You’d think for a piece of software that prides itself on being the most authentic & accurate simulation consumers can buy, massive discrepancies between real world car performance and the virtual counterpart wouldn’t exist to begin with, and simulation enthusiasts wouldn’t actively work to brigade someone drawing attention to what’s a completely reasonable talking point.
The NASCAR Monster Energy Cup series is set to visit Bristol Motor Speedway this upcoming weekend, one of the oldest circuits on the schedule despite it’s modern coliseum atmosphere, for the second of its two 2017 dates: one in the spring, taking place during the day, with this weekend’s being a night race that’s known for chaos and destruction akin to a local short track event. Despite being just a half mile in length, Bristol’s 25+ degrees in banking generate a very unique vibe; insanely high speeds and close quarter combat is the auto racing equivalent to flying fighter jets within the confines of a high school gymnasium. The Monaco Grand Prix may send Formula One entries blazing past elaborate casinos, and V8 Supercars can get a little hairy in the resort town of Surfer’s Paradise, but there’s nothing in the motorsports kingdom quite like Bristol Motor Speedway – a track that actively encourages mangled heaps of automotive wreckage..
In keeping with the standard formula of how iRacing operates, all major stock car series within the popular online racing simulator will mirror the real world NASCAR Cup series schedule and also visit the concrete jungle throughout the week. The top simulator drivers on the service have spent the past few days preparing for a multitude of high-profile events, whether it be the standard top Class A open run-offs that dictate the drivers eligible to compete for $10,000 USD next year, or the significantly longer NASCAR iRacing Series contests, which are more in line with the simulator’s origins. However, in testing for these events, one YouTube user flying under the name of GeneticJD has made a pretty startling discovery – and it’s one that all iRacers should be taking a close look at, if only to understand where their money is actually going.
In a single car qualifying run under realistic weather and track conditions – which he actually addresses directly to dispel the fanboys’ claims before they can arise – GeneticJD, who isn’t a prominent face in the Peak Anti-Freeze Series, but just another somewhat talented sim racer on the service, has clocked in with a time of 13.8 seconds in his virtual #31 Kraft Velveeta Chevrolet SS. To provide some context as to why this might be an issue, qualifying for the 2016 night race at Bristol saw now-retired ace Car Edwards snatch the pole with an elapsed time of 14.6. Drop down the results list to see how other talented drivers performed, and racers such as the inevitable 2016 champion Jimmie Johnson registered a 14.91, while three time series winner & short track veteran Tony Stewart clocked in with a 15.02.
GeneticJD’s lap by comparison is so absurdly beyond what these cars are capable of in real life, it actually matches the World of Outlaws Sprint Car track record set by Sammy Swindell back in the early 2000’s, when the series used to temporarily convert the half mile oval into a dirt track. Those cars have a power-to-weight ratio more ridiculous than a modern Formula One car, and aided by a giant wing that essentially allows them to turn an entire lap at full power while sideways – yet iRacing says a 3200 pound stock car is just as fast. Drawing natural conclusions from the car’s performance, GeneticJD comments that iRacing absolutely need to slow the cup cars down. How iRacing’s stock cars are going upwards of a full second faster than their real life counterpart in a track this short, is absolutely inexcusable.
Of course, the iRacing defense force have already appeared to downvote the post into oblivion on the simulator’s official subreddit, with comments conveniently dancing around how bizarre this performance is is – instead wanting to see pedal inputs, the setup used, or claiming that the video was “less interesting than I expected.” And sure, to them, maybe it really isn’t a big deal that some guy with infinitely more driving talent than they have somehow cracked a barrier that’s virtually impossible.
But to myself, and others as well, it’s pretty hilarious. iRacing isn’t just a boxed game you buy from Wal-Mart for anywhere from $60 to $80, and put up with the bad in exchange for the positive things the software accomplishes. This is a game that demands you fork out several times more than you’d traditionally find yourself paying for virtual race cars, and then thrives on a concept called post-purchase rationalization plus an admittedly exceptional marketing campaign, one which makes deluded motor racing enthusiasts believe they’ve acquired the very best in consumer-grade race car simulators. Usually this would be the part of the article where I would take aim at hardcore sim racers roped in by the cult-like mentality of iRacing’s finest to perpetuate such bullshit, but instead I will take a different approach.
When I browse YouTube videos of either NASCAR: The Game, or the current iteration of NASCAR Heat – two console offerings that admittedly aren’t up to par with what we should expect from video games in 2017 – I always see the same comments from miscellaneous users: “Why are you playing this trash when iRacing exists; it’s the best and most realistic racing simulator money can buy.” Sometimes it’s worded a lot nicer than that, but the overall theme remains the same.
I have to ask, what weight does this argument hold now? It’s been a while since we’ve gotten a genuinely good oval racing game, but acting like iRacing is this be-all, end-all solution for dedicated NASCAR fans, only for the most popular cars on the service to generate performance figures that are significantly less accurate than these supposed “arcade games” everyone has no problems shitting on, is pretty comical. In no way am I defending the horrid dumpster fire that was NASCAR Heat – not by a long shot – but seeing the average person parrot claims of iRacing’s alleged realism, when this is demonstrably false just by comparing virtual lap times to the real thing, definitely raises the question as to what sort of brainwashing has been taking place.
