Posted on , by Rob

My first day as an iRacer

I'd heard about iRacing a while back, maybe a little over 12 months, but I'd also heard the graphics were rubbish, and it wasn't a Fomula 1 game.  That was enough to put me off bothering to look, especially when F1 2010 from Codemasters was just around the corner.

F1 2010 turned out to be a little worse than I wanted (read my initial impressions here) and the online play, while fun is tained by people using grip hax and sloppy network code, amongst Many other bugs in the game, least of all the way cars are setup.  I have been wanting something more realistic for a long time, ever since Grand Prix 4.

Yesterday a guy I raced with in the Atomic F1 2010 competition gave his recommendation of iRacing and knowing what a motorsport fan, and games reviewer he is (former editor of Atomic magazine) I thought I should consider it properly.  I watched a few videos and read a few reviews on Friday evening and was enthralled, and at $12 for 3 months thought I'd give it a shot.

I wasn't disappointed and boy is it difficult.  I also love the sound of the MX-5 that comes as the entry level car.  Coupled with my Logitech G27, the use of the H-pattern gear-shifter and clutch make for a great experience.

Here's some of the features:

  • Has their own governing body F.I.R.S.T., to regulate the championships, equivalent to F1's FIA.
  • Runs world wide championships with $10,000 to the grand champion, as well as other perks.
  • Is a serious 'sport', rather than a computer game.  Think of iRacing as like any other motorsport, except there are no physical cars and tracks.
  • A license system awards and takes away points for any on track incidents (contact, losing control, coming off the track), it rewards clean driving over winning (though that's big points). As you move to a higher license class, better cars open up. This completely eliminates the idiot factor, and reduces accidental contact to very rare.
  • It's a full championship that lasts 12 weeks (I think), with you best 8 race results counting as your points. So you race every day, not trying too hard to win, just stay on and stay clean, and in the end that's what's rewarded - so there's no more desperate lunging at the first corner - if things don't work out in a race just race again to keep your average up.
  • The car feel is beyond amazing. By far the best car physics ever.
  • The range of cars is awesome. Something for everyone.
  • They constantly update, patch, release new cars and tracks. This is the WoW of racing - in terms of developer care.
  • There are Aussie servers.  Many many Aussies play. Races are always a full field.
  • Scheduling is usually a new race every hour or two, per series.
  • Every week or so they switch tracks (in a series), so you get a good go, and no more week of practice to see it all fall apart in the single race that matters (like we do with F1).
  • All the racers are very very good, and take it seriously, though it's welcoming for noobs. Everyone uses real names too. A nice touch that helps keep it serious.
  • There's an F1 car, a Williams and it shits on the Codemaster (F1 2010) cars from the moon.
  • There's series of Driver instructor videos that coach you in your quest to become the next Mark Webber.  From my limited experience with V8 supercar school on the gold coast, this inclusion is realistic and good advice and adds to the depth of the entire simulation.

 

My first experience in iRacing was driving the Legends Ford '34 Coupe around Lime Rock Park.  My immediate impression satisfaction with how realistically the car handled my inputs, and how the braking and acceleration effected the vehicle when turning.  Within the first hour I'd got my time into the 1:05's, which is, at least, better than another first timer I read on a  blog.  I had a quick go of the track in the Mazda MX-5 and was impressed with the way the clutch and gears worked realistically, even if that meant I was a terrible gear changer.  I kept getting the coordination wrong and gears wouldn't go in, costing me valuable time.  Well I have been driving automatics for the last 6+ years.

My Atomic friend informed me of the Races held every hour, with this week being Laguna Seca, for Rookies.  Cool! I wanted to try out the corkscrew and did about 30mins practice before joining my first race, managing a qualifying time of 1:47.8 , which while not good was still a decent starting place, especially as I'd only been playing the game for about 2 hours total.  I got punted off the track on the first lap and broke my car, leaving it pulling to severely to the right and my lap times terrible. I finished last.

I did two more races and all went the same way, me finishing last.  My rating is now down to 2.05, from 2.50 and instead of getting closer to jumping up out of the Rookie class, I'm sinking further back.

I started getting a bit dispirited with my ability, weird, cause it was only my first day, and less than 6 hours total experience. However, I like motorsport and racing cars, and I fancy myself a bit.

Another Atomic member, and long time player told me to try the regulated Practice sessions, that include other drivers, to give me a better feel for the race environment.

I have just come off my first hour long practice (formal Practice, not Test) session now and it's like a switch flipped. Not sure why, but pretty much straight away I was not getting incidents and wasn't varying wildly with my braking. Better yet my feel for the car has come good; I can lose it and slide (albeit widely) using opposite lock , the clutch , and the gas, and not spin, go off track, or get a car control caution. I'm also hitting the corkscrew consistently and plenty fast enough.

I've just turned in a 1:46.482, which while not fast, at least put me in the middle of the pack between 1:45.057 at the top and a 1:49.020 (if you discount the 2:07.314) at the bottom. Best yet, because I've now got a feel for the car and can get it to respond consistently to my inputs, driving has become a whole bunch more fun.  An example being turn 1/2 at Leguna Seca.  It's approached in 5th (in the MX-5 Cup car) and shifted down into third.  It's basically a double apex turn, at least the way I drive it, although I've seen other racers brake late and run to the edge of the track and make it a single apex.  Anyway, earlier in the day if I braked near or on my limit I'd lose the back end and spin out of control.  Tonight I was still braking and the back end would come out and try and turn me but I'd balance the steering, throttle and clutch to get the car to slide and still continue on, not recording a Loss of Control incident.

Inside iRacing's website is a detailed profiling system that makes Career Mode in F1 2010 look ridiculous.  Here all your statistics are listed for every racing you participate in (something else I didn't mention is that iRacing uses your real name, and not some garble of characters like in online racing games, adding to the simulation).

Simply put iRacing is the "game" (I must be careful there as it's not a game, but a simulator) I've been wanting for years.  With an active team and an ever growing list of tracks and cars, I'm going to be here a while.  The business case for my permanent simulator cockpit just got very real.

Update: I've just finished listening to the first iRacing podcast and the guy pretty much exactly shares my opinion.  It's a salient thought I did have when I first turned on iRacing.  We both are in our mid 30's and both were avid World of Warcraft fans.  With iRacing we're gaining skills that actual help us improve in the game.  In WoW, you're questing and getting gold and armour pieces etc, and sure, you're gaining some better understanding of shot rotation and how to defeat bosses etc, but iRacing has a direct benefit to how well you can do in the sim (also apparently to how well you can do on real life race track).  Both are similar in a way, WoW is a MMO (massively multiplayer online game) and iRacing is a MMO Sim, with 20,000+ members.  And both are massive time drains.  Serendipitously I cancelled my WoW sub last weekend, bored of the game and it's repetitive time wasting for no real benefit.

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