iRacing

Mon Dieu – Le Mans really is the greatest racing event in the world!

Originally published in SimRacer Magazine (Volume 1, Issue 7)

Monday, June 1, 2015, 11:00 – Executive VP Steve Myers calls me down to his office for an unscheduled meeting.  I walk down the hall to see what is so urgent and arrive to find VP of Art & Production Greg Hill and Associate Producer Kevin Iannarelli already discussing something. Steve is not one to start a meeting with friendly chit-chat so he gets right to the point – We came to an agreement with Le Mans and we need to laser scan and photo reference next week. Are you available to go to France this weekend? Of course the only sensible response is oui! It’s days like this that I really like my job 🙂

Greg spends the next couple of days making travel arrangements – no small feat to find hotel rooms for six people one week out from the biggest endurance race in the world! The rest of my week was a whirlwind as I attempted to wrap up several projects and plan for the trip.  I experienced a minor scare on Friday when I couldn’t find my passport – luckily my wife knew where it was!

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Sunday, June 7, 2015 – Off to the airport. Since direct flights from Boston to Paris were unreasonably priced on short notice we opted for the scenic route through Iceland. It turned out to be quit enjoyable and I plan to make a longer stop on the volcanic island nation the next time I head across the pond. Sunday turned into Monday and next thing you know we were sitting in traffic on the peripherique around Paris. Several hours — and a couple of coffees  – later, we were in the central square of the village of Le Mans to meet our track contact and pick up our credentials. Public scrutineering was in full force and it was great to see so many cars and fans already taking in the event. Full media access and two passes to drive our cars on the circuit. You can’t get better access than that!

Once credentials had been sorted we headed to the circuit. Since we couldn’t get on the track surface until Wednesday we immediately began photographing trackside objects. We split up into several teams and began wearing out our cameras.

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Tuesday, June 9, 2015 – After a really long day, about 36 hours without sleep, we were feeling a little fresher having slept in to about 7:30. Today’s assignments were similar to Monday’s as we still couldn’t get on the track surface. Photographing the trees, homes and business along Mulsanne straight was fun, even when we were be watched by curious homeowners and sometimes yelled at. We weren’t doing anything nefarious but if you look at it from the homeowner’s perspective it is a bit weird to have half a dozen Americans shooting photos of your house and property. No police were called, no one was arrested and most importantly no one was hurt in the making of this virtual track. We did nearly lose one of our photographers when he inadvertently stepped in a post-hole that was dug for the temporary armco and left uncovered. Luckily he was uninjured; more importantly, his cameras were also undamaged.

I think the best way to get a real sense of just how long the Mulsanne straight is, is to walk it. I goes on forever!

Jack Davidson and I even managed to do a short interview with American racing driver Jordan Taylor. He happens to be an avid iRacer and races for Corvette Racing in the #64 car – yep, that’s right, the same car that won GTELM Pro class! So much for the iRacing curse. You can see some of his interview here.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015 – Having made very good progress on trackside objects the past two days – six photographers lets you cover a lot of ground – we planned to arrive early at the track to see if we could get on the racing surface before our allotted time of 12-2pm. Getting there early paid off as we were able to get on closer to 11 and stayed until after 3pm. Unfortunately this day also brought us some rain. Not a big deal for the photography but the laser scanner was not too happy. A good quality scan would have to wait until Thursday, which coincidentally, was the last time we would be allowed on the racing surface. No one said it, but I think we all went to bed with a final thought, prayer or wish for a clear day tomorrow. If we didn’t get the scan on Thursday it would literally have to wait an entire year.

Thursday, June 11, 2015 – The day began with checking out of our hotel as we need to move further away from the track since all of the rooms nearby Le Mans had already been booked for the race weekend. Once at the track we were able to get on the racing surface a little early again. Thankfully the weather was perfect and the laser scanner was able to capture the precise detail that you have grown accustomed too. Again, we divided into teams and were able to finish photographing everything we needed – the track surface, barriors, signs, light poles, fences, gravel traps, houses, corner worker stations, garages, grandstands, etc. If you can see it from the track, we have pictures of it! Once again we were yelled at, this time by some corner workers who didn’t understand or frankly really care why we were on THEIR track. The one police officer who did stop me seemed fine once I showed her my credential – got to love the all access pass!  We finished up in the evening and half of the crew headed back to Paris to catch a flight the next morning. The rest of us moved to our new hotel, about an hour from the track in the beautiful town of Chartres.

