For a service that advertises such a realistic online racing experience to outsiders; one which demands customers to hand over their credit card for each individual car and track after already paying a hefty base subscription fee compared to other games in the hopes of receiving something leaps and bounds ahead of the competition, iRacing’s weekly track selection certainly serves to contradict the entire purpose of the simulator – and I’m surprised this issue hasn’t received more coverage.
So let’s talk about it.
Those of you who haven’t bitten the bullet and adamantly refuse to sign up for the mammoth online sim racing entity known as iRacing for any number of reasons may be unaware of a problem hidden away from the public eye, though for dedicated sim racers who place realism above all else, it’s certainly been a difficult pill to swallow during their time subscribed to iRacing. While there are indeed a plethora of relevant laser-scanned auto racing facilities available on the iRacing service for both North American stock cars, as well as traditional circuit-based cars, the manner in which the service operates doesn’t adequately make use of the entire circuit roster.
iRacing itself runs as a massive virtual sanctioning body which conducts twelve-week service-wide championships that anybody with a subscription can participate, in which every race for a given week is held at one specific track, which in theory leads to a situation where you can compete in just a single event, or as many as you want based on how much free time you have, in an effort to increase the number of points you come away with at the end of the week. It’s like flex scheduling on an enormous scale, partially aided by the fact that there’s an alleged userbase of 60,000 members spread across the multiple series. So even if you can’t race with your Tuesday night regulars that you’ve come to recognize over the past month because your kid has some shitty dance recital, you can pop on Wednesday morning, run a race at the same track, and still score points for the championship – or just for fun, if you don’t give a fuck about the overall standings.
Now most of the time, this format works as intended; sim racers are given a whopping seven days to learn a track and participate in multiple thrilling races with a field of opponents who also have come to learn the circuit over several sessions of sim racing. Yet because the iRacing userbase itself has seen a tangible shift over a number of years from hardcore drivers who want the utmost of realism from the software, to an all-encompassing “big driving game feel” as if it were the PC’s answer to a mass-market title such as Forza Motorsport or Gran Turismo, the iRacing staff have adjusted the schedule accordingly.
What this means, is that for seven straight days, iRacing have sent the Dallara DW12 IndyCar to Daytona International Speedway, a track in which neither the Verizon IndyCar Series, nor any other major American open wheel racing championship in the history of the country, have ever held a race at. Official, ranked races that count towards the service-wide IndyCar championship on iRacing and are part of the vanilla competitive experience all IndyCar fans are forced to partake in if they desire to drive the Dallara DW12 within the service against live human opponents, are currently being held at a track that would simultaneously kill multiple drivers in real life were an accident to occur at race speeds, and causes nothing but carnage and frustration within iRacing’s servers.
This is supposedly the ultra-hardcore experience you receive when paying an arm and a leg for iRacing.
And it’s been going on for far too long. Looking back several years to the spring of 2013, iRacing experimented with sending the Dallara IW05 to Talladega Superspeedway – an even more absurd circuit than tackling Daytona in these cars – and the results were obviously disastarous. Everyone voiced unanimous disapproval over seeing this circuit on the schedule, and the racing was insufferable. Not only has the Verizon IndyCar Series never once mentioned trips to Daytona or Talladega were in the preliminary planning stages because these cars obviously weren’t designed for superspeedways of this nature, the racing itself saw cars run in tight packs, only for 85% of the field to be completely decimated less than three laps into each race.
Regardless, iRacing kept putting these events on the schedule, totally contradicting the hardcore mentality fueling the simulator.
Now, it’s one thing for a league organizer in any simulator to put an odd-ball track on the schedule to keep drivers on their toes, as it’s the beauty of sim racing – you can go out and do shit that wouldn’t be possible in real life thanks to scheduling conflicts and miscellaneous organization problems. However, iRacing have promoted themselves since their inception as this ultra-realistic racing simulator with heavy penalties for crashing or even basic contact, and for several years they’ve held ranked events that aren’t just frustrating for the end user due to how much carnage follows after the green flag is dropped, they’re completely unrealistic and don’t even appeal to IndyCar fans. They’re wide open crash-fests designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator – the same Xbox Live kids people signed up for iRacing to avoid.
iRacing’s bipolar approach to realism isn’t just specific to the handful of different virtual IndyCar Series operating within the service, either. When the simulator first introduced the highly prestigious Monza circuit to customers for purchase, the unused Monza Oval – which hasn’t been maintained nor seen any competition action in around fifty years and is obviously unsafe for any kind of meaningful modern auto racing event – was thrown into the package as a bonus layout – which is fine, I’m personally not against developers throwing bullshit goodies into the mix.
