With virtual motorsports simulators like iRacing, all it takes is logging onto a computer and suddenly be transported to a race track across the world in a race car you’ll probably never get to touch in real life. The virtual driving experience is so realistic, though, you’ll feel like you have. Here’s how iRacing does it.
iRacing is a video game, but not in the usual sense. Video games are usually just games, and in the case of sports, the only things that truly resemble real-world gameplay are the images on the screen—basketball and football players don’t move using a joystick, after all. But that’s not the case with iRacing, which even professional drivers use to train.
Jalopnik visited the iRacing headquarters in Boston in April, and the designers and race engineers behind the game walked us through just what it takes to put the look and feel of real race cars and tracks right into a computer.
It’s all done in a long, complicated process from scanning every inch of a race track or car with a machine often used to scan crime scenes and recreating that track or car with image software and coding. Then there’s creating the handling and feedback from those tracks and cars, which is an entire process on its own.
The result of that process is so realistic that current Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver William Byron, who’s in Jeff Gordon’s old car, learned how to drive on iRacing from age 13 until he got in a real car at 15. At 20, he’s in NASCAR’s top level and has won the championship in its second-tier series.
Not just professional drivers use iRacing, since it’s as easy as getting on your own computer and buying a $200 set of a wheel, pedals and a shifter and paying a monthly subscription fee for the service. In any given moment at home, I’m about 20 or 30 steps away from hopping into a race car on Germany’s famous 12.9-mile Nürburgring Nordschleife—virtually, of course.
It’s almost surreal to drive on a race track that’s on the other side of the world, feeling every bump, groove and piece of dust that iRacing could find on the circuit itself. (We at Jalopnik hear the track is pretty accurate, too.) It’s even more surreal to see how it’s created.
The folks at iRacing showed us the steps in that process in words simple enough for even us to understand, and it was a fascinating look at how much it takes to create an accurate virtual representation of the real world. And, as you can see in the video above, it isn’t exactly easy.