From a financial point of view, motorsports have never been an easy thing to be involved in and unfortunately, that will likely never change. From personal experience, I can tell you how expensive it is. When I went karting with my family we had one chassis, a few spare parts, one set of tires (they could last a whole season), and three engines. All of which were thrown in the back of our car with a small open trailer pulling the kart and it was still a significant financial drain for my father. The money he spent barely came close to the amount other competitors had invested, either via a well of funds from parents or from generous sponsors. Out of our three engines, we kept one engine for races only because it cost over $1600. It had tons of power, but the cost of running and maintaining it made it difficult to use full time. Of course, you can spend even less, but if you want to be competitive, large quantities of cash will need to be offered as tribute. Much larger quantities than what my family could afford.
So what do you do if you want to race, but your family doesn’t have Vanderbilt levels of money? Well, that’s a hard question to answer. You can get kicks in the kart rental leagues, but they often leave much to be desired.
Okay, maybe not karts. Maybe it’s time to move to cars.
Chump Car, a series that champions itself on low-cost runs at famous circuits (If someone wants to throw money my way so I can race at Road Atlanta I would appreciate it). It’s great racing for a relatively fair price. As long as you bring your own equipment (helmet, HANS device, suit, gloves, etc), some cash, and a little experience, you can find a ride. Chump Car not serious enough for you? Okay, somehow you not only have a license but, somehow you also have an SCCA Pro License. Awesome. The Pirelli World Challenge is a great multi-class series. Teams run from small to massive operations and from the outside, it looks easy to get into. It sounds great until you get quoted the price to run a car in TCB. A spot in the paddock will set you back $8400…per race for one team alone. If you want a 50% discount off that price, then I would suggest taking a look at the MX-5 Cup.
If you can’t afford that I think you have a final option.
Shooting towards Red Water in a Lotus 49. Photo courtesy of iRacing.
Hear me out. Back in the cold winter months, when I was living in South Korea, iRacing was running an offer for a free one month trial with a new subscription. If you knew me, you know I don’t like cold. My favorite winter sport is running from one warm building to the next. With my middle of the road spec’d laptop and an Xbox controller, I spent the whole month having a great time racing and perfecting my racing technique. iRacing doesn't rely on aesthetics to draw you in. Instead, it's the challenging dynamics and meaningful gameplay that bring in players. It’s a challenge to drive in this game and because of that I was hooked and now gladly pay a monthly fee for the game. For what you are paying month to month, I find it to be a value for everything you get. I really enjoy the fact that you actually have to drive well to move on to higher series. To increase your ranking and obtain a higher license, you have to drive as cleanly and quickly as possible. If you are the dirtiest winner or just drive poorly, you will never gain an upgraded license and never be able to run in other series. I’m talking about running wide over every line, or making intentional (or any contact really) with another car, or spinning. If you have too many incidents you get kicked out of the race you are in. If take too long to start driving with your head you could be banned from iRacing itself.
Photo courtesy of iRacing.
All you have to do is just drive cleanly and keep off of the wall. Even if it means losing a position or two, accept the fact you are new and stay out of trouble.
Once you have moved up from the Rookie and D classes by driving with wits instead of emotion, you can start to get into specific series you’ve wanted to drive in, Ovals, Sportscars, F1, NASCAR, and Indy Car. Once you pick your series you can start buying the cars you want. Now, some see this as a big negative, but I personally don’t. The price for the extra cars may be $11.95 and tracks $14.95, but you can pick exactly what you want to do. I have had my appetite for racing satisfied, but haven’t bought everything iRacing offers (maybe ¼ of it). With amazing circuits and cars being added (The Audi 90 GTO and Le Mans being the most recent) it’s hard not to dip into your wallet.
I have been surprised by how much fun it is. I have had many races that were absolute dogfights for first the entire race. On the other side of the coin, I have also had races where I started on pole and got punted in turn one. iRacing has given me the same exhilaration I got when I was karting. I can’t really put my finger on it but if I had to guess, it's that the quality of the dynamics and the fact that your competitors also have to drive well. Recently, it also proved to be a useful tool. Before my Nurburgring trip, I would turn a few laps at night during the week just to learn the track. The seat of the pants feeling and the feedback from the steering wheel couldn’t be learned, but visual cues and what to expect while driving through the circuit left me with few surprises when I set out for my first lap. iRacing does a very good job with making a model of the tracks since most are laser scanned.
This may seem like a giant plug for iRacing, but it’s not meant to be. Like I said before, I just own a run of the mill laptop. I blew my computer budget in Germany. Because of that, I have no other point of reference for sims, since I don't have a computer that could run them well. Therein lies another beauty of iRacing, you can have a supercomputer or the most bare bones PC out there and still be able to enjoy it.
Multi-class action at Suzuka. Photo courtesy of iRacing.
Other perks of sim racing I’ve found is that it is legitimately fun to watch, prize purses ($20,000 is the highest at the moment). There are teams that do driver development so you are not guessing where you need to improve. Just like in real life, they look at the data, figure out what you are doing wrong, and help you improve.
Want to run a series that mirrors the World Endurance Championship? That’s available in the Virtual Endurance Championship, running on rFactor2, since the ability to have driver changes has recently been developed. Ovals or dirt tracks are more of your thing? Great! Because on iRacing that is available too with dirt tracks coming shortly.
I’m sure at this point you want to know the cost. When I pulled together the list for a computer a good bit stronger than mine from PC Part Picker it would set me back $1000, throw in a wheel from Thrustmaster and a foldable cockpit and that’s another $400. I would estimate that, with wanting to run the series I want to in iRacing, the cars and track would probably be another $100, so we’re looking at $1500 dollars. I know it isn’t super cheap, but that is just the initial cost. It’s not like you have to pay that sum of money every time you want to race (bar the monthly subscription fee if you choose that route).
Unsurprisingly the immersion of Sim Racing is getting better and better by the year. If you’re one of the lucky ones who can afford a setup that has 3 axis motion you probably never need to visit a track again(I probably still would). It really is that good. What would surprise me is if there isn’t an exponential growth in the commercial and professional side of things. For example, with Motors TV broadcasting races and Darren Cox leaving Nissan to start his own team, things are going in the right direction. It’s not so much moving drivers from the computer to the cockpit as it is a push to make sim racing a professional endeavor.
If you have ever thought about sim racing, or racing at all for that matter, try it. Outside of a rather small sum of money (in comparison to racing in the real world), you have nothing to lose. If you never had the opportunity but had the desire; you need to try sim racing.