Special events are highlights of the iRacing calendar, and the 24 Hours of Spa, just a week ahead of the real race, ranks among the most popular contests in that regard. As a result, the event receives widespread attention – and the many watchful eyes were surprised to see the cars of top esports teams deliberately run over the grass with two wheels, exploiting a loophole in the tire model. The result was not exactly a good look for SimRacing.
Motorsports and SimRacing are both about finding those precious extra tenths and exploring the limits of what is possible. Any engineer or driver will try to find loopholes to have an advantage over the competition, and this approach was particularly obvious at the Spa special event: Looking down the Kemmel Straight towards the oncoming cars, the in-game camera picture looked like a bug or glitch had occurred, with most of the cars only being on the track with two wheels, the other two in the grass.
This was a deliberate practice, as doing so allows to cool the tires down and reduce pressures, which was said to be worth up to half a second per lap. Of course, the tactic would not work in a real race – which iRacing is trying to emulate after all – as the tires would stay dirty way longer than in the sim, reducing grip. Not to mention the unforeseeable bumps of a grassy surface, which could potentially upset the car enough to crash or spin out.
The tactic was known before the event, and iRacing’s relatively lax approach to penalizing it may have contributed to the problem enormously: Top esports racing organizations were fine with receiving a one-week ban for a better performance at the special event, and most did not want to be left behind if they were to do without the grass-running – the service itself likely did not expect, just like most, that the exploit would be used in such a prominent way. As a result, the top split offered an almost comedic picture where cars were not really racing on the actual track for considerable parts of the lap – something that likely will not help the perception of SimRacing as a serious discipline.
Of course, not everybody was keen to play this game. Urano eSports decided to retire all three of its cars on moral grounds, stating that they did not want to use the exploit, to positive feedback on Twitter.
How to move forward from here, though? Disqualifying every team that ran on the grass would likely be an enormous amount of work, and the special event is not part of a championship anyway. Increasing the penalty for longer bans retroactively would also not necessarily be ideal, as the event had multiple splits and start times over the weekend, meaning the sheer amount of teams to review would be incredibly high. Harsher penalties in the future may be the way to go in this case, until the tire model is adjusted to make the tactic no longer viable.
So far, iRacing has not officially released any statements on the situation. If the sim and its events want to be taken seriously in the future, iRacing needs to act and seal this loophole and others like it. The next special event in which running on the grass would be possible is the Bathurst 1000 in September. Plenty of time to fix an issue that could hurt the reputation of SimRacing – if it has not done so already.