Everyone has to decide if it's only a game or if it's a real sport.
May 7, 2020 11:11 AM   Subscribe

Indycar's Virtual Race Crashes Sparked Real-World Controversy Among Drivers [Vice Gaming] “With about three laps to go in the First Responders 175, the final race of the virtual, quarantine-inspired sim racing series featuring pro Indycar drivers, it was shaping up to be a classic finale at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. F1 driver Lando Norris was in a battle for the lead with Oliver Askew, Patricio O’Ward, and Marcus Ericsson, and caution was going out the window as the drivers went three-cars wide through corners, completely filling the width of the track with no margin for error. [...] Then, as the lead pack of cars whipped through a corner onto a straight, Norris’s car piled into the back of the slow-moving, highlighter-yellow car of 2019 Indy 500 winner Simon Pagenaud. [...] Pagenaud’s deliberate wrecking is an annoying troll within the context of a video game, but it’s a betrayal of the highest order in the context of real-world, professional racing. An inherent tension in F1 and Indy racing is that drivers are in ruthless competition at the same time that they are all trying to prevent crashes that can easily turn deadly. Now that these same drivers are competing in a space where the deadly physical consequences are no longer an issue, the sport is changing fast, and in ways that can carry over to real-world tracks when drivers are able to race on them again.” [Explainer][Simon Pagenaud Full Incident][Santino Ferrucci Crash with Oliver Askew]
posted by Fizz (40 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
Rob Zacny (author of the linked article) also talked about this extensively on the Waypoint Radio podcast. Wild, wild stuff.
posted by rodlymight at 11:41 AM on May 7 [5 favorites]


Thanks for linking to that Rodly, I'm listening right now and it is really fascinating to hear how this all plays out.

For those unaware, iRAcing is a serious racing simulation platform and while it's less than real life racing, it's more than just a video game, it is a simulation platform where professionals who take this sport seriously can practice and race. People have complicated rigs set up with paddles and steering wheels and it's not just a toy.

All that being said, I can see why some of these professionals are going to do things they wouldn't normally do in a real life race. Because they can, because it's fun, because they just want to cause some grief. They do need to decide how seriously they want to run these races/tournaments/simulations. And they need to spell that out in a more obvious way. If there are professional commentators and sponsors involved, then these racers need to understand that their actions will have consequences (just like in "real life").

I think right now it's in this fuzzy space and it leads to these kinds of grey areas.
posted by Fizz at 11:48 AM on May 7 [9 favorites]


Paging Brockles.
posted by postel's law at 11:56 AM on May 7 [5 favorites]


Kind of a moot point now, though. That was the last race in the iRacing Indycar schedule.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:58 AM on May 7 [1 favorite]


Why am I reminded of reading Head On by John Scalzi?
posted by jenfullmoon at 12:12 PM on May 7 [2 favorites]


Everything about this was predictable, and the fact that they didn't have procedures and rules in place regarding this kind of behavior is just an indication of how incompetent the executives are who managed the season.
posted by tclark at 12:18 PM on May 7 [2 favorites]


I kind of love it, but it still feels like a failure of imagination. Embrace the medium! Like, I don’t want to know what professional race car drivers are doing in a pitch-perfect simulation of whatever they were racing in before, I want to see them playing Mario Kart or Rocket League.
posted by mhoye at 12:25 PM on May 7 [14 favorites]


For those unaware, iRAcing is a serious racing simulation platform and while it's less than real life racing, it's more than just a video game, it is a simulation platform where professionals who take this sport seriously can practice and race. People have complicated rigs set up with paddles and steering wheels and it's not just a toy.

More than a video game, but it's so far from actual top tier racing that's not that shocking that some pros fuck around and don't treat it seriously.

