Reader Submission #144 – The Entitlement of Sim Racers

Are sim racers acting entitled? That’s the theme of today’s Reader Submission from Damien, who explores his time spent mentoring budding sim racers, as well as recent events that have transpired in the iRacing community, which have given him the impression that many sim racers appear to be too lazy to do anything themselves – except drive, that is. From refusing to learn even the most fundamental basics of car setups, to asking for handouts on crowdfunding platforms, Damien notes that this behavior is not a new thing, and is instead rather insulting for those who race in real life – like himself.Hey James, you can call me Damien. After reading through some of your recent articles regarding some of the… stranger happenings in the iRacing community involving jumping from the sim to reality, I want to build a little more on some of the things you’ve mentioned. With you being a short track racer yourself, you’ll probably get where I am coming from as someone who has done and is doing work in the industry. A lot of this may seem obvious to you, but to some I feel it goes straight over their heads. Right now, I want to explore the main offender of these incidents: mentality. With Will Byron basically being showboated by iRacing, I only expect it to get even worse from here.

True racing drivers are a strange breed. No normal person would think of strapping themselves into what very well could end up a twisted metal coffin for fun, let alone a living. Racing drivers are the most dedicated of hobbyists and/or athletes, refusing to even let nearly career-ending injuries get in the way sometimes. That being said, most sim racers can hardly be considered one of the breed, which is a statement you’ll probably agree with judging by some of your posts on the blog. 

I’m an avid iRacing user who is racing for real, thanks to someone I met through the game (yes, game) who I have been working with for a while. I’m a respectable driver with a well-above average iRating, but I digress. As I’ve climbed the ladder, I’ve had people reach out to me for help, with my involvement varying from sending hotlaps to tutoring in practice sessions. Some guys are swell, some are not, but the most important thing I’ve learned is that the overarching problem is that many sim racers just want to drive and have work done for them. My experience has given me familiarity with behind-the-scenes work, and I can attest that motorsport does not work this way. A good majority of real drivers, including me, see racing as the reward for their efforts off the track.

Many a sim racer I’ve helped has expressed interest in making it to the Peak Antifreeze Series, yet most of these people have not only never messed with an open setup before, but also refuse to learn, wanting to rely on their teammates to set their cars up. It’s also worth noting that a few of them want to make the same jump from the sim to the real thing, which is an idea I balk at, bearing in mind their lack of mechanical know-how on the sim. Granted, I haven’t taken very many under my wing, only a handful at most, but I know this mentality of driving first, work second is widespread. I see and hear it on the forums, in the voice chat, and sometimes on my Facebook as well. My rebuttal will always be the same: “How can you expect to race for wins if you don’t understand the car?” It’s just like in that one shitty Tom Cruise movie, you know, the one with the NASCAR’s, where Cruise’s character fails miserably due to lack of mechanical understanding. I don’t care if you don’t want to learn to prevent yourself from getting “distracted” from driving (yes, that was a real excuse I heard): if you don’t know how to work in tandem with your engineers to figure out how to go faster, you don’t stand a chance. Period.

Obviously the mechanical side of things is just one facet of a successful operation, but as you definitely know, you can’t race without monetary backing. Sponsorships are the obvious solution to the problem, but sponsorships are horrifically misunderstood by the average Joe. Sponsorship is more than putting a fancy sticker on a fast car, it’s a full-fledged business partnership that benefits both parties, creating ROI through an elaborate relationship that goes past just a paint scheme and decals. In other words, sponsorship takes serious effort. Any other “sponsor” who agrees to put a sticker on a car and gives away free money has no clue what they are doing, and trust me, I’ve seen it before. Countless times, it never ends well.

In your post about Jason’s GoFundMe campaign, you mentioned how sponsors need a full report on where the money is going, right down to the last penny. This is the most crucial part of the operation in my opinion, and it is imperative a team takes care of companies or benefactors they intend to have a long-standing relationship with for years to come. Going online and begging for money to race is NOT a sponsorship. It is not sustainable, it is not reliable, and above all, it perpetrates this “race first, work second” mentality. It’s every sim racer’s dream to race, a fact that will be drilled into your cranium every now and then with the familiar “come help me race” posts in the forums.

One could make the argument that I’m a hypocrite for supporting Jordan Anderson’s crowdfunding campaign after his unfortunate accident this year, but here’s the deal: would you rather put your personal money towards a driver who busts his ass in real NASCAR trucks, full with outlined perks and structure, or towards someone who has no other explanation that a childhood dream? If you choose the latter, stop lying.

Not to mention, how often do sim racers take time to develop a tangible plan that isn’t just a bunch of series logos organized in a flowchart? Yes, having a visualization of the path to where one wants to go can help, I guess. But planning a real career is FAR more involved and complicated than what PS2 NASCAR games will have you believe. You can’t just jump into a Dodge Viper, beat Ryan Newman in an eerily deserted stretch of NYC road, and start tearing shit up in a modified to try to land a truck seat. I know many drivers in the area who could kick serious ass in something like ARCA or K&N, but opportunity comes in “if’s”, not “whens” like the games. I’m not saying to lower expectations and standards; I’m saying be realistic in goals because very few get to race for a living in the big leagues.

Also, in a more relevant tone, set priorities. I’ve been trying to go this whole piece without singling anyone out too much, but how can you say that you need money to race when you’ve already bought a $23,000 simulator, with a $16,000 ARCA showcar for another rig? How can you say you wish you could race like the pros when you spent your cash on a sports car instead of a street stock program? I know you’ve already touched on this specific bit, but it bears repeating. It should sound like common knowledge by now, but it goes in one ear and out the other for some.

