Recently, the Lucky Dog Racing League started an online racing league using iRacing. iRacing is actually a great platform for private leagues because they do all the hard work for you. All you have to do is to decide who (public or league only), when, and how (track, cars, weather). You do have to pay $0.50 per hour and everyone also has to pay their monthly subscription. But as someone who has tried cheaper solutions, this is well worth the price. I contemplated starting my own league based on Assetto Corsa because they have some important tracks that iRacing does not (e.g. Buttonwillow, Pacific Raceways, The Ridge, Portland International). A hosting service is only about $5 per month, and with that you can hold as many races as you want and nobody has to pay any subscription fees. That sounds great, however some tracks have only 8-12 pit boxes, so unlike iRacing, you can’t host races with 40 cars. That’s a deal breaker, but there are other important reasons I won’t go into that make iRacing the better choice for league racing.
Round 1 of the Lucky Dog sim series was at Okayama. This is a track every iRacer knows because it’s part of the track rotation in the rookie ranks. I don’t think I’ve raced it since I was an iRacing rookie back in 2013. And I haven’t been using iRacing much since mid-2015 (I got into DiRT Rally, Assetto Corsa, and Overwatch). Getting ready to race in the Lucky Dog series meant I had to put some time into iRacing, the Global MX-5 Cup car, and Okayama. Whenever I do virtual training, I keep a log of my best and optimal lap times for each ~20-30 minute session. Here’s what my log shows about my lap time progression over a few days.
- 1:47.286, 1:46.880
- 1:46.936, 1:46.514
- 1:46.883, 1:46.361
- 1:46.578, 1:45.889
- 1:46.163, 1:45.595
- 1:45.764, 1:45.273
- 1:45.620, 1:45.079
How did I drop 1.5 seconds? It’s mostly about learning the track better. I improved every session, which begs the question: how much faster could I go? Probably not much faster. A couple tenths. If I wanted to go faster than that, I’d have to spend a lot of time tinkering with setups. I generally drive the baseline/default setup. I know that there’s a few tenths or even a half second in the optimal setup, but I find that work tedious, so I rarely do it. Sure, I could download a setup someone else crafted, but part of me thinks that’s a form of stealing even if they’re giving it away for free.
As part of my pre-race prep, I also wanted to know who I was racing against. So I looked up some of the drivers in the league. iRacing rates every driver with iRating, which indicates their general skill level based on race results. My iRating is currently 1907. It’s not that good and not that bad. The names in the league that I recognized had iRatings between 900 and 2200. That indicated I would probably be running up front. However, it is possible to have a low iRating because you were a victim of rookie race carnage and didn’t do much official racing afterwards.
The race was set up with 20 minutes of practice, 10 minutes of qualifying, and 30 minutes of racing. During the practice, I set the fast time at 1:45.9. There was a pretty large range of driving ability on display with people crashing here and there. That doesn’t happen often in the real world because people tend to be more cautious. In qualifying, I never got a clean lap and settled for 3rd. Given that the #1 driver did a 1:45.5, which was 0.1 seconds faster than my practice sessions, it wasn’t likely I was going to catch him even with a squeaky clean lap.
The race started as lots of races start: with an incident in Turn 1. The #2 driver got hit and had to go back to the pit for repairs. The carnage behind us meant that me and the #1 driver got a couple seconds gap on the first lap. Over the next 10 minutes or so, we lapped well off our best times as we jockeyed for position. We went around a lot of corners 2 wide. I think we were both having a great time and built up a decent lead. During this time I noted that my advantage was in the fast corners and his was in the slow ones. My guess is he set up his car to oversteer more. That would get him rotating better in the slow corners but maybe not have as much grip in the fast ones. Alternatively, it may have been technique. The last corner on the track is a slow one, so I knew that if I was going to beat him, I’d have to be ahead in the middle of the track where I was faster. Another thing I noticed was that he braked a lot later than me. I’m not used to driving with ABS and as a result, I tend to brake more gently than I probably should.
Somewhere about halfway through he made a little bit of an error and I took the lead on the straight that followed. On the next corner, he went inside of me, misjudged the braking, and hit me. I had set up sort of wide for the corner, not really taking a defensive line. Given the previous 50 corners we had negotiated without incident, I figured we would do the same here. But I brake earlier than he does, and when he saw that, he probably thought he could dive inside. Two wrongs don’t make a right, they make dents. After that, neither of our cars were the same. Our lap times suffered and our 15 second lead eroded a little every lap. Towards the end of the race he had a really bad corner and nearly lost it. My gut instinct was to slow down to make sure he was okay. I think I even said “hey, are you okay?”. What I should have done was speed past him for the win. But I didn’t and he won by 0.4 seconds a lap later. That’s fine with me. I don’t race to win. I like that spirit of competition, but I don’t chase trophies.
As entertainment, a virtual race with 15 identical cars can’t compete with a real race with 150 unique cars. However, it’s a heck of a lot less expensive than real racing, so the fun per dollar is hard to beat. More importantly, the worst health risk is RSI, not burning to death. While there isn’t much passing, it’s still good practice for race craft. I haven’t decided if I want to race in the league every week. DiRT Rally 2 is coming out in a couple weeks and I love driving sideways.