Also, even actual IndyCar is so far away from actual F1 that the "justly or not" comment means the author just heard about real racing moments before he/she started writing the article. The whole "will this behavior transfer to real racing????" framing is kinda stupid. Even doing that kinda shit accidentally would receive such harsh penalties that the team would be better off just getting a different driver.
posted by sideshow at 12:38 PM on May 7 [6 favorites]


Being somewhat involved in the "Crapcan racing" scene, I've been spectating the virtual racing in the 24 Hours of LeMons series -who copped the brilliant domain isuckatracing.com. The racers have been mostly civil to each other, with some more multi-car incidents than in meatspace, but that also may be due to very LeMons-y reasons like Guitar Hero vehicle controls.

I've been pleasantly surprised to see a distinct lack of griefing and demo-derby driving during the races themselves. After the race is complete, and results are appearing on screen though, it's a glorious safety-free free-for-all of wreckage while the racers find new and interesting ways to launch their cars at, and off of each other.
posted by onehalfjunco at 12:41 PM on May 7 [6 favorites]


I'm curious how many of these guys have angled multi-monitor setups or are using VR headsets.

In driving games, I often have to drive in the 3rd person view because I just don't have the situational awareness of what's to my left or right otherwise.

The crashes this post is about were clearly on purpose, but a lot of the other racing incidents I've seen (Vettel joined a race last-minute this past weekend!!!) look like they're more about not quite knowing there's someone on your inside line while taking a corner.
posted by thecjm at 1:20 PM on May 7 [1 favorite]


Rob Zacny is a gaming journalist, but also enough of a racing fan to host an F1 podcast that's 100+ episodes in at this point. I sincerely doubt he "just heard about real racing moments before he/she started writing the article."
posted by thecjm at 1:24 PM on May 7 [15 favorites]


The whole "will this behavior transfer to real racing????" framing is kinda stupid. Even doing that kinda shit accidentally would receive such harsh penalties that the team would be better off just getting a different driver.

"There was a time when Santino Ferrucci was “America’s next Formula One star.” But racing’s new star-spangled golden boy fell from grace in a single weekend: after intentionally crashing into his own teammate, allegedly making racial slurs and then being caught texting in the cockpit at the same time people found out he applied to run a “Make America Great Again” decal on his race car, Ferrucci was cut by his team and fined $575,000 in damages. You’d have been forgiven for thinking that Ferrucci’s career was over. That was before an IndyCar team, Dale Coyne Racing, signed Ferrucci in the thick of the scandal. What started as a two-race deal at the end of 2018 turned into full-season ride for 2019, and now an Indy 500 Rookie of the Year title."

"Ferrucci was suspended from Formula 2 for two rounds in July of 2018 due to being “in breach of multiple regulations throughout [a] race,” including deliberately driving into the rear of then-teammate Arjun Maini during a cool-down lap. Ferrucci was also found to have forced Maini off of the track during the race on purpose while Maini tried to pass for position, and in both cases, the penalty report said, Ferrucci did not attend hearings with the stewards... The penalty report said Ferrucci was also seen by a technical delegate “transitioning from the support paddock to the race pit lane wearing just one glove and holding a phone in his hand”—texting and driving, basically, except in a race car. ... The Haas F1 team kept him in its junior program at the time."
posted by ChuraChura at 1:33 PM on May 7 [15 favorites]


I've been watching the F1 Virtual GPs as well as sometimes checking in on F1 drivers Lando Norris and Charles Leclerc's Twitch streams. When they play for fun, they play for fun. They're in each others' ears, laughing and joking along. When it's the Virtual Grand Prix, they turn off that audio, they barely talk, they are just sitting there, concentrating on driving. Sometimes, they'll say something to the Twitch viewers, but a lot of it is about their strategy and how they think they are doing. It's serious business when it's a "proper race."

Actually, an amusing thing happened when Leclerc was hosting a fundraiser for the WHO: it was the first race of several and you had several F1 and F2 drivers, plus others, just having fun, doing what fans wanted, just a party. Then someone told them they were being broadcast live on Sky. They were 1) surprised and 2) suddenly aware that they needed to maybe tone it down and a bit and drive a bit more seriously, even if the whole event was for charity and for fun.