Friday, June 12, 2015 – We had planned to use Friday to finish up the trackside photography but since we were done with that and there wasn’t much on track activity we decided to head to Paris for the day and see some of the sites. It’s a beautiful city and a place everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime. I won’t bore you with the details of our walking tour but I will say it was great to be back in Paris. I lived in the city many, many years ago and this was my first time back. Felt a little like going home again.

Saturday, June 13, 2015 – Early alarm so we could get to the track and beat the traffic. I guess we should have left a couple of hours earlier if we wanted to get in before the crowds. Luckily our all access passes still worked and we were able to find a nice parking spot in the infield not far from the paddock. Today was our chance to see, experience and photograph the facility in a race setting:  the crowds, the carnival, the pits, corner workers, the shops and displays. Everything had really come alive and the circuit had a completely different feel now that several hundred thousand race fans had arrived.

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We watched the pre-race ceremonies and start of the race from a balcony near the media center – it’s a great place vantage point.  We could see the tens of thousands of spectators jammed on the front straight. I have been to countless races and never experienced anything like this. The Rolex 24 at Daytona, Sebring 12 hour, even the Indy 500 pales in comparison to the Le Mans experience.

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We shot more photographs throughout the afternoon and into the night. We’ll use these for reference so we can incorporate the atmosphere into our digital version of the circuit.  As you can imagine the track has a completely different look and feel once it is populated with race fans!

Having worked until literally the middle of the night and then driving an hour back to our hotel we were completely wiped out. We never did manage to make it back to the track Sunday as we needed to catch up on some sleep. We eventually hit the road and headed back to Paris for the night so we could catch an early flight back Boston.

It’s hard to put into words what it was like to be at Le Mans and to be a small part of the team that is bringing iRacers this great track. Everything came together so quickly and thanks in large part to Greg’s ability to plan, organize and keep us on track (see what I did there?) the trip was a huge success. We even managed to keep this all a secret. None of us posted anything on social media about being at the race. No one wore any iRacing gear – quite a change for a marketing guy like myself who lives and breathes our brand and almost always wears something with the iRacing logo emblazened on it. I actually had to go out and purchase a couple of new shirts before I left as literally 90% of my shirts say iRacing on them!

With more than 35,000 photos, a complete laser scan and even video reference of laps driven in the rental car we have everything we need to recreate this iconic track.

While the release of this track is still a long way off, I know that we’ll bring you the absolute best version possible. From the perfectly modeled track surface, to the subtle details on the houses lining the circuit – it will be unlike anything you have ever seen and it will be worth the wait, I promise.

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Who’s better – F1 drivers or Sprint Cup Drivers?

We are about to release the Williams FW31 at iRacing.com so I thought now would be a good time to revisit the age old question. . . . . Who’s better – F1 drivers or Sprint Cup Drivers?

Is Jimmie Johnson, the four time reigning champion in NASCAR’s highest level series, better than Lewis Hamilton, F1 star and past champion? What is more difficult, driving a 3,450 lbs brawny stock car shaped like a brick with a gigantic V8 under the hood or driving a sculpted 620 kg open wheel car with a 2.4liter V8 that revs to 18,000 rpm?

Jimmie Johnson at NHMS in September 2010.

Sure there have been publicity stunts where drivers from each series swapped cars for a couple of laps, but they never really had enough time to get up to speed with the new cars. And what about the F1 drivers that moved to NASCAR like Juan Pablo Montoya? He was fairly successful in F1 when he ran in a top performing car but he has yet to see the same level of success in NASCAR as of yet. He also won a few races on oval tracks in Indy cars so he definitely gets the whole turning left thing. Does this mean that it takes more skill to race in NASCAR compared to F1? If that is the case how come the less successful NASCAR drivers aren’t jumping ship joining F1, surely they could win there if they are as talented as NASCAR commentators make them out to be.

