This is my story of the fall and rise of iRacing.com’s Grand Prix Legends series. There were times I was not involved, and thus I don’t have all the details, but I hope my perspective offers some insight into how the series has come back from the brink, and offers some reason to come and join the party.
After a prolonged gestation period, 2013 Season 1 saw iRacing announce (https://www.iracing.com/iracingnews/iracing-news/new-enhanced-tracks-and-features-headline-season-3-build) that the Lotus 49 was available and would star in the new Grand Prix Legends series in Season 2. At http://members.iracing.com/jforum/posts/list/3203574.page the Lotus 79 community pondered whether a popular Lotus 49 might harm their series as after all, there are only so many sim-racers to go around who will have an interest in historical cars. It was hoped the Lotus 49 would generate big participation numbers and, for the first couple of weeks, it looked like that would be the case. In Week 1, for example, 493 people drove in 66 sim-races. But by Week 7 the series was down to just 66 drivers in eight races, and people spoke of the Lotus 49 as being an undriveable monster.
The second season (2013 Season 4) benefitted from some “pre-season” running in Week 13 and Phillip Island was more successful than the balance the previous season would indicate. The car had been improved radically in the Week 13 update and new community-created sets made the car much easier to drive. Sadly, the slide in official race participation continued unabated, reaching a low ebb of 16 drivers and two races at Silverstone in Week 8. Even Watkins Glen could only muster 42 drivers and five races. Something had to be done.
This is where I come in…
Jack Ulstad worked tirelessly to promote the series, and his thread at http://members.iracing.com/jforum/posts/list/3228971.page drew me in. Before long I was hooked, the car was fantastic and while I was terrible at it I was having fun. Around Week 10 our regular weekly thread-maker decided not to continue and in Week 12 I decided to take-on that challenge. By the end of the week I had a nice graphical template similar to what we see today, and with a lot of work promoting the series anywhere and everywhere, we got 34 drivers and four races at Spa which was a decent improvement over recent times.
I spent time constructing a sig generator (http://members.iracing.com/jforum/posts/list/3233648.page) to produce the lovely Lotus 49 sigs you see all around the forums, showing the times of the races, what track we’re on and — at that time — expected lap times (Note: We can’t fit all that data on now due to the increasing number of races, so the lap times date had to go).
Our third season
We started with VIR. We had just two races, with 28 drivers. Track selection matters, and we’d dropped the ball here. Things improved as our track selections improved, with Road Atlanta getting 33 drivers and five races. We had turned a corner. Next week at Laguna Seca we got 40 drivers and five races. 45 drivers at Road America ran six races. Momentum was building and people spoke of the Lotus 49 in a different way. In Week 7 we had 69 drivers competing in 11 races, our best result since Week 6 in the first season of the Lotus 49. While the remaining races won’t have the benefit of the Watkins Glen effect, we do anticipate the numbers getting bigger and bigger.
How we turned it around
The first thing is the weekly threads. They form an important focal point for the community; a place where sets may be shared and tactics discussed. Making those threads look cool with a funky graphic helped immensely, and soon the place looked like it was alive where, previously, the forum had been a little bedraggled.
The biggest single improvement though came from our forum signatures. I believe these have helped immensely. People keep seeing them everywhere, and now everyone knows when the races go live, and everyone knows there are actually people out there running this car. Every post made by a user bearing a Lotus 49 signature is an advert for our car and our community.
The third important task was to tidy up the forums. We needed a setup index (the old one was quite outdated as its creator was no longer in the community). We needed an ‘introduce yourself’ thread. Over time the stickies came and we now have an excellent selection of threads devoted to the car, the community and the history.
The fourth task was to get the races shortened. I spent a good deal of time (and many of you will have seen the threads) talking to guys in other series which had struggled and managed to get some popularity. I took the best ideas and implemented them (almost everything came from those discussions), and the biggest single item that kept coming up again and again was shorter races. I knew some of our drivers wouldn’t be happy about it, but I also knew that there were a lot of people out there not driving this car, who were never going to tell us why, and race length was definitely part of that. I planned to implement the change for Season 2 but when I spoke to Tony Gardner and Steve Myers it turned out we could do it sooner. I got some assistance from our faster drivers and prepared lap counts, and prepared for battle.
After a long and heated debate, with a decent amount of drama as one would always expect in these situations, we got there. We now have 25 minute races. Not everyone was happy about it, and we lost some good guys, but the numbers speak for themselves. I do hope that the guys who were peeved will come back once they see where we’re going. We are probably the only road series actually growing in the face of the GT3 behemoth. We’ve got a hell of a long way to go but we’re making good progress.
In Week 7 we had more drivers than the Star Mazda, the Lotus 79 or the Dallara (road series). That’s pretty good progress I think.
The fifth task, which is still in progress, is the creation of something akin to the Classic Team Championship the Lotus 79 community runs. I believe that it will give even more strength to the Lotus 49 community, creating talking points and historical flavour, as well as encouraging people to get out there and race even more. Matt Pawelski is working hard on that and you can sign up at http://members.iracing.com/jforum/posts/list/3243596.page.
It was all too much in the end for me to do on my own. I knew this, of course, but I had a goal of getting everything in place in about two seasons before passing everything over to a team. We managed to get everything done in about eight weeks in the end, and we now have a bit of stability in the community, along with an excellent team working hard to make the series a success. We now have myself on techie duty (sigs, etc) and representing the slower drivers, Sky Willis on scheduling (check out our schedule for next season; it’s going to be awesome) and weekly threads, Matt Pawelski on the Classic Team Championship, Mick Claridge working on driving standards, lap time estimates, and representing our faster drivers, Joe Peak on videos and Steve Civic working on building participation in Australia. It means we will no longer have long gaps with no weekly threads, that the community will continue to be well-run and the series will continue to grow.
We are now in a good position to take advantage of opportunities that come our way, including the Road Warrior race for which we are thoroughly prepared to welcome everyone who joins the fun.
So why should you drive the Lotus 49?
The car is awesome fun. There is no other car that can deliver so much fun, the incredible feeling of satisfaction when you nail it, or when you simply pull-off a really cool sideways drift around the Carousel at Watkins. Our races are the cleanest, and when someone makes a mistake there’s no yelling on the mic, no swearing in text chat, people apologize and move on. The races are hard but fair, the community is friendly, we share sets, we help-out our fellow competitors (many of us spending time in practice sessions coaching struggling drivers), and there really is no better way to spend your time.
Come and say Hi on the official forums, grab a set (the baseline isn’t amazing but we’re working on that; next season we should have a better one) and drive. If you see someone in your practice session, ask them for a set, they’ll usually share. We’re about as inclusive a community as you’ll find anywhere . . . and you’ll have a blast.