In regards to people encouraging behavior as seen from, for example, Jason Jacoby, like him or not, he found a way to resonate with quite a few (probably easily impressed) folks who also dream big and don’t want to do the work. However, when the dream comes under threat, it seems as if there’s some kind of a shared ego or identity between him and his enablers, and they rush to his defense. This phenomenon happens often, especially in the last US election, and some of these rebuttals are nonsensical because of threatened face. Plus, I feel like Jason kind of represents that part of them that wants to partake in these outlandish hijinks, but either can’t or won’t, and that’s some of his appeal too. It’s almost like George Costanza in a way, I suppose.

What I’m trying to say is you can’t say anything unless you’ve made the effort, done the work, and shown passion for it. I’m man enough to admit that I once had this naive outlook, until I understood the value of hard work through my own desire to get ahead. True racers are passionate, don’t let much get in the way of their goals, and don’t give up until they’re forced to with no other options. Spending money on needlessly large rigs and promptly asking for money towards a real car is quite the opposite of passion in my opinion, as is refusal to learn or work, only wanting the thrill of the fight.

As a stock car racer yourself, what do you think about my take on the whole “racer first, worker second” epidemic? I certainly hope I haven’t been beating a dead horse with you, but with so many people looking for the easy way into a sport that punishes half-assed efforts, I just needed to get all of this off my chest. As a driver also working his ass off towards a dream that might not even come true, I feel insulted by people basically trying to turn the sport into some kind of video game. But for everyone who’s stuck in this dangerous mentality, takes some advice from my dad: “Do the work. Get it done. Get it fucking done.”

Lots to cover in this response, so I apologize if this all seems a bit dis-jointed at times.

Many years ago, I too had the “racer first” mentality, unwilling to sit down and learn car setups, and this is something iRacing kind of encouraged with their abundance of fixed setup series. What a lot of the new guys to sim racing probably don’t know, is that iRacing at launch was significantly more hardcore than it currently is, races being double or triple the length they are now, and every series was open setup. To reel in new members and retain interest in the title, they then began offering shorter, fixed setup races as a throwback to the pick-up servers of NASCAR Racing 2003 Season. I joined in late 2011, so by this time fixed setup series were all the rage, boasting much higher participation numbers than open sessions, so as a new guy, take a guess where I went.

The rise of fixed setup racing gave me the impression that uniform car setups were the “great equalizer” between sim racers, but that was until I actually sat down and attempted to understand what was going on under the hood, rather than assume it was just black magic. In all honesty, iRacing’s underlying physics engine perpetuated my refusal to learn car setup theory, because for many years setups on the service were brutally unrealistic, and stuff you’d learn on tutorial websites – whether it be for other simulators, or real life – simply did not apply to iRacing. So I was in this weird spot where yeah, I could take the time and learn all I could about car setups, but none of it would actually apply to the simulator I was spending the most time on. There’s a famous comment on PRC from a few years ago that kind of confirms this, where a dude from Travis Kvapil’s truck team mentions how their real world setup was a complete and utter fail when applied to the sim.

Playing a game as broken as this, it’s sort of understandable as to why so many are refusing to sit down and do the hard work themselves. Everything they could learn, can’t be applied anyway, so of course they’d rather delegate it to the turbonerds who have memorized all the exploits. I’m sure things have improved in 2017, but iRacing was in this state for years, and that means entire waves of sim racers hold this same delegation mentality. In short, I’m blaming iRacing for this. If setups are so broken in your game that literally no real world theories work, of course there are going to be entitled sim racers passing off setup duties to those in the know, rather than figuring it out for themselves.

In my situation, it took being banned from iRacing and exploring other simulators – usually powered by the isiMotor engine – to understand how integral car setups are to your on-track success, and that what I first thought to be “black magic” was actually quite simple. You drop the ride height as low as you can go without scraping, and then stiffen the springs until it doesn’t scrape, with softer springs at the back so the car isn’t overly-loose on corner exit. I have been running the same camber and toe values across all sims for about four years now (-3.5/-2.8 and -0.2/+0.1, respectively), and for tire pressures I usually run 21 PSI cold. These numbers have won races, championships, and set countless fast laps across a multitude of different simulators, but of course with iRacing making waves of sim racers believe car setups are literal rocket science and introducing new exploits with each build, most have no incentive to even try and figure it out. Can’t say I blame them, but that’s probably not the answer you wanted to hear.

As for sim racers thinking they can get into racing without lifting a finger, unfortunately I’m going to give you another answer you don’t want to hear, but I’ll at least explain how I got to that point so we don’t have a bunch of entitled kids on the iRacing forums thinking they can just show up at the track with money and follow in my footsteps.

The extent of my mechanical abilities is that I can change a tire and install my transponder; regardless of what car I’m campaigning over the weekend, other people are doing the dirty work for me. This isn’t actually uncommon at my local complex, I’ve talked with other drivers my age who are in the exact same boat, but in my case it’s to the point where calling me a “useless millennial” is pretty much a meme in our section of the pit area.

