Expert or Exploit?
Racing teams, real and virtual, will always try to find all means to find those valuable tenths of a second over their opponents, be it in car design, setup or racing technique. Exploring the grey areas of the rules is nothing new, and exploiting any loophole to make your car legal and faster has been common practice in racing for as long as racing has existed, and the debates that these tactics generate are just as intense as the racing.
Over the weekend, the sim racing world enjoyed the iRacing 24 hours of Spa, which is always very high on the priorities of endurance teams throughout the year, and as always, the number of teams that took part was staggering, however there was an element of the racing that cast a shadow over the show involving, of all things, the grass. The tactic involved competitors driving with two wheels on the grass, in areas where the grass doesn’t cause the car to bounce (particularly along the Kemmel straight, but in a few other spots as well, such as on the exit of Speakers corner). What benefit does this give, you might ask? Well, the benefit is quite significant, as not only do the tyres that are in contact with the grass cool down a little (as they are no longer on tarmac) but there is time to be gained by using this exploit, which has been reported as much as half a second per lap.
Using this during a sprint race, especially considering the lap length at Spa, may not yield many advantages, but over 24 hours, which sees over 600 laps completed, the advantage speaks for itself. So why has this not been addressed by iRacing themselves? Sadly, it’s not as straightforward as it seems from the outside, as altering characteristics of the grass could have serious unintended consequences, so iRacing has to be very careful when making any kind of alterations, but there is also the question of “legality”. Should using this tactic be considered illegal? A snap response might be “Yes, the driver is exploiting a bug, a clearly unintentional outcome of driving on the grass, to benefit their performance”, so why do the drivers use it?
For every argument on this situation, there is a counter-argument, and the usual counterargument to the question of “why?” is that there is no in-game penalty given, therefore it is deemed to be a legal line to take, so then the question becomes “why wouldn’t a team take a line that the game deems to be legal, especially when the potential gain is significant?” which, considering how close each team is on pace, finding those small time gains becomes essential. One of the rules in the Terms of Service that is frequently quoted against using this exploit is rule 188.8.131.52, which states that drivers can only use the racing surface and allowed areas of the track during qualifying and racing, however, the counter to this is that using the grass in the manner described does not incur a penalty, and with two wheels still on the tarmac, the car is still deemed to be on a legal racing surface, therefore the rule isn’t broken.
So is it an expert tactic or exploitation? This debate will roll on for a very long time, and unless there is a change implemented by iRacing to the characteristics of the grass, even in specific areas, then this question will continue to be talked about. We at GTR24H do not condone racing exploits in any way, and we have to enforce our rules about this, as we experienced at our third EEWC round at Sebring, but we can’t change what a game deems to be legal, we just enforce our rules on top of it. The situation iRacing faces over the grass issue isn’t so clear cut, and whatever action iRacing takes, it will need to be very carefully considered.
Image © RacespotTV
Hopefully similar mass-(ab)use of exploits will be reason for banning drivers in the GTR24h Series. (?)
Absolutely, hence the reference to our event at Sebring, where penalties were given to a team found to be abusing track limits.