The Agassiz/Williams Lake Joint Post

There was no Agassiz post, because Agassiz was a nightmare. The tone for our scheduled late July invitational event was set neither during the opening practice laps, nor the scenic three-hour journey west towards a cluster of small resort towns just outside of Vancouver, but instead sitting in the airport terminal on a Thursday morning, just waiting to catch a flight out to Kelowna and meet up with the guys. Obviously when your weekend will consist of piloting a $40,000 race car that has the capacity to hurt you if you don’t have your shit together, there’s a bit of natural anxiety that comes with it all, but for most of the week I’d done a good job of keeping it under control and actually managing to get excited about the event. Yet in my childish giddiness, I was inadequately prepared to discover first-hand how three simple words landing in my inbox – the emotionally loaded question of “are we okay”  that no guy wants to deal with – could drastically alter the tone of the weekend. And though it started life as a top-tier inside joke, we would later discover it was an omen for much more ridiculous shit to come.

Agassiz Speedway is unspectacular on a traditional map, located seemingly far off the beaten path at the foot of a mountain, but absolutely gorgeous in person. Every last portion of the drive, from the initial romp on the world-famous Coquilhalla mountain pass showing off some pretty breathtaking views, to the inevitable transition onto the Trans-Canada Highway, and finally the journey through the normally quiet town of Agassiz itself, is part of the reason I chose to take our sponsor money for the season one province over, instead of keeping it for a local gig. Visually, nothing can compare to the partially civilized portions of British Columbia; patches of humanity seamlessly intertwined with untouched landscapes – and it’s incredible that we get to spend our summer racing here.

As for the track? Oh yeah, some crazy bastard built a quarter mile bullring on the side of a mountain. Like the old layout of Fuji Speedway that killed a whole bunch of people before it was reconfigured, drivers literally drop into turns one and two at the bottom of a hill, accelerate out of the corner climbing a very noticeable hill, and then rocket upwards into the banking of turns three and four. The start finish line is then over a blind crest that sitting in the cockpit, you can’t actually see over – you instead aim the car at an irregularity in the fence to set you up for turn one. And not only is the layout itself pretty wild, the staff have done a great job of maintaining the facility to keep up with modern race track standards. The racing surface is immaculate, there’s a campground next to the track very similar to some inner-city parks here in Edmonton, and the physical show was run in a very professional manner. Absolutely loved it there.

It’s just a shame we didn’t actually race.

With all of the external bullshit still occurring in my inbox, I’d never been happier to just disconnect from the outside world for a moment, jump in the car, and turn some laps to acquaint myself with the track. Immediately I sent the emotions through the right foot & started catching people in practice, realizing that most of the speed was coming not from a hyper-focused mindset of refining a line and dialing in the car, but just wanting to casually bomb around for a bit in a sweet ride that was loud as hell and looked the part. I distinctly remember a guy getting loose in front of me on corner exit – a driver that’s actually quite good – gaining a car length on him, and instantly receiving a mammoth boost of confidence. A lap later, I’d say a second or two after the above shot was taken, I was subjected to an absurdly loud backfire, and promptly received next to no throttle response, to the point where I thought the engine went.

The distributor rotor sheared off. An exponentially cheaper problem than cratering an engine, but it still meant our night was more or less over just three minutes into the weekend. I qualified the car for a laugh, down about 1,000 RPM and God knows how much horsepower – somehow managing to out-qualify a guy in the process – but decided against starting any of the heats or the main because I was in rolling safety hazard territory. That’s fine to do in shitbox racing because you’re an impromptu chicane, but out here it’s disrespectful. Also you’re going to hurt somebody and junk a bunch of expensive cars.

myLaps put us at 13th out of 16 cars on the board for free practice #1. Out of sheer boredom I used my account to look at each individual driver’s fifth (or sixth) lap to see what pace they were at after a similar amount of on-track time as we’d been privileged to receive – so about two minutes – and we were actually sitting 8th or 9th when the distributor went. This was the one positive of the weekend, as it’s clear we would have had a mid-pack car at the very least if I’d been able to turn more than just six laps total – there was absolutely a 14.4 or a 14.5 in the car; I hadn’t even learned the damn track yet. My teammate Steve, who was only a hundredth faster than us after a significantly longer amount of track time (and actually having raced at Agassiz before), finished the event in sixth after holding down fourth for most of the evening, so we were all left wondering what could have been.

Frustrated, we all crammed into Dustin’s Volvo and raced home to Kelowna in the wee hours of the morning rather than camping out as planned, blaring Linkin Park, as I believe this was like, just a few days after singer Chester Bennington killed himself. To add insult to injury, in the midst of race car troubles, British Columbia then experiences near-complete spontaneous combustion, and all of our scheduled August events are now postponed indefinitely because half of the province is literally on fire.

With cancelled races and car troubles now becoming a recurring theme throughout our 2017 season, the goal tangibly shifted from running well and dialing in the car, to just taking a checkered flag at the end of the afternoon and getting a full length race under our belt. Stop number three took us to Thunder Mountain Speedway just ten minutes west of Williams Lake; the town once again a modest resort outlet, and like all British Columbia short tracks, the layout a unique twist on the standard 3/8ths mile oval. A similar American counterpart can be seen in Jefferson Speedway, but for all intents and purposes, this place was like a miniature Darlington. Turns one and two are extremely tight – kind of resembling a slightly banked Martinsville –  whereas three and four feature a short dogleg that can be approached with a few different strategies based on the situation at hand.

I was a crazy motherfucker and drove here by myself – all 1138 kilometers worth of road.

Like the practice regimes seen in F1 2017, I had to slowly work on individual segments of the track at a time, chain them all together for a complete lap, and then work on getting quicker. Ian put this wicked video together featuring our in-car audio where you can physically see the pace pick up over the course of a session, and it’s a neat little insight as to what goes on during these shakedown laps; it’s pretty systematic. By the end of the run, as well as in subsequent sessions, I was managing to knock it off the rev limiter going into turn one, and it became a game of Dustin adjusting the ignition box, only to go out and hit the chip again. You actually don’t feel the jolts of the car losing power and re-igniting as you’d think; instead it was a sound-only thing, and I was using it to time my braking points and gauge my consistency more than anything. Full throttle, align with the wall, three pops, brake.

