iRacing Development Update – February 2024

Hello iRacers,

There is a lot of ground to cover in this development update, including our upcoming build, the strong start to the 2024 special event schedule, and future projects.  I will cut to the chase, though – the Tempest weather system is ready for release and you will be racing in the rain in March.  Our teams have been burning the midnight oil to make this possible, and although we’d have loved to have shipped a few months back, the extra time has really taken the release to the next level.  We can’t wait for all of you to enjoy this groundbreaking new addition to the iRacing experience.

Before we dive further into development, let’s take a moment to review what has become a real highlight of the iRacing experience – our Special Events.  We have been putting on these events for years now, and with the advancements our teams have made over the years to our infrastructure and technology, these events are bigger and better than ever. This progress culminated in what was the biggest race in sim racing history a few weeks ago:  the iRacing Daytona 24.  We’ve shared the stats elsewhere, but for those who haven’t seen them yet, it’s worth a look.  

24h of Daytona by the numbers

  • 18,575 total drivers
  • 15,952 unique drivers
  • 4,055 unique teams
  • 95 splits
  • 2,873,067 laps completed
  • 10,228,118 miles completed
  • 82,856 hours driven
  • The event drew 176,000 total views on YouTube, 66,000 on Twitch, and 24,000 on Facebook.

Additionally, all registrants were processed and assigned to race splits in mere seconds!

If you haven’t participated in an iRacing special event, we encourage you to give it a try. Check out the remaining schedule of events for 2024 here, and we hope to see you on the track starting with this week’s Daytona 500!

We’re only a few weeks out from the release of the Season 2/March build, so let’s review what will be included.  This update is absolutely stacked with improvements, new features, great new content, and the first of a series of new features focused on improving iRacing for new customers.  Together with rain, Season 2 2024 is truly a landmark build for the service, 

The Tempest system delivers an experience unlike anything else in simulation racing, and it may take some time for iRacers to properly acclimate to the feature.  To help set expectations, it is important to understand that the rain in iRacing does not operate like what sim racers and racing gamers have experienced in racing video games and simcade racing titles.  This is rain done the iRacing way; a true-to-life dynamic simulation of the multitude of physical and environmental factors experienced in racing in the rain, and how water interacts with both the racetrack and the tires of your race car.  

Racing in the rain can be counterintuitive at first, and successfully navigating a wet race will involve unlearning habits you might have in the dry.  Although race tracks may appear smooth to your eye, asphalt has roughness and texture with peaks and valleys.  Over time the peaks can become worn down and polished through repeated traffic.  In the dry, this isn’t particularly consequential, and racecars are able to navigate both polished and unpolished areas effectively, allowing a racing line that suits their driving style.  In the wet, however, the relationship between polished and unpolished areas of the track becomes highly consequential.  

As rain begins to cover a surface, the areas of the track that still have rough asperities are able to better accommodate the water because it will first settle in those low valleys before it fills in and becomes a slippery film.  That slippery film on the surface is what can cause the tire to lose purchase and hydroplane.  However, the worn down high-traffic racing line will have had its asperities worn down and there is less room for water to hide from the surface of the tire.  The end result is the typical racing line becomes slicker sooner than the rest of the track, and racers need to seek areas off-line to find grip for their tires.  

With the release of rain, we recommend iRacers first dip their toe in with a Test session or with our AI before diving into an online race.  There are a lot of really cool ways you can configure the weather, ranging from the fully dynamic real-world-based Forecasted Weather, the always-the-same Static Weather for practice and certain types of competition, and Timeline Weather which puts the power of Jupiter in your hands with a fully customizable keyframe-by-keyframe experience.  We’ll also have some great Week 13 series that will leverage weather and let you have an unranked low-stakes way to get familiar and have fun.

Once Week 1 begins and official competition commences, many have been wondering how it will be deployed across the service.  Foundationally, Tempest will be deployed across every series on the service.  However, that does not mean that it will be raining in every series across the service; it will not.  Rain will be enabled by our series admins on a series-by-series basis based on whether the cars support the feature and whether it’s appropriate for the level of competition.  Additionally, to give everyone an opportunity to become familiar with the system, the possibility of rain will only be enabled in select weeks.  

