OPINION: 5 Things I Would Love To See From IndyCar & iRacing’s Latest Partnership

February 3, 202424 min read

NOTE: This is an opinion piece. These posts are the views of the author only, and do not necessarily represent the views of RaceSpot / A Sim publisher / Any other party.

IndyCar’s relationship with iRacing goes further and deeper than some newer members would think. It was the car that played host to the first ever iRacing Driver’s World Championship on the road side, a series won by Greger Huttu who was able to stop Richard Towler from doing the double in oval and road DWCs. In 2011 iRacing ran an IndyCar Pro Series which whilst having some exploitation on SOFs and snake splits still produced a decent championship. The series was won by iRacing IndyCar Veteran and 2012 iRacing Indy 500 champion, but his prize of going to Las Vegas to watch the last round of the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series may rank up there with some of the worst prizes possible in history.

There have been times too when IndyCar have sought fourtunes elsewhere in the Sim Racing / Esports world, only for these to not come to fruition as planned. The first of these involved a company called SimRaceway, which had the rights to produce the DW-12 on a sim racing platform way before iRacing. The deal was reportedly made with Randy Bernard directly and had a number of drivers from the IndyCar series either endorse or claim to work directly on the project. Aside from a sparsely populated Indy 500 event not much came of this, and eventually it was all systems go for iRacing to bring the DW-12 to its platform.  Something similar happened with Motorsport Games and this IndyCar game, but I got into some trouble the last time I talked about Motorsport Games, so I’ll just leave a link to my last article instead.

The fact of the matter is simple: IndyCar and iRacing again have a nice long partnership together. The iRacing Indy 500 is back, and there’s a potential world of potential. If you asked me to become Steven A. Smith and do some hot takes, I would make the following 5 suggestions. Some are big, some obscure, but I believe each has some merit. I could also be completely wrong, so let me know in the comments what you think.

Return of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge as a Winter Series

If COVID taught us anything, it’s that people are willing to watch virtual racing if it’s on a platform with a degree of realism like iRacing. NASCAR had some great events with iRacing on FS1, RaceSpot shattered viewership records with Penske and Verizon’s Pay it Forward Campaign, and the IndyCar iRacing Challenge provided a bucketload of entertainment when there wasn’t much else fun going on in the world.

People often forget that iRacing has first and formost been a training tool, and there’s been many an IndyCar driver popping up in official races over the years. Tony Kannan now has his own Esports team, and with IndyCar viewing figures on an upward trend with more races on network TV in the USA over the past few years than ever before, there is a renewed interest in the series and its drivers.

In my opinion, just chucking together a series with IndyCar drivers past and present and broadcasting it online is a wasted opportunity. I wouldn’t suggest that it would get network airtime, but something on Peacock / IndyCar YouTube would be a good starting point. They key is emphasising personality and transition from sim to #RaceCar. So often when you get behind the scenes videos of drivers and their rigs it’s just… Stale, almost forced. It’s almost as if the sim / hardware company want to show of their product at their very best, and instead of humanising, it’s almost the opposite. Zombifiying drivers.

What makes the Max / Lando Sim Racing bromance so special is that you can see that it’s real. It’s the reason why Jimmy Broadbent streams get x times the viewership of the main broadcast feed. People are invested in the drivers as humans, not just racers. Bringing this dynamic to accentuate an IndyCar iRacing Challenge not only provides some better content for teams in the offseason, but also provides some much needed humour at times. I’m sure fans want to see mess-ups here and there, or reactions after a bad qualifying; heck, the number of times I’ve personally watched a stream just to see the wreck reactions is too many to count.

Bring it back, but make it even more fun! Give us some good racing, but also let us get beneath the skin of the drivers. IndyCar has always been a personality driven series, and some of the ‘off the cuff’ pieces on Versus / NBC Sports were always fun. ESPN of course were too busy showing wives and girlfriends and we don’t need that, but even a significant other race would be a blast to watch as a non-championship / special race. With more time, the envelope can only be made bigger.

IndyCar iRacing World Championship

How many years did I show my support for this? At least 10. There were times when frankly, calling the iRacing World Championship Grand Prix Series could have been done via a soundboard, things were that predictable in terms of pacing, tone etc. The old FW-31 after the NTM was something that may have made racing ‘harder’, but it certainly made the racing more boring. With schedule changes over the years and the greater emphasis still further on road racing in place of ovals, a World Championship schedule could look incredibly interesting and provide a unique single driver series experience. 