But as you can probably guess from the footage, once we ran through a few practice sessions – all of which went incredibly well for us and were a major confidence boost, again visibly closing the gap to other cars on the track – the skies opened up. This created a bit of a scramble for hotel rooms as the race would be delayed to Sunday afternoon instead of the intended Saturday evening affair, and with Williams Lake residents just returning home from wildfire evacuations, not all businesses were fully functional, let alone open to begin with. This is the part of auto racing that no video game has tried to replicate; the logistics of traveling to and from events are completely omitted from the experience, in favor of the Nurburgring being a click away.

With the weather delay, Sunday becomes a pretty abbreviated event. We’re given just a lone practice session – which all of us use to break in the tires – before promptly lining up to qualify, and of course the event itself. The lack of grip from the rubber washing off the race track the previous night is pretty noticeable, with the exit of turn two now requiring a slightly more delicate right foot, but surprisingly three and four remain relatively unchanged considering you’re entering them at a higher speed. The pits are also a mess, with puddles and light mud tracking all over the place, adding an extra dynamic to the on-track experience; basically everyone is hitting the racing surface with tires caked in a layer of mud, and it causes predictable problems. As drivers we all eventually lobby for warmup laps prior to each session to get all the shit off the tires, and the race directors are happy to oblige.

I take the full blame for our qualifying results. There was absolutely, positively a 15.9xx or 16.0xx in the car – which would have put us in the top three – I just choked majorly in turn four by cutting down too early, and then the rear end wandered a bit over the crest. It wasn’t much of a bobble, but it was enough to sacrifice a tenth or two due to suboptimal angle of attack & wheelspin, and that was kind of shitty. Regardless, the posted time placed us fifth, directly in the middle of the field; four cars were faster than us, and four cars were slower than us. Although former Evergreen Speedway track champion Shane Harding obliterated the field by clocking in a tenth off the track record, the other three cars in front of us weren’t actually that much faster – Kendall Thomas and series organizer Sheldon Mayert in particular bested us by less than a tenth, which is what, a fender at best? These are guys who have been driving late models for years, if not decades at this level, and by comparison – let’s be real here – I’m a nerd running a video game website. It’s delusional to think everyone who gets into sim racing will ascend to the level of William Byron, but it certainly can turn you into a mid-pack late model driver, and there’s really nothing wrong with that.

It was also really cool that several crew members & drivers actually came over and congratulated us for the lap, as a lot of the teams have watched us struggle with mechanical issues throughout the season, and were genuinely stoked to see us actually put down a competitive time that proved we deserve a spot on the grid. After seeing some of the animosity that takes place in sim leagues when someone outside the status quo starts coming into their own and turning a few heads, it’s really welcoming to see classy moves like that in the pits of the real deal.  Unfortunately, I’d be giving up my qualifying spot to start directly at the back of the field due to my status as a rookie – as is common in all short track sanctioning bodies big or small – but the gesture is what counts here.

So this is where this article gets boring.

When you’re running a 100 lap feature race, heat races mean fuck all, so I just sort of hung back and spectated a few laps to understand how the pack would work here; what lines would be preferential, and when. Once we got into a single file conga line I started pushing a bit to see if I could catch the car in front of me, which I did, but of course you don’t want to risk anything retarded and damage cars before the main event, so I lazily turned laps behind the series organizer and let him have the spot if he cut down. I think a lot of guys will shit on me for not going balls out and trying to “prove myself”, but at the end of the day it’s a heat race at a track I’ve never raced at competitively before. There’s no point in being a hero.

And this mentality carried over to the feature race as well. The race was structured in two fifty lap segments, with a competition yellow at the halfway mark that would also include a complete field inversion – sans Rookie. This effectively meant the first fifty laps were an elaborate test session, and even if I passed any cars, I’d be forced to hand the spots back anyways. I rode around at like, 85% attack with the goal of focusing on consistency, and just sort of hung out behind eventual race winner Shane Harding – why not learn from the best, right? When my teammate Steve started messing with me and Shane got away temporarily, I made it my goal to catch him, which I did. It’s certainly a weird way to “race”, but with the rules given, that’s what naturally happened.

When we restarted after the halftime stint, sadly the car wouldn’t fucking turn, and this is something you can see pretty blatantly on video. I’m not sure if a rock got into the brakes, or the brake bias was too far forward, or I cooked the right front from using too much pedal input, but it was certainly not the car I’d been driving all weekend. Regardless, I hung back to try and avoid the initial clusterfuck that almost happened at the start – look closely and you can see four wide start to develop – but after that I more or less just followed the chain of cars and tried to catch whoever was in front. It’s certainly not the most exciting footage by any means, but what you’re seeing is a guy just trying to feel the car out and log laps without pissing anyone off – with the season going the way it has, there isn’t much of a point to driving in balls deep and being an ass. Let’s finish one of these first just to have one under our belt. The video is pretty long to sit through, but eventually I did reel in two of the series veterans primarily through hitting my marks and being patient.

And this is a fairly acceptable outcome for the weekend. We weren’t last, we didn’t damage the car, we beat our teammate, we stayed on pace with drivers possessing exponentially higher levels of real world driving experience, we turned some heads with our qualifying time, and one driver even remarked that I ran clean and controlled enough to maybe wave the rookie rule for the next event.

Considering the WESCAR series isn’t just a random amateur late model championship, but essentially the real world equivalent of a private online league – organized and promoted primarily by the drivers themselves, who just want a good, clean group of cars to race with – this is actually a fairly big deal. Some guys will knock us for finishing seventh out of nine cars, but results will obviously come in time. As computer nerds, however, PRC shared the track with some of Western Canada’s best stock car drivers – guys that have gone down to major tracks in the states and won – and not for one fraction of a second did we look out of place.

