What is iRating
If you're familiar with what iRating is and how it works perhaps skip down to the next paragraph. iRating is the points system used by iRacing to determine your racing ability. It's a zero sum game, much like the ELO system in Chess. That means that for someone to gain iRating someone must lose iRating. iRating only really matters if (a) you're the type of person who cares about statistics, or (b) you're trying to maximise your championship points. Every race in iRacing awards championship points. The stronger the Strength of Field (SOF: the average of all driver iRating in a race) the greater the points awarded. A race "splits" into multiple races when more people are registered for a race than there are slots on the grid. If a race grid has 10 slots and 12 people register then the race "splits" in 2 and there are two races of 6 people in each. The race is split by iRating, with the top 6 iRating drivers in one race and the others in the other race. The top split has the highest SOF and awards the most point. That split will also have the cleaner faster drivers in it. You want to be in that split. This is the single best reason to try and improve your iRating. The racing really is better and more fun in a higher splits.
When I started
When I started iRacing back in January 2011 I thought I was a pretty good driver. I had played offline racing games many years ago (Microprose Grand Prix 1 through 4) and could beat the AI on 100% difficulty. I understood about car setup. I was and am a big motorsport fan in real life. Was I ever wrong. My pace was never terrible but my racecraft was sadly lacking and often I'd overdrive the car and crash out. Those first few races says it all: 9 races, 14.11 incidents per race.
iRating going nowhere
Over the years I used a number of resources to try and improve my speed and increase my iRating. I read books on racecraft, I watched videos, I used iSpeed and Motec and Atlas (telemetry). I managed to increase my iRating up to 2000 in early 2012 (I didn't do a lot of iRacing in 2011, focussing on Codemasters F1 games). It didn't seem to make a whole lot of difference to my iRating. I got my iRating up to 2700 a few times, but then it'd ineviatablty be knocked back down again by a run of bad luck, where people would crash into me. I tried to look at what was happening as objectively as possibly. "What's the common denominator?". The answer to that is "Me". As bad as that made me feel, the only reality is that I was involved in all the things that were happening to me, even if I felt that they were all me getting rear-ended or people dive bombing into me.
I think part of this was problem was my attempts to drive the theortical fastest line all the time, thinking "If I'm faster, then surely they can't get by me". Driving the fastest line often means you're swinging in from the edge of the track at turn in, to the apex, and then back out to the other edge at track out. When doing this the door is left wide open for a following car to make an attempt at passing. In retrospect I think I was unintentionally inviting people to make a pass and possibly they thought I was letting them through and then I would swing in and close the door and we'd make contact. Sometimes you have to sacrifice lap speed to protected your track position.
Tired of "getting taken out" most races I left iRacing for a while.
Making a change
In the middle of last year I returned to iRacing. A couple of years of racing in a private league on another sim platform had yielded pretty much the same results as I had with iRacing. Lots of 2nd places, some wins, but lots of accidents.
Probably mid to late 2012 I asked my friend how he has an iRating of 4500 and I an iRating of 2500 when we're often fighting each other on the track - about the same speed. Clearly pace isn't everything. He said "I try and finish every single race. If someone comes up to me and they look like they want to get past, I let them through". My mind boggled. But doesn't that go against everything a racing driver stands for?
"If you no longer go for a gap which exists you are no longer a racing driver"
Over the years, this is the most quoted line by a sim racer. They use it as justification for trying to make passes that aren't really on. It was first spoken by the great Formula 1 driver, Ayrton Senna, who later admitted it was false. He admitted this quote isn't true and it isn't the best way for a racing driver to think. I think this is Senna's single worst contribution to racing and I wish wannabe kamikaze pilots would stop using it.