However, the retired Monza oval was promptly placed on the schedule for all major oval racing series available in iRacing, which lead to a complete clusterfuck when people actually tried to race on it competitively; TeamRitter’s video below showcases a field of trucks unable to complete a single lap before the horrid racing surface mixed with a lack of concrete barriers detonated a tactical nuke within the middle of the field. Some have speculated Monza was haphazardly placed on all prominent iRacing oval calendars to try and shake even more money out of a crowd who otherwise wouldn’t care for a road racing circuit release by forcing them to buy it just to race for the week, and in this instance, I tend to agree. No reasonable sim racer wanting an enjoyable, hardcore experience from their software of choice would send NASCAR trucks to an oval that hasn’t been raced nor maintained in fifty years.
So for a game to sit there and proclaim they’re this ultimate be-all end-all solution for sim racing, only to treat paying customers expecting a hardcore experience as if they’re on Xbox Live and messing around with stupid car/track combinations in ToCA Race Driver 3, it really speaks volumes about the direction iRacing is heading in. It’s as if they used the hardcore crowd to get the brand off the ground, but years later have no problem catering to the lowest common denominator by essentially conducting races you’re forced to take part in if you want to play iRacing at fantasy combinations that don’t even occur in real life… Which sort of defeats the whole point of the simulator aspect they’ve been pushing for several years.
And I could stop there, but I won’t.
You’ll often hear of iRacing conducting these marquee events that bring the entire service together for a weekend of racing outside the traditional roster of races you can enter each day, such as the 24 Hours of Daytona or 24 Hours of Le Mans, but what isn’t so front and center are the technological shortcomings that make these races a bit goofy to participate in when you’ve actually hit the track.
And I’m not talking about the constant server outages.
First, and probably the most hilarious aspect of these endurance racing events, is that iRacing does not feature any sort of 24 hour weather or lighting cycle, meaning those who enter these events are subjected to running the entire 24 hour event in either daylight or midnight conditions. While a large challenge of endurance racing in real life is watching the track transform from a vibrant auto racing circuit to a mystifying battle against treacherous shadows and lack of visibility, this element simply doesn’t exist in iRacing. There are no moments where you’re at Sebring, Le Mans, or Daytona taking in some sort of virtual sunset or sunrise, nor are you discussing among your teammates who happens to be the best driver in a low visibility environment. You’re driving in a horrendously static environment, one which iRacing themselves, as well as their broadcast partners, are careful not to mention.
Codemasters’ Race Driver: GRID, released in 2007 and designed to be this goofy little arcade racer with licensed cars and tracks, featured a full day/night cycle for the Le Mans 24 Hours event in the game’s career mode, but a hardcore auto racing simulator can’t do the same? Oh please.
The service also dictates the cars you’re allowed to drive as well. While iRacing features a serviceable roster of GT3 machinery, the game’s hard-coded five car model limit means sim racers who have fallen in love with a particular race car may not even have that vehicle at their disposal during these races. The underlying software has been written to accept no more than five unique car models in-game, which while fine for oval racing – as not once in the past two decades has NASCAR featured more than four distinct manufacturers on track – obviously causes problems when it comes to multi-class sports car endurance racing. iRacers who had paid money for either the Ford or RUF GT3 entries found themselves shit out of luck and forced to buy yet another GT3 car just to participate in the event, simply because of iRacing’s shortcomings.
