Throughout my travels, I’ve had a lot of people ask me about whether iRacing is worth the money. This means temporarily putting personal biases and a general hatred for the sim racing community aside, and delivering a very short and concise summary in person as to whether this high profile software can adequately prepare you for a competition environment, or if it’s just a smoke and mirrors show crafted by an excellent marketing department.
You certainly can’t go very far, at least in the stock car racing world, without seeing an iRacing sticker somewhere or hearing another driver mention it in the pit area, and this only increases tenfold when you tune into a Monster Energy Series broadcast. Almost by osmosis has the popular online-oriented racing simulator established itself as the be-all, end-all form of virtual auto racing; the current narrative now claiming Hendrick Motorsports rookie William Byron “got his start” on the service, so naturally people are starting to ask some very valid questions. Can this game really prepare you for the real deal, or is there a lot of misinformation floating around?
The short answer is no, because iRacing features one very fundamental flaw: tire heating is backwards when compared to real life, therefore teaching rookie drivers a set of improper and borderline dangerous driving habits behind the wheel.
Regardless of what specific racing series we’re talking about, rubber tires operate in a very simple manner: heat makes them sticky, and therefore provides your race car with an increase in grip at high speeds, but too much heat reduces the overall adhesion of your tires, and makes your car prone to sliding. Each tire compound will have it’s own unique “sweet spot” when we talk about just how much heat provides the optimal amount of grip (and how long they last), but for beginners, all that’s necessary to understand is that there’s a strategy behind each stint out on the race track.
During their first lap or two, drivers must strategically exhibit force on all four corners of the car to generate heat within the tires for a beneficial increase in traction – hence the need for warm-up laps prior to the race commencing – but then while at speed be careful not to continuously over-stress the tires, as the temperature of the rubber will move further and further away from the sweet spot. The longer a driver is out on the track, the higher a tire’s temperature will naturally rise, forcing drivers to dial back their pace and drive in a more conservative fashion to both prevent the tire from over heating, and preserving it’s lifespan for the moments where pushing is absolutely required. You know, when battling for position and such.
It doesn’t matter if you’re running a stock car out in the Canadian backwoods, or have bought yourself a pricey GT3 ride (please tell us about it, we’d love to hear your story), your race engineer will ask the same of you upon exiting the pit lane for a practice session: slowly increase your pace to naturally work some heat into the tires, make the most out of the few laps in which your tires are operating at their peak performance, and then carefully manage the fall-off period by strategically restraining your pace. If you’re going out for qualifying, he’ll tell you to either light up the tires when exiting pit lane, or intentionally over-drive your out-lap to generate as much heat as possible in the minimum amount of real estate you have before taking the green flag.
In any situation, the core concept remains the same: building heat in your tires is absolutely necessary when driving a race car. This is the automotive equivalent of stretching before football practice. Like muscles in your body, tires need elasticity to function as they’re supposed to at speeds upwards of 160 km/h. Heat provides that much-needed elasticity. This cannot be ignored in a competition setting – pushing as hard as possible immediately upon leaving pit lane will nine times out of ten result in a destroyed race car, or a damaged ego while you sit in the gravel trap. It’s not a process that takes very long – just a few corners, if that – but it’s absolutely necessary.
You can experience this for yourself by going to your local Go Kart complex and observing the standings sheet once the race session with your buddies has concluded. Notice how your first few laps were woefully off pace, and the kart gradually got faster? Congratulations, Einstein, you’ve discovered how race car tires work. Planet Earth doesn’t load an alternative set of physics when you strap yourself into big boy cars.
iRacing’s most fundamental problem is that none of this happens; tire heat of any sort is a bad thing, and users are wrongly taught that cold tires offer peak performance.
A peculiar term any avid sim can search on YouTube is “iRacing Slow Outlap.” This query will net you several pages of uploads in which “no slow outlap” will appear in the video’s description, as if the creator is implying that this is somehow an unfair advantage he’s intentionally neglected to participate in. Videos from both Evan Maillard and Ricardo Castro Ledo, driving two completely different vehicles on circuits an entire ocean apart, both note their solo laps – in Evan’s case, a world record – were completed without making use of a slow outlap.
This was not an oddity that appeared in a build that was live for all of three days before promptly being patched; Evan’s video was released in February of 2012, whereas Ricardo’s came out in September of 2017. It’s been around for a while.
So what exactly is a slow outlap?
