Top Sim Racers Stage Protest in iRacing’s Virtual 24 Hours of Le Mans

In an online racing service boasting over 60,000 hardcore members forking over copious amounts of disposable income to continue participating on a monthly basis, and featuring an abundance of laser scanned renditions of virtually every relevant vehicle and location on the global auto racing calendar, it’s ironic how what very well may be the defining moment in iRacing’s lifespan features absolutely no racing at all.

Like the several World Tour events which came before it – one-off races intended to bring the entire community together for a virtual festival of speed mirroring real life marquee events – iRacing’s servers were supposedly once again unable to handle the sharp increase in traffic, and promptly shit themselves about two hours into iRacing’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. The lack of a complete day/night cycle was the least of the service’s worries this afternoon; the few sim racers not affected by widespread outages proceeded to stop at the start/finish line in protest of the long-time technical issues iRacing have continuously failed to rectify during the website’s official YouTube stream of the prestigious race, absolutely fed up with a simulator that advertises itself as the premiere option in online racing, yet consistently fails to deliver when it counts the most.

Yes, it’s a bit cringe-worthy that pretend race car drivers are staging an impromptu protest, but in this situation, they actually have a point.

Since starting PretendRaceCars.net in January of 2015, I’ve regularly been forced to publish articles regarding iRacing’s server outages during World Tour events. My first post on the matter dates back to February 2015covering races as far back as 2012 – with newer entries discussing both the 2016 and 2017 24 Hours of Daytona events; I’m sure there are even more if you’re inclined to dig that far. Regardless of what the loyal iRacing supporters love to proclaim across social media in relation to the overall quality of the simulator, this is an area where the rabid defense force simply have no legitimate argument; iRacing are demonstrably incapable of holding these events without the entire service grinding to a halt and wasting everybody’s time. It’s complete nonsense for a service to demand its customers fork over a serious amount of cash compared to other racing games for individual pieces of content on top of already hefty subscription fees, only to suffer the same crippling issues with astounding consistency for six consecutive years, seemingly never having a fix in sight.

With a rules package explicitly not allowing any sort of substantial criticism on a public platform, a mock protest on a live race stream with the intent to embarrass iRacing was basically the only option these drivers had.

Server outage-like problems on their own are pretty disastrous and a very dark cloud hanging over the iRacing service, as it’s shitty to continuously hold these mammoth World Tour events with an extensive history of connection issues constantly ruining everyone’s weekend of sim racing, but what’s arguably worse is the events which took place beforehand. iRacing were fully aware that the service was in no shape to hold their virtual 24 Hours of Le Mans, yet continued to push forward with the initial scheduled date and even asked users to purchase new content, just for the event.

As far back as May 31st – almost two weeks prior to today’s event – users began reporting within the official iRacing forums that endurance racers were struggling to go off in a technically sound fashion; private leagues racing at Le Mans were suffering from alleged memory leak issues that saw upwards of 20% of the field being dropped from the event. This continued as the official, public iRacing Prototype/GT multi-class series began their week at Le Mans a few days later, with several users reporting widespread disconnects, and even a staff member chiming in about a possible cause.

However, instead of realizing that these massive problems may adversely affect the quality of the 24 Hours of Le Mans event this weekend, and respectfully delaying the marquee race until the memory leak woes had been taken care of, iRacing instead pushed forward with the original date knowing these crippling technical gremlins wouldn’t be fixed in time for the biggest endurance event of the year – leading to a complete waste of a weekend for anyone who bothered to attempt the fabled online race – and then releasing a pair of new cars on top of that, so those who wanted to participate in the GT category would be forced to hand the company more money for a race the company one hundred percent knew wouldn’t be anywhere near the experience advertised, let alone functional.