The short of it is: real pro drivers will treat a race like a "proper race" if it is being touted as one, i.e. broadcast on networks, is sponsored, and is treated as such by the event holders. So Pagenaud and Ferrucci can go kiss my behind.
posted by linux at 1:45 PM on May 7 [6 favorites]


fascinating. I spent a year or two MMO racing and damn is that fun. I had forgotten they were doing this and have been meaning to check it out.
posted by mwhybark at 1:56 PM on May 7


Ola. I wondered if this would come up. It's been a weird time for my industry with all this, and the Indycar and IMSA stuff that has been happening has taken a lot of shuffling and working out. Many pro ladder series (F2000, MX5 cup etc) have been transitioning to online racing while we all struggle to find things to do and stay relevant for sponsors and manufacturers while this complete shutdown of all aspects of our business has happened.

SO THEN.

It is mainly around how you police these races and how seriously you organise them. Some drivers will never take it seriously enough and they WILL do the taps/nudges and iffy overtakes that you'd not bother risking in real life because you just aren't going to be out of the race or injured or get a ration of shit from your sponsor/team owner or be ostracised by your crew for damaging the car. There is very little cost to it, so it's hard to take it as seriously. This can be addressed by making these events more formal, but at the same time you also make them more clinical and less fun if you do that, which makes them less fun to watch for spectators. One of the great aspects of this has been allowing people from outside the main series drive with the big names - Indycar had F1 drivers and some lower series drivers in there, and IMSA had many drivers from lower down the formulae that were given a shot based on pedigree. It keeps their names at the front of the people's minds who are doing this.

I have had long discussions with a friend of mine who I have worked with that is racing in the IMSA series - it is getting his name in front of people and that's important, as the relative obscurity of the support races (where he currently is) is a much smaller window of visibility. You can't have people forgetting you or your reputation, so anything you can do to be out there is important. Also, it allows you to compete with (more) similar equipment to the big names (although manufacturers are REALLY taking this seriously, led by BMW in IMSA).

A side effect of all this is the personal relationships. Drivers who would never normally socialise (being stuck in their haulers on debriefs or off on sponsor duty when at the track) are making friendships with other drivers, looking through what they have done and going "Shit, this dude is fast", then they work together in iracing, perhaps, and when the weird racing coincidences happen - like a driver gets sick in a headlining event - having someone you know and trust in the paddock in a support race (and so licensed and has all their gear) may just mean a sudden call up. This happens. It's why a lot of drivers turn up at races with all their gear in the car, with nothing/little in the way of sponsors but stick their head into every trailer on set up day to say hi to the team manager or their friends on the team/engineers or mechanics they have worked with and make sure people know they are around and ready.

You never know. I know of 4 people that have got last minute drives in big races from similar things in the last few years. From nothing. They were there, the signed driver had visa issues or sudden illness, or their check bounced or some other bullshit and the team are all "What's out best bet in the paddock right now". It's rare, but you want to be the first one they call. This massively helps that networking aspect.

As for the racing itself, it is kind of a leveller but not in a good way always. Some drivers are limited by their sim set ups and how the fedback is translated to the drivers is CRUCIAL. Some drivers can't drive with seat/chassis movement, some can. Different wheels and pedals (pedals are far more of a factor than you realise) give differnt styles of feedback and NONE of it is the same. It never will be because of the extra stuff that is missing - body pitch, g forces, the way your head moves all that stuff - and how a driver feels the car is different for all of them. When you start missing out some aspects the drivers that rely more heavily on (say) g forces to feel the tyres will be lost. Those that feel it more in the wheel struggle less. Unless their wheel is shit, or badly set up. It's a minefield.

So it has very good drivers looking bad, some good drivers looking the same, some bad drivers looking better, some middle or bad drivers looking AWFUL so it is very confusing. Plus it is massively frustrating for drivers that are very good (like Pagenaud) who also may be a bit of an egotistical tosser (see above plus Ferruci WITH BELLS ON, what a nob) when they are unable to translate their skill as well as they can with a real car. So it is hard to give the same focus if some of the focus and skill bleeds away from lack of the machines ability to allow you to use it.
posted by Brockles at 2:07 PM on May 7 [24 favorites]


I'm curious how many of these guys have angled multi-monitor setups or are using VR headsets.

