PRUETT: Lessons from the IndyCar iRacing Challenge

Image by Miller/Lumen

PRUETT: Lessons from the IndyCar iRacing Challenge

Insights & Analysis

PRUETT: Lessons from the IndyCar iRacing Challenge

By

When he wasn’t laughing or torching his fellow competitors over the group chat, Power enjoyed the communal aspect of iRacing.

“I thought it was pretty fun,” he says. “Everyone got to see each other’s true in-car personality a little bit. And everyone got to talk and you’d be angry at someone one minute, then you’re fine with them the next. I thought it was kind of a bonding experience for everyone.”

We also learned that in some of the public and private sessions, heated conversations took place. And with the boorish behavior spilling out in the finale, some insights into which drivers are respected and those who are held in poor standing were revealed.

“Among the driver fraternity and among the racing crowd, there are some things that are known about some of the drivers, but we don’t really want to say it,” Daly says. “We know how people are, but the public might not really know. And I think honestly, for me, I’m always me no matter what, in any setting. Whether it’s an official interview, whether it’s on the stream, whether it’s anything, I’m always the same. But I think there’s some people that can put on a good face for interviews or can put on a good a good picture for whatever it might be.

“I think there are some people that, when it comes down to it, and if we’re sitting in pit lane at Texas, and we’re ready to go out, whatever has happened on iRacing is not going to affect how I look at people at all. But some of the drivers that I would already be not that confident in are pretty much the same drivers that we weren’t confident in on iRacing. So it’s actually not too dissimilar. I think all it did was give the public more of an idea of like why we might feel that way about certain drivers.”

Bourdais wants Daly’s assessment to be correct.

“I hope everybody’s going to have a big amnesia over it because otherwise there’s going to be some serious hard feelings carrying into the season, which wouldn’t be a good thing,” he says. “There’s going to be a lot of precedent between some guys. And I hope that it doesn’t happen, especially the first race (Texas) being an oval. I don’t think anybody wants to see any miscalculated aggression towards someone.”

Power understands the heated reactions, within reason.

“I’m not surprised,” he says. “You’re in there competing, you put a lot of time into it, and some w***** takes you out?” he says. “It’s really upsetting. And then about an hour later you should be just perfectly fine because you realize in your heart, it just isn’t real, and it doesn’t matter. You don’t get hurt in iRacing, and it doesn’t cost anything. Unless you do something really bad, then it might cost you your career.”

Power believes that the iRacing experiment helped drivers build real-world bonds. Image by Miller/Lumen

Counter to the first three opinions, Hinchcliffe isn’t sure the IndyCar iRacing scraps will be so easily forgotten.

“Real-life rivalries will be born out of sim racing, out of fake life driving,” he says. “Because they 100 percent believe that. And it’s so funny, because it doesn’t matter. I think that for sure it’ll hang in the back of your head for… Not to me, because I just didn’t get invested enough to get angry enough at anybody. But for sure there are going to be people that carry some of the grudges from this over to over the real world. Well, I mean, I don’t think it’s a 2011 rain-day planking exhibition at the Speedway… That lived exactly in the time that it should have and went no further. This, no, I don’t think this disappears at all.”

We learned the cartoon anvil exists in the virtual world as Hinchcliffe, Tony Kanaan, Felipe Nasr, and more were knocked out of races, or unable to start races, due to a variety of glitches.

We learned that some drivers are excellent in virtual and real racing scenarios as Sage Karam, Scott McLaughlin, Simon Pagenaud, Lando Norris, and more distinguished themselves in the IndyCar iRacing Challenge.

We also learned that some IndyCar veterans were fast learners, with Scott Dixon, Alexander Rossi, and Sebastien Bourdais among the iRacing novices who marched forward at different rates of progress.

“For me, for sure with a single screen, it was particularly difficult to just get the spatial awareness,” Bourdais says. “Who’s where, how close are you really and who’s coming at you? And the depth perception and the speed. It was very challenging. And so, obviously, that led to a lot of incidents. As soon as you started to treat it a little seriously, then it would get very frustrating. But on the flip side of that, because it got so serious on the road courses, I won’t deny, I tried, I mean I really tried to be very decent and I didn’t succeed…

“But I did spend a huge amount of time trying to get better at it, and the fact that you could get crashed by something out of your control, which in real life would have been very easy to avoid, was tough. In the game, not so much, it led to massive frustration, overreaction, and so forth. But the goal was from the beginning to try and stay connected with the fans and give them something to watch on TV in those terribly boring times, which I think it kind of succeeded, even if some of us weren’t always very competitive…”

And we learned that despite the unsavory end to the IndyCar iRacing Challenge, our panel of drivers agree some form of permanent Esports IndyCar league is needed going forward.

“I think this brought a tremendous amount of attention to a very interesting prospective way to spend time between seasons,” Hinchcliffe says. “If we don’t have a winter Esports series moving forward, I would be absolutely floored. We talk so much about how long our off-season is and how our sponsors are only getting value for half the year. All of our sponsors had time on NBC Sports Network the same way that they would have in a real race.

“And so if we can go back and take the lessons learned from this experiment, and apply it in an intelligent way, I think we can create an off-season E-championship that keeps the drivers in a competitive mindset for the off-season, keeps the sponsors in the sport a little more prominently positioned, and I think it’s got a lot of value.”

Daly would like to see the initiative run deeper, similar to the Road To Indy, where IndyCar teams have an Esports step to offer on the open-wheel ladder system.

“Without a doubt, every IndyCar team also needs an Esports team,” he says. “I think that’s huge just for the racing community, just for kids who like to go racing. Not every kid who loves racing is going to get a chance to be a race car driver. I love what NASCAR has done. I think a lot of those guys, even some of the drivers themselves have their own teams. I think that would be great.

“Should we as IndyCar drivers do more of it? I don’t really know, because we’re never going to beat the professional sim racers. But I do think we should be supporting that, and I do think that there were a lot of positives to come from this, without a doubt. Definitely more positives than negatives, for sure. Because if we weren’t doing it, we would just be dead in the water, and there would be nothing to talk about at all, nothing to say.

“There was so many good things that happened. I still think it outweighs whatever kind of controversy came up. It will make for some really interesting interviews when we get back to the real racetracks. iRacing is so burned into our brain right now that I can’t wait to hear what people say when we get back to real life.”

More RACER