Motor racing and accidents are rather synonymous. In fact some motor racing television series and DVDs are dedicated to motor racing crashes. When Martin Brundle was interviewed at the Autosport International show last month and received questions from the audience, it was no surprise one of the topics was about his huge accident in Melbourne rather than his performances on the track.
Some motor racing fans freely admit the crashes are the best bits!
As entertaining as it is for the fans, crashing is all rather annoying for drivers as generally it results in a poor finish or, worse still, a walk back to the pits and no points. Then there is the cost of repairs to worry about, losing the respect of the team and maybe their drive for next season, plus of course motor sport is dangerous, especially the crashing bit! Notwithstanding the chief steward may suspend a driver for their part in an incident.
In online racing the cost of repairs, physical danger and risk of not having a place in the team don’t exist. Crashing is no less annoying but without the other consequences it becomes all too easy for drivers to be a bit too aggressive or ambitious with their passing attempts or simply pushing too hard.
iRacing recreates those other consequences of crashing with their Safety Rating (SR). This is a licensing system where a driver needs to accumulate a high enough rating to be able to progress to higher classes of cars.
In my example, the A Class allows access to all the standard iRacing series (access to very top series is based on performance [i.e. iRating] as well) whilst the number to the right reflects the safety rating (from 0 to 4.99)
Put simply, SR increases with few incidents and decreases with many. As you progress up the car class ladder maintaining SR gets harder – reflecting the expectations of drivers in the higher series.
Just as drivers get promoted to higher classes as their SR increases, so they can get demoted if their SR drops too low.
This focuses drivers attention on their approach to racing just as costly repairs, loss of a drive or physical injury would do in real world racing. In just the same way as a driver suffers the consequence of a damaged car bought back to the garage on a trailer through no fault of their own in real world racing, the SR is a no fault system. Initially this can seem quite harsh but the reality is that drivers who are always in the wrong place at the wrong time don’t get picked for the next season, drivers generally do learn to avoid others mistakes, of course some don’t.
At the start of a driver’s career the SR is a big deal as the only route to the faster cars is by getting licence promotions. Time spent in the lower class cars is very valuable although not always appreciated at the time, especially by those with previous sim racing experience! However, with the right approach drivers can fast track their way to the higher class cars in a short time frame.
As drivers move up into the highest class the SR should blend into the background, only really coming to the forefront if a demotion is looking a possibility. For the vast majority of good drivers this will never be a real issue. However, it is very easy for the initial focus on the SR to remain with a driver as they move up. This can lead to an almost obsessive desire to maximise their SR such that the annoyance goes way beyond just losing places or failing to finish a race due to incidents.
Accepting that the system is designed to fluctuate is key to enjoying high quality racing. Incidents happen, they are not inevitable but mistakes will happen even at the highest levels and an innocent misunderstanding between drivers can result in a racing incident. The system is not designed to provide any kind of reward to a driver running with the highest SR. The fact that at the higher classes the SR drops much easier than it goes up reflects that top class drivers aren’t regularly involved in incidents – they are spread out over many races.
Avoiding incidents wherever possible should be an aim for all drivers and the SR helps focus the mind, but understanding it is not the be-all and end-all is important.
A final thought. There are drivers who have got reputations as crashers through what appears to be pure bad luck. Regardless of the excuses team bosses will look at the DNFs and the iRacing SR does just the same!