I Tried iRacing For The First Time On A Controller. It Was Bad.

By the end of practice, I had clocked a single lap around Watkins Glen.

We may earn a commission from links on this page.
Image for article titled I Tried iRacing For The First Time On A Controller. It Was Bad.
Photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

Last night, I did something truly awful. I tried iRacing on a laptop and controller. I won’t say that it was the worst experience of my life, but I will say that after an hour of practice, I had managed to clock a single lap around the Watkins Glen International short course.

At its head, iRacing is a racing simulation and not a game. Yes, you can throw together a sim racing rig for pretty cheap (my husband started racing on a wheel and pedals from the late 2000s attached to a nightstand), but it’s kind of like real racing: If you can afford better equipment, you’ll be rewarded with a rig that can better translate the in-game dynamics to you, the racer. But just like real racing, you also need to have some smidge of talent for all that fancy equipment to be worth it.

What it is not designed to do is to be played on a controller.

My husband has been urging me to start iRacing for ages now, and while it does seem like it could be a Fun And Good Time, I’m normally too damn busy to even consider sitting down and learning the ropes. I’ve clocked a few laps in the sim before, but I usually never hang out on it for long — mostly because I’m usually free to give it a shot at eight in the evening, when I’d much rather be going to bed.

Advertisement

Nevertheless, my man decided that last night was the night. He told all of our friends that I’d be joining the VARC fun run at Watkins Glen, and so I had to commit. There was just one problem: We don’t have a wheel.

With iRacing, you need a wheel. The game is not designed to register nuanced controller inputs, so while you can technically use a controller, it’s miserable. You move the joystick a mere fraction of a millimeter to turn, and the game registers it as a full 90-degree crank, albeit one that lasts so briefly you can kind of use it to make a gentle turn. I used the brakes a handful of times in practice and exactly once during the race because there was no “gentle braking to transfer the weight of the car for a better turn.” No. It was the equivalent of slamming on the brakes, which almost immediately resulted in a crash.

Advertisement

Did it help that I was driving a Nissan GTP ZX-T? Probably not. But in a fun run consisting of prototypes, NASCAR machines, and GT cars, I rolled the dice and selected one of the speediest vehicles I could find. Because of course I did.

The results were about as awful as you’d expect.

Image for article titled I Tried iRacing For The First Time On A Controller. It Was Bad.
Screenshot: iRacing
Advertisement
Image for article titled I Tried iRacing For The First Time On A Controller. It Was Bad.
Screenshot: iRacing

In a race where the fastest lap was 0:57.724 and the average lap was 1:04.553, my best was 1:32.310. In an 84 lap race, I completed a meager 36 laps. The only reason I didn’t finish dead last is because everyone else either disconnected or had connectivity issues that kept them in the pits. I stopped looking at my damage after it hit 50x, and there were still several minutes left to go. I did not even attempt any starts or restarts on the track and instead waited it out in the pits.

Advertisement

But there were some small victories here. I didn’t receive a black flag for being an absolute menace on track. I did not crash into the leader and mostly got out of everyone’s way when they rolled up behind me. A majority of the multi-car accidents I was in were not my fault. As far as I know, I did not piss off my friends. So I’d call that “mission accomplished” as far as the ol’ controller experiment went.

Do I have any interest in doing it again? No. I do not — at least not in any races that matter. Unfortunately for me, though, my brief foray into the world of iRacing was an overwhelmingly enjoyable one, which means buying the Blackstock family a wheel and pedals has moved up on my priority list. That purchase still ranks somewhere below “paying my mortgage” and “buying my cat things” and “trying to save up for some damn gutters,” but it’s there nonetheless.