But it remains a meme, because despite lacking any sort of mechanical skills, I can still offer something else in exchange for repairs to my race car. In my situation, I’m essentially the go-to PR/marketing guy for about three or four different drivers at the race track. I run one driver’s Facebook page, have created sponsorship pitches for at least three people other than myself – all of which were successful and landed said drivers a sponsor for the 2017 season – some days I’m helping people put together invoices, others I’m editing their on-board YouTube videos so they’re not thirty eight minutes long, or getting shit like car numbers designed for them. To the sim racing community, a lot of this stuff seems like brainless work – because for us, it certainly is – but you have to remember the average person is still downright terrified of PC’s and their browser of choice is loaded with those shitty third-party toolbars, and there’s no way in hell they can sit down and whip up a one-page sponsorship pitch in fifteen minutes.I’ve had offers to film promo videos for ex-Pinty’s Series drivers, even to become the full-time social media guy at the local track, but had to turn them down because I just didn’t have the time – though I certainly would if my personal schedule allowed it. So while I can’t turn a wrench, there’s something extra I can at least bring to an operation, and that gives people an incentive to turn the wrenches when I’m unable to. In addition, though I’m probably the dirtiest driver on the property (and this is something I take a lot of pride in), being involved in severe wrecks has been a rarity since I’ve started racing, so a lot of guys have peace of mind that if they spend the time to fix something on my cars, statistically they can expect at the very worst to replace bolt-on parts at the conclusion of the event, not panicking that the car is destroyed because I got mad and punted somebody.

It is indeed possible to primarily be a driver first, but you have to contribute something to make the partnership worthwhile for everybody involved. If you’re landing sponsorships for not just yourself, but others as well, drafting up invoices, editing their YouTube videos, running their Facebook pages, designing their logos, towing their cars to the track, paying for shit in a timely manner when asked, they’ll have no problem helping you.

On to the next topic, Jason’s GoFundMe campaign. Personally I disagree with your assertions as to how sponsorships should always be approached in a very formal fashion, because at least in Alberta, some guys just have more money than they know what to do with, and think it’s cool to have their name or business they own on the side of a race car. There’s really nothing wrong with this; whatever floats their boat.

But as a driver, regardless of a potential sponsor’s mentality, you should be going the extra mile to inform these people what their money is going towards, because it’s just the right thing to do. I’m not talking specifically about Microsoft Excel spreadsheets that map out where the funding will go, I’m talking about the most entry-level, basic shit that gives them confidence they’re not being scammed. For example, I was confused as to why Jason could not provide a single picture of him racing in the past, nor could he provide a link to results of the races he supposedly ran. Unless you’re racing in a complete backwoods facility, most circuits require a transponder to be installed on your vehicle, and of course these results then get uploaded to a website, which you can link people to as proof as your driving prowess. Jacoby basically ignored all of this and resorted to “my Grandpa said I’m good.” Oh please, my mom thought I sang well in Kindergarten for our spring concert, but I ain’t no country music star.

I think his crowdfunding pitch would have actually been reasonable  yes, I’m defending the guy here – if he had pictures of his old street stock, lap times from the events he did attempt, and a description that was less of a life story, and more of a “I’m looking to get back into racing after a few years honing my skills on sims, would anyone with a small business like to contribute” angle. With that kind of pitch, it’s more along the lines of a local racer using his sim racing connections as an additional avenue to secure funding – again, very reasonable – rather than a deluded manchild embarrassing himself on a public platform.

Or I guess he could just sell his rather useless toys and ignore the whole crowdfunding thing altogether, but I guess that’s too much to ask.

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Reader Submission #143 – Disappointment Championship USA

We don’t talk much about arcade games here on PRC, but given there really is no underlying theme to the website aside from “virtual cars”, anything and everything is up for discussion if you so choose to notify us about it. Today’s Reader Submission comes from longtime contributor FMecha, who has arrived to notify us that the newest iteration of Daytona USA – yes, they’re still making these – has not resonated well with critics and fans alike, offering a very rushed, lackluster experience that eschews series traditions and caters to a very different crowd, all while repackaging old content as “new.”

It’s a disappointing fall for Daytona USA, as the series was once a critically acclaimed staple of arcades around the world for several years in the 1990’s, offering many a glimpse of what hardcore sim racing would be like from the comfort of their own custom battle stations many years later. But is this decline really all that upsetting? Or is it just a fairly natural result of a consumer base growing largely uninterested in public arcade cabinets?

Hey PRC, FMecha here. It’s been a pretty substantial amount of time since I’ve sent in a reader submission, but I’ve finally found another topic worth covering.

This time, I’m writing about Daytona Championship USA.Developed by the London-based Sega Amusements team rather than the original AM2 team, the game generated hype among the arcade racer fandom everywhere, to the point it was originally touted as the third numbered title in the series. Ultimately, however, the “3” was dropped from the game’s title – for the right reasons.

The first evident aspect the fans noticed, one which will disappoint every single one of them, is the game’s gear shift choice. Instead of the traditional 4-gear H-pattern configuration previous Daytona USA games once used, as well as the SCUD and Sega Rally machines, the game opts for a more simplistic low/high configuration. That means no more drift tricks using the manual transmission that advanced Daytona USA veterans are used to. Second, the fans figured out that the “new” tracks are just simply re-skinned and mirrored versions of the original layouts. Furthermore, the new tracks also use recycled soundtracks – evident in the Lakeside (mirrored Advanced) course, where it uses the song from Daytona USA 2001’s Rin Rin Rink course. Talk about effort, or lack thereof.