Hell, the entire event went caution free, and this just goes to show you the talent level among this group, and why I drive the 1000+ kilometers to participate in this stuff despite having a track in my backyard. It’s really fucking cool sharing the track with drivers this talented, after you’ve seen guys flip their late models upside down in a heat race back home.

And after a really wild summer full of mechanical failures and forest fires and cancelled races, we needed that.

So like always, I use the final part of these articles to kind of discuss the differences between sim racing and the real thing, because y’all like that shit.

This weekend was all about understanding and managing tire wear, as well as what to do when the back tires broke loose. Real life would receive a failing grade from hardcore simulation enthusiasts for being too “exaggerated” and “responsive,” as what you experience in a real car has much more in common with the verisimilitude of Grid: Autosport – in particular the Endurance events that feature very basic 100 to 0 tire wear – than what you’d see in a traditional simulator like Assetto Corsa. A lot of the traditional simulators produce a sensation that’s like ice skating in molasses once the rears start to be of little use, and I’ve seen this in a Mazda 787b league in which gentle application of the throttle sends you rocketing out of control… twice in one lap. The original rFactor is also notorious for this; the car seemingly becoming a hovercraft stuck in sludge once the black box lists yellow or even red status.

Yeah uh, this isn’t what happens out on the physical race track, at least not in our car. If the rear end washes out, whether it due to sheer greed on throttle application – or you have mud on the tires – it’s relatively easy to catch, like the whole thing is pivoting on a central axis as if you’re playing Grid: Autosport. Here is a shot Ian grabbed of my out-lap before qualifying, in which I was that guy and tried to be greedy with a bit of dirt still on the right rear. If y’all were in the car with me and saw how little effort it took to save it – literally just a flick in the opposite direction – y’all would be demanding a refund for this game and crying that it’s too easy to drive.

Tire wear still provides a challenge for us after we’ve put several laps on them, but never does the car become unresponsive or stuck in molasses. You basically just can’t be as aggressive on the throttle as you could earlier in the session, and the ass end is more prone to swinging out like a pendulum, but that doesn’t mean it’s suddenly an unresponsive death trap. Your line changes, and it’s more of a strategy as to when you should push and when you should conserve, versus the simulator concept of suddenly coating the track in sludge.

Shifting is another aspect that all simulators aside from the mighty BeamNG fail to get right, and that’s pretty fucked up when you consider how much people are spending on third party pedal and shifter extensions. Straight up, I’ve never driven a standard before this car, because I’m 24 years old and nobody I know in Edmonton save for maybe Greg owns a standard transmission vehicle to practice on, and it’s been a trial and error process each event. Some guy in the BeamNG forums recently ripped the Late Model mod from American Stock Car, and out of curiosity I gave it a whirl – including disabling all of the shift assists that come enabled by default.

If you watch the practice video linked earlier in the article, you can actually hear me shout BeamNG over the mic after Dustin voices his surprise at my sudden increase in proficiency. BeamNG 100% taught me how to shift in the span of about 15 minutes, so thank you BeamNG devs, as well as Dummiesman for putting this thing in the game, because it’s by far the most realistic late model I’ve driven in any simulator to date – stupidly perfect. If you make a variant with semi-slicks on it, I’ll love you forever.

Lastly, and this is something I thought of while in the car, is that more simulators – maybe iRacing in particular – need to simulate single car qualifying.

Look man, whether it’s late models or hornets, part of the fun in qualifying is getting the butterflies in your stomach, watching the field take a shot one-by-one at the leaderboard, and then throwing down a lap when your blood pressure is at it’s highest and the entire property is watching you. Qualifying is infinitely more fun in real life than it is in sims because of this, and I kind of wish it was replicated across the board in stuff like iRacing, even if I don’t necessarily play it. Would the fast guys really be that fast if they had to wait in line for ten minutes and slowly watching the leaderboard fill up and a lone car whiz past pit road? I know the functionality exists for private leagues, we did it back in 2012 with WSU at Phoenix if I remember correctly, but widespread implementation – at least in some of the lower stock car classes – would be fucking cool. The thrill of qualifying just doesn’t exist in simulators at the moment, especially with traditional group stuff where you can just lock the brakes, mash escape on a bad lap and try again as many times as you can fit within ten minutes.

As always, thanks to Ian Bell and the folks at Slightly Mad Studios for allowing us to embark on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, the Lengert squad for preparing both cars, and iRacing personality Ian Plasch for following us around with a camera this summer. I’ve driven something like 200 laps + 2000 kilometers in the span of three days, so activity on the site might slow down for a tick, but we’ll return with a review of 704’s NASCAR Heat 2, and for those either in Quesnel or Yakima, we’ll see you later this month.

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Exposing the Hypocrisy of Sim Racers

It’s no secret that there’s been a pretty noticeable change in tone here at PRC over the last several months – not quite an elephant in the room, but a large ominous presence that a lot have picked up on. With our origins primarily oriented around slaughtering hardcore simulators, many of our readers began to notice that the games receiving any sort of praise from us weren’t simulators at all, but mass-market pieces of software aimed at just getting people away from first person shooters for a few minutes, and into driving race cars – no matter how compromised and simplified the raw on-track experience had become. Sure, I crucified the ill-fated NASCAR Heat Evolution, and outright refused to review Kylotonn’s WRC 6 last fall, but while serious titles such as iRacing and Assetto Corsa received their weekly lashings for months on end, mainstream products from Codemasters that never advertised themselves as hardcore offerings, as well as obscure PlayStation 2-era offerings, were seemingly given a free pass, if not more.

I could easily dedicate another article to explaining our unpredictable stance on driving games, but for this topic it warrants just an introduction.

There’s an old quote from the classic Grand Prix Legends manual of 1998 that states “the first time you go out on the track, you WILL spin and crash… – and for many that’s part of the allure of hardcore racing simulators to begin with. Whereas mass-market games aim to provide some sort of all-encompassing experience surrounding the simplified on-track product, hardcore simulators are designed to generate a style of gameplay similar to learning guitar, in which becoming proficient is both the game itself, as well as the reward. The reason so many people flock to simulators in the first place, is primarily because you have to work at them, and when you finally master that new track, or tame a car that’s traditionally out of your comfort zone, there is a tangible feeling of accomplishment like no other in gaming – and it’s one you don’t exactly get with blasting through Burnout: Revenge.

