INSIGHT: How eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series drivers discovered one car was broken

Nate Stewart

INSIGHT: How eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series drivers discovered one car was broken

Insights & Analysis

INSIGHT: How eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series drivers discovered one car was broken

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Just minutes before the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series race from Charlotte, driver’s suspicions were confirmed. One of the cars, the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 that was being used by nearly a third of the field, was broken. The aerodynamic model on the car was not functioning as intended and the car was hamstrung in traffic. The Toyota Camry and the Ford Mustang had no such handling problems and thus had an advantage on the Camaro.

Different cars performing differently is not new to NASCAR. The Ford Mustangs are widely regarded to have an advantage on superspeedways thanks to the flat front bumper, for example. On iRacing, though, the cars are all identical and are designed and built to perform the same. But for the first time, this wasn’t true. As teams began preparing for the Coca-Cola 300 at Charlotte, problems began to emerge.

Blake Reynolds and Allen Boes of McLaren Shadow were working with Deadzone Racing, an alliance of multiple drivers across multiple teams, to prepare for the race. Reynolds and Boes were the only two drivers who were using the Chevrolet Camaro. When practicing by themselves, the two didn’t notice any issues – after all, they were in the same car on the same setup. Fast-forward to pack testing with the rest of the Deadzone Racing team, and the pair were left bemused by their lack of pace.

“When we were pack testing, the Chevy felt like it could suck up faster, but after, let’s say 10, 15, 20 laps it would just start to slide really bad,” McLaren Shadow’s Blake Reynolds explains.

“We were so down mentally, we thought we actually just sucked. All our teammates were like, ‘what’s wrong with you guys.’ Normally, we don’t think the cars are different; that’s never happened before. So, we were just assuming we were bad.”

Reynold’s suspicion rose further during the Monday night A-class open-setup race. This race, which uses the same NASCAR Cup cars as the Coca-Cola iRacing Series and allows for setup changes, often serves as a test race for many of the Coca-Cola iRacing Series drivers. Of the 29 cars entered in the race, 27 were drivers who would be racing in the Coca-Cola 300 the following night.

“We get in there,” Reynolds says, “and I start to notice that my car is handling awful. But it wasn’t just me. I was only talking to Allen [Boes] because we shared the issue. But it wasn’t until I saw the Junior Motorsports cars, the William Byron eSports cars, the JTG Daugherty cars, and the Kligerman Sport cars [all Chevrolet Camaros] were all over the place too. I was like, ‘there’s something happening.”

After seeing other Camaros were struggling with the same problem, Reynolds and the Deadzone Racing team swapped cars. Reynolds and Boes switched to the Ford Mustang and the others in the team switched to the Chevrolet Camaro for a pack test. When one of the team’s setup builders self-spun in the Chevrolet Camaro just twenty-laps into the run, the team’s suspicion grew further.

By this point, the race was just hours away, but Reynold’s theory was still just a theory. Reynolds and Boes didn’t know how to approach iRacing with their suspicions, though. There was no way for them to get visual proof, and the data from the cars showed nothing peculiar. Apart from the results of the A-Class open-setup race on Monday night that showed Camaros not finishing well, there was little available besides the feelings the Camaro drivers were experiencing in testing.

Performance gaps between models don’t typically exist in NASCAR’s iRacing series, and Reynolds originally thought that his lack of pace in his Camaro was down to him. Image via Nate Stewart

The Chevy drivers, all holding the same suspicion, began to gather in a Discord server dedicated to the series that includes iRacing staff.

“I guess no one really mentioned anything until right before the race… and everyone just kind of came together, and everyone agreed, and [the problem] was discussed,” says one Chevrolet Coca-Cola iRacing Series driver. The driver asked not to be named to allow them to speak about the private conversations.

“It was right before the race, so iRacing couldn’t really make any changes. [The problem with the Chevrolets] was mentioned, I think, in the Discord at 7:45 p.m. EST last night, so 45 minutes before the race.”

At this point iRacing acknowledged the problem, but cancelling or postponing the race were quickly ruled out as potential options. Additionally, a technical solution to the problem could not be made in time for the race. The race would go on as planned.

“Shortly before the start of the Charlotte eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series race last night, it was brought to our attention that there might be an issue with the Chevrolet Camaro Cup car,” iRacing said in a statement. “With the incredibly short window we had been given to investigate any potential issue, we did not have enough time to make any definitive determination if there was an actual issue, so the race was run.