Reportedly, a podcast from Arcade Heroes stated the game was mainly created because the spare parts for the original, Model 2 hardware-based Daytona, released in 1994 – still in service by many arcades – are running out, sounding like a cash-grab for both operators and players alike. I mean, Sega Racing Classic, and exact remaster of the original game sans title, released in 2009, already exists, and it has the original AM2 team involved… so…

Meanwhile, Sega Japan have something else which, while does show more effort on their end, also makes you ask where Polyphony Digital’s Super GT License went; apparently the license has changed hands, and is the basis for Sega’s upcoming World Driver Championship.

I think the bigger issue at hand here is the role arcade cabinets are currently playing in the overall video game industry. Developers are understandably going to half-ass new variants these machines (and the accompanying software), as we no longer have massive, ultra-popular arcade centers in every single strip mall across North America. Obviously I understand these games are pretty huge in Japan considering vidya is more of a social outing over there than it is over here – where we sit in isolation injecting dangerously unhealthy levels of Mountain Dew directly into our bloodstream – but with that drastic reduction in popularity across an entire continent, comes a significant lack of need to go above and beyond in regards to the play-ability of these games. So the option of half-assing it certainly exists.

For that reason alone, I can understand why Daytona Championship USA captures none of the magic that turned the original titles into a worldwide phenomenon, and as you mentioned, is more of a formality to (quite successfully) bait those currently maintaining old machines, into upgrading to the newer model in what’s essentially a cost-cutting measure. It’s honestly not a bad business decision considering good fucking luck if your original Daytona USA machine gets trashed due to somebody’s drunken rampage or obsessive usage from a local, but of course the trade-off is that it shits on what was a pretty outstanding legacy via underwhelming software.

Arcade racers are not a particular forte of mine; the biggest arcade spot in the city – West Edmonton Mall’s Playdium – was turned into a concert/lounge just as I got to the age where going out and spending money on vidya was a viable pastime, so sadly I cannot connect with the appeal of coin-op machines. I think though, with the reduction in popularity of these machines, at least in North America, a reduction in expectations should also come with it. Arcade machines were popular in the late 80’s and early 1990’s because they offered an experience that home consoles and computers simply couldn’t match, which was part of the allure of going to the arcade in the first place. With that disparity now inverted, it’s a bit foolish to believe arcade cabinets will still somehow offer an experience worth paying for – at least to those who don’t already visit arcades for social outings.

So for that reason, I think that while it’s shitty a once-historic franchise has fallen pretty far off the map, this seems to be a pretty natural chain of events.

 

Reader Submission #142 – The Front Wing is Too Damn High

No longer confined to select press releases and vague teaser shots, the covers have been fully removed from Codemasters’ upcoming open wheel racer Formula One 2017, but the diehards have managed to spot some oddities – and we’re praying it’s not indicative of the rest of the game’s quality. Coming off a stellar outing in F1 2016, a title many fans considered to be Codemasters magnum opus once the tire wear issues had been rectified for online play, expectations are high for what the UK crew can achieve with their next outing, yet in the preview shots that have been released by first party sources, questionable findings were discovered that really shouldn’t have made it into promotional material at the very least.

Today’s Reader Submission here at PRC comes from Australian kart racer Tyler W., who has summarized the oddities in the officially released footage quite extensively for us. Though it’s not a clear indication that Codemasters are on pace to dropping the ball a second time this year after DiRT 4 failed to impress, the Formula One series has been constructed primarily for die-hard Grand Prix fans, and the game will live and die not by it’s content, but by it’s polish.

 

Hey PRC! I’m getting in quick before the rush of emails start coming regarding this topic, but some Formula One 2017 gameplay with Max Verstappen has officially dropped, showcasing him turning laps around the short layout of Silverstone. Now, I have watched a few E3 videos of the classic cars, and it didn’t seem that bat, but now with outside views of the cars, I have some cause of concern regarding the game. And I don’t say this lightly as I’m someone who has been playing Formula One games for about as long as I have lived.

First, for some reason the 2017 RB13 has a front wing so high that Snoop Dogg would be jealous. Problem is, no way would any F1 car run a wing that high at any time, as it would have no downforce properties in order to be fast.Then, we move onto the RB6 from 2010, and it looks even worse. For some reason, the car looks to be running on the ground with the wheels looking abnormally high compared to the car itself, making it seem like a botched open wheel mod for NASCAR Racing 2003 Season. It’s like there’s a horrendously soft suspension setup on it, and it’s not realistic at all compared to how the car sets through the corner in real life. While it’s compressing, the tires are still pretty low compared to the chassis.

I might be overreacting and worried over nothing, as what Max drove may have been an earlier build, but it’s a bit scary that the game comes out next month, and there seem to be some pretty glaring model issues, on top of the horrid external V8 engine noise – almost worse than what F1 2010 had, if I’m to be completely honest. By the way, how do you screw up a model that you’ve had since 2010?

What are your thoughts?

On one hand, I’ll gladly bring up Van Halen’s Brown M&M’s tour rider clause, where if one precise detail was botched – such as the color of M&M’s in the candy dish – the rockstars had every reason to believe exponentially larger mistakes were made when assembling the stage. So inaccurate car models and ride heights could point to other issues behind the scenes with F1 2017, problems we won’t discover until we’ve actually got our hands on the game and start screwing around with it. However, past examples have shown a racing game featuring inaccurate car models does not necessarily equate to a bad game. The EA Sports NASCAR Thunder games shipped with woefully inaccurate Chevrolet Monte Carlo bodies – they were too tall, too narrow, the front clip was nowhere near close, and the headlight decals were outdated by a few years – yet those games are still considered the absolute pinnacle of officially licensed NASCAR titles save for that small blemish, and it’s just something the diehards have to deal with every time they fire up the game.

