iRacing – Pole Position in Every Aspect
By Neil Kewn (Murxidon) – OnRPG journalist
My neck hurts, my palms are sweaty and my feet ache. Having just finished second in a twenty lap race at Lakeville’s Lime Rock Park, I’m filled with both joy and disappointment. What if I had taken the outside line on that first corner? Surely If I stayed in his slipstream for just a few more seconds I could have passed him on the straight? It was an intense race that ended in disaster, as we both span off the track on the first corner of the final lap. I knew whoever recovered first from this last lap twist would come out with the win. Shifting into first I quickly edged back onto the racing line, managing to get ahead of the eventual victor by inches. Yes – despite my fast recovery the damage sustained to my Mazda MX-5 Roadster was too severe, I bowed out of the race just a few corners before the chequered flag with smoke billowing from my engine.
Conceding victory was painful, but that’s just a part of racing – and “professional online driving simulator” iRacing.
Racing videogames haven’t always been kind to simulation fanatics. Franchises like Need for Speed and DiRT have traditionally featured gameplay that appealed more to the Tom Cruise of gaming, rather than the Michael Schumacher. Arcade handling and blistering speeds capable from indestructible cars with a permanent shine, those who demand realism in every aspect from their virtual driving shun the mass-market yearly entries in favour of more refined titles like Forza Motorsport, Gran Turismo and more increasingly, iRacing. The goal? To provide the most immersive, realistic motorsport experience possible in the comfort of your own home.
And boy does it succeed. Starting off with a rookie licence, new subscribers have two racing disciplines to choose from. Traditional road racing on real-world tracks or the NASCAR-like oval competitions, these two distinct styles of racing are fully realized in iRacing. Official licenced series are available for each, including a world championship sanctioned and recognized by NASCAR itself. Naturally you start off at the bottom of the racing ladder, but with good results and safe driving you can advance through the licence tiers unlocking more prestigious series and championships – making a name for yourself in the process. Rookie drivers have four series to compete in, but only two are available with just an initial “bare” subscription.
Fans of iRacing tend to avoid labelling it as a “video game”. I can see why, it’s more like a virtual motorsport organization with rules and sanctions and directors and penalties. A 39 page Sporting Code is enforced at all times, and you are expected to read it. To be accepted into the community, you need to be a clean, safe, cautious and respectful competitor. A safety record is assigned to every subscriber – a score printed on their licence representing just how well they avoid incidents out on track. A higher safety record, the more experienced (or careful) a driver is.
This is clear out on the track. Safety is paramount and risks taken are always calculated. Slower backmarkers will pull off the racing line and let you pass – it’s all very clean and courteous, the kind of driving you would only ever see on television.
The driving itself in iRacing is faultless. It’s a true to life simulation of real world racing and as such, twenty three of the world’s most recognizable licenced vehicles are available. Perfectly remodelled in both design and performance, iRacing is the closest most people are ever going to get to driving a Williams FW31 Formula 1 car. Out on the track cars have weight and handle as you would expect them to in the real world. You won’t be blistering around tracks using barriers as a secondary brake, nor will you be ramming your opponents into the gravel (not unless you want to spin out). Driving is a test of mental skill and accuracy. Find that turn in point on a corner, hit the apex and get the most speed on the out.
It goes without saying, but you need a steering wheel and pedal set to experience iRacing in any capacity. Controllers are supported, but nothing beats a solid steering set to give you the edge out on the laser-scanned real-world tracks. My Thrustmaster Ferrari GT wheel was detected straight away, and the in-built calibration system insured it was accurate to the last degree.
This all comes at a price though. In addition to a $12 monthly subscription extra tracks and vehicles need to be purchased. With only six cars and ten tracks included with your rookie licence, getting extra content is an investment that a lot of players won’t be able to justify. New tracks can cost as much as $15, additional cars an extra $12 on top of your monthly sub. Content purchased is not lost if you choose not to re-subscribe, but the cost of acquiring new tracks and vehicles can run into hundreds of dollars. As you progress through the licence brackets it’s likely that you will have to purchase new tracks just to compete in an official race. Disappointing.
It’s a difficult price to justify if you aren’t a serious motorsport fan. iRacing caters towards the hardcore, the ruthless and the devoted. As a result, it is truly peerless in its detail and execution. The game is completely involved and unquestionably serious about what it stands for, so much so that there are even live television streams of races with professional commentary.
iRacing is the pinnacle of multiplayer motorsport, a franchise with a loyal community and competition that is as wide as it is intense. It’s an expensive indulgence. Casual fans need not apply, nor should the faint of heart, but for those with a passion for motorsports, iRacing is a true-to-life realization of modern racing – a premier multiplayer competition experience that they will never forget.
Graphics – 3
Controls – 5
Features – 5
Customization – 5
Community – 5