Real-life racing is self-regulating, because drivers are acutely aware that crashing is expensive and dangerous. But in the virtual world, there's an insidious temptation to overdrive the cars because, if things go catastrophically wrong, you can always hit the reset button. Also, since sims don't provide any seat-of-the-pants feedback, they're tricky to drive on the limit, and racing online in close proximity to other cars makes matters exponentially more perilous. Put all these factors together, and you've got a prescription for crashfests.
Enter the iRacing sporting code, forty-five pages governing every conceivable aspect of the races run under its sanction. "We knew we needed something that worked when you have no fear of physical or checkbook damage," says Scott McKee, vice president of marketing and himself an SCCA club racer. "A lot of people come in with video game backgrounds. This is much more serious than what they're used to. The sporting code is the key to understanding how the sim and the races work."
Among other innovations, iRacing has developed two mathematic barometers to evaluate how good-or bad-a driver is. The iRating, which is designed to predict the probability that one racer will beat another, is similar to the Elo rating in chess-a number that fluctuates up or down, depending on performance. The Safety Rating is based on the number of incidents in qualifying and races.
All customers start as rookies in a Solstice or a Legends car. As they accumulate points-by beating other drivers and not committing too many infractions-they climb the ladder to more exotic cars and tracks. Unlocking each upgrade costs additional money, which irks consumers who are used to paying a one-time fee for a game. Then again, if you're looking for realism, this isn't the first time a driver has had to pay for a ride.
Virtual racing can be as emotional as its real-world counterpart. And as Internet flame wars demonstrate all too well, the anonymity of the Web can spawn truly ugly online confrontations. Not on iRacing. "We have an especially low tolerance for behaving badly," McKee says. "Nobody wants to be part of a community where people can regularly be rude and get away with it. We have a formal protest system with race stewards who review replays, and we insist that people use their real names instead of hiding behind avatars."