It's a mix. It all depends on whether you get on with VR or not - motion sickness is weird with it. I'd say maybe 60% use screens. Some flat, some a bank, some curved. A lot of guys are finding sponsors are rapidly shipping shit hot simulators and ancillary upgrades to their house QUICK SMART so their guy can compete. With upgrades comes a lot of learning and I know BMW had all their factory drivers working with the leading sim racing team before these events working on their sim set ups (as in the physical side) and also the car set ups to translate the real world feedback into how to make the simulated car handle how they wanted. There is a lot of money being thrown at this right now.
posted by Brockles at 2:10 PM on May 7 [6 favorites]


The whole "will this behavior transfer to real racing????" framing is kinda stupid.

Totally. Clueless journalism and no concept of understanding of the sport itself.
posted by Brockles at 2:11 PM on May 7


This is the best analysis of the ferucci incident that all my driver mates are sharing, by the way:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FbO9UGtq6AM
posted by Brockles at 2:14 PM on May 7 [6 favorites]


I'd be lying if I said I wasn't loving this whole weird Covid-19 inspired motorsport tangent. In fact, I've been watching one race or another pretty much daily for at least the past month. It helps, of course, that no other sport so immediately lends itself to being a relevant online experience (ie: the same sort of hand-eye coordination is going to serve both online and in the real world).

A couple of highlights:

A. I like how the Australian V8 Supercars series has taken it on, seeming to have found the right mix of "taking it seriously" and having fun with it. In terms of taking it seriously, they've got their regular driving standards team keeping an eye on things, giving penalties etc, so it's been clear from the get-go that intentionally mucking around just isn't going to be tolerated. The most recent race I saw had them at Belgium's Spa/Francorchamps circuit, considered by many to be the best track in the world, and man, what a great race!, right down to the final few inches. The first one anyway. There are two more Spa races that I haven't gotten around to watching yet.

B. The Race All-Star Series is also proving a lot of fun. Link here is to the first race of their second season which is so far better than the first season (which wrapped up a week or so ago) as they've fine turned their format somewhat. Basically, what you get in each event are three separate events, one for current pro racers, one for "Legends" (mostly retired stars, but Sebastien Vettel showed up for the last one so it's obviously not hard and fast), the third for online only racers who, to no great surprise, are the best. For my money (not that it's cost me anything) it's proven the most consistent package of all, low on hype (advertising etc) high on lots of race action. It helps having Jolyon Palmer doing some of the commentating.

Good times. And for the record, I'm pretty sure I'm sold on this stuff. However the old world of big deal motorsport reconciles the challenges of Covid-19, I suspect I'll keep on following some of the online options. Very much my speed.
posted by philip-random at 3:56 PM on May 7 [3 favorites]


Has anyone abused the physics engine to win by rocket jumping yet?
posted by kaibutsu at 4:17 PM on May 7 [4 favorites]


Clearly the solution is to adopt the sci-fi dystopia trope "if you die in the sim, you die in real life."
posted by Skwirl at 5:34 PM on May 7 [4 favorites]


It ain’t racin’ if you ain’t rubbin’.

Seriously, it’s a video game and no one died, or was even injured, except some injured pride and bent feelings. Maaaaaybe some carpal tunnel.

It’s like every other e-sport - they’re getting paid to sit on their butts and play a video game. It’s not even close to the real thing and just as useful.
posted by drivingmenuts at 6:15 PM on May 7


Clearly the solution is to adopt the sci-fi dystopia trope "if you die in the sim, you die in real life."

