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Hands-on with iRacing’s most significant update this year, 2023 Season 1

Our Ross McGregor and Justin Melillo go hands on with the new content included in the new build for 2023 iRacing Season 1.

By Ross McGregor and Justin Melillo

Traxion.GG’s two Junior Editors, Ross McGregor and Justin Melillo, were both eager to get their hands on all of the new content available in iRacing‘s 2023 Season 1 build which launched on Tuesday, 6th December. As it was a big update, the pair split up and took on different parts of the new things.

Ross took all of the new paid road content for a spin, including the BMW M Hybrid V8 LMDh/GTP, the 2022 Mercedes-AMG W13 E Performance Formula 1 machine, and the new French course on the service, Circuit de Nevers Magny-Cours.

As for Justin, he’s looked into the new and membership-included racecar in the build, the Toyota GR86, as well as some new dirt oval paid content in Lincoln Speedway. Also, Justin explains his experience with the all-new Active Reset feature.

BMW M Hybrid V8 

BMW returns to the top class of sportscar racing next year, as its M Hybrid V8 contender takes to the track in the newly formed GTP class of the International Motorsports Association (IMSA) series, before a planned assault on the World Endurance Championship (WEC) and its flagship 24 Hours of Le Mans event in 2024. 

The BMW was designed to conform to LMDh rules, meaning it has a spec chassis from Dallara – just like its Porsche, Cadillac and Acura rivals. 

The car arrives in iRacing featuring a 4.0l V8 petrol engine replete with a hybrid electric motor producing 50 bhp. This gives the BMW a total approximate power output of 671bhp to propel its 1030kg mass. 

And you really feel that mass when you hit the track! The BMW is quick as expected, with a ton of high-speed aero-assisted grip. But when it comes to the slow stuff the BMW feels much more lethargic. 

At iRacing’s latest road circuit – Magny-Cours – the BMW sails through the first two corners with nary a lift, its aerodynamics overcoming Grande Courbe with no issues. Carrying that speed into Estoril, however, requires a little bit of braking and a lot of patience, as the second apex seemingly takes an age to appear. 

The Adelaide hairpin is the track’s first heavy braking zone and the car struggles to put the power down on exit, especially with the assistance of its rear-wheel-drive Bosch hybrid motor.  

The bump just after the hairpin really gets the BMW’s tail wagging, but there at least adjustments available for both flavours of traction control – TC1 and TC2. There are plenty of set-up options for the BMW too, with enough juicy detail for any budding engineers out there to make a difference. 

My least favourite corner of Magny-Cours is Turn 9. The late apex, off-camber corner is a real chore in the M Hybrid, with the nose seemingly always willing to push wide on exit. It’s a shame as the Nürburgring chicane beforehand is a test of bravery – a lift and downshift being required with a heavy fuel load. 

The Imola chicane is a lower speed right/left finishing with a momentum-sapping run into Chateau d’Eau (water tower!). Then, it’s just a couple of corners until the final Lycée chicane. This is a slow-speed right-left with huge kerbs – certainly not wide enough for two cars to pass through side-by-side.  

The BMW can bludgeon its way through the kerbs without issue, however, and it’s possible to use a lot more real estate than you’d think before obtaining that inevitable 1x. 

The V8 sound is hard to love, though – it sounds authentic but just doesn’t have the same appeal as a smooth V6, big block V8 or rasping V10 for me. It’s perfectly realistic, just not to my taste. 

iRacers with a keen interest in real-world motorsport will be glad to know that all of IMSA’s 2023 tracks are offered by the service: Watkins Glen, Road Atlanta, Road America, Laguna Seca, Long Beach, Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, Indianapolis, Lime Rock Park, Sebring, Virginia International Raceway and Daytona.

Several GT3 cars are also available. 

To conclude my test, I took the BMW for a spin at Daytona, the venue for 2023’s Rolex 24. Here, the car felt a little underpowered. The wide expanses of the Tri-Oval really bring the car’s speed (or lack of it) into sharp focus compared to the frankly bonkers early hybrid glory days of Audi, Porsche and Toyota.

The car feels a lot like the Dallara P217 to me. It’s not slow by any means, it felt controllable on the limit and very driveable. It wasn’t so clever in slower corners, however. 

In many ways the BMW feels very similar to the Vanwall Vanderwall LMH recently released for rFactor 2, which makes sense given they will ideally race together in 2024. The Vanwall has the advantage of a four-wheel-drive hybrid system, however, but is arguably more of a handful.  

Mercedes-AMG W13 E Performance 

Next up, I jump into Brackley’s finest and head out for another blast around Magny-Cours in the Mercedes-AMG W13 E Performance. Instantly I feel so much more grip than the BMW – as you’d expect from a Formula 1 car.  

Even though this season’s W13 Mercedes was beset by porpoising problems (thankfully not replicated in iRacing), the car improved exponentially through 2022, eventually taking a win at the Brazilian Grand Prix and several podiums . 

Grande Courbe is a nothing corner now, with Estoril a lift and quick shift into sixth – the speed this thing can carry is insane. Up to the Adelaide hairpin and I’m braking so much later than in the BMW but on corner exit the car is way snappier – there’s no TC to fall back on here. 