 

This is an ugly company, run by ugly people. Obviously for those who have stuck around PRC for the long haul, you already know I don’t hold the company in especially high regard, nor do I possess any sort of positive relationship with the individuals who represent said company, but in this case it’s hard not to get fired up about what’s taking place and label it as one, giant, disorganized mess. iRacing’s marketing department, not the on-track experience, is why the simulation is as big as it is today. Behind the slick trailers and carefully crafted promotional footage that imply this is the pinnacle of online racing, lies an experience where crippling issues go unattended to for upwards of five years, staff members refuse to reschedule events despite advanced knowledge of technical gremlins that threaten to (and eventually do) derail the whole weekend, with the development team continuing to push out car after car and track after track for a substantial price tag in spite of the core service not functioning as the promotional footage proclaims.

Do not give this company any more money until it’s clear that significant changes have been made behind the scenes.

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As We Predicted, iRacing’s Dirt Content Experiences Sharp Decline in Popularity

What was once sim racing’s biggest long-standing April Fool’s joke has now officially made the transition from reality into relative obscurity. North American and Australian dirt oval racing fans rejoiced back in 2016 when they learned it would be none other than iRacing tasked with taking a shot at replicating Dirt Late Models and Sprint Cars – taking a very popular discipline of local auto racing into the hyper-competitive environment of the online motorsports platform – but now that this content has been out for a little over a month, the honeymoon phase has concluded, and some are going as far as calling it a waste of resources. Though we praised iRacing’s muddy adventure when it first launched, with the cars being objectively the most realistic and believable vehicles available for purchase on the service after years of confusing tire model updates, we questioned the staying power it would have among the userbase considering dirt oval racing is seen as relatively low on the global auto racing totem pole.

A recent thread on iRacing’s official SubReddit has proven our primary concerns were right on the money, if not profoundly accurate. Reports of over 7,000 active users signed into the iRacing servers for the launch of dirt oval racing have now been replaced by woefully pathetic car counts that struggle to eclipse 20 total participants for the most well-attended events. This is a pretty big deal, as iRacing’s format relies on an abundance of entrants for each race so the service can split people into multiple groups based on their skill level. With so few drivers to split, and a maximum car count of just twelve vehicles for each race, it’s leading to situations where races are total shitfests because the talent pool is so diverse; barely competent drivers are forced to drive against highly skilled veterans.

And it’s not a fun experience for those involved.

Though the two users above each offer their own explanation as to why there’s been such a sharp decline in popularity for the dirt content, I don’t feel either are accurate, so I’ll put my own spin on things.

Dirt oval racing is actually extremely difficult; the cars by nature are configured to be fundamentally broken from a setup standpoint, and the driving style required is essentially flat-out drifting. The sim community by and large simply do not understand car setups enough to get the most out of their virtual sprint car or late model – quite hilarious given these games are intended for a hardcore audience who should in theory be all over that shit – and most sim races do not possess the car control necessary to run thirty five straight clean laps while dead sideways among an equally crazy pack of cars. I’m under the impression many iRacers bought the dirt content out of curiosity, realized they had nowhere near the talent level to drive the damn things, and gave up on it after only a few days.

You would think that the dirt content would bring a whole host of new users to the iRacing service, especially with talk of how accurate these cars are compared to the rest of the vehicles on iRacing, but there’s a fundamental flaw with this hypothesis.

As it stands, dirt oval racing is a very niche motorsport in both North America as well as Australia; World of Outlaws events haven’t been nationally televised since Spike TV was known as TNN back in the late 1990’s/early 2000’s, and currently the only way to watch these races live is through a relatively obscure website that locks footage behind several pay walls. I’m not saying DirtVision is shit, I’m just saying that the average auto racing fan has no idea it exists in the first place. So the potential audience is significantly smaller than it was ten or fifteen years ago.

By comparison, the Ratbag World of Outlaws game for the PlayStation 2 sold half a million copies because everyone with a basic cable television package could watch sprint car racing on a Friday night with a familiar set of announcers such as Steve Evans and Ralph Sheheen introducing outsiders to the sport, while little kids or teenagers could point at a PS2 game in Wal-Mart and instantly have an entirely new type of car racing to dive head first into because it wasn’t much of an investment. This doesn’t happen anymore; iRacing requires an elaborate steering wheel setup, beefy computer, and a serious mentality just to get some base level of enjoyment from the title. Neither your average short track audience member, nor their offspring want to get screamed at by some elitist iRacing cuntwagon for ruining his safety rating.

