If you have ever participated in online gaming communities with ladder or ranking systems, your iRating is effectively your skill rating. iRacing has invested a lot of time and effort into building automation around analyzing your driving and interaction with other drivers on course in order to rank you.
Similarly, the Safety Rating is a classification of your ability to be a safe driver on course with other participants. Every time you participate in an event with other drivers, your Safety Rating is potentially being affected. Go off course, bump other drivers, or drive like a hoonigan and your safety rating may be lowered.
But why are these two ratings significant? Because iRacing has built an extremely sophisticated licensing system! New racers start out with a “rookie” license and must participate in a rookies-only race series in order to build their Safety Rating. As your Safety Rating improves, you can qualify for a higher-level license to participate in faster racing series.
On the road racing side, all rookies are relegated to competition in the Global MX-5 Cup series, which uses, as you expect, the current Global MX-5 Cup race car based off of the MX-5 / ND chassis Miata. This series is a spec racing series to a T, where the only settings you can modify are the tire pressure (up from baseline) and the starting fuel level. Even though in real life these cars may be more adjustable, the series prohibits you from making changes. This forces you to really, really focus on your driving as the only competitive aspect.
After several races in the Rookie MX-5 Cup series, I managed to be a clean enough driver to qualify for a promotion to the “D” license, which opened up my world of eligible series to faster things. That’s not to say that the competition wasn’t extremely stiff in the Global MX-5 Cup series. In fact, I was routinely struggling to find the last second or two at just about every circuit I visited. Even after watching numerous YouTube videos of other drivers talking their way around the track, I just couldn’t find the speed. Perhaps I’m just not that great!
That’s not to say that the official iRacing sanctioned series are your only option. There is a complete system of self-organized leagues that is built into the simulation. Even with fairly “restrictive” filters, the list of unofficial leagues is large.
Or, if you just want to join an ad-hoc hosted race session, that’s an option, too. Or, you can pay approximately 50 cents an hour to host a session of your own, with a wide array of customizable settings.
Or, you can just practice by yourself.
You really, really, really have a lot of options for what to do. In fact, it can be kind of daunting. But, let’s take a look at the race “season”/series that I qualified for.
This is what an official iRacing season schedule looks like. In this case, starting back in December, you could have participated in 12 weeks of racing that ended at the end of February. Every week the series moves to a different track. There are three eligible vehicles for this series:
- Pontiac Solstice
- Ford Mustang FR500S
- VW Jetta TDI Cup.
This seems like a strange selection of cars for a race series to me, but I assume that they are well balanced. What you notice, though, is that all of these are race cars. There are essentially no “street cars” in iRacing. Back to the racing series.
There are three types of “events” associated with a series:
These are exactly what you think they are. Open Practice involves ~60 minute sessions with many other drivers on track with you. Practice sessions don’t affect your iRating or your Safety Rating, but that doesn’t mean that people don’t take them seriously. But, they do give you the opportunity to drive on track with other drivers who are all trying to find the fastest line. Clean driving and, more importantly, clean passing are important. The times are not official.
Time Trials are closed events where you are the only driver on course. You must complete a consecutive number of incident-free laps in order to register an official time for the session. This is harder than it sounds. Just a little too much tire off into the dirt and you have to start all over. I honestly didn’t find time trialing in this manner to be too entertaining. I did find it infuriating because I would get close to the lap requirement and then inevitably drop a tire and have to start all over…
Racing sessions are where the fun is, in my opinion. Racing involves a qualifying session, where other drivers are on track, to determine starting grid position. The Global MX-5 Cup had standing starts. In contrast to rFactor 2, when the “green” dropped, you saw a representation of the red lights go out and the green lights come on. Maybe this is a little less realistic, but it was a little more forgiving. It certainly resulted in some hilarious starts when people forgot to wait for the green.
Standing starts are very real, though. People bone them and you have to get around them. Turn 1 on any track is always a thriller. The racing is always close because iRacing attempts to gather a full session of drivers that have similar iRatings (which implies similar skill levels). I never found that someone was completely thrashing the field unless some major race incident collected everyone up.
And, collecting people up does happen, just like in real life. And, unfortunately, it happened to me on more than one occasion. Generally speaking, people own up to their mistakes, and either on voice chat (available when you plug in a headset) or text chat, people tend to apologize for their bumbles.
But enough about the capabilities. What is it actually like? Well, firstly, iRacing is very different than most software/games you might be accustomed to.
iRacing uses a very interesting system where you don’t actually “run” the software directly. You use the browser to navigate the iRacing site, make your selections, and then hit “drive” from there. You then see the launcher screen which then immediately dumps you into the simulator. Even your basic system/graphics settings are initially launched/configured from a web browser. iRacing will also check to verify that you have the latest required bits and pieces before you are even allowed to click the drive button. This, too, fires up a local application to download and install the components. You can configure various aspects of the track (if you are just practicing/testing by yourself) including the weather and the amount of track use. That’s right – how much the track has been used affects the car’s handling, just like in real life.