It also makes me wonder how more people aren’t genuinely questioning where their money is going when renting the content on iRacing, and how there’s not a more widespread level of criticism surrounding the biggest name on the market today. Sure, I got screwed over by DiRT 4’s decline in quality – as did many others – but at the end of the day it was a one-time, $60 purchase, not a long-term investment that continuously asked for my money just to explore a fraction of the content available on top of annual subscription fees. And though Codemasters did parade around a couple of real world drivers to vouch for the authenticity of some of the vehicles available in DiRT 4, their promotional efforts were nowhere near as extensive as those carried out by iRacing, who for years upon years upon years have touted close working relationships with a multitude of real world teams and engineers to ensure the utmost of accuracy out on the virtual race track.
Let me ask a simple question: Where is this accuracy customers have been promised? Because there seems to be a pretty major disconnect between what the marketing team would have you believe, and what actually occurs within the game world. For a development team to supposedly be in touch with Monster Energy Cup teams on a regular basis and actively employing individuals within the Cup series garage area, how in the fuck do we reach a scenario where Cup cars are blasting around Bristol at World of Outlaws speeds? No, it’s not a case for false advertisement, but I’m genuinely surprised that so many people have no problem parting with their hard-earned cash primarily due to the game’s self-proclaimed status as the most accurate and thoroughly researched simulator on the market, with some members even being blissfully unaware that other racing simulators exist altogether because they’ve bought into the iRacing or bust mentality themselves, yet are suddenly silent or apathetic when this authenticity is objectively proven to be false?
I’m also a bit surprised in regards to how on top of the demonstrable lapses in authenticity, sim racers are unable to read between the lines and notice something is amiss when it comes to how iRacing advertise themselves as the pinnacle of realism, when real teams aren’t actually using it.
I’m not a Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan, I’m actually in the Kevin Harvick camp that believes his lack of on-track success has kind of hurt the sport – usually the most popular athlete is also the most successful, and in this case he’s not – but one thing Dale has done a good job at is being an ambassador for sim racing on a global platform, and he’s been doing this basically since the start of his career, which we all very much appreciate. However, in his weekly podcast, #186 at the 42 minute mark if you’re looking for something to get you through your workout routine, Dale mentions that the Chevrolet simulator uses “old gaming technology”, and though iRacing as a company don’t currently provide simulators for any of the teams (which in itself should be a red flag), it’s something they have an interest in – and he’d prefer for them to enter the realm of professional simulators as well.
Yet this “old” gaming technology, which Dale refuses to name – though we all know from pictures it’s clearly a variant of rFactor – helped his own Hendrick teammate tie his father’s NASCAR record by notching his seventh championship last season. In the meantime, average Joe’s on the iRacing service are blowing the doors off real world qualification charts, running times that would put them in an entirely different vehicle class. With this tidbit alone, you’d think people would figure out that maybe they’re not getting the experience that they’re paying for.
Another tidbit worth noting, would be Dale’s own career statistics. Earnhardt Jr. advocates for iRacing to enter the professional simulator realm, as he was a very active driver during the service’s early years, believes the software has the potential to go above and beyond what rFactor Pro provides, and obviously has a great relationship with the people in Massachussetts, but these years spent diving deep into sim racing – moreso than his Windows XP years – also happen to ironically coincide with a disastrous four-year slump that has defined the final half of his career. From June of 2008 to July of 2012, NASCAR’s most popular driver failed to win a single race – a slump so crippling, his own teammate posting similar statistics lost his job. As you can see from the video above, Earnhardt Jr. was most active on iRacing starting from it’s beta period, until about late 2011 or early 2012, during the initial stages of the new tire model when a lot of people thought it was quite good.
Look, if there’s this top level NASCAR driver going around telling people about how helpful this one piece of software is compared to all the others, but while doing so he’s actually putting up results that would be job-threatening to anyone not named Earnhardt, how is anyone not asking questions about the accuracy of the software, but instead just sort of going along with it and using it as a reason to spend even more money on the game? The North Carolina rumor mill has obviously lit a fire under claims that Dale was asked to stop iRacing until his on-track results improved, because supposedly people figured out it was messing with his driving style, but that’s not really something we can confirm as 100% fact.
For 13.8 seconds, you should question what you’re paying for. A team supposedly this in-tune with the current motorsports climate, hiring engineers directly from the industry, and working closely with individuals to ensure their software is the absolute pinnacle of sim racing, should not be producing virtual vehicles this far off the mark from their real world counterparts. Yes, maybe DriveClub’s version of a Ferrari Enzo will drive as more of a ballpark guess than anything else, and sure DiRT 4’s R5 rally cars are pretty fucked up, but that’s almost to be expected with those pieces of software. But with such a heavy marketing campaign surrounding it, one which swears up and down that iRacing is the last simulator you’ll ever need, these claims shouldn’t be getting blown the fuck out by a random YouTube personality who somehow figured out how to break the sim in such a way, Cup cars are as fast as World of Outlaws 410 deathtraps. No, just stop, that’s fucked up. You’ve failed at your goal. Go back to the drawing board.
You should also question why real drivers, the same that can be seen on iRacing’s testimonial pages bragging about how great the software is, are accidentally admitting in their podcasts that iRacing to their knowledge isn’t actually used by any professional race teams whatsoever, yet they’re still advocating for the use of iRacing despite this “old” software winning their teammate his record-tying seventh championship.
Lastly, you should question why this professional driver coincidentally suffered from a career-defining slump during the exact time frame he was actively helping out with the development of the game.
But, of course, the country club members won’t want to ask these questions, because bringing iRacing into disrepute is against the sporting code, and can therefore warrant a suspension or outright ban for those who dare to rock the boat.