Through the use of iRacing’s infamous delta bar, a live-timing element of the user interface first introduced in 2011 that actively monitors your current pace in relation to your all-time fastest lap, avid sim racers have discovered that every single car featured in iRacing posts a blistering speed mere seconds after departing from pit road, to the point where sector times posted on the outlap are actually faster than those scored during the first timed lap a minute or two later. Whereas it is almost impossible in a real car to push at maximum attack immediately upon leaving pit lane, iRacing allows you to pursue in some cases world record pace just moments after firing the car and shifting into gear.
This led many sim racers to make the observation that iRacing’s tires are hyper-sensitive to any kind of heat, even the kind of natural heat that would accumulate when driving at competition speeds, and that cold tires, not warm tires, provided a user with optimal grip levels. As I’ve outlined above, this is backwards when compared to how rubber tires actually work on a race car.
The question among competitive circles then became how to preserve this optimal grip state for a timed lap, as pushing like a bat out of hell from the get-go would quickly generate too much heat by the time a user took the green flag. The answer was fairly simple: crawl around the track at 40 miles per hour, and punch it at the last possible moment before taking the green.
This is not something you will see in any real-world racing series, because this practice has no real-world application. This is a technique that does not work in real life, because this is not how rubber as a material operates. iRacing have objectively got it oh-so-very wrong.
Earlier this year, iRacing introduced Time Attack, a bite-sized feature intended for sim racers running on a tight schedule who still wanted to turn laps, yet couldn’t commit to a full event. It was seen as a generally positive addition to the simulator, as games such as Assetto Corsa, RaceRoom Racing Experience, Automobilista, and Project CARS 2 each have their own sub-section of their respective communities dedicated to leaderboard battles, so it was only natural for iRacing to expand into that territory as well.
However, deep within the iRacing member forums, users can be seen acting extremely disappointed over the implementation of what should have been a welcome addition to the simulator, as iRacing members are openly advising one another to idle around the circuit during the outlap while in pursuit of top times, a process which can take anywhere between five and seven minutes for just ninety seconds of spirited driving. It’s obviously not something that sat well with the sim racers the mode was intended for.
Suddenly, the YouTube video description of “no slow outlap” paints a very clear picture. There is no tangible way to measure just how many iRacers routinely make use of this massive shortcoming in the physics engine for their own personal benefit. With many of the top iRacing championships both official and private offering extensive cash prizes for placing well, not to mention the increase in one’s personal reputation for simply putting down quick lap times, it’s not difficult to hypothesize a scenario in which basically every iRacing member is taking advantage of this exploit – at least, the competitive ones.
Are slow outlaps cheating? In my personal opinion, no. There is a shortcoming in the game’s physics engine that everyone can take advantage of, without the use of third party software. I would compare it to the modern-day equivalent of shift glitching in either Forza Motorsport or Project Gotham Racing. It’s something the developers simply messed up on, and now the users are reaping the benefits of.
Instead, I believe the existence of the slow outlap exploit falls dangerously close the category of false advertising.
Let me explain why.
Using the search function, mentions of the slow outlap exploit on the official iRacing forums can be found dating back all the way to 2012, when the New Tire Model project was in it’s infancy. The practice of employing this exploit during ranked and unranked session still occurs during present day, nearly five years later.
This is proof that iRacing developers have most likely known about fundamentally unrealistic tire behavior in their simulator for a grand total of twenty major update cycles (four build updates each year, spanning five years), yet failed to rectify the problem. What they have done, is continued to market the software as a highly authentic race car simulator that can also be used as a training tool for amateur and professional drivers alike, when real world techniques taught by professionals are demonstrably counter-productive to your success in the simulator.
What iRacing have also done, is continue to churn out car after car, and track after track, while simultaneously failing to address a fundamental flaw in the game’s car handling physics. I understand that there is a genuine need to keep injecting an aging simulator with new and exciting content to keep people interested. Neglecting a fatal flaw for five years in favor of this content, is absurd. There is no reason a simple heating problem shouldn’t have been fixed in sixty months, especially when it is constantly mentioned within earshot of the developers on the official forums.
So how does this classify as false advertising?
In 2012, an iRacing member by the name of Richie Stanaway left a comment on the thread dedicated to discussing the 2012 Belgian Grand Prix, a full-length virtual Formula One race put on as part of iRacing’s World Tour calendar – special events mimicking the real life auto racing schedule. Richie comments “I think I will lose my mind if I have to do another slow outlap + hotlap around here”, in obvious reference to the unrealistic act of idling around a four mile grand prix circuit to prevent the tires from acquiring any sort of heat prior to the scored lap. Richie also attaches a lighthearted table-flipping comic, conveying his frustration at the bizarre technique needed to register a competitive lap time.