How about adding modeled injuries to the game. Like, 'your character punctured a lung and broke his leg--spend 3 months in hospital' and then you can't play for that long.
posted by sexyrobot at 7:28 PM on May 7 [3 favorites]


I just watched Grand Prix the other day. How do I become a race car guy? I want to wear snazzy Italian racing jackets and have wreaths thrown over my head.
posted by gucci mane at 7:57 PM on May 7 [1 favorite]


Simon Pagenaud has an adorable dog, Norman. Norman's face is engraved on Simon's Borg Warner trophy. (We watch a lot of Indycar and F1 around here and went to the Indy 500 last year :)
posted by Red Desk at 8:06 PM on May 7


Since there's no real 'aero' or 'weight' in a sim, just the perameters set in the config files, I'm kinda disappointed we haven't seen the e-series Supercar races go completely retro and apply different meshes and skins to the cars, pitting A9Xes and Group C VKs against Pacers, E49s, XC Cobras and Phase IIIs. Hell, throw in Phil Donahue's super-cheaty 68-69 SCCA Camaro and go full-on Supercar Masters with the thing.
posted by MarchHare at 3:23 AM on May 8 [1 favorite]


I'd be fun if this sort of racing takes off (even if separate from IRL racing) to see cars with banned technology developed like Fan Cars.
posted by Mitheral at 3:44 AM on May 8 [1 favorite]


> Phil Donahue's super-cheaty 68-69 SCCA Camaro

Mark Donahue?
posted by mikelieman at 4:21 AM on May 8 [1 favorite]


> Phil Donahue's super-cheaty 68-69 SCCA Camaro
>Mark Donahue?


Caller? Are you there?
posted by kuanes at 4:47 AM on May 8 [2 favorites]


Yes - a paricularly embarrassing typo considering I could have turned around and seen a copy of 'The Unfair Advantage' on the shelf!
posted by MarchHare at 6:50 AM on May 8 [2 favorites]


I actually dusted off an old Logitech wheel at the bottom of my closet and signed up for iRacing a few weeks ago. I bought the wheel back in 2013 or so, when some friends were getting heavily into various sim racing things, but bounced off it at the time because the particular type of practice you need to get good at road racing wasn't clicking for me at the time. Remembering it seven years later, it seemed like 'intense focus on a very specific set of skills that I'm not yet very good at' would be a good way to keep my mind from anxiety-spiraling over the everything. So far I am fairly pants at the Global MX-5 Cup courses in the MX-5. A French friend who is really into racing (he rebuilt an old sports car with his family in real life, a few years ago) offered to give me some feedback on my laps, so now I know that I have to blip the engine when I downshift (the last stick I drove in real life was a crappy VW New Beetle, and.. it .. wasn't sporty) and that I should rely more on weight shift from power/brake and less on steering corrections.

I'm sure it has nothing to do with reality -- I also fly virtual sailplanes in Condor and it's not a thing like real soaring, but both are a damn sight cheaper and less likely to get me en-virus-ed at the moment -- but it's an interesting kind of practice.
posted by Alterscape at 2:42 PM on May 8 [4 favorites]


I'm sure it has nothing to do with reality

Incorrect. It is actually astonishingly close considering how cheap and accessible it is. The physics and techniques required to drive fast and efficiently are pretty damn good, actually. It is already at the stage I can do (serious amateur or starting-out pro-in-waiting) driver coaching. At the first few levels of race car driving it is a great tool for learning and pros at all levels use it to keep muscle memory and rhythm sharp and to learn or refresh themselves on new tracks.

The limitation is mainly in the interface, and while your logitech was likely the standard in 2011, it is super behind right now. Fanatec is where it is at.
posted by Brockles at 4:27 PM on May 8 [7 favorites]


Last month a driver taking part in NASCAR's iRacing league lost his sponsorship for ragequitting in the middle of a race after being knocked around by another driver he felt wasn't taking the game seriously. (This is a different driver than the one who uttered a racial slur on mic during a race.)

There's a weird tension between the unreality of the iRacing league and the sport it's intended to replace, if temporarily. It's arguably less interesting if everyone follows video game logic when it comes to what is a safe maneuver or not; at that point, what really separates these pro iRacing leagues from any random Forza or Gran Turismo bumper cars race? You have people taking shitty racing lines and divebombing turns because there are no consequences, and while games like Forza Horizon 4 have implemented measures to prevent shitty drivers from affecting other drivers in a race by ghosting them out, it's still not anywhere near what people would expect from even low-level professional racing.