The problem, at least when it comes to us here at PRC, is that we’re already at that level of proficiency in regards to racing simulators, and it generally fucks with our perception of almost all driving games that come across our collective radar. I’m personally in a very unique spot, in that on some occasions, I get to upload hotlaps on YouTube with the tagline “World Record” as part of the video title. Now, that’s certainly a humble brag on my part, but in this case it serves a very valid purpose: unlike the quote above, which claims that all those who try Grand Prix Legends (or other games boasting an equivalent driving model) will spin out and crash… I’m sorry, but that doesn’t happen over in this neck of the woods.

Grand Prix Legends is fun for a lot of people because it’s objectively hard as fuck, and the months spent mastering it are why people enjoy sinking extended periods of time into it. But maybe for a second or two, imagine that you jump into Grand Prix Legends, and you’re making it around the track and actually posting competitive times against the ruthless AI, just as if you’d hopped on your Xbox to play Project Gotham Racing 4. Or imagine if, after all of the message board horror stories you’d read about Richard Burns Rally – supposedly the toughest simulator in existence – you jumped in and won the championship on the game’s highest difficult level, never wrecking the car once and winning all but a few select stages.

Suddenly, the ultra-hardcore physics seen in Richard Burns Rally just don’t matter, because for your own personal set of skills, this game is no more or less challenging than DiRT 2 on your Xbox. What does end up mattering, is the game built around it.

Yet for the average sim racer, this concept is totally lost on them, and you’ll see across basically every populated message board, sim racing community members talking down on games that do not feature absurdly difficult driving models, almost as if they’re inferior products and should be avoided by those looking to assert their elitism over others. And this is where I’ll begin exploring the absurdly hypocritical nature of everyday sim racers.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for several years, or are just getting into sim racing and maybe haven’t explored the back catalog of several developers, 2015 saw the surprise launch of Codemasters’ DiRT Rally – a hardcore rally simulator that was constructed by a mainstream-oriented developer in total secrecy, only to be dropped on Steam’s Early Access platform some time during the spring. Despite a lack of unique stages, even after the game achieved a “released” state, rally fans around the world simultaneously jizzed in their pants at what was finally a modern spiritual successor to Richard Burns Rally, which until then had been kept alive by an absurd amount of third party mods.

Yet despite the fanfare, DiRT Rally’s reception slowly changed over a period of what felt like about six months months. Originally praised by the community for daring to take aim at a niche market and picking up where other rally simulators had left off over a decade earlier, Codemasters were soon slammed by those who initially supported the title. While there were indeed questionable physics oddities that arose at high speeds – mostly due to insane sideforce values, an undeniably honest oversight in the grand scheme of things – rally fans were now blasting DiRT Rally for being “simcade” and “not a real simulator” because the car was working with them, rather than against them. And truth be told, the world records you can find on YouTube depicting DiRT Rally being driven to the absolute limit are pretty preposterous – so I’ll give you that.

Yet the same existed for Richard Burns Rally.

But rather than joint outrage and the dreaded S-word thrown at the classic rally simulator, almost a curse word in some parts, the same sim racing community eager to rip apart DiRT Rally for a few physics oddities, chastising Codemasters for swinging big and having a genuine physics oddity that could be dialed out with the community’s voice aimed in the right direction, as well as a patch or two to fully rectify things, ultimately remained silent when footage like this of their almighty rally simulator – depicting the same general problems exhibited by DiRT Rally – began to surface.

We can dig deeper, and we will. Though it’s pretty common knowledge by now, it must be said for the sake of the topic at hand that the original release of Richard Burns Rally was highly unrealistic from a physics standpoint, and several different modding teams have basically deconstructed and rebuilt the game from the ground up, including a complete restructuring of the game’s underlying driving model. Regardless of whether you’re a Czech Plugin guy, a firm believer in the NGP physics patch (hi, this is my category), or subject yourself to the torture of downloading the yearly monolithic RSRBR add-on compilation – not to mention those which I haven’t included – Richard Burns Rally needs extensive third party patchwork to behave in even a slightly realistic fashion behind the wheel, and it’s pretty much required downloading for any sim racers who may fancy a few laps in RBR. Sim racers who call Richard Burns Rally home, or merely have the title installed to be called upon during a rainy day and nothing more, do not bat an eyelid over what is a pretty monumental inconvenience of downloading several gigabytes of files just to have a piece of software worth playing at the end of the day.

Yet when the same amount of community patches and third party fixes are required to get the PC car collecting simulator Shift 2: Unleashed up and running, Slightly Mad Studios are suddenly slammed by the same sim racers – who willingly inject gigabytes of fixes and upgrades into Richard Burns Rally – as incompetent developers who are incapable of releasing a finished product, and that they should not need patches upon patches to fix their game. I must apologize for this, as in hindsight, it’s an incredibly stupid stance to take. Why is one game that’s only worth playing with an extensive amount of community patches praised, while another is basically tossed in the proverbial trash, when the vanilla versions of each simulator are both highly unrealistic and rely on the community’s work equally?It’s a question that you can either choose to answer, or keep going down the metaphorical mineshaft of hypocrisy, as it only gets worse.

We now shine the spotlight not on iRacing, but the iRacing community. For those who are maybe new to the game, or new to sim racing, as a guy who was most active on iRacing from late 2011 to the middle of 2013, what I’m about to say might be news to some, or a mere tidbit for fellow veterans. iRacing in its infancy looked remarkably different than it does today, and though the game never drove quite right behind the wheel regardless of what alleged tire model improvements and revisions were applied to the simulator, the mentality powering it during the early years was drastically different compared to what we know iRacing to be today. iRacing once lived up to its ultra-hardcore reputation.

