I caught the racing bug as a small boy and haven’t looked back since. The earliest memory I can recall was probably in 1984-1985, sitting in the living room with my parents watching Keijo “Keke” Rosberg race Formula 1. I remember being very disappointed that Keke did not win the race I was watching. For the younger generation reading this, at that time there were no streaming or pay-per-view services, this was good old fashion commercial TV. There was no 24 hour broadcasting and I can’t recall any of my friends having more than one TV in their house. There were no remote controls, you actually had to get up from the couch to change channels. As far as I can remember, this was the task for the youngest member of the family, yours truly. Well, I was sitting on the floor to start with so what the hey! As a young guy, my only access to motorsport was by watching it on TV. There probably were some rally races that were broadcasted at the time but I can only remember Formula 1. And the F1 races were not broadcasted live and some races weren’t covered at all.
Where it all began
I got my first computer at the age of 8 or 9. Before that I had my first encounters with computers at friends’ houses. The computer (Commodore 64) was purchased second hand from my older sister’s friend’s brother. He apparently had “grown out” of playing computer games. I think we got the Commodore relatively cheap at the time. The computer was equipped with a “high tech” floppy disk drive and several controllers. There was a plastic bag full of games and most of them where probably copied. Car games and racing in particular where my favorite games right from the start. The first ever game that could even distantly be called a simulation was Test Drive. At first, it was intoxicating to be able to “sit behind the steering wheel” and race period supercars through twisting mountain roads speeding like crazy. The next giant leap in car simulation was Stunt Car Racer, in 1989 I think. The game had amazing graphics and considering the era, a beautiful three dimensional environment. And correct me if I’m wrong, but Stunt Car Racer made the computer’s hardware struggle at the time. At times, the seemed to move on the screen slower than a slide show.
Good games age well
Fast forward some 15 years to the next impressive car simulation experience. This experience was provided by Richard Burns Rally and the year was 2004. In my opinion this was the first game that actually required a steering wheel and pedals to get the most out of it. When playing RBR, you couldn’t just floor it or slam on the brakes without losing control of the car. As a testament to the quality of its game physics, there are still people racing Richard Burns Rally today. And even though the game is well into teenage, I think it is still one of the best rally simulations out there. Of course, the graphics are nowhere near modern standards but the physics modelling and driving feel is far superior compared to many of its modern competitors. That is why Richard Burns Rally still maintains a loyal fanbase. And the sweetest part is that because the game is so old, you can download it free completely legally.
I think it is a great shame that game developers tend to follow the masses. Realistic driving simulations, probably due to how challenging they are to master, are few and far between. Realistic simulators are not everyone’s cup of tea as they demand patience, practice and repetition to master. Due to lack of persistence on the user’s behalf, realistic simulations often end up in the back of the drawer collecting dust. And I can totally relate to that. After playing Richard Burns Rally by myself for about a year, I lost interest and the cheap steering wheel and pedals were tossed in the back of the closet.
It’s never too late to start again
After a long hiatus from simulation racing I stumbled upon an article covering an upcoming simulation called Assetto Corsa. After reading the article I was convinced this was something I just had to try. At the time my friends and I were getting a race car to race Endurance Saloon races. Real life racing combined to simulator practice at home ignited the long lost spark for virtual racing. After a quick search, I purchased a reasonably priced steering wheel / pedal / gearshifter combo (Logitech G27). After a couple of days it was time to start hunting for my very first rig to bolt the controllers on to. Eventually I found the rig at a local Motonet store. 200 euros got me a seat and a somewhat flimsy “rig” built out of low-end furniture tubing. On the other hand the price was sweet at the time as I was not prepared to spend any more. At this point I had spent around 500 € for the Assetto Corsa, the Logitech set and the rig.
Driving the Assetto Corsa felt good right from the start. It was demanding and there was a learning curve – as there should be when racing high powered cars. I was instantly reminded of my favorite simulation from 10 years back that had me hooked because it was so difficult at first. I have never enjoyed racing against the AI very much. And the downfall of Assetto Corsa was live racing. Sure, there were open servers on the online version but the level of racing in those races was mediocre at its best. There were only a few interesting closed races or series and many of those races took place at an inconvenient time of day. Sometimes it was impossible to find the preferred car/track combo for weeks on end so I got bored and had to look for an alternative. After all I had made a “significant” investment in the hardware. And racing other people was both highly addictive and exciting.
Picking up the pace online
In spring 2016 I hopped on the iRacing platform. It would be misguiding to speak of iRacing as merely a car racing simulation. It is more or less a complete ecosystem of racing consisting of a database, ranking system and a vast amount of additional services. In its core, iRacing has a simulation engine that has been developed constantly for over 12 years. You know they mean business when every track and car have been laser scanned. When watching Formula 1 racing, you could be fooled to think that race tracks were flat and silky smooth. However, that is not the case. In iRacing’s virtual environment every hole, curb and strip of sand are located exactly where they would be in real life. The texture of the surface varies, there are changes in traction and the edge of every curb is slightly different. Some of the older tracks have been rescanned partly due to changes in the track’s charateristics and partly because the scanning process has been improved. Drivers are ranked based on “clean driving”, speed and first and foremost on finishing consistency. You don’t want to abort the race in the first few corners because it affects your ranking the most. The shear vastness of the iRacing platform calls for an article of its own so stay tuned for a more in-depth article later.
iRacing is a service that is billed monthly. Some of the tracks and vehicles may also require an additional payment. It is more expensive to get started than some of the other simulators out there. Eventually after acquiring the desired number of cars and tracks, racing iRacing does not cost any more in a year as a simulation that you purchase a copy of. For example, if you purchase the newest version of the official F1 game every year, we are looking at pretty much identical figures. The yearly fee of iRacing is not a deal breaker although it may seem expensive to get started in the system. iRacing gets major updates quarterly and has minor updates and bug fixes weekly, if not more often. In my mind, the iRacing ecosystem is yet to face a considerable challenger and I can’t see one appearing in the near future either.
My personal iRating is closing in on the 4500 point milestone, meaning I’m within the top 3% when drivers are ranked. This may seem like an extraordinary accomplishment. However the laws of racing apply to virtual racing too. The saying “If you want to win, take a Finn” is true in iRacing as well. There are about 100 Finnish racers ranked above me at the time of writing. I will continue clocking miles on virtual circuits and aim to keep developing. Hope to see you in races too!