The Season 3 schedule features some significant shake-ups for the Rookie and Advanced Rookie series, with one car leaving the inRacingNews Challenge Advanced Rookie road racing series, a shift in license level restrictions for the entry-level Mazda Cup and iRacing.com Street Stock Rookie series on both the Road and Oval sides, and cars that were previously only used exclusively in the rookie ranks “graduating” to new series at advanced license levels.

The biggest change involves a shift in license requirements – or, more correctly, restrictions – for the Rookie road and oval series.  Previously, the Rookie series were open to all iRacers with license levels from Rookie through Pro, but as-of the start of Season 3, only sim-racers with Rookie through D-Class licenses can compete in the Rookie road (Mazda Cup) or Rookie oval (iRacing Street Stock) series.

It's Pontiac v Mazda, Solstice v MX-5 in the S3 inRacingNews Challenge.

This means that now rookies can compete against other rookies in an environment that should be more of a level playing field; this also means that there are now no C-Class, B-Class, A-Class, or Pro drivers present in the Rookie races to serve as mentors, leaders, or examples for those folks just coming into the iRacing fold, which makes this shift in license levels something of a double-edged sword.  Another potential downside is that iRacers at the C-Class license level and beyond who have in the past enjoyed racing the MX-5s and the Street Stock may feel a bit disenfranchised when they discover they can no longer join in to race in the Rookie series.  Another aspect of this change that may bring people up short is the fact that iRacers who drive safely and achieve a 4.0 Safety Rating and receive automatic promotions via the “Fast Track” promotion method may suddenly find themselves no longer able to drive the cars that they are probably the most comfortable with in the Rookie series.

All of this may make this rookie-level shake-up seem a bit jarring, but thankfully iRacing has made some allowances that will continue to make the Rookie cars accessible to drivers with advanced license levels, and most iRacers will probably come to the conclusion that the positive aspects of this change far outweigh any potential negatives.

One of the biggest positives associated with this shift in philosophy is the transformation of the MX-5 Cup and the iRacing.com Street Stock series into true “rookie” series, where beginning iRacers can learn the ropes, hone their racecraft, and race against sim-racers who are at roughly the same skill level as they are as beginners, thus providing a more level playing field for those folks just transitioning into iRacing.   This means that Rookies should now be able to just be “rookies” as they learn, without feeling pressured to compete with drivers who have higher license levels, and without that overwhelming feeling that you are being forced to compete with more experienced drivers from the very start.  This should hopefully make the Rookie ranks feel a bit more welcoming to new iRacers, while also allowing them to ease into the iRacing experience without feeling like they have been thrown into a shark tank at the very start.

The iRacing.com Street Stock Series is a "true" rookie series alternating between CMS and USA Speedway.

At the other end of the spectrum, iRacing has found new ways to accommodate drivers with advanced licenses who still want to race the MX-5s and the Street Stock by also utilizing these cars in advanced series with more stringent license restrictions, meaning that Rookies are prohibited from participating, thus giving more advanced iRacers a true “advanced” playing field where these cars can be enjoyed without the need to worry about sharing the track with races who are truly “beginners.”

The Rookie series themselves remain otherwise unchanged on both the road and oval side aside from the new license restrictions.  This means that the Rookie series schedules still consisting of the same familiar tracks that have been used in previous seasons:  Lime Rock and Okayama (Short) on the road side, and Charlotte Motor Speedway and USA International Speedway on the oval side.

The shake-up in the Rookie ranks also impacts the Advanced Rookie series on the road racing side as the inRacingNews Challenge Advanced Rookie series bids farewell to the SpecRacer Ford as it “graduates” to the D-Class level with the introduction of the new SpecRacer Ford Challenge series.  This reduces the inRacingNews Challenge series to a two-car multiclass series, with the Pontiac Solstice and Mazda MX-5 Roadster continuing on in their previous roles as the open-setup Advanced Rookie cars.

For those iRacers who have advanced past the D-Class license level on the road side, the right-hand-drive MX-5 Roadster will remain accessible via the Advanced Rookie inRacingNews Challenge series, and fans of the left-hand-drive MX-5 Cup version will be able to access that car in the D-Class Grand Touring Cup multiclass series.  To better accommodate the potential influx of MX-5 drivers with advanced licenses who can now no longer race in the Mazda Cup Rookie-class series, the iRacing.com Grand Touring Cup will also now feature an expanded four-day-per-week schedule for Season 3, with Sundays added to what was previously a three-day-per-week schedule.  This means that the Grand Touring Cup will now feature racing on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday.

On the oval side, fans of the Street Stock who have advanced beyond the D-Class license level will be pleased to find that they will be able to access that car in the new C-Class iRacing Street Stock series, which will also feature caution flags, as compared to the Rookie Street Stock series does not use cautions.

These moves should help make the learning curve at the Rookie class entry level seem a bit less daunting for new members.  By transforming the Rookie series into literal “rookie playgrounds,” competition at the early stages should seem a bit more balanced for new members — as new iRacers find themselves competing with other new members who are still also just coming to grips with the various aspects of iRacing, the iRacing experience as a whole should hopefully seem like a more gradual, friendly, and less daunting proposition.

SpecRacer Ford has a series all its own in S3.

At the same time, by transitioning base content cars like the SpecRacer Ford and the Street Stock to be used at higher license levels in more “advanced” series, this also increases the inherent value of the basic iRacing membership.  Now everyone who joins will automatically receive cars as part of the base content package that can be used to run a partial D-Class road schedule and a partial C-Class oval schedule with no further purchases required.

So, with a few simple schedule tweaks, iRacing has succeeded in making the entry level portion of the iRacing ranks a bit more attractive to new members, while also transforming two of the base content cars into content that will allow greater accessibility to the higher license level ranks without the need to make additional purchases.

Well played, iRacing – well played.

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