Those who do brave those elements discover they can’t make a lap to save their lives because the cars are so difficult to drive, and the cycle repeats.

So you have a situation where after the honeymoon phase has ended, there’s twenty people signing up for dirt events. And on the outset it looks like a waste of resources, but I’m actually here to defend iRacing and tell you why it was worth the year of development time.

In learning how dirt oval racing works, how track surfaces evolve, and how dirt tire compounds behave, what iRacing learned on dirt will slowly apply to the tarmac vehicles. I gave the brand new Porsche a shakedown at Dustin’s house when we were shooting photos with the race car, and while I’m not going to say it’s this night & day difference that’ll make me come crying back to iRacing, it’s certainly something that indicated a few eureka moments were had behind the scenes. If iRacing continue in this direction, along with allowing Steve Reis to really dig through the software and undo some of the past mistakes from previous staff members, the dirt content will be seen in hindsight as a necessary evil to get the simulation back on track.

300 Silent Fans

The 2017 NASCAR iRacing Peak Anti-Freeze Series visited Richmond International Raceway last night, and though 2016 champion Ray Alfalla took home the checkered flag after what was a surprisingly clean affair for a circuit that normally encourages hyper-aggressive driving, the broadcast audience were an otherwise stale bunch, remaining silent for the full two hundred laps and refusing to mingle with fellow hardcore sim racers.

Or rather, they weren’t able to.

Though iRacing’s promotional material proudly list themselves as the number one name in eSports sim racing competitions, the reality is quite far from what has been advertised. Taking in the Richmond event out of curiosity, as short track oval racing traditionally produces a spectacle that’s more in line with the classic stock car mantra of “rubbing is racing”, I noticed the viewer count struggled to blow past the 350 mark, hovering around 320 or 330 throughout most of the event. Now, knowing how the iRacing community operates, I can attest to the fact that most of the people who watch sim racing broadcasts merely do so because they’re friends with somebody directly participating in the race, with the odd family member or two tuning in for morale support rather than a flock of avid drivers looking to learn from the best of the best.

For example, if each of the 40 drivers on the grid get two of their online buddies, along with one of their parents to tune into the stream, that’s about one hundred and twenty viewers – almost half of the total audience. Factor these people out as statistical anomalies who will never not tune in, and you’ve barely got two hundred people willingly viewing an eSports event – certainly not eSports numbers by any stretch of the imagination; your kid’s Christmas pageant had more spectators. The rest of the audience fall into the wanderer category, stopping by out of curiosity on an otherwise dull Tuesday evening.

And sometimes, they aren’t always happy with the on-track product. The opening round of the 2017 NASCAR iRacing Peak Anti-Freeze Series was a disastrous affair, with administrators forced to nullify the results and quickly reconfigure the entire season schedule after a chain of comedic technical difficulties turned the start of the race into mass confusion. This led to many viewers openly slamming iRacing for their ineptitude in the YouTube chat box, and iRacing responded in the only manner they know how – censorship.

As the title of this article suggests, that ended up having far bigger ramifications than originally planned; viewership numbers have basically collapsed since the first event of the season.

One of the reasons people watch live eSports competitions is to hang out with like-minded fans of the game or genre on display, and bullshit with each other in a casual setting. It’s a fun way to socialize, spout obscure memes related to the topic at hand, and bring everybody together for a live virtual meet-up, especially considering most online communities center around message boards, where simple conversations are very rigid, structured, and take place over a period of days instead of in real-time. Being able to chat with others while watching an eSports stream is the computer nerd equivalent of rounding up your bros and all heading over to a single household to watch an evening of the NHL playoffs; there’s a sort of camaraderie in spectating a live event as a large group.

