After more than a decade in service, US-based sim racing service iRacing has finally added computer-generated rivals to its popular platform.
However, the path to a half-decent experience on iRacing can be long and at times tedious. The sim works around a safety rating system that’s designed to weed out the ratbag element within the online racing community; go into iRacing with a Need For Speed mentality, and you’ll find it impossible to progress through the ranks.
On the flip side, it takes patience and time to progress through the ranks of licence levels in order to race in harder, faster categories. Racing, too, is scheduled, so you have to wait to race.
The addition of AI is only at beta level at the moment, but already it’s added a new dimension of accessibility to iRacing that will help new players and reward long-time subscribers with an easy-to-access yet still rewarding racing fix.
The beta program currently only uses the game’s Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car, while track selection depends on whether you tackle a single race (Lime Rock Park track only) or build your own championship season.
The list of tracks extends to seven, including
- Barber Motorsports Park – Full Course
- Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya – Grand Prix
- Donington Park Racing Circuit – Grand Prix
- Lime Rock Park – Classic
- Nürburgring Grand-Prix-Strecke – Grand Prix
- Road America – Full Course
- Watkins Glen International – Cup
Users can custom-tune a single race at Lime Rock Park or a whole season over the seven tracks to feature practice, qualifying and a race in any combination, while the race itself can be as short as three laps or as long as two hours.
Not only that, users can select time of day, whether there are rubber marbles on the track and even how much sunrise or sunset will affect vision.
Up to 59 (!) rivals can be chosen, and the level of their ability adjusted – quite cleverly – through an adjustable range; say, for example, between 50 percent and 70 percent difficulty, or any range between.
We tested the AI function with our two mostly tame iRacers; one who holds a Class B licence and the other a Class D. Tuning the AI proved to be a trial-and-error proposition, with the faster racer settling on a range of 65-75 percent, which put him mid-pack for 20-car events.
The rookie (err, me) slid the AI back down to a more manageable 45-65 percent range, which put me in the front half of most races. To me, this is an important element for iRacing, as it gives a disheartened rookie a chance to ‘compete’ for a better result.
The standings and the results do not add to a driver’s tally, not do they affect their all-important safety rating, but it’s good to be able to battle wheel-to-wheel without having to worry about the end result.
As well, it’s possible to reset the event should something go wrong. This is a terrific way to log start and first-turn practice before heading back into the human realm.
The behaviour of the AI drivers is, in the main, of a high level, but it appears that the grading system is linked to mid-corner speeds; the lower the ranking, the slower your rivals will travel at the mid-point of a corner.
Our young neo-pro reckons iRacing has connected the AI drivers to its preferred line mapping, and if the AI driver is forced off that line, their behaviour becomes a little more erratic.
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The car, meanwhile, is a challenge to drive, especially on cold tyres. In fact, neither driver managed to complete their first lap without spinning off the track. It can be tuned up for both suspension and aerodynamics, a task made easier with iRacing’s floating menus describing what’s being changed.
After a few sessions, though, the 911 proves to be a terrific sim racing car that rewards on-limit driving but quickly punishes any indiscretions. Braking, in particular, is tough to get a handle on, and there is no traction control to save you from a cold-tyre spin.
in all, AI is a great addition to the iRacing platform, and it’s an addition that doesn’t dumb down the experience in any way. It’ll entice lapsed subscribers back to the platform, and it’ll also serve as a great training ground for newbies to the service.