These days, we have a Mercedes F1 car, but the official series is one of the least participated on iRacing. Having seen the racing in the broadcasted GP Series races, in some ways it is a step up from the Williams & McLaren, especially as there’s more tools to make the racing more exciting. I would argue though that in terms of a car being raced, it is a nieche market, and whilst the IndyCar market is similar, it could offer a viable alternative.

With IndyCar having a longer offseason than many other forms of Motorsport, there’s more potential to run this in the October – February region. Whilst things like Thanksgiving and the holiday season get in the way for the North American market, there are ways to schedule around this. As mentioned above, iRacing have run special IndyCar series in the past, and with the Hybrid making its way into IndyCar in 2024, plus this renewed agreement, perhaps this could be the time to celebrate the partnership and the continued growth of IndyCar domestically and abroad?

There’s potentials to have track based events similar to the eNASCAR series, by inviting a selection of championship bound drivers to participate in person, and heck, why not get the IndyCar Radio guys to call the races, seeing as they are some of the best in the business. I would argue there’s no need / real potential to do the team based system used in the eNASCAR series, but there would need to be a couple of willing sponsors along the way.

Perhaps the one big thing missing is some form of feeder series. Whilst it’s possible to just use the IndyCar for a Road to Pro style series, I would love something with an Indy NXT car… There’s just not one ready to create 5 wide Freedom 100 style finishes yet…

LAN / Semi LAN iRacing Indy 500

Indianapolis has a pretty cool convention centre, and there’s plenty of places where a LAN based event could be held as part of the Indy 500 festivities. I should know, I’ve stumbled past enough of them looking for an Open Steak & Shake at 2AM so that I could get a 7×7 burger for $7.77. 

Logistically this could be difficult to put on, but with Porsche running live events, BMW SIM LIVE and ESL R1 all showing that you can both bring different teams together, and have them have competitive racing without actually having fisticuffs, there’s a model and a background that works. Having 33 rigs all running at once would be the most complex part if the entire event was to be on site, but other events like the Sim Racing Expo GT500 shows that from a network capability at least it’s doable. 

Indy is packed in the last couple of weeks of May. There’s so much going on, and you could argue that an event in Indiana could actually end up being a dudd because people’s eyeballs are elsewhere. There’s ways of having things shown at the racetrack however (Glacier TV did this back in 2013 for a World Tour Event), and showcasing the competitive Esports element of Sim Racing. Fees, visas and availability would of course be a problem unless you either had a mega pre-qualifying or invitational based system based on a World Championship / Pro Series finishing far enough in advance, there’s always another point here. Every year I’ve seen and heard stories of people looking for rigs to run from in and around Indy… Why? Because they are going to the race!

Of all the things on this list I know that this is one of the more far-fetched. 5 years ago, I would have said it’s a push, but there’s been enough use cases and actually working scenarios that it’s not a case of figuring things out on the fly. This is something far more doable, and to a standard both the race and environment deserve. All it needs is a good Gantt Chart, and a designated toilet for Hugo.

Proper Four Lap Indy 500 Qualifying

I honestly have run out of memory trying to remember the number of times I’ve raised this over the years. People will most likely be thinking about one of two things here:

  1. Having a full warm up lap before the four flying laps.
  2. Having to ‘erase’ your time before setting a new attempt.

I’m greedy, and frankly want both, however believe that the first is easier to achieve than the second one. In short, if you watch Indy 500 Qualifying on NBC / Peacock / Illegal Stream, you’ll note that drivers come past the stripe a total of 6 times. Once to begin their proper warmup lap after exiting the pits from the end of Pit Road prior, once to start their 4 laps, and then once every lap thereafter. In practice, you can wave off the attempt at the conclusion of the warm up lap, which means that your time isn’t erased (If memory serves me correctly).

Aside from the logistical reasons behind this being a thing, having a full lap at close to racing speed impacts massively in terms of strategy and setup. On iRacing, until they ban the ability to move across from the apron onto the short-chute betweens T1 and 2, there’s not a massive speed difference between the first and second time they cross the start finish line, but there is a massive difference in tyre usage, temperature and life. Because of the fact that there is no true warm up lap on iRacing, it means that people resort to different setups, speed gathering and tyre warming methods on the way to start their 4 lap run, which whilst the same for everyone in theory, never works when you have some teams putting 5 figures lap counts in in May compared to ‘Average Joe’.