The little bump after the hairpin is now a serious obstacle, but a quick shift into fourth gear deals with the worst of the lairiness. The Nürburgring chicane is a full-throttle, seventh-gear delight, with the following corner – a real nasty one in the BMW – becoming so much more manageable with all the extra grip produced by the Merc’s soft Pirellis. 

I can also take some insane speed into the following Imola chicane by lifting on entry and dropping into sixth gear for the left-hand kink and still get the car over to the far left of the track to take the next right at Chateaux d’Eau. It’s amazingly agile.

The Lycée chicane is less of a delight, however, as you need to avoid the right-hand kerb at all costs to avoid an embarrassing spin.

Thanks to 2022’s new F1 rules, the cars sit lower to the ground to take advantage of ground-effect aerodynamics. Kerbs seem to be a no-no generally, especially at lower speeds when downforce isn’t able to settle the rear end.

To test my theory, I took the car out for a spin around Knockhill. Do you want kerbs? Knockhill has kerbs. Last year, I managed to lap the Scottish circuit in 33.2s in 2021’s W12 Mercedes-AMG E Performance in iRacing.  

This year, I’m two-and-a-half seconds off – the W13 simply cannot run over the Turn 1 and chicane kerbs the same way as the W12. Raising the ride height helps, but it rather defeats the purpose of ground-effect aerodynamics…  

Mercedes should really think about using Knockhill as a test track for its F1 cars – and not just because I live ten minutes away… 

Circuit de Nevers Magny-Cours 

Magny-Cours was opened in the ‘60s but found prominence as the venue for the French Grand Prix between 1991 and 2008. However, Formula 1 races at Magny-Cours were often turgid affairs featuring little to no overtaking, prompting widespread apathy when the circuit was dropped from the F1 schedule in 2009. 

On the flip side, as I can attest from my forays with the BMW and Mercedes, the track has some wonderfully challenging sections. The Turn 1 through to Estoril bends are huge fun in the F1 car and a sketchy test of bravery in the LMDh. 

The Nürburgring chicane is also a favourite, with ridiculous entry speeds tempered by an off-camber exit. However, the overall flow of Magny-Cours is too quickly interrupted, giving it a stop-start kind of feeling. The nature of high-speed turns also means that it’s difficult to follow other cars, so it remains to be seen whether the track will be a hit with the iRacing community. 

Lower-powered cars will likely be just fine – I anticipate the Mazda and the new Toyota GR86 will race well around here – but F1 cars, prototypes and even GT3 cars may struggle to maintain clean pack racing. 

These days, the track holds rounds of the GT World Challenge Europe series and French GT championship (FFSA GT Championship); iRacing’s legion of GT3 fans will find some extra racing impetus here. 

Magny-Cours’ virtual recreation mimics the French venue in all regards, but memorable it ain’t. This is because the circuit is largely featureless in the real world. Much of the track is cut off to spectators, which doesn’t help with ambience, but it’s situated in the middle of flat French countryside.

Think Snetterton but with fewer Alan Partridge references. Aha! 

Unfortunately, I also witnessed some texture and grandstand pop-in, which can be a little immersion-breaking. It’s not a huge issue but definitely one to be wary of – a change in graphics settings may be required. 

iRacing has created an exceedingly accurate rendition of Magny-Cours, no question, but whether it’s worth buying or not is a different matter. If you pine for the days when F1 cars powered through its high-speed chicanes, watching Michael Schumacher’s bold four-stop strategy pay off in 2004 and Heinz-Harald Frentzen’s shock win in 1999, then it’s well worth revisiting.  

Back of the net! 

TOYOTA GR86 CUP CAR

When it comes to sheer fun, the Toyota GR86 is an absolute blast to virtually sit in and race around. What is touted as a step up from the world of the entry-level Global Mazda MX-5, the GR86 feels a little more playful, but if you over step it too far, it gets a little weird.

This is a type of car that you can throw it into the corner and benefit on the other side. The weird thing that crops up, that Dave Cam also alluded to in his hands-on video on Wednesday, is that the front tires will lift off the ground if you take a sharper corner at too much speed.

While it never did flip on me once, it did upset the balance of the car, often resulting in oversteer that more than not would break loose. Places like the horseshoes at Daytona, the hairpin at Sonoma and the chicanes at Sebring seemed to trigger this sensation, especially if rumble strips were involved.

I took the GR86 to multiple venues – Daytona was first because it will join the ranks of the ROAR Before the 24 Special Event that iRacing holds yearly, as the Spec class car.

It replaces the Global Mazda MX-5 and will be the slowest class among the three competing, the GT4s as the fastest and the Touring Cars in the middle.

I took the time at Daytona to try out the new Active Reset feature in the Le Mans Chicane on the backstretch – more on that later. Again, it would benefit and drive better the harder I threw it in, to a point. There was definitely a cliff that was difficult to go over, but when I did, it was catastrophic.