Paranoid that their sponsorship partners would become upset at the casual shit-posting atmosphere and occasional justified knocks at iRacing’s ineptitude, the staff at iRacing have permanently disabled chat functionality during their Peak Anti-Freeze Series YouTube streams, forcing the majority of spectators to sit in isolation. While iRacing were once able to boast a live audience count of over two thousand, that number has now plummeted to just above three hundred, and it’s pretty obvious as to why. The shared camaraderie with other sim racers has been completely removed from the viewing experience, turning the broadcasts into bland processions that lack any sort of community element that is synonymous with eSports event streams.

The irony comes in what’s going on behind the scenes; iRacing are quick to outright remove YouTube chat feeds in fear of inappropriate content appearing when races don’t go according to plan, yet Peak Anti-Freeze Series drivers routinely complain about race administrators struggling with basic spelling and going on aggressive tirades towards certain competitors, threatening expulsion from the championship for refusing to go along with a dictatorship-like atmosphere. For a series that only just managed to retain Peak as a title sponsor, and can only pull about two hundred viewers who are there by choice, iRacing run around executing damage control as if there are major implications from even the slightest bit of criticism appearing on YouTube, and their efforts are so intrusive it’s actually killing off the audience in droves because you’ve now taken away a major reason people actually come hang out during live broadcasts and take in the show. Nobody wants to watch these events anymore because you can’t even hang out with people and bullshit about sim racing; iRacing’s hyper-sensitivity towards criticism has disallowed chatting with other sim racers during sim racing events.

At what point are people going to wake up and discover that behind the carefully crafted public image of iRacing, it appears more and more tangible each day that certain individuals in charge of these championships are really nothing more than a group of angry old men who want to rule a bunch of kids with an iron fist to live out their power tripping fantasies. You have a developer claiming to be an eSports leader not allowing viewers of their eSports events to mingle with one another out of sheer paranoia – which against one of the main community elements of the eSports viewing experience – while simultaneously talking about how great the iRacing community is.

What community? You’re not even allowing them to talk with each other during your primary broadcasts!

Why I Chose Not to Return to iRacing

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.

iRacing Finally Living Up to Expectations with Dirt Content

Dear God, they’ve pulled it off. A year after the original April Fools’ announcement, which most saw as a cruel joke until the staff at iRacing uploaded a collection of genuine teaser trailers indicating that yes, dirt oval racing would indeed be coming to the online racing simulator, iRacing have now released their monumental project out into the wild. Many were skeptical, as preview videos showcased weird steering inputs and drivers struggling to keep the cars under them, but I can now safely say this was mostly a combination of visual errors thanks to netcode, and poor driving by some of the internal testers. iRacing haven’t been known to listen to its members in the past, which also lead to some skepticism if they could pull this off correctly, but for now, you can allow your fears to subside: it’s really good.

Before we get into what the dirt update has to offer, I’d like to start with the new update of the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup series car, as there was a lot more than just new content that came with the build update a few days ago. The Generation 6 stock car had a major geometry update along with a significant aerodynamic revision to match up with the 2017 rule packages, and there are also some changes to what we’re now able to do in the garage.  As with any radical adjustment, people have already been making several complaints on the forums that these cars are too easy to drive now, yet ironically some of these drivers are more than three tenths off pace, so I’m under the impression a lot of guys haven’t been able to bring the car to 100% both on-track and in the garage area just yet. The car actually requires you to turn the car with the front end now, as before it just slid the nose and almost every fast setup required just setting the nose where it got the most aero and turning the car with the rear end. Following complaints from Tony Stewart, when he tried the car in the Mobil 1 event last year, the car seems to be much more in line with real driver feedback, even if it seems a bit too gripped up in its current state.