In the past its been said that the reason why we couldn’t have 4 lap qualifying as in real life is because of the number of times you go past the start finish line. Some eagle eyed however note that in theory this exists at Talladega, as the S/F line is after the pits. If iRacing can have 24 Hour races, dynamic weather and BOP, surely it’s not that hard to add in an extra lap before recording a four lap average? I know it won’t affect that many people, but it’s enough of an extra realism burst to be appreciated in my opinion.

The second of these is what I would call a compromise of limiting the number of attempts completely, or having qualifying built into servers for the Indy 500. I stand by my claim that I believe that there are very few challenges on iRacing more difficult than qualifying in the Top 33 for an iRacing Indianapolis 500, let alone score pole position. Some of the great and good on iRacing have tried over the years, and the number of fastest drivers is still an exclusive club. Some can argue that not having the jeopardy of not being forced to vacate your previous time allows some drivers to have their stress levels lowered once they know that they are ‘close enough’ to making the field, and is open to some drivers just doing run after run after run.

Back in 2014 I was in Indianapolis for the Indy 500. On the Thursday before the race there was a meetup with locals and not so locals at a bar somewhere in Speedway. The drinks were cheap, the food good, and no one got arrested. At least 2 drivers though would pop home every 45 minutes to go and do another run, and another, and another, up until qualifying closed. Why? Every hour was a new opportunity without any risk. Had they had to give up their previous time, they both told me that they wouldn’t have bothered, as they were searching for a couple of lucky thousandths at that point more than anything else.

Could you imagine the last qualifying session where a handful of drivers in the Top 33 vacated their previous times, went out and smashed the wall on Lap 4? Could you imagine the drama in terms of a broadcast? Or even in terms of news articles / discussion? It would be huge. These drivers would go from Top Split down to Split x behind all the other drivers who had qualified. 

This may be a bit too much for some people, so a compromise could be having a normal and backup car where you only get one run in the latter, but even then you end up with loopholes on top of loopholes, and a list of complaints bigger than a tenderloin sandwich. Another option would be to use an average of your averages, similar to the way points are averaged on official series after you complete four races. This could work out, with a token time being given for any run where the wall is hit.

Give us that extra warm up lap, and introduce some requirement in terms of not being able to run 60 qualifying sessions in a week, and add some more excitement. Even though this is one of the most fun weeks of the year, there’s still more that can be done to enhance the allure of qualifying.

More Street Circuits on iRacing

Over the past 15 years, IndyCar has moved away from an Oval centric series to one that has a pretty even mix of road / street courses alongside ovals. Tracks like St Pete, Long Beach, Detroit, Toronto and most recently Nashville have excited IndyCar fans and drivers as well as providing something ‘unique’ to IndyCar (Despite FOM deciding to jump further and further onto the street course bandwagon).

At present, Long Beach and Detroit are on iRacing, but the rest have yet to have made their appearance. Long Beach was the first ever street track sitting in ‘tech track’ development for years until it became possible to fully integrate the much busier street scenery, and iRacing have added the Chicago Street Course developed in partnership with NASCAR. The days of saying that street courses are not possible in iRacing are well over, even though there would of course remain difficulties in laser scanning a track in the short period of time when it is ‘race ready’.

Because of the long history of both St Pete and Toronto with the IndyCar calendar, my vote would be for them to be positioned first. If only because in the space of me writing this paragraph I’ve already had visions of drivers trying to jump off the bridge at Nashville into the water! If some of the other ideas mentioned in this article were to make a real impact, having more street circuits will certainly help in terms of adding dynamics and realism. This isn’t an Oval / Road argument anymore (Thankfully…), but one of ensuring that there’s a wide of a variety of tracks possible to make this a true simulated version of IndyCar.

These again, are the opinions of me, and me alone. I’ve seen a number of posts, threads, and opinion posts on a variety of these topics, and there’s good points raised on each side of the debate, but 2024 Wil Vincent is an optimist. Maybe at least one of these will reach fruition in the next 12 / 18 months. I could also be a complete idiot, having wasted 3000 words and an hour of my life. Regardless, leave a comment below with your thoughts.

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Wil Vincent

I am the Editor in Chief of RaceSpot News, and one of the Co-Founders of RaceSpot TV & RaceSpot Live Events. I have been involved in Sim Racing Esports broadcasting since 2011 as a commentator, producer, project manager and journalist, covering some of the largest Sim Racing Esports events in the world.


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