While we will have a couple of series where rain is probable, for most series where rain is enabled, whether or not it actually rains will depend on the Tempest forecast system.  This system is dynamic and tied to historical weather at our many racetracks around the world.  Competitors will want to keep track of the forecast (which will be visible), but should know that it’s just a forecast, and we all know how mother nature has a mind of its own!  You may go into a race that has a high chance of rain with dark clouds looming on the horizon (you will see them) and find that rain never materializes.  Or you may enter a race where the chance of rain is relatively low, but winds start to blow in a certain way, and you find yourself facing a sudden storm.  The longer the race, the greater the uncertainty, so endurance racers will need to be well aware of their environment.

Fortunately, you won’t be facing this adversity alone – you will be backed up by the built-in iRacing spotter and crew chief, who will keep you apprised of upcoming changes in the weather and make sure you don’t choose the wrong tires to start a race.  Or, if you like, have your friend or teammate join as your spotter, and they can keep an eye on that forecast, the weather radar, and what your competitors are doing. What your competitors are doing will certainly become important, as rain will introduce a new strategic dimension to racing in iRacing, where racers will need to make critical decisions about whether and when to change tires and hope their decisions are right, all while their competitors are going through a similar strategical calculus.

When we were considering releasing Tempest and rain along with the December ‘23 build, we had a well-rounded but small batch of cars that were going to ship with rain support on Day 1.  At the time, that would have been the Ray FF1600, Toyota GR86, and Ferrari 296 GT3.  That release did not occur, and we’ve now had an extra three months to work on the project. As a result, we’ve been able to significantly expand upon this offering.  Our Day 1 list of rain-supported cars will now include our 11-car field of endurance cars (GT3, GTP, LMP2), plus the Ray FF1600, Toyota GR86, and the FIA F4.  Additional cars will be added over time through patches and builds as we work to greatly expand support over the coming months.

Graphically, supporting rain has been a significant undertaking, requiring multiple artists (technical and VFX), our graphics and rendering team, and close collaboration with the physics engineers.  Over the last several weeks, all of the various graphical features have come together nicely and things are looking quite real.  It’s worth noting that this is all physically driven, including the wetness of the track and the puddles, the water sucked up off of the track by the aerodynamics of the cars, and the water flung through the air by the tires. Not only does that have significant advantages when it comes to the actual driving, but the wet track will look different from what some have seen in other racing titles that have canned puddles where the look is entirely shader-driven.  

While we’ve spent a lot of time here on Tempest, there’s a lot more to this build, so let’s run through it together.  To begin with, the content: We have a lot of great cars and tracks coming your way that should appeal to enthusiasts of many of our racing categories.  

For tracks, we will be once again returning to Italy in back-to-back builds with the release of Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli.  Misano is situated in a beautiful location, just a stone’s throw away from the Adriatic Sea and flanked by a picturesque town.  To build these elements, our technical artists had to innovate and develop new tools and processes to create these performance-focused vistas. 

iRacing will visit Portugal for the first time with the addition of Algarve International Circuit (known to many as Portimao).  Algarve is a recent F1 track that’s a blast to drive, with significant elevation changes, and a great combination of both slow and fast turns.  

Dirt fans will enjoy the addition of Millbridge Speedway in Salisbury, North Carolina.  Millbridge is a special facility that should offer dirt fans a new experience – our first dedicated .25mi dirt oval. In real life, Millbridge is a popular destination for experienced racers, but it’s also a spot where many begin their dirt racing careers and gain confidence in smaller dirt racecars.

We also have a handful of exciting new racecar additions…

Last season we were excited to add the Super Formula SF23, which has been received extremely well on the service.  In March, we will keep up this momentum with the addition of the Dallara 324, which is essentially the little brother of the SF23. In the real world, variants of this car are raced in the Super Formula Lights series and the Euroformula Open Championship.  In iRacing, this car will be positioned at the C level.

It’s been some time since we’ve added a new dirt car, and we are really excited about this latest addition.  The dirt Micro Sprint will join the service and is well-suited to some of our smaller dirt ovals.  This car is a blast to drive, a great way to learn dirt racing, and will have its own Rookie series.  It will also be provided to all iRacers for free!

