Will Power’s win at Barber Motorsports Park on Sunday may have been his first of the 2011 IZOD INDYCAR Series, but it was not his first victory of the season. In February, Power scored back-to-back wins at Summit Point Raceway in a Pontiac Solstice. And if you think Oriol Servia is still looking for his first win of the year after top ten finishes at St. Petersburg and Barber Motorsports Park, think again: Servia notched a win in Legends Cup competition at South Boston Speedway back in January.
If that sounds confusing, consider that Power and Servia are members of iRacing.com, the world’s foremost online race simulation service. They’re not alone. A growing number of IndyCar Series regulars belong to iRacing, including Justin Wilson, JR Hildebrand, Vitor Meira, Danica Patrick, Mike Conway, Simona de Silvestro, Rafael Matos, Takuma Sato and Tomas Scheckter.
So too does Simon Pagenaud, who pinch-hit for injured Ana Beatriz last weekend, and wheeled the Dreyer and Reinbold Honda Dallara to an eighth place finish in his IndyCar debut.
Pagenaud is no stranger to high-powered open wheel cars, of course. He and Power were teammates in the 2007 Champ Car Series and, since then, he has enjoyed considerable success in sports car racing, winning the American Le Mans Series prototype championship (with Highcroft Racing) and the Spa 1000K (with Peugeot) last year. And if driving a Honda Dallara, Panoz Cosworth, HPD ARX-01e and Peugeot 908HDI at the highest levels of the sport qualifies him as an all-rounder, consider Pagenaud’s iRacing resume. In his most recent online events, the Frenchman raced a Honda Dallara, VW Jetta TDi, SpecRacer Ford, NASCAR Late Model, Legends Ford and Skip Barber F2000 everywhere from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Mazda Laguna Seca Raceway and Lime Rock Park to Oxford Plains, South Boston and Stafford Motor Speedway.
Like most professional iRacers, Pagenaud uses the service for professional and recreational purposes.
“iRacing is good training,” he says. “It’s good to be able to race against other good drivers online. It brings you the kind of pressure you can have on a race weekend when you race against real people. It’s the same as the real world where you only get one chance: if you crash, you’re done! Just like real.
“Also the car models are very close to reality, and the tracks are very, very close to reality as well. So it’s a good training device for us drivers. I use the Formula One car mostly because its downforce level is very close to the prototype cars, but I love the IndyCar also because it’s the kind of racing that I love. And I also race NASCAR a few times because it’s good fun.”
All of the more than 40 tracks available on iRacing are laser-scanned to within two millimeters of accuracy. That means if there’s a crack in the pavement entering the first turn – whether it’s the Milwaukee Mile or Infineon Raceway – you’ll feel it; and if there’s a severe bump, you’ll not only feel it, you’ll have to adjust your line accordingly.
“Accuracy is the most important thing,” says Wilson. “In the iRacing simulation, the corner spacing and radii are exactly right. Bumps, camber changes, curbing, changes in surface all have an influence on the optimal line, and iRacing has that level of detail. It’s great for learning tracks and cars, but even if you already know a track, you can refresh yourself, so you’re not spending the first session getting up to speed. You can attack straight away.”
Small wonder Hildebrand logged a few hundred laps at Phoenix International Raceway in iRacing’s virtual Dallara before his “try-out” test with Panther Racing last fall; or that, having never driven at Barber Motorsports Park before, Servia got to know the track forwards and backwards before last month’s pre-season test there with Newman/Haas Racing. Likewise, Power logged a ton of laps on iRacing’s version of the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course before his first race there last year . . . and started from pole position.
“All the tracks on iRacing are spot on,” he says. “If you practice iRacing on a track you’ve never driven before, you will know that track when you drive it in a real car. (But) it’s also a lot of fun. There’s a huge variety of different cars and tracks, from short tracks and speedways to the great road courses; Legends, Formula One, Solstice, MX5, IndyCar, Sprint Cup . . . the diversity of different styles of racing is fantastic.”
And you’ll never know who you might meet in your next iRacing event . . .
“You’re racing against real people on iRacing,” Power continues. “The other day I passed a guy at Lanier Speedway in a Legends race and he came on the voice chat and said, ‘Is that you Will? It’s me, Oriol [Servia].’ When I told him it was me, Oriol said, ‘If I’d known that, I wouldn’t have let you past so easily!’”