on this planet driving enormously over-powered vehicles cripples you in iRacing, because that’s both how sensitive the tires are to heat, and how detrimental heat is to tire performance & overall speed.
What Ryan has been doing, in combination with slick setups from one of PRC’s own masterminds, is being so gentle on the throttle, in some instances he’s almost coasting by people on corner exit, when they are steadily applying power. The net gain from driving in a hyper-conservative fashion in which there is no wheelspin, slip, or sidewall flex whatsoever – a pace that would see you several laps down in real life – offsets any loss in raw speed and abuses iRacing’s incomprehensibly broken tire model that punishes you for putting heat into your tires as a real race car driver would, because you’re driving so slow the tires aren’t gaining heat – and therefore being rewarded for it. Don’t hate the player, hate the game.
This all combines to create a driving style so nonsensically backwards, in which you are forced to crawl around the track during out laps at school zone speeds and then drive as slow as you can in a competition environment, being careful to never get up on the sidewalls or apply the throttle unless the car is pointed perfectly straight. Figuring out how to be successful with this style is part of the problem – if you want to win races in iRacing, what you’ve learned about how real cars like to be driven at the limit no longer applies, so you’re forced to develop an entirely new set of skills which intrude on the old ones. If I had a nickel for every time Dustin hit the track in CART 88 testing and knocked down a wall because iRacing made him forget that you need to do this crazy thing called working heat into the slicks before you can push at maximum attack, I’d have a Subway Steak & Cheese combo on my lap.
I’d prefer if this scenario didn’t happen in a real car.
So if you’re in a situation such as myself – which admittedly won’t be everyone, so don’t stop playing iRacing because PRC told you to – where you’re now looking around for simulators to help refine the muscle memory for the upcoming season, everything you do to go fast in iRacing and participate in their high level online competitions, would not transfer over into the real car – you’d be ungodly slow, and in some cases a hazard to your fellow drivers, as real tires don’t shrivel up and die after a lap; they rely on organically generated heat to become sticky, and managing sidewall flex is part of what makes performance driving an art form.
Aston Martin GTE driver Nicki Thiim describes the exact same tire behavior issues I’ve discussed above at the 5:37 mark in the video below:
To pull a direct quote from the video:
The GT3 cars [are] so easy to overheat the tires… Again the only thing I don’t like on iRacing is the tire model right now, its too sensitive to how you use it. Like, if I go sideways in one corner, you can be sure the next corner I will be the drift king of Japan.
Don’t even get me started on how iRacing’s Super Late Model drives; if Goodyear sold tires that went from ungodly tight to wrecking loose in three laps (or about a minute of driving), the company would be out of business in a month.
Stuff like this is why my mind is blown when I see marketing pieces and message board babble proclaiming iRacing to be the be all, end all of auto racing simulators, and how an abundance of real world drivers are using it to sharpen their skills in off weeks due to the unmatched authenticity it offers, or whatever buzzword they’re using this month. Though the dirt content is objectively good, in most other cases, using iRacing to train for any high horsepower asphalt car car would be a surefire disaster, as the way racing slicks have been modeled to behave goes against everything you would do out on a physical race track, and would put you in real, actual danger that could physically harm yourself or your wallet, if you attempted to apply the very same driving style and techniques in a proper race car. This may explain why the prominent iRacers given private test sessions for their in-game prowess have traditionally not paid off in the intended fashion.
In a real car, regardless of the class or discipline, you’re encouraged to warm the tires on your outlap in creative ways, and on corner exit push so hard you’re dancing the car on the external tire sidewalls, flaring the rear end outwards ever so slightly while centering the wheel and allowing the vehicle to float towards the edge of the racing surface. In iRacing, the top championship events are won by turning an out-lap at rollerblading pace, then driving so slow the sidewalls are never once called upon, and the vehicle remains completely neutral at all times to minimize heat accumulation.
For a piece of software whose mission statement is to be the ultimate racing simulator, yet has the potential to ruin my own driving style by forcing me to adapt to a car that doesn’t make any logical sense to drive, thanks, but no thanks. I’ll pass on that one.