“Late last night we did in fact find a small difference in the aero tables for the Chevrolet, and have since backed those out in a patch this morning. Inadvertently, a future version of the aero model was put on the car a few weeks ago. Even though a small difference between the car models was discovered after the fact, we collectively felt that this should not erase the results of the event.

“Therefore, the standings from last night’s race will stand as official. With that said, we acknowledge an error on iRacing’s part and want to ensure all parties involved feel that this is a fair and level playground. iRacing will be adding one drop week to the regular season. This will be beneficial to all drivers and teams in the series.”

While the final results show some Chevrolets finished well, that was largely due to attrition and incidents. At one point in the race there were no Camaros in the top 20.

Some drivers made the decision to switch cars. Bobby Zalenski changed from the Camaro to the Ford Mustang and ran an all-white paint scheme that looked more like a testing livery. The Kligerman Sport drivers of Isaac Gann and Bob Bryant quickly brought their team owner, Parker Kligerman, into the discussion. Kligerman gave the green light for Gann and Bryant to change cars if they wished but the pair, partly driven by the fact they had no paint scheme that would reflect their sponsors, decided not to.

Zalenski usually races this Camaro, but swapped to a plain-liveried Mustang after the problems became apparent. Image via Bobby Zalenski

“Ultimately [the decision to change manufacturer] comes down to Parker Kligerman and my understanding is that he had given Isaac [Gann] and Bob [Bryant] the green light to take [whichever] manufacturer for the race that they wanted to,” David Schildhouse, the community manager for Kligerman Sport tells RACER.

Other teams however were not in a position to change manufacturers due to contractual obligations and had to stick with the wounded Chevrolet.

To make up for the race, iRacing will implement drop weeks into the series. Drop weeks allow for drivers’ worst points-performance to be deleted from the standings and not count against them.

“I feel like iRacing had to do something,” one Coca-Cola iRacing series driver says. “Either way it’s a lose-lose because the issue was there. If they would have added a drop week you know some people were going to be happy, if they didn’t add a drop week some people are going to be upset… At the beginning of the year the plan was for no drops, so it’s very 50-50, I feel.”

Ultimately the timing of the problem was the crucial factor in how the situation played out. As it turned out, a solution was fairly easy to implement as iRacing pushed out an update that fixed the issue the morning after the race.

“If this had been brought to them 24 hours earlier something, could have been done,” Reynolds says. “If we tried to confirm our suspicions just a tad earlier… we were just frustrated the whole weekend if I had discovered this Sunday night, this probably could have been resolved.” He added that the error was simply an honest mistake by the iRacing developers.

“There are many intricacies in running the sim, and it requires the entire community working together to ensure it runs smoothly,” iRacing explains.

“In the future, if something appears incorrect with the software or service, we need to be brought up to speed with it as soon as humanly possible.  If errors are caught in time, we can do more to ensure that nothing escapes us or at least allows time to rectify (especially prior to these high-profile events).”

Kligerman Sport’s David Schildhouse pushed back on the idea that it’s up to the teams, drivers, and broader community that uses the service to ensure its stability.

“It’s really hard to take [the statement] as anything other than them saying: ‘this is your problem. You’re supposed to tell us that our product doesn’t work correctly so that we can try and fix it,'” he says. “The problem is a little more complex than that, obviously. We rely on them as a business to provide us with the products that they say is what it is.

“We’re not their quality assurance testers, we’re not the beta testers, we’re their consumers,” Schildhouse says. “We expect a fully polished product that works as advertised. So I was a bit surprised and disappointed to see their perspective and approach to this.”

As of Thursday morning, the only message iRacing has sent to the public that speaks on the issue is one sentence in the patch notes published on Wednesday morning: “Multi-car drafting performance for this car has been adjusted on oval tracks.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr., a longtime supporter of iRacing chimed in on Twitter: “Reminds me of when you had to run a Hoosier at Charlotte one year or you weren’t gonna win, yet a few still stayed on Goodyears out of loyalty,” he said in a Twitter post.

Four-time series champion Ray Alfalla went on to win the race. The best-placed Chevrolet was Nick Ottinger in 12th. Of the 200 laps in the race, none of them were led by a Chevrolet Camaro.

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