Roger Diez: iRacing: some good, some bad
It looks like iRacing is going to be what motorsports fans have to live with until this current health emergency is over.
I missed the first weekend but tuned in for the O’Reilly Auto Parts 125 from Virtual Atlanta Motor Speedway last Sunday. I took away a number of positives and some negatives as well from the experience.
On the positive side the commentary team of Mike Joy, Jeff Gordon, Larry McReynolds, and in-car (or should I say in-chair) correspondent Clint Bowyer did their best to make us suspend disbelief and view it like a real race.
Another positive was the race length – 125 laps and a 90-minute TV slot. When we get back to real-world racing, NASCAR might want to take another look at that.
And seeing full (virtual) grandstands was another positive, although unlikely to happen when real racing returns.
On the negative side, cutting away to drivers sitting in their game rooms, living rooms, garages, etc. ruined the sense of reality. And although I know it’s a gaming-world standard, getting a new car after a wreck with the push of a button also destroys the illusion. It also encourages risky moves and lots of wrecks, which probably is a plus to certain fans.
The field was a mixed bag, consisting of current NASCAR Cup drivers, a past Cup champion, and several drivers from the Xfinity and Gander Outdoor Truck series. Instead of 40, the field was limited to 35 drivers. There were lots of people trying to qualify, and 23 failed to do so. That’s a total of 58 entries, harking back to the good old days when that many drivers would attempt to make the Daytona 500.
Timmy Hill won his first-ever Cup “race” with a bump and run on William Byron’s Chevrolet. Chevys dominated the event, finishing first through seventh and taking nine of the top 10 spots. This weekend’s virtual contest at Bristol should prove interesting and would be more so if drivers had no opportunity to push a button for a new car. The event will air Sunday on FS1 starting at 10 a.m.
Back in the real world, on Thursday NASCAR announced that the Next Gen car will not debut until the 2022 season. This decision follows the Formula 1 delay of their new technical rules until 2022. Both postponements are due primarily to the social adjustments made to combat the coronavirus. Right now, the focus of all racing organizations is to resume on-track activity and reschedule as many races as possible as soon as it is realistically feasible.
The IndyCar series has also taken to iRacing as a substitute for the real thing. Last weekend the IndyCar iRacing Challenge fielded 24 virtual starters at Watkins Glen. Young Sage Karam led all but two of the 45 laps to take the win. The only other driver to lead was Team Penske’s Will Power, who finished third behind Felix Rosenqvist of Chip Ganassi Racing. Rosenqvist was the first of only three Honda-powered machines in the top 10, with Chevy taking 6 of the first seven finishing positions. The field was a mix of veterans, rookies, and aspirants from feeder series. But perhaps the most interesting entry was one Jimmie Johnson, who started 19 and finished 16. It would be even more interesting to see how Johnson would fare at the Glen in the real world. Perhaps we’ll find out in 2021 or 2022.
No word yet on any virtual racing at either of our local tracks, but there will be no racing at either one until May at the earliest. 95 Motorsports Complex (formerly Fernley 95A Speedway) is scheduled for May 2, with Rattlesnake Raceway in Fallon set for May 8.