Virtual Car Racing - iRacing

A Love/Hate Relationship

Things I love about iRacing:

No wrenching on race cars. No interminable tows. No exorbitant entry fees. No racetrack food. No broiling/freezing paddocks.

To enter a race, all I do is click my mouse, and I'm whisked to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Another click and I'm in a Pontiac Solstice, waiting with seven other identical showroom-stock cars for the lights to turn green.

This is real racing. Yes, the cars are digital constructs of 1s and 0s, but they're being "driven" by real human beings with real hearts, real balls, and, in some cases, the brains of a gerbil.

The racetracks are dead-nuts perfect. The graphics team used a $100,000 laser scanner to take 360-degree images every 300 feet of track. All that's missing is smoke rising from trackside barbecues.

This is the most authentic sim I've ever sampled. Get on the throttle too early and the front washes out. Trail-brake too aggressively and the rear end starts rotating. I swear I can "feel" the car drifting around corners.

Things I hate about iRacing:

Even if you're an experienced real-world racer, the learning curve is frustratingly steep. Driving cars on the limit is a serious challenge, and doing it in traffic is exponentially harder.

I'm not sure if it's the physics engine or the tire model, but the sim rewards a wildly oversteering style of driving that isn't practiced-or practical-in the real world.

The sim requires substantial computing muscle. Check the FAQ for computer requirements, but suffice it to say that my four-year-old system couldn't run the software.

Expect to spend about $200 a year in fees. You also need to invest in a quality steering wheel and pedals. The sturdy Logitech G25, which sells for roughly $250, is a great choice.

Data can be delayed or lost as it's transmitted over the Internet. iRacing's Net code predicts where the cars ought to be when so-called latency becomes an issue. But cars occasionally wink out or "warp" instantaneously from one place to another.

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