As we have already covered, real life drivers do not idle around a professional racing circuit at school-zone speeds to prevent their tires from accumulating heat. Rubber tires, fundamentally, do not work that way. They have never worked that way, and this is not how you drive a race car. The laws of physics do not provide a benefit for idling around a circuit as you would in iRacing. And as the timestamps have conveyed, iRacing have not fixed this massive flaw in their tire model. This is something iRacers are making use of in abundance, quite possibly while you’re reading this article.
iRacing’s testimonials page features an entry from Aston Martin factory driver Richie Stanaway, in which he writes “iRacing has been a huge part of my preparation as a racing driver. The car and track model accuracy is unprecedented […] I’ve driven various race car simulators but, for me, iRacing is still the best I’ve come across. iRacing has for sure made me a better race driver.”
That same Richie Stanaway can be seen in the above screenshot becoming frustrated at the bizarre technique required to post a competitive lap time in qualifying for a major iRacing online race, a technique he does not employ according to real-world on-board footage you can find on his YouTube channel. Richie is probably a good guy and doesn’t mean any harm so I’m not pointing the finger at him; the onus instead falls on iRacing for having the testicles to post this testimonial in the first place.
The average person interested in iRacing assumes that these testimonials from professional drivers are authentic, and generally represent what one can expect from the software. In thirty seconds, I was able to discover the same driver behind a very positive “testimonial” in which he claimed iRacing had helped prepare him for the real deal, was in fact lauding the use of a bizarre and unrealistic driving technique to post quick lap times that he most certainly doesn’t employ in his real cars, and it’s an exploit iRacing haven’t fixed in five years.
You read that correctly.
False advertising by definition is the use of misleading, false, or unproven information to advertise products to consumers. I would say this scenario fits that definition, and it certainly draws into question both the authenticity and the accuracy of other quotes on the testimonials page.
As always, my biggest question revolves around why this has not received more coverage. And I’m starting to sound like a broken record at this point for those who have hung around this place for the long haul, but it’s something that must be reiterated right here, right now.
iRacing is by far the most prolific and most reputable racing simulator on the market today, and has held that title for the better part of a decade as other games have come and gone. With so many YouTube personalities and so many specialized sim racing media outlets, you would think that a fundamental flaw in the way tires behave within the biggest simulator on the market would receive much more coverage, especially as this game is now being regarded as a “training tool” for future race car drivers by Fox Sports and NBC.
It seems like outlets such as InsideSimRacing or SimRacingPaddock – though there are several others – are uploading pointless “Test Drive” videos almost every other day, competing for an audience of just a few thousand. You’d think these outlets would be chomping at the bit to be the first one to upload an extensive breakdown of just how much an advantage cold tires provides you with, and how to employ the technique correctly during a qualification period, both for the benefit of sim racers, as well as to encourage iRacing’s developers to fix it.
Yet they haven’t.
This topic has gone uncovered for five straight years.
Why is that?
A few short years ago, TeamVVV discovered a hidden assist that could be activated in Formula One 2014. By switching on the “Override Input Device Type” setting, and then configuring your steering wheel as normal, the game would implement a hidden stability assist to your race car that would go undetected in league play. As a result, drivers could enter private championships and utterly decimate the competition with more speed than any custom setup could possibly warrant. Codemasters received a lot of shit, but the public service announcement was very much appreciated by the F1 gaming community. To this day, this piece remains TeamVVV’s finest work. Controversial, informative, and useful.
iRacing’s tire model has exhibited an even bigger flaw than Override Input Device Type; everything you know about how a race car tire works, goes out the window in favor of idling around a race track while trying to prevent big, sticky racing slicks from acquiring any heat whatsoever.
iRacing’s most fundamental problem, is that cold tires produce more grip than warm tires, and has done so for five years.
As a training tool for amateur race car drivers, iRacing cannot be used, period. It teaches the user to run balls out immediately after turning over the ignition – a sure recipe for disaster in a real car – but then drive well under the limit of what their car is capable of in an effort to keep tire temperatures low at all costs, rather than to strategically push and conserve based on the situation at hand – which real racing tires allow. Prolonged use of iRacing as a practice tool for real world events is utterly foolish; the software’s tire model rewards hyper-conservative driving, and punishes any sort of spirited lapping that would otherwise be welcomed in a real car.
In simpler terms, iRacing encourages you to intentionally drive slow. I find it utterly mind-blowing that iRacing have not made any attempt at rolling out a widespread fix for this since the discovery of the exploit in 2012, especially when (for the most part) every other simulator on the market gets this fundamental part of tire behavior, absolutely correct.
But at least now you know about it.