Yet I do wonder how Codemasters were able to film promo pieces knowing such glaring oddities still existed with their car models. This is a team who are fully aware that die-hards are going to scrutinize everything and everything in the weeks leading up to the game; Formula One isn’t Mario Kart, it’s consumed exclusively by those who eat, breathe, and sleep grand prix racing, so why you’d pull the trigger on promotional material knowing it would be ripped apart is pretty perplexing. In my opinion, this one’s on the marketing team for not stepping in and saying “um… guys… are you sure you want this out there?”

There’s also the chance that Max was allowed to dick around with the game for a bit prior to filming, and he’s running some nutty exploit setup he figured out because he’s talented like that. I know in testing for Project CARS 2 I’ve been running some crazy shit outside traditional setup techniques for certain cars in the garage area, and it’s received some pretty interesting reactions when people either take a look at the values or try it for themselves, so that’s a distinct possibility.

Regardless, I wouldn’t write off the game just yet – Codemasters had a stellar blueprint to build upon thanks to how phenomenal last year’s game was – but yeah, I’m not sure why the promo team gave the thumbs up to put out footage with irregularities most F1 fans can spot from a mile away.

Reader Submission #141 – Looking for Simulation in the Wrong Places

In pursuing the sole goal of perfecting race car dynamics in a semi-static environment, modern simulation developers often lose sight of the immersive sim elements that serve to complete the experience. While teams like Reiza Studios or iRacing will spend months behind the scenes refining and polishing a brand new car to be released into their respective piece of software with an upcoming patch or DLC launch, we very rarely talk about the various race weekend elements that these companies traditionally overlook.

Restricted sets of tires over the course of an entire event, limited backup cars and repair times that carry over from open practice to the race itself, as well as intricate cockpit systems & ignition sequences, are all questionably absent from our simulator experiences despite fans and developers alike lobbying for near 100% accuracy. It’s certainly a bit hypocritical that all major and minor race sim teams boast a hardcore experience, but unlike Flight Simulators, an asterisk is hidden in the fine print; this level of authenticity is confined solely to race car physics, which is only part of the complete package. There’s no debris on the track after an accident that safety trucks can be seen cleaning up, no push starts in iRacing’s World of Outlaws content, furthermore, when these elements are introduced, sim snobs turn their noses up at the title, calling it “simcade” and down-voting you into oblivion on Reddit for suggesting you’re enjoying your time with it.

Today’s Reader Submission from Leo G. believes we’re looking for simulation value in the wrong places, and that the sim community as a whole is a bit hypocritical. They want a hardcore experience, but only when it’s convenient for them, leading to developers awkwardly building pseudo-hardcore titles that technically could all classify as simcade.

Hey PRC team, your recent pre-season testing post has driven me to put into words something I’ve been thinking for a few years now – the sim racing community is full of hypocrites.

Sim racers (and the developers as well) are extremely dedicated to “realism”. We want our sims to be the most realistic experience possible, and creating that should be priority #1 at all times. The problem is that all of the details that can be measured, gathered, and recreated – simulated – don’t mean a thing if the feedback isn’t right. And playing games on the computer is very different to driving the real thing. That doesn’t mean harder or easier, but different. I’ve been sim racing for over twenty years and have been participating in club level motorsport for about the last five. Whilst my sim racing experience definitely helped prepare me for the track, I noticed an interesting development. The more time I spent behind the real in real life, the worse my sim racing became. I believe this is because the feedback that I’m most heavily relying on while in my actual car just doesn’t exist at my computer desk.

But we still chase the perfect sim, absolute realism, as if this is something that can objectively be achieved. As if we’ll reach a point one day where we actually will have a simulation that is 100% accurate and realistic… but what does it matter if the experience itself can’t be recreated?

This brings me back to your pre-season testing post. Your first drive in a new race car and… what was that? Old tires? And the track was covered in debris, dirt, and… glass? I think you’re spinning tales, because I’ve been playing the most realistic sims available for years and I’ve never had to drive on old tires on a filthy track… oh wait, that’s because our “realistic sims” are only telling half the story, and pretending like the other half doesn’t exist.

Have you heard the story of (pretty sure it was) Graham Hill driving four consecutive Grand Prix on the same set of tires? The rubber back then was so hard, the tires got faster as they wore out. Funnily enough, I did a USAC style league race at Michigan on iRacing many years ago in the Lotus 49 – a complete 250 mile event. In testing for this race, I found out that the tires got faster as the race wore on. As in, three seconds a lap faster. On a two mile oval. That’s insane.

It would have been great to be able to run the tires in practice and qualifying to wear them in for the race, just like what would have happened in real life… but that’s not what our sims are about. I found the whole situation to be slightly amusing as it turns out there were many others in the field who hadn’t done their research and kept pitting for new tires during cautions, not realizing that they were only making things worse. This sort of thing would never have happened in the real world.

Another similar story comes from the Blancpain Endurance Series, when Shane Van Gisbergen made his debut at Monza. Van Gisbergen is a multiple time race winner in V8 Supercars, winning the overall championship in 2016. He’s a bit of a gun and is fast in anything he drives. So what does a driver of his caliber get for his first Monza GT3 experience? Old tires. Shane did not get a fresh set of boots at any point throughout the weekend. Teams get five sets of tires for three drivers to share across all of practice, qualifying, and the three hour race. Yeah. If you get invited to race as a co-driver – you don’t just waltz in and own the place. You might not even be allowed to make any setup changes.