The last element I’d like to touch on this evening would be iRacing’s complete inability to conduct even a semi-realistic pit stop procedure within their simulator. Executing a successful pitstop is one of the most challenging parts of modern auto racing, as you’re tasked with maintaining a very specific speed while navigating through an entire pack of cars bobbing and weaving between their respective crew members, who are busy scurrying around each car with a surprising amount of athleticism and precision. It’s fucking nuts to watch both on TV and in person, as one wrong move by any individual occupying pit road during a round of stops can lead to someone being sent to the hospital, or even under the most ideal of circumstances, has the potential to drastically change the outcome of a race.
This challenge is non-existent in iRacing. Upon entering pit road, everybody’s collision detection is temporarily turned off, meaning you’re free to roam the strip of asphalt as you’d please, driving through as many cars as you’d like both en route to your stall, as well as during the exit process. Basically what this means is that upon your virtual crew ripping out the jack from underneath the car, iRacers can just mat the throttle and drive straight through the cars ahead of them as if they don’t exist. So while you can at least drive your car onto pit road manually, and skid into the stall like the real deal, you’re not even asked to avoid the 39 other cars on pit road – which is like, the entire challenge of pit stops in the first place.
This is pretty embarrassing when it occurs on top iRacing broadcasts, as the hosts will dedicate painfully out-of-place monologues to shill for how realistic the simulator is, only for all the participants to drive through each other during the first round of pit stops. I’ve noticed that in certain Peak Anti-Freeze Series broadcasts, cameras were strategically placed by the crew to avoid actually seeing this goofiness play out on screen, but in doing so, it just makes iRacing look extremely dishonest more than anything. Here you’re advertising this hardcore simulator that’s officially sanctioned by NASCAR, but the cars are literally driving inside of each other during pit stops, and with the ability to fly anywhere on the race track for a shot, you’re instead intentionally obfuscating an entire stretch of asphalt so the audience – as well as potential customers – don’t see this.
You’d think this would be down to technological limitations, but the last piece of software released by the team at iRacing prior to embarking on their mythical online only journey – NASCAR Racing 2003 Season – had contact between cars enabled on pit road, and you were just supposed to deal with it like a normal driver would.
Fourteen years and several million dollars later, this strategic element is now missing entirely from iRacing, and the team actively try to hide it on important broadcasts with “artistic” pit entry/exit cameras that curiously omit the entire pitstop process.
Obviously I think a lot of iRacers will be quick to jump to the game’s defense, again labelling me as some irrational autist who started PretendRaceCars.net solely to rip on iRacing, but you can’t really deny what’s being presented here. You’ve got this company going out and charging people exponentially more than any other simulator on the market and justifying it by saying it’s the most advanced racing sim in the world, but then forcing customers to drive in ridiculous events which aren’t even close to being realistic, such as sending the trucks to Monza or IndyCars to Talladega, conducting 24 hour races without a 24 hour day/night cycle, and allowing people to drive through each other on pit road despite their last game doing the exact opposite.
Okay, if iRacing was like, a $60 game, a lot of this can be forgiven. DiRT 2 let you take hill climb cars to rally cross tracks, in the Eutechnyx games, you can’t even control your own car on pit road; the game does it for you, and Forza Motorsport 6 doesn’t have time progression either; like iRacing, you just sort of pick whether you want to race during the day, or at night. It’s fine, it’s $60, and the three aforementioned games aren’t trying to do anything special.
But this is iRacing, a game where just existing on the service for a month is something like $12 USD, and each and every piece of content is another $11.95 USD, meaning just to compete for twelve weeks in one class of car (of which there are MANY), it starts getting pretty fucking retarded from a financial standpoint if you want to explore what the video game has to offer. And they justify this by saying it’s this elusive hardcore experience, an option for when you’ve exhausted what all other simulators offer. And that’s fine for them to do that, it’s their marketing campaign after all, but as you can see above, they’re not actually delivering on that front. Hardcore sim racing isn’t sending the trucks to Monza of all places for twenty laps, nor is it throwing modern IndyCars on Daytona and letting everyone wreck the shit out of each other. This sounds like something you’d do with your buddies on Xbox Live at the end of the night for a laugh. And hardcore certainly isn’t locking people out of their favorite car because the software can’t handle it, nor is it allowing people to drive through each other during pit stops – that’s just laziness.
So for a service that advertises itself as the most hardcore sim racing experience available, why does all of the evidence point to the contrary?