IndyCar’s ventures in the world of esports racing has seen the real world drivers compete on both iRacing and rFactor 2. Which one should be IndyCar’s game of choice?
Image credit: iRacing / Studio 397
In the beginning part of 2020, many motorsport seasons had to be suspended as a result of COVID. Because of that, all of these championships took to sim racing in order to keep the competitive spirit of the drivers satisfied and the audience entertained.
Formula One and MotoGP used their own licenced games, NASCAR and Australian Supercars took to iRacing, Le Mans and Formula E used rFactor 2 and DTM went on RaceRoom. GT World Challenge even have their own purpose built sim in the form of Assetto Corsa Competizione.
The IndyCar series followed its fellow American-based championship NASCAR onto iRacing and thus the IndyCar iRacing Challenge was born.
Racing on Both
The series had a six race run from late March to early May 2020 and it even resulted in the series being brought back for three rounds in early 2021. However, for a one-off event before the 2022 season began, IndyCar made the decision to move their esports operations from iRacing to rFactor 2.
In an effort to have their own dedicated racing title developed, IndyCar partnered with Motorsport Games who own rFactor 2 developers Studio 397. It only made sense for any future virtual IndyCar action to be on the platform that Motorsport Games owns before delivering their own standalone game.
But with doubts surfacing about the partnership between IndyCar and MSG, and the lack of an officially sanctioned IndyCar esports championship, a question arises. Which sim platform should IndyCar use?
Immediately, it doesn’t even need to be said but yes, both games have the current IndyCar chassis, the Dallara IR18. But the real question becomes, what about the tracks? If IndyCar were to launch a virtual championship, the sim would need at least a few real life IndyCar circuits.
When it comes to tracks that iRacing and rFactor 2 both have that are relevant to IndyCar, let’s cross reference it with the official 2023 IndyCar schedule.
For the tracks that are on the 2023 schedule that can be found on both sims, there are a few. Indianapolis, in both speedway and road course form, is available in both. New additions to rFactor 2, Gateway and Laguna Seca are also present in iRacing. Whilst not on the schedule, Sebring is used as a test track for IndyCar and can also be found on both, as can former venue Auto Club Speedway.
It should be noted with rFactor 2 that third party modders are able to add tracks in through the Steam Community Workshop. Some mods are certainly better than others. Road America for example which is on iRacing as well, whilst not officially on rFactor 2, the third party created mod for it is incredibly high quality.
When it comes to tracks that are only on the one title, rFactor 2 has a single official track that isn’t on iRacing: Portland International Raceway. They have clearly been making an effort to add in more IndyCar-related circuits, but it will take a gargantuan endeavour by S397 and MSG to get on the level of iRacing.
Texas Motor Speedway, Long Beach, Barber, Mid-Ohio and Iowa all appear on iRacing, plus there’s more than a few historical circuits including Pocono, COTA, Michigan, Sonoma, Fontana, Watkins Glen, Phoenix, Milwaukee and Motegi. Not to forget the Belle Isle street track that held the Detroit Grand Prix for the last time in 2022 before they move it to a new venue.
It’s little surprise that there are so many IndyCar tracks as iRacing itself is based in the US and pretty much every other major American series use iRacing. NASCAR, IMSA and World of Outlaws are all partnered up with iRacing and run all their official esports championships through the platform.
For those who play iRacing and rFactor 2, they’re unmistakably very different to drive on even with the same cars. When we interviewed Jamie Fluke after his efforts in the VCO Esports Racing World Cup, he pointed out how iRacing and rFactor 2 require polar opposite driving styles.
It’s no different here, the Dallara IR18 behaves differently across both games. Reigning series champion Josef Newgarden spoke about how the iRacing rendition of the IR18 was very much unlike the real car.
Drivers could drive the real IR18 aggressively and throw it around but be able to catch the slides, whereas on iRacing, slipping the tyre slightly could result in a spin. Then on rFactor 2, Newgarden pointed out how the car would slide too much in stark contrast to its real life counterpart.
But of course, when it comes to a hypothetical official IndyCar esports series, there will be drivers taking part who aren’t just the real world competitors. We reached out to a professional esports driver who has taken part in IndyCar competition on both iRacing and rFactor 2, Phil Kraus.
He has won many IndyCar league titles on iRacing and even took pole in this year’s open setup Indy 500 iRacing Special Event. Whilst his experience on rFactor 2 is nowhere near the level of that on iRacing, he still competed in Formula SimRacing’s IndyPRO series and won an oval race. Therefore, more than qualified enough to give us his opinion on the matter.
On rFactor 2 the car I drove was definitely much easier to slide, probably to too much of an extent, whereas on iRacing you’re much more limited on how much you can slide and tire management is important. Oval racing on iRacing with the IR18 is miles ahead of rFactor 2‘s oval package for me, that’s not a detrimental statement to rFactor 2‘s IndyCar, more so a compliment to iRacing‘s oval package as a whole, which has always delivered at the highest level.
I’d have to lean towards iRacing (for an officially-sanctioned IndyCar esports series) just due to the fact that it executes oval racing much better as a simulation than rFactor 2 ever has. Both titles can be good at circuit/road racing on their day, but iRacing stands head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to oval racing.
iRacing Takes It
With the more appropriate content and seemingly the approval of people who race IndyCar in real life and virtually, iRacing it seems is the winner. Though as it stands currently, if Motorsport Games intend on following through with their promise of creating a dedicated IndyCar racing game for 2023, any virtual IndyCar racing will go through rFactor 2 until the standalone title is released.
IndyCar’s reluctance to host an officially sanctioned esports series beyond the events with the real life pros is a shame. Ultimately though, if they ever do bring back esports not only for the real world pros but also the sim racing specialists, iRacing it seems is both the better and the preferred option.
Do you prefer driving IndyCar on iRacing or rFactor 2? Tell us on Twitter at @OverTake_gg or in the comments down below!