So what do we think about all this Esports racing business now it has been thrust upon us?
Over the last weekend we saw Formula 1, IMSA, NASCAR and an Allstar race using a multitude of platforms including, to varying degrees, current/ past real-world drivers and hardcore sim racers (i’m sure there’s more but this is what I was at least able to ingest). There were 3 main platforms iRacing (NASCAR, IMSA, F3 allstar) F1 2019 (F1 of course) and Rfactor2 (Allstar/ SIM pro race).
As some of you know I used to work at the racing school in Sonoma which was initially Jim Russell but then changed to Simraceway as a new owner brought in his online racing Sim to merge with a real world facility.
This seriously immersed me in the online racing world and I got the chance to test new cars on the system, experience competition and try to find ways to utilize this format to enhance the school as well as bring online gamers to experience real g-forces and see how the skills they had honed at home would translate.
It was quite an education on what it takes to make these types of technologies work to bring the realism we crave. This was not just another game. They brought in top line drivers of the day, Allan McNish, Dario Franchitti and the late, great Dan Wheldon to improve and help add some legitimacy to this genre.
These guys took it seriously and were always pushing for the system to be as real as possible.
So I feel a have a pretty good understanding of the pros and cons of virtual vs reality in reality!
So let’s take a look at what we got and have a go at rating them and see where they could improve. I’m going to look at each one from the angle of a real world fan, not experienced gamer, tuning into this virtual world and seeing how they would match up.
I must say that putting any of these together is no small task. Getting everyone synchronized, the technology matched up between all the competitors and then finding a way to present it in a way that is palatable to the new viewer. Some were more successful than others obviously.
Some drivers use Sims as a tool on a regular basis and some had to try and get up to speed on how to translate their obvious skill in the real world to the technique of virtual racing. This is no easy task as you have to replace your seat of the pants feel from the G-forces and feedback from the car to a more visual sense. You need a decent amount of time to do this successfully and it requires an immersion of sorts, to fill in the blanks and enable to get a feel for what the cars are doing and where those limits are in order to be quick. These are not just pretty versions of Mario Kart and to be good requires a massive amount of commitment of your time as well as an inherent real driving skill.
When I was at Simraceway, I found my foils on the real track to rear their ugly head on the Sim, and even though I got some good opportunities to get better, I found the Sim to be more difficult still. The best Sim drivers are true sportsmen/women and success at the highest levels are no joke, competition is competition so in a race you still go through the same emotions, anxieties and mental strains, albeit without the costs and risk of injury. Which is why it is a great tool for real world drivers to utilize.
This was a 1.5 hour race taking place at the site of first season casualty for IMSA, the Sebring 12 hour.
First off, the series was really successful at getting the Sports car drivers to buy in and we got a field of 50 to commit to the race. The opening sequence had some great atmosphere building images of the track and then the welcome voice of John Hindhaugh (who calls many Sports car races around the world including IMSA and Le Mans) really added to the sense of reality. He and the rest of the commentating team did a superb job at keeping the legitimacy of the event and pretty much called it as if they and all of us were there, they really added to the whole building of occasion.
The iracing tracks and cars I feel to be the quite realistic, they don’t try and include 1000’s of car model options and by doing that they have kept the standards high on the ones they do create.
I loved to watch the cars move around as they negotiated the famous Sebring terrain that I have experienced so many times in real life, it’ll beat you up, but you’ll love every minute of it! Of the fifty drivers entered some had more online racing experience than others so for this event they decided not to make the damage model very harsh, normally these are very unforgiving and as this evolves would like to see a little peril from a mistake.
From outside looking in, if I see a car flipping down the road I’d expect them not just to be able to join right back in or at least see a safety car deployed. This I think takes the viewer away from a more real experience and gives the driver a bit too much freedom to go send it while fighting for position. As I said I understand the reason, but just a want for future outings.
Also as the race progressed I really wanted to add that second screen which I find a necessity in endurance racing to keep an eye on the whole field, especially as pit stops were looming. When i’m on the pit box with the Heart of Racing GTD Aston Martin it is an essential tool. This wasn’t communicated as an option on the program (or i just missed it) but evidently was available elsewhere on the interweb so I will have to make sure I find that next time.
The pit stops were interesting and the choice of new tyres or not had a pivotal effect on the race end results. Even though we didn’t see mechanics leaping over the wall and tyres rolling down pit lane the commentary team informed us that the car going up on jacks meant the driver had made that choice which was helpful.
The race may not have been a barnburner with a 4-wide run to the flag but I actually found that satisfying as it was obvious that the BMW drivers really did their homework and took it seriously and therefore translated into ultimate success and well deserved at that.
This added to the satisfaction of tuning in and that we weren’t subjected to a silly circus of a race. As a whole I was impressed with the production, the professional approach and fluidity to the program. I think they set a standard that all others should be aiming for and with just a few adjustments they can really help us all stay engaged in our favourite sport while we wait out this storm.
The detail involved in making the tyre work as in real life (degradation and grip tyre pressure fluctuations as well as how the changes of suspension settings) can get you in to that sweet spot , or leave you floundering is quite deep.
I’m not sure to what level they were allowed to dig into it for this race but I know the BMW guys used the motec data tools that they would use normally use in reality to help get the best out of themselves and their car. I’d guess some may change their approach in future to keep up. I’d certainly look forward to another one and hopefully IMSA will announce that plan soon.