I have been racing online in leagues for over 5 years. I have racked up countless hours and laps on every type of track and in many racing discipline. By far, NASCAR Racing 2003 is where I have spent the majority of my time while behind my virtual steering wheel. Sim racing, to me, seems to be a somewhat underground community that the average person is not that aware of. Once you dive in though, you’ll find plenty of content and resources available from enthusiasts all over the globe. NASCAR Racing 2003 has kept the largest number of active drivers to race with over the years but the game is 6 years old and its age is showing. In comparison to what is available now, NASCAR Racing 2003 just doesn’t have the feel of a simulation to me anymore. I won’t disagree that there has not been a decent oval racing game since NASCAR Racing 2003. We can thank EA Sports for convincing NASCAR to sell them sole rights to the brand name. If you watch stock car racing and see a driver start to lose it, then pull off a save and drive away, you will be sadly disappointed when you try to simulate that in NASCAR Racing 2003. Now that the EA Sports / NASCAR friendship is broken, the opportunity exists for an upgrade to the oval racing sim world. Enter iRacing:
Online gaming is ever evolving. Online interaction is ever evolving. Social networks are ever evolving. Blizzard proved to the world that gamers are willing to pay subscriptions to play if the interaction and content is worth it. So how improve the sim racing world? Step one is to make a really good game. Dave Kaemmer was the co-founder of Papyrus Design Group, the company responsible for both Grand Prix Legends and NASCAR Racing 2003. Papyrus shut its doors, ending the “new year | new game” title NASCAR Racing. Without a doubt, those two titles were good enough to live long past the normal life span of any video game. In 2004, Kaemmer joined forces with John Henry to create iRacing. Henrey is the principal owner of the Boston Red Sox, Fenway Sports Group and co-owner of Roush Fenway Racing. In August of 2008, iRacing opened its doors to the public and has had 16,000 members join since then. They have the experience and passion to create the next big thing in the sim racing world. If you have any interest in sim racing, I recommend you take the time to read about the technology for car and track modeling iRacing uses. It is very interesting.
I have been backing iRacing’s concept and vision for a long time and I have been very interested in getting involved. There is no “game” to buy in the case of iRacing. You pay for a monthly subscription that includes the software and updates. The subscription includes 3 cars and 7 tracks, with a total of 14 track variations. This is everything needed for racing in the rookie series available to newcomers. They have much more to offer, but you have to pay a onetime fee for additional cars and tracks to make them permanently available on your account. In my opinion, this is a great concept for pricing but can produce a lot of expenses if you are interested in trying out all the racing options available. If you think about it, titles like Madden (EA Sports) sell a new game every year for $60. All you are getting is a new roster, slightly improved game play and a few new features. Essentially, what you are paying for is an entire game, year after year. Both the Xbox and Playstation 3 support downloadable content, why not offer content updates instead of full price for a few changes. I like iRacing’s concept but there was no way I was going to pay the original price structure iRacing was using. On October 15th, iRacing announced a drastic price drop to all of their current prices for subscriptions and add-on content. It still is not a cheap adventure but I decided it was worth a three month trial to see how it all worked. The subscription fee is not bad but since I enjoy all types of racing, the add-on content is the part I think is still too expensive.
I felt pretty clueless as to what I was getting myself in to. I understood their concept of obtaining licenses and having to have specific ratings to race in a specific series. You are expected to work your way up by proving you are a competent driver. I really wasn’t sure what the user interface was going to be like or how the events would be structured. I am currently in the rookie series for oval racing. I am racing a 5/8th scale 1930′s style NASCAR modified truck with a Yahama 1250cc motorcycle engine. A schedule runs on a weekly basis. So this week, my series has one track assigned for the week. At any time you have the option to practice, qualify, race or do time trials. There are typically multiple practice sessions going on all the time available for you to join and it is just that, practice. Qualifying occurs at a quarter till the hour. You can qualify as often as you like and the fastest time you post during the week will be your qualifying time for every race you join during the week. You don’t have to qualify before each race so if you can post a good time at the start of the week, you can spend the rest of the week racing. Each race occurs on the hour. The important thing with races, there must be enough drivers in the race for it to be an “official” race and count towards your ratings. As long as you are playing during normal hours, I do not see that being an issue. During races is when you need to worry about your driving because your driver ratings will be adjusted based on the cleanliness and skill of your driving. Every series can have different set of rules but this is how my rookie series works. I wasn’t sure about this structure when I first saw how it worked, but after my first evening of racing, I really enjoyed it. I am not sure how everything works yet. There are clubs, divisions and overall point totals that I have not looked in depth at. Right now I am focusing on racing. If you enjoy racing for the race, this is fun. You don’t have to commit to race on a specific night or at a specific time. You can practice as much or as little as you like. If you miss one race, you can jump in to the next scheduled race. I am looking forward to moving up the ranks for the next three months and see how things change once pit strategy and setups come in to play.
There are some things about iRacing that I hope they improve. Previously, you had no way to host a league in iRacing and you are not able to run your own iRacing server. I am not sure if you even have a way to race with a friend during a public race. My races have had way more drivers join the race session than were available spots on the grid. The iRacing system automatically splits that pool up in to the correct size of races and places drivers together with similar ratings in an effort to keep the racing exciting for everyone involved. If you add someone as a friend, it mentions your likelihood to race with them is better but I would assume you’d need to be at about the same level. Private race sessions were just announced at a cost of $3 per race. If you really wanted to run a private league in iRacing it is at least possible now. If a friend is racing in the same session, I want to race with my friend regardless of the ratings. I am also not impressed with their idea of customization. In sim racing, your car and your number becomes your identity. When you enter a session, you are randomly assigned a different number each time. I would appreciate the ability to select up to 3 numbers and have the system attempt to assign me one of those numbers. If none of them are available for that session, then assign me a random number. Drivers would have to understand if they pick 24, 48 and 88 there is a slim chance of getting your number but most drivers should be able to find one number that is not overly popular in professional racing. The car customization consists of picking a predesigned base scheme, modify the three colors that make up the scheme, picking your random number’s font, and adding optional logos. Your logo options are either iRacing, Dale Earnhardt Jr. related, or the logo for the region you live in. I would love to see this drastically improved but for now, it is not likely to see two of the same cars on the track. These items do not take away from the racing but they would significantly add to the experience.
If you are interested in sim racing I highly recommend you give iRacing a try for three months. So far, I am greatly pleased with almost every aspect of the service and its execution. If you opt to sign up and don’t have a referral, I will gladly supply you with my email address and would be very appreciative of anyone using me as a referral. I have completed four races so far and was very excited to grab a 2nd place finish in my forth race. I have had some close calls and a roll down the front stretch; those are the things that keep online racing exciting. If you have a bad race, you can always hop in to the next session and try again. Enjoy the clips from my first three races. I am driving the red truck with the black fenders. In case you were wondering, I still got 7th after the tumble down the front stretch.