On the pavement side of oval racing, we are excited about our partnership with SRX and the addition of this great racecar.  This car will be positioned at the D level and has both pavement and dirt tracks on its schedule. 

We always do our best to keep our NASCAR fleet up to date with the latest yearly real-world updates, as well as any available improvements made to our physics modeling.  It’s always tricky because we tend to get the data from NASCAR fairly close to the start of the racing season.  A few weeks ago, we released updates to the three Cup graphics models.  We will follow this up now with physics changes that will more accurately reflect the 2024 cars.  Additionally, the Trucks have been the subject of extensive aerodynamics analysis, and should see a significant update in June.  Finally, the Xfinity Series Ford Mustang will have its identity packages updated to reflect the 2024 season. 

INDYCAR will see similar improvements.   In collaboration with INDYCAR, we will be updating the Dallara IR18 with modifications to the car model to bring it up to date with the 2024 season car.

Season 2 will include the first significant update to our license structure in some time.  This change will involve the Road license being split into two road racing disciplines: Open Wheel and Sports Car.  We expect this change will help address a longstanding issue with competition: many racers have great competency in sports cars or in open wheelers but not an equal level of proficiency in both.  However, with the road license only tracking one iRating, participation in a race in your less proficient category would match you up in races where it’s a struggle for you to be competitive.  With the license now split into two different categories, you will independently build your road racing career in a way that results in more balanced competition.  On day one of the split, your iRating in both categories will be the same as your current Road license.  From that point on they will each track independently.  It will take a little bit of time, but soon enough, your iRating will find its proper place in both categories as you participate in more and more races.  Far greater detail on this split can be found in our FAQ which is located here.

One particular update that we are excited about and is long overdue: an improved initial experience for new iRacers.  iRacing is a challenging product to get into, not only when it comes to the simulation itself but also in regards to new users understanding what is expected of them.  Through the use of interactive UI systems and our incredible AI, the New Racer Experience feature will walk future iRacers through these crucial first steps, where they’ll be asked to choose their initial racing discipline, then shown how to configure their controls, and ultimately guided through introductory AI-based driving and racing scenarios.  If veteran iRacers would like to give it a try, they are welcome to.  To do so, just click on Settings in the lower left corner of the UI and toggle on “Show New Racer Onboarding.”

Our web and design teams have been busy on many projects, as always, and Season 2 will see the beginnings of what will ultimately be a full overhaul of the UI launcher.  With this first change, the UI will see the addition of a new “wrapper” that breaks navigation down into larger categories for ease of use, as well as a new look and feel for the licenses.  We will also be incrementally moving away from a Modal-based UI (the pop-ups that are currently central to navigating the UI), to a UI that is more layered and has centers/hubs for our various sections.  For example, rather than AI racing being two somewhat mechanical interfaces where you can create a roster or manage a season, we will soon have an AI-focused homepage where you can still access these core functions but also get higher-level information about AI racing in iRacing, your performance in AI races, highlighted rosters and seasons, and more.  

This same design pattern will apply elsewhere, with the next focus being on reworking the Series area of the site with a similar goal – a home and informational hub for Series rather than lists.  A design mockup is included with this update showing what that could look like.  The team is tremendously excited about this future design path.  These new site sections will be activity hubs for our various product centers, and provide users with a new level of information and access to the content.

At iRacing, we always do our best to provide our customers with a product that is packed with a great deal of value.  iRacers have access to our always-improving product, continuously added new features, and an ever-expanding portfolio of awesome racing content.  We also provide a great package of included content, with enough cars and tracks to fully participate in many series, all without spending a dime on additional content.  With Season 2, this offering will be strengthened further, with four of our great racetracks being moved over to our Included tier of content.  These tracks are Motorsport Arena Oschersleben, Snetterton Circuit, Circuit de Lédenon, and Winton Motor Raceway.  While most subscription services out there have seen price hike after price hike in the face of rising inflation, iRacing’s prices have been stable and predictable.  Together with this more expansive offering of included content, the value iRacing provides is greater than ever before.