At one point in time, the concept of fixed setup racing – where all participants are given an identical garage configuration for a given event, allowing driving skill to determine the victor – absolutely did not exist on iRacing, meaning that every single member on the service was required to spend their lunch break at work, or spare blocks in high school, reading up on race car dynamics and setup tricks to ensure their on-track success in what is widely considered to be the most popular hardcore racing simulator by a country mile.

However, after a smorgasbord of factors subtly pushed iRacing to reel in new customers by the truckload, including but not limited to members complaining that they were getting trounced by real race car drivers and amateur crew chiefs who knew their way around the garage area, did iRacing implement fixed setup racing – as had been seen in their last commercial release, an officially licensed NASCAR title. Fast forward several years to present day, and fixed setup racing for a fraction of the original race distance is now overwhelmingly popular, with feature-length “open setup” events reduced to sparsely populated affairs. This would not be out of place to implement in something like NASCAR Heat Evolution, in which the core audience consists primarily of casual stock car fans and teenagers, both of which whose lack of setup knowledge can be gracefully forgiven, yet this same mentality is occurring within the group of enthusiasts these games were built for in the first place.

So you have these people dropping hundreds, if not thousands on PC equipment, not to mention the cost of a subscription to the most hardcore simulator on the market and all of the content they feel is relevant to their interests, only to publicly admit they have zero interest in actually diving into the enthusiast aspects that play an integral role of the game. These people will actively knock a title such as NASCAR Heat Evolution for not allowing setups or caution flags online, but then pay double, triple, even quadruple the price of Evolution’s admission to participate in a quick 25-lap sprint race on iRacing with no caution flags and uniform setups.

I promise this gets better.

So let’s talk about the Assetto Corsa community for a bit here. When we first caught wind of this title’s existence in late 2012, and eventually got our hands on it in 2013, many including myself believed this would be the spiritual successor to the original rFactor, as ISI had grossly mismanaged rFactor 2 into a death spiral, and Kunos Simulazioni essentially promised a modding paradise that spat in the face of iRacing’s horrendous tire model with glorious vanilla content. For a period of time, it was the PC simulator set to dethrone iRacing, and early adopters such as myself were convinced that as long as enough people could be swayed by such a phenomenal driving experience, this would be everybody’s new home.

Yet while we all sat around waiting not-so-patiently for the simulator to be deemed finished in the eyes of veteran sim racers, as basic things like flag rules and the ability to jump the start had yet to be implemented, fanboys swore up and down that regardless of how much it lacked, this game was a true simulator, and even ex-Need for Speed fans had finally seen the light of PC racing simulators – now becoming sim racing converts thanks to the little Italian developer that could.

But in an ironic twist of events, Assetto Corsa was literally turned into Need for Speed by the community of veteran sim racers and recent converts despite acting as if they were somehow “above” EA’s arcade racing franchise. The most popular third party modifications for Assetto Corsa are not highly detailed race cars as you’d expect from a simulator, but open-world maps that allow you to explore the scenic backroads of Banff, Alberta – just as you’d do in a traditional Need for Speed product – or dart between passenger cars on public roads – again, a very Need for Speed-like scenario. Again, these creations all come from people who for the most part were trying to get away from the supposedly less serious environment of console arcade racers, only to mod Assetto Corsa in a way that turned it into a console arcade racer. Go figure.

Let’s shift into fourth gear.

Codemasters were awarded the official Formula One license in 2009 after a bit of a virtual F1 drought once Studio Liverpool pushed out their final release, F1 Championship Edition for Sony’s PlayStation 3, and truth be told, the first handful of games bearing the Codemasters logo honestly weren’t very good. Though Formula One 2017 is a masterpiece, the first few releases were clunky as hell, featuring awkward vehicle physics, poor penalty assessment, and a set of AI drivers that honestly just weren’t that good, especially when compared to what Codemasters were doing on the off-road spectrum at the time with the DiRT series of releases.

Yet what drew the most criticism from Formula One fans weren’t the driving physics, the penalties, or the AI – it was actually the tracks. Codemasters threw some dubious replica circuits into their yearly releases, with the Nurburgring in particular being a complete disaster; far too banked and wavy for what we’ve become familar with over the years thanks to the joys of laser scanning. But while sim racers had no problem slagging off Codemasters for tracks that were in some cases too wide, or in other instances featured absurd elevation changes that bore little resemblance to the real deal, they also had no problem turning around and ripping every single track from the entire game for use in their hardcore simulator leagues – some of which are still being converted again and again today for use in more modern simulators.

And sure, while it’s fairly easy to dismiss sim racers ripping Codemasters tracks for use in more hardcore-oriented simulators as the cheeky modders being resourceful, this too can also be dismissed as pretty blatant hypocrisy when you peel back the layers of mental gymnastics keeping it in the shadows.

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed by now, but Formula One as an organization don’t exactly co-operate in the slightest with the modern crop of simulators on the market. iRacing are lucky to get a McLaren or a Williams entry here and there, and maybe ISI can pull a partnership with Marussia out of their asses, but for those in pursuit of an authentic Formula One experience, they’re left with two options – the officially licensed Codemasters game, which hasn’t really been constructed as a simulator, or a community modification for an already established racing sim. And it’s here where things get really tricky.

Formula One 2017 is quite good this year, but it’s also a mass-market Codemasters game, and I think there’s a valid argument to be made about it’s authenticity if gamers with an Xbox or PlayStation controller can wheel the cars around the circuit with all assists turned off. However, in being awarded the exclusive license to the world’s most prestigious racing series, there’s always a chance that maybe they’re not far off, especially with the current crop of Formula One drivers being brought in to playtest the thing every once in a while. Fifteen years ago, Michael Schumacher turning laps in F1 2002 on the PlayStation 2 in front of the TV cameras may have been little more than a marketing stunt, but we’re now in an era where basically every driver on the grid at one point was a teenager playing Xbox in his bedroom, and they know how important an authentic video game representing the sport is when it comes to reeling in new fans. So while it’s not wrong of some to say that Max Verstappen is only playing F1 2017 for a mandatory promotional appearance, it’s also not out of the realm of possibility to assume both himself, and others like him, are passing along some valuable info to Codemasters, and the game may be more accurate than the elitists would like to think.

