“Practice makes perfect.” It’s what you tell yourself when you’re throwing spirals over an old tire dreaming of the NFL, or throwing pucks through a garage door and imagining lifting the Lord Stanley Cup.
However, how do you achieve perfection if you have to practice bending a 3,300-pound stock car at will? After all, there is no easy (or legal) way to get into a NASCAR Cup Series car and race friends around the neighborhood.
Well, it wasn’t. However, with the advent of sim racing, things are changing—and quickly.
Anyone who has played on the latest PlayStation or Xbox can attest that video games are more realistic, realistic, and more immersive than ever. Today’s gaming hardware is so advanced that famous games like Forza and Gran Turismo can faithfully replicate the experience of racing real cars on real race tracks.
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If these console franchises open the doors to racing sims for casual gamers, then PC-only offerings like iRacing and rFactor 2 take things one step further.
“I discovered iRacing with a simple Google search,” Anthony Alfredo, our #23 Xfinity Series rider, told Sportzshala. “Eventually I got one of those sets of Logitech wheels and pedals to play at my desk, and just like that, for a couple of hundred dollars, I raced sims.”
iRacing is perhaps the biggest name in the ever-expanding world of sim racing. It is said to have 225,000 active followers, including riders from almost every major racing series in the world: NASCAR, Formula One, IndyCar and a few others. McLaren driver Lando Norris has long been loitering in the iRacing lobby, and 2021 F1 champion Max Verstappen and 2005 and 2006 champion Fernando Alonso have also been seen racing him.
Raja Karut is another person with considerable experience with simulations. The 20-year-old races in the ARCA Menards Series with Rev Racing in 2022, competes in select Camping World Truck Series events with Spire Motorsports, and competes in the Xfinity Series limited schedule with Alpha Prime Racing.
And thanks to iRacing, he got here.
“NASCAR is where I wanted to race and I just wanted to race in real life since I was little and so I thought the only way to do it was to race online,” Karut said. Sportzshala. “It wasn’t about racing online for them, like that was never my goal since iRacing, but I knew it was the gateway to start racing.”
However, it is more than a gateway. iRacing is so realistic that the company has been working with NASCAR to create new tracks, such as the quarter-mile track used at the Los Angeles Coliseum in February and the road track in Chicago, which will debut next July. Simulations have become an invaluable tool for development – for drivers, teams and the sport in general.
The trend in motorsport around the world over the last two decades has been to steadily reduce testing and training sessions. This reduces costs – at least in theory – and ensures that spectators get more action at a circuit where something is at stake, whether it’s extra races or tougher qualifying sessions.
“I’m a NASCAR Cup Series driver, one of 40 in the world, and because I only ran half of the 2020 season in Xfinity, I still haven’t been to many of those circuits,” Alfredo said. “I remember one of them, Sonoma, it’s a highway, and I choose the green flag, and I’ve never even seen this place. So that’s where the simulator has been more useful than ever before. I’ve never seen him. played such a big role in my career.”
During the course of our conversation, Karut opened the Virtual Racing School, an online tool that catalogs your every move in iRacing and offers detailed telemetry (which he says he often compares to real-life teammates for more information) and driver training. to list the amount of time he has spent in different cars driving on several different tracks in recent days.
“Last day I drove an hour and a half in Watkins Glen…because we’re going there in a couple of weeks,” Carut said, “and the last two days I drove an hour and a half in Michigan because it’s my next race in ARCA.”
Alfredo said that, on average, most NASCAR drivers spend about 10 hours a week on the simulator. Some, especially in large teams equipped with special simulators developed by automakers such as Ford, Chevrolet or Toyota, will spend even more time behind the virtual wheel.
The biggest NASCAR teams can offer multi-million dollar equipment, the result of years of research and development paid for by some of the world’s biggest car manufacturers. And while there’s no doubt about the incredible accuracy and sophistication of these simulators, at their core they offer the same experience you’ll find in tens of thousands of dollars worth of rigs in various driver’s homes and entry-levels. Wheel and pedal kits for $300 can be purchased at any electronics store.
And it’s a through line, from video game to prime time, you won’t find it anywhere else in sports.
“I think coming from sims and becoming a real world racer is pretty cool to say that I built my first computer at 12, and that was the first computer I started doing sims on. And from racing on my computer. “I raced the Daytona 500 just a few years later,” Alfredo said. “It’s pretty crazy because you haven’t heard of anyone playing Madden and then becoming a quarterback for a Super Bowl team.”