And of course, there is so much more that real racing drivers have to contend with. In the sim, we can blow an engine with two minutes left in qualifying, hit the reset button, and still take pole. We can change every single adjustable component of the car just by loading a different setup. We can destroy our cars with reckless abandon and have a sparkling shiny new one in the blink of an eye. That’s not realistic. That’s not sim. Not even close. In the real world, if you put a car into the fence during your first lap of Friday practice, there’s a real chance you could be done for the weekend. I’m not talking about going all the way to add driver fatalities because that’s absurd, I’m saying it’s insane how we have 99 backup cars and you can hit the track with a new one in five seconds when depending on the damage, resources of the team, and the series schedule, a real team might be out of action for a few weeks.

Another example, the fanfare and attention that Fernando Alonso received for passing up the Monaco Grand Prix in favor of the Indianapolis 500. In a simulator? No big deal, you can run Monaco, Indianapolis, and the Coke 600 in a span of a few hours. And let’s not forget the Nurburgring 24 – they might all be on the same weekend in real life, but this is sim racing – we don’t care for such trivial details here!

So why is no one talking about this sort of thing? If we’re a mob that pride ourselves on our commitment to pure simulation, why are we blatantly ignoring the details that we actually can pursue, features that most certainly could be implemented into our sims that would go a long way to improve their depth, immersion, and experience – things that absolutely would make them more of a true simulation than what we have now.

But no one seems to care. We claim to want the “most realistic simulation possible”, but guarantee if we went down that road, the forums would be filled with cries of “it’s too hard / I don’t like it / why should I have to do it this way”. Come on people – go to the track one day and compare what you see with what we have and ask yourself – is it really good enough? Can we do better? Even watching a race on TV, you pick up on so many details that sim racing conveniently ignores. 

I really wish we could turn the enthusiasm we have for things like “accurate recreation of the effect of different air density on the engine and aerodynamics” into this completely untapped side of racing. There is so much sitting there, waiting to be taken advantage of. Why are we ignoring it?

Hey Leo. Personally I don’t think your specific examples mentioned above are all that compelling, but the overall theme and argument of your submission, however, is.

Developers spend all this time perfecting things such as engine and aero efficiency as it relates to air density, but then the core experience of the physical race weekend itself is still very simplistic and largely unchanged from IndyCar Racing II back in 1996. You have four sessions; three provide infinite vehicle resets with 100% fresh equipment (though iRacing has an option to override this), two of them you can turn laps at your leisure, a third scores qualifying times, and in the race you have one shot at the thing unless you’re offline and presented with a restart button. Vehicle status resets at the beginning of each session, you’re given unlimited backup cars, unlimited spare parts, unlimited sets of tires, and the ability to make radical adjustments you’d never have the time to complete at the track with the click of a mouse button. It’s very… simplistic, and doesn’t really reflect the challenges real drivers are presented with.

So let’s go over what sims could reasonably implement without much trouble.

Modern simulators give you an entire Summit Racing catalog of setup adjustments at your finger tips in the garage area, some of which would be nearly impossible to perform while physically at the race track and the clock ticking. Changing tire pressures is as simple as running an air compressor, but spring and sway bar swaps physically require you to remove and then re-install the parts by hand, cutting into precious practice time – not to mention the complete implausibility of a minor league team coming to the track with an entire collection of gears, or even springs sorted neatly by 25lb increments. My change would be to implement a load-out screen prior to clicking Go or Join Session on the race configuration menu, where you’d have to pre-select the handful of adjustments you wanted to bring to the track, and part of the skill as a sim racer – like a real team – would be knowing ahead of time what parts you needed.

Limited sets of tires have been implemented in Codemasters’ F1 2016 of all games, though this game was obviously deemed simcade by the sim racing community because it’s not a no-nonsense simulator based on the ISI motor engine sporting graphics from ten years ago. I would like to see this implemented across other games, however, as it would encourage sim racers to treat practice sessions in a bit more of a professional manner, turning conservative, safe laps to break in the tires rather than balls out mock qualifying runs that routinely end in destruction for themselves and the cars around them. I’d also like to see general car degradation be cumulative across the entire race weekend, and users be given just one spare backup car – in the long run it’s much simpler than coding in an entire safety system like iRacing have done because it accomplishes the same goal of making sim racers treat each other with a bit more respect, so the developers win on that front.

At the same time, I’d like random mechanical failures to be eradicated – which although it sounds very un-sim-like and against the theme of this post, mechanical failures are down to shitty parts, and sim racing titles don’t have a meta-game inside them where you’re tasked with finding the best parts or engine supplier for your team, so it would be wrong to fuck someone out of participating in a race on what’s essentially a random number generator. But if someone blows a motor naturally by shooting the revs into oblivion, or cuts a tire down by running over debris, that’s on them.

This would also remove bullshit setups out of the equation, as people would be more inclined to create stable setups in an effort to click off controlled laps rather than struggle with hyper-loose cars on the edge of control. If you go into an online league race knowing one wreck over the next two hours across four different sessions could have drastic consequences, you’re not going to even bother testing out a forum setup with 0 wing and crazy stiff sway bars.

These are all features that are pretty easy to implement. But what happens if you go further?

