For the last 12 weeks I have been competing in iRacing's Formula Renault Australian Championship (FRAC) league. Now that it's done, in five years of iRacing, it has become the first full league season I competed in and it was an interesting adventure.
My real life mate, fellow FRAC competitor, and teammate Andrew Kiss convinced me to join up, citing high standards of driving up and down the field. I've recently been a enjoying competeing in a smallish (~20 man) friendly Assetto Corsa league that has good driving standards but a large spread of performance.
Over the course of 12 rounds, but in reality much sooner than that, FRAC came to represent an exercise in pain an futility. One of the standout differences was this league was very competitive. I don't get the time to practice much or play iRacing at all, so I dedicated all my "iRacing time" to this league. I practiced for 2-3 hours in the official FRAC practice session on Wednesday nights, and then practiced again in the session immediately before the qualifying and race. Typically this put me between 20-40 in qualifying. My best being 18th at Brands Hatch and my worst being 39th at Interlagos (where I did 0 practice, so I guess my own fault), I made pole in the second split once (not really an achievement - that just means mid 30's qualifying!). I did an occassional public practice session (maybe 3 or 4 the entire season) and in those I was at top 3 or better, out of 20+ drivers each time.
The league itself was very well run and I can't fault the way iRacing does league racing either. Compared to Assetto Corsa, it's years ahead (it has had years to get better too :)).
Midway through the season, after races filled with poor driving, the league admins introduced the ability to call "Incident" when an on track incident occurred, and the watching race official would immediately investigate and give out drive through penalties where appropraite. I think this feature is particularly handy and letting people know what is and is not acceptable driving behaviour. I even called an incident that resulted in a penalty to the other driver, and received a penalty on a different occassion myself. Both times very minor touches resulted in some big crashes and with a little bit more caution and little less eagerness they could have been avoided. I think with a smaller field and more consistent member this system would have worked excellently. As it happened there were too many part time league racers for them to learn their lesson. In my other league there are only 15-20 racers, and we've been racing together for many seasons and have known one another for over 10 years in some cases, so there's a lot more mutual respect and less likelihood of casually throwing it up the inside on risky passes. We've realised that while we come to race, we're also there to have fun and to get to the end. The fun from racing comes from wheel to wheel racing, and to do that you have to occassionally make concessions and leave room for the other driver.
Generally, the Formula Renault was a very fun and rewarding car to drive and we always ran the base "High downforce" setup that iRacing provides. While at times it could have been tweaked to be give a better handling car, it provided a consistent feel and allowed everyone to avoid the hours required to develop a competititve setup. FRAC was supposed to be a competitive but fun leage, and for that to happen you need to have a fixed setup.
Part of the problem of FRAC, as opposed to SMAC (in the Star Mazda) was popularlity of the car. The Formula Renault 2.0 debuted at the start of this season and thus was attractive to many drivers. I also saw many names I recognise as regularly competitors over the years in the Skip Barber car, such as Mick Grey, Ian Bevan, and Kevin Henderson. My impression was that many Skip Barber drivers "stepped up" to the next car on the ladder and thus the field grew.
One of the big differences between what I was used to and what FRAC provides is field size. Assetto Corsa provides only 24 or so pitboxes, you are only allowed as many entrants as there are pitboxes at the track. iRacing works a bit different as far as I can tell, with fields of up to 60 cars at some races. That many cars will almost certainly result in some big crashes, especially early on. In Assetto Corsa with 20 car fields we still struggled to get through the first lap without incident on occassion. That's no different that real life though. Go watch a Formula Ford or Formula 4 race sometime: large fields result in crashes.
Despite the overall lack of success and it was only the rare occassion I was fighting were I should be, I had a good time in FRAC and I enjoyed the way it simulated racing, as a competition sport, rather than driving around a track with your mates.
|2||Zandvoort||90||35 (5)||24*||Lost control @ 3:51 - into wall, broken car.|
|3||Phillip Island||98||21||43||Got taken out on turn 2 first lap @ 1:10 went lap down straight away.|
|4||Monza||104||65 (13)||13*||Got taken out when car in front (the leader) lost it 12:19 - put me down a long way, then lapped car took me out at the end.|
|5||Road Atlanta||86||45 (2)||4*||Got hit but continued (other gets penalty for contact) but continued on. @ 25:10|
|6||Nurburgring||73||37 (1)||21||Forgot to take fuel. Spluttered around half the next lap. Pitted again. 10s stop go penalty. Spun twice. @ 24:20, 26:18, Lost it at the first turn 27:34, nearly lost it again a few corners later, 27:50, spun again 35:33|
|7||Donington||67||32||26||Car in front tries silly passing move and spins - damages front left @ 2:51, I lose it 14:18, 21:18, 30:08|
|8||Silverstone||69||47 (12)||25*||Car stalled on grid. Hit car that hit it. Massive first corner crash. Tow back to pit, lap down, race effectively over. 0:48|
|9||Suzuka||-||-||-||prior Real life engagement|
|10||Canada||57||31||29||Got drive through for minor touch, 0:55, 12:53, 13:38, 17:00, 19:24,|
|11||Brands Hatch||49||18||DNF||Got taken out first lap. broken rear right suspension, 0:30|
|12||Interlagos||59||39||DNF||Got taken out first corner first lap. 0:40|