But of course, sim racers eschew this theory altogether, occasionally proceeding to rip the car models from the same Codemasters Formula One games they’re happy to publicly trash, and then task some guy in his basement with zero technical knowledge of Formula One race cars whatsoever to create the car physics. In extreme cases, this has led to outright hilarious situations that really display the incompetence and hypocrisy of the community, in which sim racers would rather play an rFactor 2 mod that’s eight seconds faster than the 2004 pole time at Interlagos, than a Codemasters game where a car from the same season is only half a second up on the track record, because rFactor 2 calls itself a hardcore simulator in the description of the product on Steam, and F1 2017 doesn’t.

This is the sim racing community in a nutshell. These people are happy to exhibit an elitist bravado over the rest of the overall driving game scene by bragging about the time invested into alleged hardcore simulators, but at every opportunity instead prove themselves to be mere posers who are apathetic towards any actual enthusiast elements.

They imply they enjoy the aspect of “figuring out a car”, but within the confines of their own message boards admit that they are blissfully unaware of what anything in the garage area does, and flock to online race events that closely mimic what you’d see in a console lobby run by teenagers. They knock mass-market games that sell well and are reviewed even better, only to rip all the content from them, and despite claiming that their simulator of choice offers a more competent set of physics, instead hand the development of said vehicle attributes to a random motherfucker sitting in his basement with a demonstrably poor understanding of the car’s basic performance traits. And while one game gets a free pass for being unfinished and requiring truckloads of community patches to become both realistic and playable, another doesn’t. They also love to look down on games that don’t meet their standards of realism with pseudo-slang like “arcade” and “simcade”, but in doing so fail to recognize that it’s an admission that they aren’t proficient behind the wheel and are judging a game by how many times they spin out and embarrass themselves, not its all-encompassing verisimilitude.

It’s no wonder developers have mostly gotten out of this sub-genre, save for a few stragglers. This is a fanbase that is literally impossible to please.

The Handmaid’s eSports Series

Though she certainly hasn’t been able to boast the marketing empire of fellow IndyCar-turned-NASCAR star Danica Patrick, fans of American open wheel racing will undoubtedly be familiar with the name Pippa Mann. Finishing a stout fifth place in the 2010 Firestone Indy Lights series – a championship commonly used as a proving ground for the big show – Mann found herself unable to secure a full-time ride over the following seasons, instead making sporadic appearances for Dale Coyne Racing during marquee events such as the Indianapolis 500. The thirty four year old journeyman driver from England earned a fairly stout reputation among the paddock despite her limited track time in the Verizon IndyCar Series, both for her ability to bring the car home in one piece for a mid-pack finish during otherwise chaotic eventssuch as the notorious 2015 MAV TV 500 death race at California Speedway – and for her abundance of charity work, which usually centers around the breast cancer awareness foundation as you can see above.

Yet in stumbling upon today’s biggest piece of sim racing news, it’s not her on-track accomplishments that reminded me Pippa Mann exists, but rather her comments away from it.

With sim racers patiently awaiting for more news on the long-awaited release of GTR 3 – which was first teased earlier this year – as well as an estimated release date regarding RaceRoom’s supposed implementation of an iRacing-like online structure – again, heavily teased – SimBin UK (and presumably Sector 3 Studios, as the two are more or less sister companies that share technology) have instead eschewed giving their fans any sort of relevant information about their upcoming products, and announced this morning the creation of a women-only eSports racing series. No, I promise you this is not April Fools’ day. This is like, an actual piece of news I woke up to being posted on legitimate news websites.

And like most reading this, my jaw hit the floor several times in rapid succession, because I was left with more questions than answers.

First, SimBin UK don’t actually have a game on the market to hold this competition in. Sure, they’ve announced GTR 3, but all we’ve seen of the title are assets from RaceRoom Racing Experience placed into the Unreal 4 engine for static images, some of which actually display vehicles clipping into the ground – a pretty amateur effort. So I’m a bit unsure as to how they’re going to conduct some progressive eSports competition when there even isn’t a finished game to do so in, and the last public interview conducted with the developers mentioned there were just three people on the staff roster at the time the article was posted. Of course, the news outlets covering this have conveniently glossed over this pretty integral point, instead carefully describing the situation as “SimBin UK are currently working on GTR 3 for a release next year.”

Okay, let’s ask the most basic question: if the company’s first game game comes out next year, but the eSports tournament begins this fall, and this company currently has no games on the market… What in the fuck is going on?

Next, let’s talk about the wage gap that has supposedly been one of the reasons this progressive approach to an online racing league has been taken in the first place. Like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and Harry Potter, the wage gap is a myth perpetuated by emotionally fragile children. Here is the Wall Street Journal debunking it. Here is CBS News debunking it. Here is the Huffington Post debunking it. Here is Reuters proving women actually out-earn men in the workplace. And if this random pretty girl from New York state still doesn’t convince you that this is all a bogus narrative pushed by man-hating feminists, think of it this way – if a wage gap really did exist, whether it be in the working world or the eSports kingdom, wouldn’t 100% of the participants or employees be female, as it would be financially more reasonable to just hire an entire workplace or eSports team full of women and pay them less, than to hire or sign any man in the first place?

But rather than allow myself to go on a tirade against social justice warriors and temporarily turn PRC into Tumblr lite, just like their sister company Sector 3 do when working on new cars or physics updates for RaceRoom Racing Experience, we’ll enlist the help of a professional race car driver to outright embarrass SimBin UK’s pathetic attempts at virtue signalling, and explain why a women’s only eSports series is complete garbage.

Three months ago, in June of 2017 – so this wasn’t that long ago and should still be fresh in the minds of most auto racing fans – an article appeared on car enthusiast blog Jalopnik entitled “This Proposed All-Women’s Racing Series is Some Bullshit.” The post explained how that essentially, some wealthy organization obtained twelve older GP2 cars and would put a bunch of female race car drivers currently without full-time rides in what’s more or less a gimmicky support series. The prize for winning the championship, which is said to be held over six events in 2018, is a full-fledged Formula One test.