On my return season, 2017 Season 3, a couple of things changed. Firstly I got an Oculus Rift CV1, and secondly I decided to adopt my friends approach and to let aggressive drivers through. I think I did about 10 races in the first week and added 500 iRating to my starting 2000 iRating. I had completely no incidents involving other drivers and made it to the end of each and every race. Week 2 and I adopted the same approach, putting on another 200 iRating (less races). Then came Week 3 at Daytona Roval. I found myself with a good turn of speed here and started from pole for my first race. I think I won that race too. Finally it looked like I would smash that 2700 limit I was at. But it all went wrong. At this track it is possible to gain multiple seconds per lap by running on the apron. Running on the apron doesn't result in an in game penalty, however, the F.I.R.S.T. rules (think FIA for iRacing) state that it is punishable offence (1 week race suspension on first offence according to Nim, iRacing's chief steward). There were people doing this in a few of my races and that incensed me. Particularly when it there were at least 2 cases where I lost pole and didn't win the race because of it. Appeals cant' change race results either. I think I let that get the better of me in those races and both cases (the only times I crashed of my own accord) I lost it at turn 1, distracted being angry. I had 2 more race wins that week, gaining 300 iRating from those wins and other finished, but crashing twice and being taken out a few times (twice by the same driver) cost me 1000 iRating and by the end of week three I was down to 2000 again.
I think by week 3 I bought into my own success a bit too much again and was focussed to heavily on maximising my points haul rather than letting dangerous drivers go past. It's a hard thing to do, to not push 100% when you can. I think if I stuck to my week 1 strategy I'd have broken through 3000 iRating at this race.
I had to put that behind me and try and not get frustrated. Toward the end of the season I managed to break through 2700 and get up to 2900 iRating.
Snertton was the final race of the season and I started the week with some good results. It seemed I had stronger pace than at other tracks when compared with my rivals. Perhaps because it was the first time we raced here for everyone, including me. One thing I remember noting is how I started riding using the brake while accelarating more like you do in gokarts. It made the car settle more and I think made it faster.
When season 2018.1 started at Interlagos I found myself immediately on the pace of the very front runners and started getting poles and wins. I finished that week with 5 wins (should have been 9 by my reckoning, but for being taken out). I was starting most races from either pole or the front row in the top split. Guys I raced with regularly were saying to me "You're getting faster every week". Week 2 and I was on pole for my first 4 races (of 6) that week. Unfortuantely this week was Lime Rock Park, which is extremely dangerous both because it's a track with walls all around in close promixity and because it's a free track, so every bad driver is stepping up and having a go. The grids were full of names I didn't know, all trying to setup up from rookies or the Skip Barber. I lost iRating that week and ended up 2710. That was actually OK given I was taken out and finished last in a low SOF race, my last at that track.
Week 3 and the Pro Mazda returned to the mighty Suzuka circuit. I really love this track and last season it was here I had a run of 6 races with 0 incidents! This time the race length was extended by a few laps, and that introduced the need for pitstops. Oh I love pitstops. The extra strategy involved is so cool. Unfortunatley I blew my first attempt when I missed my pit limitter and instead hit my engine cutoff. In the panic I lost a couple of seconds and then fired it up again, only to roar toward my pit and get a 15s penalty of speeding in the pit lane! That ruined my race.
With familiar names around me once again I could run my prefered race and I was happy to let people past if they were a bit faster. Others were doing the same for me too. A pattern had emerged that started in Interlagos. Drivers were happy to let me past and happy to sit behind me. They say as much over voice as they moved over or followed. I did get taken out a few times by fast newcomers but they too got onboard after others told them they way they drove isn't suitable for success in Pro Mazda (i.e. bumping). By my 6th race at Suzuka I had increased my iRating over 3000 (3060) and scored my two biggest ever points hauls (164 and 146), as well as had 30% win rate for the week.
After all that recounting, what are the main points I think suddenly (in the space of 6 months) improved my luck?
- Virtual Reality. It is brilliant. It may not make me faster but it certainly makes me more aware of what is poing on around me.
- Be patient and move over for aggressive and significantly faster drivers. The aggressive drivers will almost always fly off the track or make a mistake later on. I see it time and time again.
- Maximising your race result is about consistent lap times. Driving 5-10% slower than your single lap pace but staying on track and making no mistakes all race will result in a much faster race time than driving at your 100% and coming off a couple of times.
- Do lots of races each week. I used to race 1 or 2 times a week. I'd practice probably 8-10 hours a week and then go racing. That doesn't work because if you get taken out once you can lose 100 iRating and a "good" race result will only give up to +30 iRating. One bad race will take weeks of recovery. Also, there is no replacement for seat time in a race.