iRacing is regarded as the gold standard for competitive sim racing. No other simulation features a comparable, dedicated multiplayer system that treats the races like real events. RaceDepartment writer Yannik Haustein is taking his first, long-overdue steps in the sim now and takes you along with him – starting in rookies, of course.

Better late than never – that sums it up rather well in my case regarding iRacing. I have had my eye on the sim for quite a while, mostly because of several YouTubers like Jimmy Broadbent. Only after making the jump from consoles to PC I seriously thought about getting into iRacing, the relatively high costs kept me from getting started, however – until now. I noticed quickly: Especially in rookies, there is no need to spend more money than the subscription fee.

Getting Started

The download of the sim was completed quickly, but the roughly 30 gigabytes of updates took a while. Unlike other sims, iRacing relies less on in-game menus but rather on a dedicated launcher UI, where sim racers can register for races, set up their sim or customize their virtual driver and vehicle liveries.

Initially, this seems a bit overwhelming. However, the UI is relatively self-explanatory, and the same is true for the racing license: Newcomers start out with two license points for ovals and road courses, which are divided into dirt and paved surfaces respectively. This value is the safety rating for each class which can be increased rather quickly by driving clean races, which is important to make the jump into the next license class, which in turn gives you access to more series with different cars and tracks.

On Track

The necessary settings to get onto the virtual race track, such as button mappings, were quickly taken care of after starting a session. The first steps followed in a Formula Vee practice session at Tsukuba Circuit. This wingless mini-monoposto is not particularly fast – it is made for beginners, after all. And even for myself, who has years of sim racing experience, there was a bit of a learning curve – its magic third gear, for example, which works best for the car in most cases. Once you are in that gear, shifting is barely necessary, which is a good way for beginners to familiarize themselves with using a manual transmission.

In addition to the Formula Vee, I frequently stumbled upon Mazda MX-5 Cup sessions – another good vehicle on the first step at the start of your iRacing career: Tsukuba, Okayama and Oran Park were the first locations where I took to the grid.

Approaching the sim with prior knowledge and experience allows you to increase your license points to the point of qualifying for a D-License in no time. Despite several smaller collisions and off-road excursions it took me just five races to get out of rookies this way – while not even once finishing on the podium. It is not just speed that counts.

What I Learned
  • You can start your iRacing career perfectly fine with just the free content. In rookies, there are enough options to find your feet in the sim, and even for higher classes, there are cars like the Dallara DW-12 IndyCar.
  • Fixed Setups make sense, especially for beginner vehicles. I usually prefer some freedom in setups, but to get going, it is much nicer to be able to concentrate on your driving. There is still time to explore setups once you are used to the sim.
  • Despite the serious approach the sim takes compared to other multiplayer sims, there are drivers that are more at home in arcade games and who always see other drivers in the wrong in iRacing as well. My advice for newcomers: Do not let them get to you and just switch off the chat.
  • Show respect to your fellow competitors, leave enough space when battling for position and do not behave like you own the track – victory is not everything! A clean race without incidents is worth more than the top step on the podium that is the result of collisions.