Red Sox Owner’s Simulation Startup, iRacing.com, Waves the Green Flag

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$20 per month or $156 per year, and come with access to two simulated car models—the Pontiac Solstice and the “Legends” 1934 Ford Coupe—and seven simulated tracks, including South Boston Speedway. As they gain experience, users can buy access to additional cars and tracks.

Another non-game-like aspect of iRacing: the company isn’t engaging in the typical multimillion-dollar marketing blitz. It plans to promote the simulation at race events and at the Performance Racing Industry trade show in Orlando in December; beyond that, it will be depending on word of mouth. “The idea is to grow slowly and make sure the experience is top-notch,” says McKee, who expects that the customers the company attracts will be more akin to users of the cerebral Microsoft Flight Simulator than to Xbox addicts. (In fact, McKee says iRacing co-founder Kaemmer is an avid flight-sim user.)

Scanning the track -- iRacingBut that doesn’t mean iRacing hasn’t taken pains to give its simulations all the realism today’s graphics processors and CPUs can handle. In fact, one of the main reasons it’s taken four years to launch the system, according to McKee, is that the company takes a laser scanning rig to each racetrack it intends to simulate, documenting the tracks at millimeter resolution to produce 3-D “bump maps” that enable the software to reproduce the behavior of cars passing over the surfaces more accurately. “Next is the modeling of the tires and how they behave at various angles, pressures, and temperatures,” says McKee. “Third is modeling the cars themselves as multi-body systems with moving parts. The number of parts we model and the physical forces we keep track of and calculate every fraction of a second is much higher than what you’d find in any other simulation.”

Point cloud -- iRacingAll this attention to detail results in a different kind of realism from what you’ll see in the latest generation of console-based racing games such as Gran Turismo and Project Gotham Racing, McKee emphasizes. Those games bring an astonishing, almost cinematic level of detail to the PC or TV screen—right down to the reflections in the racecars’ fenders and the puffs of dust and rubber smoke they leave in their wakes. The iRacing experience, by contrast, is designed to faithfully replicate the feel of racing a finely tuned racing car, rather than the look.

“For us, it’s not the graphic modeling but the mathematics behind the simulation that has to be right,” McKee says. “We model so many details and moving bodies so that a 15-year veteran of professional racing can get in and say ‘Wow, that’s driving a race car. In fact, that’s driving that particular race car that I just drove last week, at that track.'”

Formula MazdaWhile iRacing certainly hopes to sell lots of subscriptions to its service, the company makes it clear that casual gamers need not apply. To set itself apart from MMOs like World of Warcraft or Schilling’s project at 38 Studios, the company has come up with a new acronym: MMIS, for “massively multiparticipant Internet sport.” And it has even established a sanctioning body akin to NASCAR to organize quarterly simulation tournaments.

In fact, from talking with McKee, I got the sense that the company sees signing up for iRacing.com as the rough equivalent of enrolling in one of those $1,200-a-day high-performance driving schools. “World of Warcraft has a real appeal, and we’re not in any way denigrating it,” McKee says. “But our system is more serious, frankly. A video game might allow you to master a Formula One car in an afternoon. But if you ever got into the car for real, you’d never even be able to start it. If you are serious about racing, our product is for you, because getting on a track with a full field of other drivers and racing against them safely involves as much commitment and time investment as if you went to racing school.”

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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8 responses to “Red Sox Owner’s Simulation Startup, iRacing.com, Waves the Green Flag”

  1. chris says:

    Nascar2003 and GPL (Grand Prix Legends) are NOT console games. They are for the PC platform.

  2. Wade RoushWade Roush says:

    I’ve corrected that information in the story. Thanks, Chris.

  3. Graham says:

    My thoughts are that after some initial interest, this expensive venture will never have enough customers to make enough money and that it will die a slow death .

  4. FHLH says:

    With products like rfactor that allow you to race many forms of autosport for FREE via community led mods…. this will die a QUICK death… not a slow one :)
    156 bux a year… plus the addtional fees for addtional tracks, no thanks!

  5. JS says:

    This Sim Blows them out of the water hands down.{You get what you pay for}.
    Just ask the thousands that already signed on.My final thought,stay with the other so called sims and race with the kiddies.
    And let the Bigboys Roll!!

  6. Andrew says:

    You can continue to play inferior sims based on weak physics code and user developed add ons which are not accurate in their own right. Or you can step up and pay the money and race iRacing, its your loss. The sim is far superior to anything on the market, hands down. Been doing this since 1996 and nothing comes close. PERIOD.

  7. MN says:

    My thoughts are this if the pro’s like Brad Kesolowski, AJ Almindinger, Dale Jr. think its the bomb why would you think it would die at all, I had the chance to race against AJ and it was all fun but serious at the same time. It’s as close to real as real can get being an internet based racing Sim and the handle of the cars is remarkable

  8. You know what…… I think… who cares if you like or dislike this Sim racing… be thankful you live here in the USA… just about 10 -12 years ago you guys were like me still pushing Hot wheels around a circle track made of carpet…. enough of that crap…. I just love the idea that I can at anytime sit at my computer and race… and have fun.. and pay if I want to, or NOT!! I am doing both… Lighten up guys ” its still a game”..and I love Racing just like you!!!! for what its worth….