This seemed to be true at Sonoma as well. This track was chosen since it will be the first venue of the 2023 GR86 Cup Series schedule. Also, it’s a track I know just as well as Daytona, and with the elevation changes, it portrayed a different set of challenges to learn.

Sebring, which has been reworked in the art department this build, was my last testing trip in the new car. Another venue on the 2023 GR86 Cup schedule, this particular one was a challenge to me as I wasn’t as familiar with the track as the others tested.

One thing with Sebring is that you need to respect the bumps. The GR86 took them like a champ, only ever stepping out when I was going too deep into a corner. No elevation changes at Sebring, so it was pretty straight forward.

This racecar was born in the Toyota Racing Development site in Mooresville, North Carolina. It comes from the modification of a stock GR86 and includes a 6-speed sequential transmission, a 22-gallon fuel cell, specific body work and tons of race ready components.

It might not blow the doors off of the other cars on the service, but these will likely put on a whale of a show if you get enough of them packed up together. We may even need to consider swapping to the car for a future road race over in Monday Night Racing.

LINCOLN SPEEDWAY

Dirt, dirt, dirt. iRacing has been all in on the dirt scene lately, releasing a console racing game with their new subsidiary Monster Games back in September. This year has been huge for the Dirt Oval racers on the service. Why not kick off the official start of 2023 with another dirt oval banger?

What seemed to come out of nowhere, Lincoln Speedway was briefly mentioned on the most recent iRacing Downshift Podcast that this would be likely coming along with other Pennsylvania dirt venues. Then, bam, out of nowhere, Lincoln Speedway appears for $11.95 to own.

While the track originally released on build day with no lights, the Thursday (8th December) hotfix added them in. I was starting to get worried that iRacing might have lost their lighting specialist since Lucas Oil Speedway and the new Atlanta Motor Speedway both shipped light-less.

Anywho, Lincoln Speedway itself is a fun little short track with two tight corners, one at each end, which requires a little bit of braking to make properly no matter what car you’re driving. Of course, the first car I jumped in was the Street Stock, a favorite of mine in the World of Outlaws game and on the iRacing sim.

It’s only a 3/8-mile clay oval, and so the line to get through the corner is a bit different than some of the other tracks already on the service. While getting it sideways enough to turn quickly is key, the longer you slide, the more time you lose off the end of the corner. Getting it to straight line off is important.

Of course, carrying too much speed into the corner will likely result in going past the cushion and into no mans land, which could lead to a date with the concrete wall.

In fact, I didn’t find a vehicle that I liked up in the top lane at all, and while that might come down to personal preference more than anything, I found myself often hugging the inside wall through the corners, arc-ing both into and out of the corner, almost like a reverse diamond.

The 410 Sprint Cars were actually a little more fun by myself than the Street Stocks were. Those giant wings get those Sprints planted into the corners, and it was really a great time letting it slide around for a bit. Getting those in a condensed pack, however, might be something iRacers might not be fond of.

Of course, I had to bring out my bread and butter, the NASCAR vehicles. I don’t think the NASCAR Cup Series NEXT GEN had the proper dirt tires installed. There was absolutely no grip under acceleration.

The NASCAR Trucks did have dirt tires, however they were still a great handful to get around the short oval. I wouldn’t count on Lincoln getting a NASCAR date anytime soon based on the simulations…

NEW FEATURE: ACTIVE RESET

Something that intrigued me when it was revealed months ago was the Active Reset function that could help save time in testing when utilized in iRacing single player test drive sessions.

While the patch notes made it out to seem like rocket science, it really was a relatively painless process. Probably the hardest part about it all was setting up the right buttons… and then remembering which buttons did what.

There are four new mappable control options – Active Reset Save Start Point, Active Reset Run, Custom Sector Mark Start Point and Customer Sector Mark End Point. While you really just need the first two to set the reset point and then reset to it, the other two are useful as well.

How I did it was I would set an Active Reset save start point at top speed in a place that would be safe to reset back to. I would then set my Sector Mark start point a few moments before the first braking zone of the track I wanted to retry. After the section, I’d set a Sector Mark end point and Active Reset back.

I tried this first in the Le Mans Chicane at Daytona Road Course in the new Toyota GR86. Off of NASCAR Turn 2, I hit the Save Start Point. About halfway down, just before the braking zone, I would set the start point of the Custom Sector. I then just easily drove through the chicane and just before NASCAR Turn 3, I hit the Custom Sector Mark End Point.

Now I had my reset point and the sector set. From there, I kept hitting the reset run button and kept trying to improve my time in the custom sector I made. It worked great, instead of having to completely reset to pit road or run another lap. I have to imagine this is going to be adored at places like the Nürburgring or Circuit de la Sarthe.

And there you have it. Now that we’ve gone hands-on with the products, what do you think? Are these tracks, cars, and features all great additions that you’re looking forward to getting into, or are you a bit jaded like Justin is that there was little love for the Asphalt Oval side of the service once again?

Let us know your thoughts on the new content in the comments below. Also tell us if you agree or disagree with our thoughts on the new content. Have a safe iRacing Week 13 and enjoy 2023 Season 1 when Week 1 goes live on 13th December 2022.

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