Sim Racing, part 1 - Sim Racing, well told

Columns: Races SIM
Being a racing driver... the dream of every child that increasingly becomes harder to achieve, but nowadays, it can be partially fulfilled thanks to driving simulators. (ab)

In the last 15 years, we have witnessed an exponential growth of the driving simulation sector, both quantitatively and qualitatively. More and more video game production companies have become interested in this sector, and year after year, the differences between real and virtual have become increasingly thin, thanks to technological advances in both software (with constantly evolving physics and graphics engines) and hardware (thanks to more performant and realistic steering wheels, pedals, monitors, and visors), as well as in the collection of data related to tracks and cars (see, for example, laser-scanned tracks and collaboration between racing teams and driving simulator manufacturers).
These factors have also contributed to increasing people's interest in simulators, reaching its peak of users during the pandemic period between 2020 and 2021. People have indeed seen in simulators something extremely close to reality and with accessible costs... and therefore, the possibility of being able to try to be at least virtually pilots. But what are the possibilities offered? What are the access costs? And the most important simulators? 
As with "real" motorsport, much depends on the budget: the vast majority of "sim-racers" (the term used to describe virtual drivers) started by investing a few hundred euros (150-350) in an "entry-level" steering wheel and pedals to mount on their own desk and connect to their gaming PC, and then evolve (especially in cases where talent comes out) to much more expensive and technologically advanced dedicated stations... without using too many technical terms that, at this time, would only create confusion for the reader, we will simply say that "more expensive stations" allow the simRacer to obtain more information about the behavior of his virtual car and therefore also have more realistic feedback.
The same does not apply to the necessary software: Currently, excluding driving simulators focused on a single automotive category or championship (such as Assetto Corsa Competizione), the really valid and reference driving simulators are 3: Assetto Corsa, rFactor 2, and iRacing... so which one to choose?
The answer is not straightforward. The first distinction to make here is also on access costs:
If a few tens of euros are enough for Assetto Corsa to access all available tracks and cars and several hundred euros are needed for rFactor 2, to do the same on iRacing, thousands of euros would be needed, not to mention the cost of the annual subscription of about 100 euros. At this point, therefore, the question arises spontaneously: what justifies such a wide gap in access costs between the various simulators?
As mentioned, all three simulators are valid, each with its pros and cons. The real difference lies mainly in 2 factors:
The choice by the Assetto Corsa and rFactor 2 development teams to give users the possibility to create new content for the simulator and share it with others.
The organizational services offered by iRacing regarding online competitions between simRacers.

Over the years, despite Assetto Corsa and rFactor 2 initially having licenses for fewer cars and tracks than iRacing, users have contributed to expanding this variety by importing content not originally present in the simulators. This was made possible thanks to the emergence of an ecosystem of small companies and groups dedicated to this purpose and, therefore, an external market underlying the simulator's development company.
However, this possibility is entirely excluded in iRacing, which boasts the highest number of official licenses for cars, tracks, and championships, as well as an unparalleled online race organization system (with a race starting on average every half hour) and ranking of drivers. This is a significant advantage over the two competing simulators, which fall short in this regard. To address this lack, users have also intervened in the case of Assetto Corsa and rFactor 2. Over the years, and especially between 2020 and 2021, many online "communities" dedicated to organizing races and events have emerged. Simracers from all over the world can compete together on the track. This has often led to the creation of live broadcasts of these events, with such communities collaborating with industry companies in the form of sponsorships, which have contributed even more to the spread of this phenomenon.
In summary, iRacing can be described as a closed, complete, and functional system that allows the user to race whenever they want but always with different opponents and at a significantly higher cost than the competition. On the other hand, Assetto Corsa and rFactor 2 can be defined as economically more accessible simulators that make their users the central focus through communities. These communities race together constantly in the same races (usually weekly) during which they get to know each other both in the sporting and personal sense, creating an environment perhaps closer to that of a real track weekend.

Created by: fmarangon2 - 26/09/23

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