Basically, they were doing what SimBin UK have announced they’ll be doing this fall in an eSports series, but with real cars.

Janet Guthrie, the most successful female driver in the history of NASCAR, told the Indianapolis Star it would be a “freak show” and that “it automatically implies women are somehow less capable than men.” Pippa Mann, still fresh off her IndyCar experience, went a step further and penned an entire blog post about it titled “The Handmaid’s Racing Series.” And she did not mince words. This is a legendary tirade that’s worth the ten minutes you’ll spend reading it on the shitter.

And yet with all of these professional female drivers – some with multiple Indianapolis 500-mile races under their belts – slamming a real life gender segregated racing championship, explaining how the concept “made their skin craw” and openly refusing to take part while publicly embarrassing all involved within the organization, somehow the buffoons at SimBin UK thought a virtual counterpart would be a fantastic idea.

SimBin UK, despite not having produced a single retail game as of yet, have the audacity to push a concept that professional race car drivers have publicly ripped to shreds in international news when placed in an identical situation, all while daring to claim segregation is somehow “progressive and inclusive.” And this is in a genre of video games where the input of professional drivers is the holy grail of racing simulator development.

segregation2

We here at PRC have no problem ripping companies to shreds for buggy video games, but this right here is absolute next level hooliganism. SimBin UK have established themselves as the absolute worst developer in sim racing by literally ignoring any sort of relevant feedback from professional race car drivers that may pertain to the situation at hand, and going forward we here at PRC openly encourage our readers to boycott any of their products, or products that may be affiliated with them.

This is farcical.

Sim Racing is Wonderful: A Tribute to CrowbCat

Outside of sim racing, everyone’s got their own external interests, and yours truly is no different. I stumbled upon CrowbCat’s work browsing 4Chan one evening, and was promptly led down a literal rabbit hole of YouTube content, in which lengthy montages of video clips from other sources conveyed pretty elaborate story arcs that outlined botch video game releases, or pieces of technology that received elaborate marketing pushes, only to fall flat on their respective faces. As someone who runs a very basic WordPress blog and nothing more – I’m probably the only guy in this whole sim racing media gig to not have an accompanying “official YouTube channel” and a steady stream of videos to support his written content – I was captivated at how someone speaking no words at all, and following no hastily edited script throughout his videos, could convey the same kind of abrasive realities as what we’ve been doing here for just under three years now at PRC.

So rather than give you another weekly tirade explaining why the hobby of sim racing is often more disappointing and confusing than it is rewarding and engaging, instead I embarked upon a small personal art project this afternoon to convey that message through what are otherwise non-traditional means for us. Under the title of Sim Racing is Wonderful, I have provided a montage of short clips in rapid succession from prominent sim racing YouTube channels, as well as the occasional mainstream-oriented gaming outlets, to showcase through the community’s own words and actions why there are a cluster of rogue sim racers who call places like PRC home, and openly voice their disdain for their favorite hobby.

The video, which is three minutes in length, begins with a bite-sized recap of InsideSimRacing’s review of Formula One 2017, yanking key lines from the thirty minute affair. Both John Sabol and Billy Strange Jr. shower the Codemasters game with praise in what is easily ISR’s most positive review of any video game or simulator in the ten year history of the online show, only for Strange to questionably double back and recommend the “hardcore sim racers” – who would otherwise be salivating at the sheer volume of positive elements and quotes from the review of this year’s Formula One game to wait for the title to go on sale before purchasing the game, almost to appease viewers who may become agitated at a mass-market racing game usurping the already established PC sim racing hierarchy.

Following the intro frame, choice quotes from spokespersons for the three biggest simulators on the market – iRacing, Project CARS, and Assetto Corsa – are presented to the viewer, followed by some of my own personal favorite issues with the respective pieces of software that I’ve found on YouTube over the years, such as iRacing stock cars being able to drive and pass opponents while hanging nearly upside-down off of the catch fence. This is to show the very stark contrast between the egos of developers in talking about their game to the general public, and the crafty marketing department tricks which rope real world racers into openly boasting about the authenticity of the software, versus what is actually occurring when the average sim racer starts diving deep into these games.

The montage then transitions into a personal selection of some of my favorite public sim racing outbursts over the years from both media personalities and everyday sim racers, displaying how the level of respect between virtual racers seen in most online sessions, is simply nowhere near what the community tries to imply to the outsiders looking to get in on the action. Instead, we see things for what they really are: middle-aged men with shitty tempers. This is not uncommon out on the physical race track, in fact in many instances it’s actually quite justified, but to see it manifest so quickly over virtual circumstances is a bit much for what’s at stake, and it’s a bit embarrassing.

Next, I’ve included a few choice examples of how the YouTube personalities in our hobby – those who provide highly in-depth reviews on pieces of software and hardware in advance of the scheduled release date, or conduct small driving/racecraft seminars for budding sim racers – are often poor drivers themselves. I’ve tried not to go too far into this territory, as the two personalities I’ve used in my montage are exceptionally nice people behind the scenes and deserve every last click they receive on their respective websites, but it just goes to show that in many occasions, personalities a large part of the sim racing community trusts for highly informative reviews, at the end of the day aren’t very good at the games they play, and that’s kind of a strange dynamic for a hobby primarily centered around enthusiast websites and pushing virtual cars to the absolute limit.

We then travel to both the 2016 iRacing World Grand Prix Series, as well as the 2017 Formula E VISA Vegas eRace, two events that were intended to showcase the absolute best drivers within the sim racing community, both fields competing for a substantial cash prize – both of which providing a purse exponentially higher than some American IndyCar events. Without taking the video on a tangent, both races descend into chaos; iRacing’s best sim racers are subjected to a comical first corner crash no better or worse than the “public lobbies” they’re trying to avoid, whereas the eRace showcases three greedy drivers making a beeline for one position, only to cripple their vehicles in a laughably bad wreck which showcased to a live audience how technologically inferior this hobby is compared to other video game genres. In both instances, they are two shining examples that show off how even at the very top of the ladder, online races are immature crashfests.

