Virtual Car Racing - iRacing

Real names, real racers. A few months ago, on a Wednesday afternoon, I sat next to then-Daytona Prototype champion Alex Gurney as he logged laps on iRacing. He'd been using the sim to prep for an upcoming DP race. Now, he was entering his first wheel-to-wheel online event-a pickup race for rookies in a Solstice at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Purely by coincidence, one of the other racers happened to be Dale Earnhardt, Jr.Gurney got schooled during the race-understandable considering his lack of seat time in the Solstice. Still, he wasn't happy about losing. Long after I left him, he continued to pound out laps on the sim. When I returned to my office several hours later, I found a message on my answering machine: "This is Alex. I got a 49.2. So I managed to beat Junior's time, and I'm really excited about it."

iRacing's membership roll includes numerous real-world pros besides Gurney and Earnhardt-Jacques Villeneuve, A. J. Allmendinger, Justin Wilson, Martin Truex, Jr., Paul Edwards, Spencer Pumpelly, Ron Capps, and others. Granted, Junior is a legendarily obsessive sim racer from way back. (In August, a few hours after running his Sprint Cup Impala SS at Michigan, he did a sixty-lap iRacing Silver Crown race at Martinsville.) But professional drivers wouldn't be fooling around with iRacing if they thought it was just a toy.

In contrast with the vibrant and glamorous world it models, iRacing is headquartered in an antiseptic industrial park in the Route 128 technology corridor outside Boston. At first glance, the place looks like standard high-tech fare, with the executives working out of offices with big windows to the outside world and the underlings navigating a warren of semi-open cubicles. But just about every desk, from the CFO's down to the lowliest QA tester's, has a steering wheel clamped to it and pedals underneath.

Everybody who works at iRacing is passionate about motorsports. Many of them have real-world racing experience. The most prominent logbook belongs to former F1 driver Divina Galica, who is director of business development. But Kaemmer has numerous wins to his credit in Skip Barber formula cars. Grant Reeve, a lead programmer, is a regional autocross champion. Vehicle dynamics engineer Ian Berwick's résumé includes stints in numerous professional road-racing series. In short, iRacing is the kind of software house where terms such as "trail-braking" and "oversteer" are as much a part of the lingua franca as "C++."

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