This car is going to be a long-term project, but former Penske engineer Steve Reis has been very active in the public forums about working on this car as much as possible to get it in the most realistic state they possibly can. This build is a big move in the right direction, but it will be a multi-step process to get this car where it should be, though overall I’m happy with the initial impressions Steve has made in comparison to other developers tasked with working on the NASCAR cup car. One major part of this update is the removal of some unrealistic setup options that many Peak teams were abusing as early as 2015, such as pre-binding the left front spring with massive swaybar preload, and anywhere from 300-400lb spring to keep the splitter sealed at all time around the track, as well as Max rake on the track bar to promote skew in the rear end. Steve Reis has given us something we haven’t had in a long time, maybe ever on iRacing, and that’s someone who is willing to work with the community and keep us in the loop of what exactly is wrong with the current cars and what they will need to improve, even helping people who have questions about the new dirt setups. It definitely seems like iRacing is starting to head in the right direction in terms of just who they bring on board, and the kind of relationship they’re willing to have with the community moving forward.

Now onto the big deal, dirt oval racing. This is what you’re here for, right?

We had a few insiders from the beginning with real life experience who were brought into the alpha environment. and were giving us a few nuggets here and there as to how development was going and that iRacing was actually listening and getting major feedback with professional drivers such as Christopher Bell and Rico Abreu, as well as many drivers all the way from World of Outlaws to your average local short tracker. This was a full community coming together to make the best product they could, a drastic departure from iRacing’s close-minded approach to certain pieces of content in the past.

We are still very early in the honeymoon phase, of course, but so far nothing broken has been found on setups. They aren’t completely realistic, nothing ever is, but they are very close currently. You can seen this if you go into any test server. All of the guys with real life dirt experience have been slaughtering people in test rooms with very good lap times that imply iRacing is very close to the driving style of reality in these things. All of the feedback I’ve received from real life drivers on our team, as well as various friends on Facebook, have also backed this up.

Everything form the 410 Sprint Car to the Legends car require some very finesse driving to get the most out of the car; you need to be aggressive, but you really need to balance the angle you have for speed through the corner, and getting to the power to get the fastest laps out of them. What is really amazing is when the track starts wearing in. On a complete clean track, everyone is pretty much hugging the bottom to get the most speed until the top layer gets worn off, then everyone starts moving around up the track as the track dries, and they start looking for moisture in the track. At this point you can run pretty much everywhere and guys start going to the bottom or top looking for the last bit of moisture in the track. Eventually the track starts getting that notorious black groove dirt oval fans are familiar with; it gets really slick, and you need to start running the wall where the cushion has now hopefully built up enough from people running up there, or get right on the wall on the bottom and try to hook whatever little bit of moisture is left there. Really, at this point in the race its just a free for all (as it should be), and in stuff like the 410 you just hold on and hope you don’t die.

Now to the cars themselves, I have been nothing short of amazed. All the cars react very well to your inputs, and for once in iRacing the cars feel like they actually want to turn; you no longer have to fight them to do something as long as your car is setup decently. Every car has very unique characteristics and requires very different driving styles, some guys might be amazing in the Late Model and terrible in the Sprint, or vice versa.

The Camping World series Truck , considering it was built for asphalt, is the worst of the vehicles by far to drive, although thanks to the feedback from Bell and Abreu seems very close to how it looks watching the trucks fight around there the last few years. A buddy in Teamspeak described it as “Yacht Racing,” these tanks do not want to slide whatsoever let alone turn around a tight dirt corner, and the power they put out with the extreme lack of grip means good luck getting anywhere near full throttle on anything but a perfect tacky track.

The Legend Cars are surprisingly fun for such a small under-powered car. You are pretty much full throttle around every currently available track, but it really forces you to perfect your steering as you try to keep your momentum up as much as possible at all times. They also make for some amazing brawling as the field is relatively close and the dynamic tracks provide many lines as it wears in.

The Street Stock is very much like the Truck, in that you feel like you are driving an oil tanker, but with much less power it ends up being way easier to drive off the corner; making it a much better rookie car as it forces you to be smooth and learn throttle control but not to an extreme that you can’t drive it around the track. This car also requires a ton of brake just to slow the car down for corners and get it angled properly on corner entry, so you can get on throttle and drive it off the corner.