3D curbs debuted last season, and we’ve been really pleased with the result and how they can transform a track.  In March we will have 3D curbs included with all new tracks (Misano and Algarve), and we have also started to go through our catalog of existing tracks to chip away at our library and add this new feature.  Sebring and Fuji will have support added, which could give the upcoming Sebring 12HR an interesting new dynamic.  Racers will want to take some time to re-familiarize themselves with this track because the curbs are definitely now more of a factor than before. 

We’re just scratching the surface here with Season 2, and there’s more ground to cover, but the release notes aren’t all that far off. Let’s save a bit more for then…

Of course, our development focus is always a balance between what will be delivered in the very next season’s release with what’s coming further in the future.  We work on projects that are both near and far, and this holds true both for sim features, and also our sim content (cars and tracks).

Our most immediate future content (meaning not Season 2) includes Circuito de Navarra, which is deep into development, as well as Sachsenring CircuitOswego Speedway is also in pre-production and will feature both paved and dirt oval variants.  Right now, we are planning a trip to the UK, where we’ll scan two new (for us) tracks in England.  We are also about to get going on a long-awaited update to Spa, which we are very excited about. 

We’re also beginning work on a project that is long overdue and will be of benefit both to the iRacing sim and the future NASCAR ‘25 console title.  We were fortunate to have NASCAR as one of our first partners, and they are tremendous partners.  As a result, much of our early track content on the service was NASCAR content.  We’ve done our best over the years to update this content and keep the tracks up to date, but there are many opportunities for us to improve these tracks further, both in terms of the accuracy of the facility (new buildings, stands, etc.) and the condition of the graphics.  These efforts are internally being called the “NASCAR Remaster” project, and again, the results will be enjoyed in both the sim and in NASCAR ‘25; it’s great to have such synergies possible between our products.

As for race cars, we’ve been focusing on expanding our awesome endurance classes, and the GT3 class will see a significant boost in 2024 and into 2025.  Our currently-11-car series will #soon be bursting at the seams as we climb to 12, 13, 14, 15, and more cars.  We’re well prepared for this with the work the optimization team has invested in improving performance, memory utilization, and multithreading.  We’re also working hard on some updates to our Supercars and other exciting possibilities in Australia.  There’s also potentially a bit of a shocker coming on the racing vehicle front, but we’ll not spoil the surprise too early on that…

Outside of content, of course, we’re working on a great number of future improvements and new features for the UI and the simulation. 

As mentioned in past updates, we are working on a complete rebuild of our in-sim UI system.  This rebuild utilizes the Noesis UI framework, which is a technology we have licensed and integrated within the sim.  The key work is complete, and the data model has been designed and implemented.  The remaining work does not present the same level of engineering challenge, but it does require time and effort to re-do, expand, and improve 20 years of UI screens and interfaces one by one. Expect to enjoy this long-overdue new UI late this year.

Career mode is going great, and our design team has not only completed the full spec, but they have been working extensively with our backend engineering teams to build out the data model required to service such a complex and advanced set of systems.  We anticipate that truly delivering “Career Mode” will take us into 2025, but along the way, we will be making incremental and targeted improvements to Career-mode-adjacent areas of the UI and associated systems.

The rain project provided an opportunity for our VFX team to look into new tools and methods to create and render dynamic effects, and for some artists to step up to take on new challenges, learn new skills, and flourish.  We intend to use this momentum and take a fresh look at existing effects like smoke and freshen them up with more modern artwork and rendering techniques.

Oval Refresh Phase 2 is moving along, and we’re really looking forward to this future follow-up to the improvements made in Phase 1.  More information will be shared closer to the release.

Thanks for your patience in working through this lengthy update.  Really I could go on for a great deal longer, and I haven’t even touched on some major things (our Graphics and Rendering team and the future iRacing rendering engine, for one!).  We’ll have plenty of opportunities soon to share a lot more, and we look forward to keeping you all up to date.  For now, we are just so excited about this Season 2 build, and for you all to get your hands on Tempest and rain. This has been one of the most extensive projects in iRacing history.  As iRacing developers, we all feel fortunate that this company provides us with the framework to actually do a project like this, the iRacing way, rather than something that is kind of cool… kind of rain-like… but would never reach this level of sophistication and ultimately, this level of quality for you the user.

It was worth the wait.

See you out there on the (wet) track.