No sooner do the cars stop rolling do we travel to the world of over-priced hardware, as clips of a man in his late twenties confessing to building a simulator by means of multiple credit cars and payday loans are intertwined with YouTube personalities revealing the cost of high end toy steering wheels, and explaining how these computer toys are made up of industrial strength equipment – which to any reasonable adult is pretty absurd for a computer toy. Taking place after a montage of the disastrous games and generally unwelcoming community, the selection of clips are meant for the viewer to question the motives behind willingly investing well beyond one’s means in such a toxic and anti-consumer hobby.

We are then presented with an interview featuring iRacing’s mastermind David Kaemmer circa 2008, in which he reveals iRacing to the mainstream masses at GameSpot, proudly telling the team of scenarios in which real drivers had used the brand new iRacing software to practice for upcoming events, and it actually made them faster out on the real racing surface. Fast-forwarding about eight years, we are then brought to a livestream featuring Aston Martin factory driver and 2016 World Endurance Championship GTE class winner Nicki Thiim, who after conversing with a friend about real world setup tricks that don’t work in iRacing, declares iRacing’s physics to be shit, contradicting the preceding interview with Kaemmer completely.

With the montage winding down, Marco Massarutto of Kunos Simulazioni appears once again to explain how he took great pride in gaming journalists labeling his team’s flagship work, Assetto Corsa, to be the “Gran Turismo of the PC.” This exchange is interrupted by footage of the Xbox One version of Assetto Corsa, in which a user merely restarting the race causes his race car to explode into the stratosphere from his pit stall – a far cry from the polish and classy feel we’ve come to known from the Gran Turismo games. The viewer is left to decide whether his comments in regards to the status of his game are egotistical or delusional.

Lastly, we are presented with none other than Dale Earnhardt Jr. describing how gamers should appreciate the authenticity of what racing simulators have achieved on a technical level, and the sim racing scene altogether. Revisiting the clips featured over the previous three minutes, these closing comments seem farcical in hindsight.

Is it an ugly three minutes, and will people proceed to call for my head? Absolutely.

But unlike past PRC articles, I didn’t even have to write anything to get my point across. It was already on YouTube for the world to see; I just compiled it.

 

So iRacing’s New Surface Model Hasn’t Worked Properly for Two Years…

If you’ve been one of the poor bastards roped into blindly going along with whatever iRacing’s marketing department feeds you with each passing month, this one’s a bit of a doozy – though to their credit, at least they’ve found a fix for it now. Originally released in the fall of 2015, almost two years ago to the day, iRacing introduced what was probably their biggest addition to the simulator in the history of the product: dynamic racing surfaces.

No longer just a static loop of asphalt for sim racers to memorize the absolute fastest line, race tracks were said to be evolving entities that accumulated heat and rubber throughout each individual session based on weather conditions and traffic density, adding an extra level of depth to the driving experience by forcing participants to “read” the asphalt and search for grip as the session progressed. While not a particularly big deal for traditional road racing circuits, as there’s usually one optimal line around each track, the upgrades were seen as game-changing for the enormous array of American oval racers on the service, as alternative line choices based on changing track conditions are an integral part of most, if not all stock car race strategies.

Yet in a rare admission of guilt, iRacing have come out and admitted that this feature has not been fully functional since its inception. A pretty fundamental flaw in the way data was being from transferred from clients back to the server prevented the in-game track surface from accumulating the necessary amount of heat to actually have an effect on the racing experience itself; in some instances the darkened groove of rubber merely being little more than a nice visual cue. The problem itself was rooted in the way iRacing’s servers were coded to handle different types of qualifying sessions; certain session configurations were temporarily freezing the transfer of data from a client’s car onto the track service during qualifying, and I guess from the way I’ve interpreted the forum post, this would “stick” across into the race sessions, meaning that once cars hit the track en mass, they weren’t actually doing anything very meaningful to the track surface as advertised.

Oh, and this may or may not have gone on for two whole years, but that’s an insignificant detail.

However, as the NASCAR Peak Anti-Freeze Series to the best of my knowledge uses a different type of session configuration compared to most public events you can enter with the average iRacing account, the glitch did not affect the premiere series on the service, nor private leagues who stumbled into the workaround by complete accident. Only after several years of customers wondering why dynamic tracks failed to produce anything near what they saw in the Peak Anti-Freeze Series , or even a portion of what was promised at the initial reveal of the technology, did iRacing actually look into the problem and discover something was indeed amiss. And I mean, the topic title of “there’s been a bug in dynamic tracks and they haven’t been working all along” from the official iRacing SubReddit moderator is pretty telling in itself.

The good news, for the iRacers among us, is that they’ve 100% identified the problem and fixed it, and it’ll be in the forthcoming update that’s set to launch very soon for Season Four of 2017.

The bad news, is that the merciless iRacing fanboys who have been defending or trying to explain the lack of multi-groove oval racing since the implementation of the new surface model as “realistic” in the face of overwhelming reports to the contrary, now look profoundly stupid for doing so. It also calls into question iRacing’s promotional material for the umpteenth time, as how many instances have we heard about the new surface model over the past few years, only to now learn in retrospect it wasn’t actually functional for a pretty substantial portion of the service – most notably the NiS events, which continue to draw enormous crowds of everyday iRacers by offering marathon-like races that closely follow the real world NASCAR Monster Energy Series schedule, and were touted as the best way to experience the role a dynamic racing surface plays in oval racing due to their sheer length.

So as we’ve done in the past, thank you to those individuals who have brought these issues with the new surface model to light and encouraged iRacing to continue investigating why what we saw in the Peak series wasn’t replicated in other sessions the public could enter, as the developers have now isolated the problem and supposedly fixed it. God only knows where we’d be if y’all remained silent like the rest of the drones, and it’s only a matter of time until more interesting quirks are discovered with this same tenacity.