I’ve found it pretty ironic how to this day, iRacing still hasn’t enabled car collisions on pit road. It’s very strange how this is a game that prides itself on simulation value and producing a highly authentic experience that can supposedly be a substitute for a real world motorsports career, but then you can go and warp through cars on pit lane. I’m not sitting here demanding motion captured high definition pit crews that you can send flying for a laugh, I’m talking about basic “let me hit other cars so I learn to respect their physical space on pit road.” Considering this existed in NASCAR Racing 2003 Season over fourteen years ago, there’s no excuse for iRacing not having this in 2017. It should really have been implemented by now.

Yet unfortunately a lot of times I hear things such as “it might be too hard for a significant portion of the userbase to grasp” – which is what also happened Kunos Simulazioni let you flick all the switches in the cockpit back when netKar Pro was their flagship simulator. Sim racers, who jerked themselves off over taking part in a “hardcore” hobby and being somehow better than “Need for Speed and Forza kiddies”, suddenly were like a fish out of water. now that they had to complete an ignition sequence to start their cars.

And this, sadly, is why Leo’s alternative simulation value elements he’s brought up today aren’t implemented, and why developers get a severe case of tunnel vision and only focus on vehicle physics first and foremost. The average sim racer simply isn’t skilled enough to be anything other than frustrated if new simulation value elements are introduced. Sim racing is a genre where users spend an hour downloading rFactor mods, turn five woefully off-pace laps in private testing, and then race to the forums to inexplicably brag how they were unable to control the car and that historic drivers must have been more skilled than modern fighter pilots, despite all historic racing footage clearly indicating a large portion of the field was a combination of drunk/stoned/horny.

The moment you crank up the difficulty level any more than it already is, participation levels are going to fall off a cliff. This obviously results in less people playing the game, and in the sim racing landscape this creates a very dire predicament, as most developers aren’t swimming in basements full of gold coins, but rather struggling to break even and forced to make careful decisions when it comes to licensing and pay models. So a lot of the immersion elements on the drawing board simply aren’t put in at the end of the day because there’s such an intricate line between breaking even and financial peril for these teams.

There’s also the insane levels of cult-like behavior in our community that can fuck over games before they’ve even got a chance to shine. DiRT Rally and Formula One 2016 were both spectacular games, but each of them were almost immediately written off by a community who largely scoffed at additional immersive elements, like having to refine your driving line throughout practice for car upgrade points or hire crew members – which was so incredibly basic I’m almost confused as to how grown men threw hissy fits at what’s basically one menu option you touch every six races. So developers with genuinely good ideas behind closed doors are almost afraid to introduce these elements, as there seems to be a whole bunch of people in our community who aggressively lash out against anything that isn’t a strictly car on track with opponents simulator, and then convince their friends to do the same.

For example, I’ve heard people from the Assetto Corsa kingdom knock iRacing for being a giant ePeen dickwaving contest due to iRacing’s ELO rankying system, when in reality the concept of both safety rating and iRacing is objectively one of the service’s best features and it’s why the game has been so successful. These old men who seemingly hate progression, fun, and anything that isn’t strictly car on track are partially what’s holding sim racing back, as developers will then fear adding new elements in fear of backlash from the vocal minority, because sim racing in itself is just a bigger collection of vocal minorities spread over five or six main message boards. Unlike Call of Duty, where one angry YouTube video is countered by 15,000 sales, sim racing devs don’t have that luxury. The vocal minorities on the forums are your customers.

Would I like sim racing developers to move past splitting hairs over car physics, and into other realms of realism? Sure. Safety trucks on the track after accidents would be cool, limited repair times and a finite box of spare parts or backup cars I think have the potential to be welcome additions, but unfortunately developers have basically been backed into a corner by the community. The average sim racer isn’t talented enough to cope with anything more hardcore than what we already have, and any genuinely creative elements are met with immense hostility from grown men for being too entertaining. So this has created a landscape like what we have now, where developers obsess over transmission behavior and doppler effect refinements rather than fleshing out the metaphorical world around these cars.

Reader Submission #140 – Calamity Forces HSO to Re-Schedule Indianapolis 500

An incredible package of open wheel cars warranted an equally captivating online championship, but for the Historic Sim Racing Organization, things on the competition end of the spectrum just aren’t going according to plan.

A few months back, we here at PRC introduced our readers to the stellar CART 88 mod for the original rFactor, a download bundling every single vehicle variant and driver combination that took the green flag during the 1988 American open wheel season into a light-weight download for the legendary rFactor simulation. While many were blown away by the sheer challenge of pushing these cars to the limit, and borderline-autistic attention to detail that replicated engine improvements and chassis swaps across each event, CART 88 as an rFactor mod was only part of the complete sales pitch; HSO would conduct their own full-length, full-distance online championship throughout the 2017 calendar year, allowing hardcore sim racers to step back in time and subject themselves to the same challenges their favorite drivers faced depending on their car of choice – whether that meant limping an under-powered backmarker entry to the finish line, or repeating Danny Sullivan’s dominance.

Yet after only two and a half events, HSO’s CART 88 championship is being remembered not for the intense battles, crafty race strategies, and stellar displays of sim racing prowess, but instead for ineptitude on the part of its entrants. Today’s Reader Submission from an anonymous sim racer competing in the series is here to tell us that while the mod is amazing, the series it was built for, isn’t.