Let’s face it, winning at these levels is hard to do. You really are racing the best of the best (minus the back markers who seem to buy their way into the series). You need skill, equipment, luck, as well as a team that can back you up. In NASCAR, where the cars are so similar between the teams, JJ clearly has the edge on everyone right now. No doubt about his skill as a driver, Hendrick cars are fast, he somehow misses the ‘big one’ more often than not and he has one of the smartest crew chiefs and most reliable teams in NASCAR. On the other hand, Formula one puts more emphasis on the equipment since each team build their own car from the ground up. To win, drivers still need skill, luck and a solid team, but there is not much a driver can do if the car he is driving is inferior to the rest of the field.

Hamilton, Alonso and Button in Montreal June 2010

In F1, qualifying is crucial. It is very hard to pass due to current car regulations, although it is getting better, so drivers need to be able to turn that ‘golden lap’ when the pressure is on. In NASCAR, qualifying rarely selects the race winner – it is basically used to sell more tickets and ads on TV. Qualifying only matters for the few that might not make the field, and several of these guys don’t even plan to race the entire distance (maybe that is where Nick Wirth got the idea to design the Virgin Racing F1 cars with fuel tanks too small to complete a race). One might even argue that in order to win a NASCAR Sprint Cup race you first need to just survive the 300-400 laps before the final caution, and then race to the finish. Does merely surviving 480 miles at Daytona so you can race the final 15 minutes make you a more skilled driver than someone who has to race all out for an entire Grand Prix?

So where does this leave us? NASCAR or F1? Remember, so far Jimmie Johnson won all of his championships without ever winning a race in which he had to turn right. I suspect we’ll never know for sure and we certainly won’t all agree who is better. My opinion is that F1 drivers are more skilled behind the wheel – they drive their cars on the edge at ten-tenths all of the time, race in variable conditions including rain and have so much less room for error with the fragile carbon fiber suspensions.  NASCAR drivers, well none of that applies.

Who thinks I’m wrong? Oh and by the way, this is not a debate about which makes better racing for the fans, I am saving that one for another blog entry.


Saving the world one race at a time

My latest blog entry is posted on iRacing.com, check it out!

June 7, 2010

A couple of months ago I was so persuaded by a trailer video of Battlefield 2: Bad Company that I simply had to go out and buy the game –  it was video a coworker forwarded to me following a discussion about running a video contest here at iRacing. I hadn’t played a FPS game in years but I had always enjoyed them so I figured why not?  Besides, I was always pretty good at these types of games back in the day so the online multi-player versions should be a piece of cake. . . .

Off to Best Buy I went and, after picking up the game and a new mouse, I was ready to kick some a$$. I moved my driving chassis out of the way and sat down to dive into my new game. I immediately jumped into a multi-player session and was summarily killed. After respawning I was killed again. Wow, this is a little different than what I expected. After about 30 minutes of this lather, rinse repeat process I decided I should maybe try the offline version. This way I could learn the basics, get familiar with the controls and most importantly, get a few kills under my belt. This turned out to be the wise choice.

. . . read the rest at http://www.iRacing.com.


Game or Simulation?

My latest blog entry is posted on iRacing.com, check it out!

What makes a game a simulation or a simulation a game or are they the same thing? Is it all just marketing or is there a real difference? . . . . . . . .


Hex-a-what?

The worlds of motorsport, both real world and online, are continuing to blend into one. I had the opportunity to drive the Cruden Hexatech simulator this past week at the Performance Racing industry show (PRI) in Orlando, FL and it is really pretty remarkable. Incredibly smooth motion including the ability to simulate yaw which I have not found in any of the other motion platforms I have driven. Being able to feel the back end of the car you are driving move around in a corner is incredibly important when it comes to replicating a real life driving experience.

The 6-axis Cruden Simulator

Race drivers who wish to sharpen their driving skills would no doubt find the simulator useful, albeit a bit pricey – $300K. The average sim racer will likely find it impractical in terms of size and price but if given the opportunity I do recommend you give the Cruden a test drive.

Now if only they had been running iRacing software I think the experience would have nearly perfect! iRacing’s track modeling and car physics are more precise than what I drove on the Cruden and would add a lot to the experience.  Yes, I am a bit biased as I work for iRacing but there really is no equal to laser scanned tracks with millimeter accuracy.

Combining multi axis motion with incredibly accurate track and car models will continue to grow as a way for racers to practice and hone their skills. Testing and training on a simulator is cheaper, safer and less time consuming than going to the track and in this economy what team wouldn’t want that.