Like, I don’t want to know what professional race car drivers are doing in a pitch-perfect simulation of whatever they were racing in before, I want to see them playing Mario Kart or Rocket League.

I think there'd be value in fun competitions like this as well, though. Last week there was a Mario Tennis Aces competition for charity that involved pro tennis players like Serena and Venus Williams and Maria Sharapova alongside random celebrities like Seal (who was really into it!).
posted by chrominance at 7:24 PM on May 8 [1 favorite]


I kind of love it, but it still feels like a failure of imagination. Embrace the medium! Like, I don’t want to know what professional race car drivers are doing in a pitch-perfect simulation of whatever they were racing in before, I want to see them playing Mario Kart or Rocket League.

Or... perhaps... instead of virtual F1, we could get some more F-Zero. I may have up and buy Redout to get something equivalent.
posted by pwnguin at 8:10 PM on May 8


Hah, thanks, Brockles! I dunno, an old boss of mine used to run cars at Laguna Seca with SCCA, and he always complained about the lack of your "butt-dyno" in sims, but you addressed the different types of feedback people respond to in your prior comment, so!

I've definitely been eyeing Fanatec direct-drive gear, but given that I might get laid off at any moment, $2k in sold-out-at-the-moment-because-everyone-had-that-idea Fanatec gear is probably not the wisest choice. Besides, if I'm going to spend $2k on sim gear, it'll be a force feedback helicopter cyclic first.
posted by Alterscape at 8:59 PM on May 8


I've heard drivers say that some drivers are more visual than visceral, and vice-versa. The visceral drivers are at a disadvantage in sim. (I'd guess it's more that some drivers are more adaptable in the absence of the visceral input than others.)

All that being said, I can see why some of these professionals are going to do things they wouldn't normally do in a real life race. Because they can, because it's fun, because they just want to cause some grief.

As a lifelong racing fan, I find this perspective as upsetting as I do the all-too-common argument that the appeal of racing is crashes.

The rules of the sport are the rules of the sport. If what is chiefly limiting what a driver is willing to do is simply their own physical risk, then they're not being sporting, they're doing something else. To my mind, bad behavior in a sim race implies a driver would be willing to cheat or otherwise break rules in a real race if they didn't think they'd be caught.

(Most) other sports don't rely upon physical danger to enforce the rules of the game. It's absurd and an insult to the sport of auto racing to think that it's any different.

That doesn't mean that there would be anything wrong with having these drivers compete in racing games with different rules that aren't simulations of their real-life races.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:25 PM on May 8


To my mind, bad behavior in a sim race implies a driver would be willing to cheat or otherwise break rules in a real race if they didn't think they'd be caught.

Er. That would be almost all of them. And all teams and manufacturers. It's naive to think otherwise.
posted by Brockles at 8:31 AM on May 9 [2 favorites]


So do these computer racing league sims have the equivalent of aim bots? Are measures currently being taken to prevent cheating? Or is it presently on the honour system?
posted by Mitheral at 11:16 AM on May 9


You can set parameters on the race itself that is controlled by the person hosting the event. At present, it doesn't look like anyone has a means to get around that. There are no Ai drivers that are even close to real ones so there is no issue there. iRacing in particular is very closed off - things that are open source like RFactor are more easily tweakable but the walled garden approach of iracing makes it much harder to cheat. Cars and track models are validated against the server copy when you sign in so changes would be noted and you'd get booted out.
posted by Brockles at 11:36 AM on May 9


Or... perhaps... instead of virtual F1, we could get some more F-Zero. I may have up and buy Redout to get something equivalent.

See if you can get a PSVR, because wipeout omega is the game you want to be playing. It’s like playing mario kart...on a roller coaster...in the future. (Srsly, the first time I was all like, well this is bad-ass. And holy shit 200 story drop! Screaming! My next door neighbor knocked to see if I was ok. Very embarrassing.) It might be on VR for pc... It’s plenty rad in non-vr as well.
posted by sexyrobot at 5:34 PM on May 11


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