A couple months back, I saw a buddy of mine celebrate the completion of his first half-marathon via Facebook. He’d lost a bit of weight and was now living a really active lifestyle, which for anyone in their early 20’s is highly commendable – especially when many in our age group opt to experiment with binge drinking and hard drugs as a form of entertainment. It was hard not to be happy for the guy considering where he was at just a few months prior, and knowing what he’d given up in the pursuit of self-improvement. This friend was not someone I’d known from high school or met at an old job I’d had many years ago; he was instead one of the top iRacers in the world.
We’ve been led to believe by delusional developers that sim racing as an eSport will explode in popularity virtually any minute now, and having an iRating within the top 25 is your one-way ticket to super stardom – the years of slugging it out on the service carving your path straight to the big leagues. Yet right in the thick of it, he left. Just like that.
I didn’t have to ask why. He handed over his account details and told me to poke around.
So I did.
The baseline setup for the Pro Late Model at the Las Vegas Bullring carries the left front tire on corner exit. Asphalt stock cars don’t do this, nor do they let you put your foot to the floor before reaching the apex. iRacing, in their infinite wisdom, believe otherwise. This is the exact car we campaigned this year away from the keyboard, so at the very least we can tell you this isn’t how these cars work unless there are multiple broken components, or parts just flat-out not installed. My first impression of iRacing, after an absence of almost three years from the service, is that NASCAR Heat 2 – a game designed with teenagers as the primary target audience – is a more technically sound stock car experience. iRacing’s Pro Late Model requires almost zero throttle control, and raises the left front like a dirt car.
I’m not asking for a leaderboard setup to be supplied off the bat. I’m asking for a setup the keeps all four tires on the ground. iRacing were unable to do that. So I had to make my own, and to the surprise of precisely nobody, the car was extremely boring to turn laps in – but at least it was fast. I know how exciting these cars are to drive in real life. iRacing made me feel like I was playing an arcade game. You should at least be able to spin the tires and get a little bit of a wiggle going on out of the corners. iRacing doesn’t let you. NASCAR Heat 2, on the other hand, does, and does so at a fraction of the cost.
The Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS Pro Late Model costs $11.95 USD and was one of the first cars ever released for iRacing back in 2009. Eight years later, it exhibits problems on par with those of an unfinished rFactor mod. I understand that the team have to split their attention between a lot of cars and a lot of gameplay elements, all of which need varying levels of polish, but charging a premium price compared to other video games should warrant something that resembles a premium product.
Not something that can be outdone by a kid in his bedroom, or a team on a shoe-string budget.
A post on the official iRacing member forums – which you can’t view without first paying the entry fee – reveals that these cars have been basically abandoned by the developers; one user describing them as “obnoxiously terrible.” It’s strange that these kinds of comments only appear behind lock and key, whereas the sim racing community have no problem being quite hostile to other simulators within the genre.
Or is it? A short entry on the WordPress blog The Flipside Announcer – presumably written by someone from the broadcast crew at LSRTV – notes that iRacing have instructed broadcasters to either disable live chat functionality or kill the feed altogether if something appears during a race which may damage iRacing’s reputation. Though it’s not outright confirmation that iRacing will individually hunt down users who leave negative comments about the game on social media, it’s proof that the team are paranoid about sim racers freely discussing how they feel about the software.
With several drivers not being able to maintain connection to the racing servers, the race, and broadcast, were rescheduled, leaving hundreds of angry viewers with an open comments section on the YouTube stream, which descended into pure chaos. Sure enough, iRacing was not happy at all, and asked that the chat be muted for all top tier events on the service going forward. The flame war was simply too much bad PR, and they wanted to step around it.
It’s not hard to imagine there may be hidden repercussions for YouTube personalities or website editors who dare to voice negative remarks about portions of the iRacing software. As a result, paying the entry fee and combing the forums is the only way to learn which iRacing cars are broken or neglected. It turns out there are several, and it makes you wonder what kind of pull iRacing would have on the sim racing market if these sentiments weren’t tucked away, but instead regurgitated by review channels or popular YouTube streamers.
For most of tonight, I turned my attention to the Super Late Model, which is one of the more recent oval racing cars added to the iRacing service, even though as of this writing we’ve had it on the simulator for over three years. Practice rooms were extremely popular, and I was able to crack into a podium spot in a session consisting of more than thirty cars – a nice change of pace from SimRacingSystem’s maximum of twenty.
Like most iRacers, during practice laps I drive with the infamous delta bar activated, so I can see where I’m both gaining and losing speed in real time. I found it quite peculiar that I could routinely set my fastest sector two speed during my outlap, meaning I was on pace with my personal best time just five seconds after leaving pit lane.
This is impossible to do in a real car.
Rubber tires, at least in reality, take a little while to come up to temperature. This is something you don’t need an expensive race car to experience – go to your local go kart complex and purchase a few sessions, you’ll figure it out pretty fast that the kart drives like total ass for your first two or three laps. Upping the scale into a full size race car, the vehicle literally won’t turn when you exit the pits, and during extended practice sessions in real life it’s not uncommon to come up on somebody who is putting around off-pace. No, they’re not scared shitless behind the wheel, what they’re doing is building heat in the tires by progressively increasing their pace.
iRacing doesn’t have this. Your tires are at maximum grip when your car first spawns in the pit box, and then lose grip in a linear fashion as you increase the overall distance driven. I’ve set absurd sector times not achievable during a timed lap, mere seconds after exiting the pits. This is wrong, but even more astonishing is how there isn’t a widespread cry for this to be fixed. It’s just sort of brushed under the rug, waiting to be discovered by the average sim racing rubbing two brain cells together.
I don’t understand how the biggest name in sim racing, with a near unlimited budget and access to an enormous amount of technical data across several auto racing disciplines, failed to comprehend the core concept behind how rubber tires work; heat makes them sticky, and sticky is fast. The opposite is true in iRacing. This is incorrect, and I’m astonished that fundamentally flawed tire behavior is deemed to be a quirky footnote by the community whom refuse to openly discuss it unless within the private confines of the iRacing forums, but will gladly turn around and berate you for playing something like Formula One 2017 – even though it features correct tire behavior.
Disabling force feedback, an act that would be sacrilegious among owners of thousand-dollar direct drive wheels, shaves off an extra tenth of a second on the race track. This may not mean much for the road course guys, but on ovals, this is an entire second over just ten laps of a short track, and two seconds over five laps at a normal speedway. I’m under the belief that the virtual steering column has been modeled in a way that magnifies light wheel movements created by the force feedback rattling your toy steering wheel around. There is a significant increase in cornering speed from being able to hold your steering wheel in a set position without interference from the force feedback effects.
Yes, even the most obscure of North American oval tracks have been faithfully replicated down to millimeter accuracy. Yes, at most reasonable hours of the day, there are always people to practice with or race against. Yes, iRacing will probably run on your outdated piece of shit backup computer, while still somehow managing to look good on modern systems. Yes, there’s a paint booth, yes there’s the ability to organize your own league with friends, and yes there’s a detailed ranking system that rewards you for safe driving.
But why does any of this matter if the driving experience stinks?
Over the span of an evening, I discovered broken default setups, rubber tires that perform worse with heat, and the ability to gain an extra tenth on track by clicking a box in the options menu. I also found the community labeling cars as “obnoxiously broken” behind closed doors, and at least one representative from a streaming crew admitting iRacing previously instructed them to censor public discussion and kill the feed if anything out of ordinary were to happen.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. iRacing is still, at the very least, a gigantic rip-off.