Now we get to the purpose-built beasts, the Late Models and Winged Sprint Cars. The late model gives you a very good starting point in the Limited variant, which looks to be modeled after a crate engine car with no spoiler. These things are very forgiving and much easier for the asphalt driver transitioning to learn what these are about, they have very little power so you can pretty much floor it throughout a whole race, but without that rear spoiler it can still get hairy at times if you aren’t completely dialed into the track. As you step up in power through the Pro and eventually Super Late variants, the power gradually increases; in the super you are definitely not in a full throttle and hang on mode if you want to be fast. You have to manage throttle as this thing can spin the rear tires at any time, and setup becomes very important as you look for the right combination of sliding to turn, but being able to get bite and throttle up off the corner. This car is my favorite by far even though I hated it at first on the default setup.

The Winged Sprint is just a beast, the 410 especially; this car actually feels like the fire breathing monster its described as in reality. Anything other than a perfect tacky track requires some insane amount of wheeling just to keep it wide open, the car wants to be thrown in sideways to get the air on the big ass wing on top, and then you just try to balance it throughout the corner as you try to minimize the amount of angle you need to hold your line but still maintain as much speed as you can, especially in the 305 which is a major momentum car. The 360 seemed to provide the best racing so far, as it allows most people to stay somewhat competitive and close enough to throw a lot of moves on each other without just trying to hold on and not die, while also being fast enough that people make mistakes and you get passing opportunities.

Anything but a perfect track, all these cars become insane to drive, with massively distinct characteristics from one another. I haven’t spent ten hours straight on any racing simulator for a very long time, but this certainly brought iRacing back to life for me, as all I was doing over the last two years was signing on for Peak Anti-Freeze Series testing, or the odd race here and there when I was in the mood. The dirt content is such leaps and bounds ahead of everything else on the service, it was very hard to pull myself away from running just one more lap – which hasn’t happened in a long, long time.

Hopefully, iRacing will be able to bring the rest of the cars on the service up to this level of quality, as dirt oval racing is just a portion of what the simulator offers, and the reason my participation on the service has been spotty is that this profound attention to detail showcased in the brand new dirt content does not always carry over to other cars. It also remains to be seen how long the popularity of the dirt oval content will last, as previous iRacing releases, such as the Lotus 49, were marketed to the moon and back thanks to the legacy of Grand Prix Legends, only for it to currently be one of the least popular cars on iRacing in the long run. Not that I think this will be the case with dirt as the reception has been overwhelmingly positive.

I’d also like to make a point about what iRacing has done with the NASCAR iRacing Peak series broadcasts as of late. I watched my first complete race this year after what was an amazing event at Auto Club Speedway on Tuesday, as I usually am in server during the race and don’t get to partake in the end user broadcast experience.

In my opinion, the quality of the broadcast has gone up drastically this year; the camera angles they have come up with, as well as the amazing broadcast team consisting of Evan Posocco, Andy Kessler, Cam Walsh, and Tim Terry, along with what is probably the most skilled and cleanest set of Peak series drivers we’ve had yet, all combined to create a very professional looking and enjoyable viewing experience. I feel this is what we need to actually push sim racing further. While the first two rounds of the season experienced some difficulties on the officiating and event management end, the broadcast itself is top-notch; it’s something you can sit down with a bag of chips and watch on a Tuesday evening.

In conclusion, its seems iRacing has finally started listening to what us, the racers on the service, actually want. They got a ton of real drivers involved in the alpha testing process – everyone from full-on pro drivers to average local track guys – and the results speak for themselves. This was an entire community coming together to strive for the absolute best in sim racing, and it’s to the point where many rFactor dirt racers I’ve kept in touch with over the years are now abandoning their dedicated dirt oval installs for an iRacing membership.

The rFactor dirt community now has a new home, the current crop of active iRacers have an abundance of brand new, extremely high quality content to immerse themselves in, and the way the project came together showcased the full potential of what iRacing has been striving to be as a piece of premium software for almost a decade, but never quite managed to get right until now. It’s very, very good, and I hope the passion in which the dirt content was created with translates to the other pieces of content on the service.