Hello PRC. As I’m sure most of you know, the long process of practicing, qualifying and eventually racing the Indianapolis 500 is well underway. To coincide with this, the Historic Sim Racing organization are holding their own virtual rendition of the event. Using their exceptional, in-house developed CART 88 mod, HSO are running a full season using the mod, with the Indy 500 event being the jewel in the crown. However, this race – the most notable on the entire HSO schedule – has been absolutely plagued by issues. It has been memorable for all the wrong reasons, as the Indy 500 was cancelled (and promptly re-scheduled, to the credit of HSO) without even reaching a tenth of the proposed distance, as ignorance from competitors reigned supreme.

The race was due to start at 20:30 CET, but was delayed for over half an hour due to connection issues experienced by the head administrator. Inconvenient, but very understandable that we’d be required to wait for the primary official, because that’s who is going to guarantee us a fair race. However, this would be the most minor of problems all night, as in my opinion it descended into anarchy.

HSO’s Indy race called on a total of four manual formation laps. The first one was to be completed in rows of two, the next two run in single file, and the field assembling in the iconic rows of three for the final lap. One may ask how competitors were to know when to get underway considering rFactor can only support one formation lap, and the answer lies in hiring a manual pace car driver to do the dirty work for the three additional laps, and then typing “green” as a way to indicate a live green flag.

This is where the first start faltered. After four formation laps, the pace car driver miscounted the laps. He didn’t type green into the chat, and was still on the course. Confused, an admin further back down the field gave the go-ahead. This was disastrous, as the pace car was still on the racing surface. Despite the driver’s best efforts to get out of the way, the field was flustered and a major turn one pile up ensued, with the race restarting.

From that point on, the race was unable to restart smoothly. Several drivers who had partaken in the first start now had connection problems and could not see any cars, as their games did not sync with the server. There were several attempts at formation laps, many of which resulted in additional crashes due to some drivers not being able to see anyone. This was an unwise decision as the people having connection issues could have their problems solved by quitting the server and rejoining.

A short break was taken after the race failed to launch in a clean fashion, with the event now running an hour behind schedule.

Unfortunately, things got even worse. There were more pile-ups on the formation laps, leading to more restarts. In some instances this wasn’t the fault of HSO or any admins;  some drivers just had incompatible internet connections yet still tried to race when they should have thought twice signing up for an online league knowing their internet can’t handle it. As a result, the last restart sealed the fate of the race. A caution was called during the start procedure, adding an extra lap before the start as more sim racers embarrassingly crashed on the formation lap. The race did eventually get underway, but the group failed to complete a green flag lap before the yellow flew again. One driver, who had caused full race restarts in the past due to poor internet, put his foot to the floor way earlier than anyone else. He plowed through stationary cars, taking out no less than ten drivers while somehow managing to remain undamaged thanks to shoddy netcode. This ended up being the final straw for HSO admins, who cancelled the event shortly thereafter.

For HSO to operate properly in races of high notability and of a large entry list, they really need good restrictions on the quality of their competitors’ connections, and begrudgingly bar anyone with connection issues. If you can’t see anyone or are lagging like crazy, you should have the decency to park your car, simple. I’m not placing the blame totally on HSO here, the competitors should have the sense to pull out if their connection is like this. However, the admins should regulate how good their entrants’ connections are. I hope there are plans to do so.

This is not a hit-piece on HSO. I compete in the league on a regular basis and wholeheartedly enjoy it. Their in-house mods are the stuff of dreams and most of their races (which are on a smaller scale in terms of entrants) are meticulously organized and go down without issue. However, I would like them to learn some lessons from this farcical occasion. They are a non-profit organization at the end of the day, however their recent gigantic success in the area of mod development has catapulted them into the spotlight, and they need to be giving off a better showing than this.

I agree some effort should be made to impose internet connection requirements not just in HSO, but as many sim racing leagues and clubs as possible. Yes, back in 2005, high speed internet was a bit of a luxury, and at the time it would slightly inappropriate to demand the average sim racer to fork over a pretty penny just to continue what were essentially “gaming nights with the boys,” but times have changed. It’s been twelve years since the original rFactor came out, and cell phones can now download high resolution pornography at light speed while sim racing as a genre has grown exponentially, so there’s really no excuse for dropping loads on pricey wheels, pedals monitors, and button boxes while simultaneously lagging all over the fucking place because your ass suddenly can’t afford anything more than Wal-Mart WiFi.

Call me a major asshole, but you’ve had twelve years and a few console generations to put some money aside so you can upgrade your internet. At some point you have to stop pandering to these people.

However, I will say that the old adage of “sim racers turning five off-pace laps in a historic car before running to the forums and bragging they’re unable to drive it” is a large portion of why the CART 88 series isn’t going the way many have wanted it to. Though we rightfully gave HSO heavy coverage for a phenomenal mod, myself and Dustin ended up backing out after just two races because it was becoming very apparent that only a fraction of the grid could handle these cars for multiple laps in a row. Not only was building a setup for these beasts extremely finicky, they were very difficult to master on warm tires – we’re talking Grand Prix Legends in fast forward. By comparison, most of the guys who signed up for the league weren’t capable of driving the cars in a safe fashion; they either grew up watching the cars, or had an interest in historic online racing. That combination works well in other HSO series that use big, bulky classic GT cars with the weight and general performance characteristics of a modern family sedan, but certainly not here with these speeds.

There is a silver lining to all of this: I’ve been told that HSO will re-schedule the race and do everything in their power to force their league members to prove themselves (and their internet connection) in a different class before moving up to higher-powered cars such as 80’s CART monstrosities, it just sucks these things weren’t figured out prior to the season starting.