Spa-gate and biscotto

Barely a month ago an ironic update was announced by FIA for the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend consisting on an electronic system to detect driver offtrack at corners 4 and 11. These were corners where going wide is was posible to gain some time due to a well paved runoff. I said it was ironic because Steve Myers took credit from Twitter for iRacing incidents system working in a similar way since 2008.

myersA stronger safety commitment has been taken in the FIA since Jean Todt reached the presidency, and with Charlie Whiting and safety commissioners, have been working to change a bunch of almost invisible elements. Before, it was usual to avoid cutting track with higher and dangerous kerbs damaging cars trying to discourage drivers from even thinking about it. This approach was against safety measures on track and now every kerb is thinner and flatter than ever, nice tarmac runoffs where it is possible and many different soft wall surfaces. Electronic monitoring was a logical step forward to take. Laurent Mekies confirmed this at the end of the last year.

“Track limits are easy to enforce from a sporting point of view, you put higher kerbs on the track and nobody goes over them, but this gives us safety concerns when the car hits the kerbs.
So as a result, kerbs are getting thinner and thinner and lower and lower and we do eventually get issues with track limit management.
What we are doing is to try to have a broad approach at this issue and look at how we could combine new kerb solutions with electronic solutions and see if a combination of these two things can help.”

Hungaroring-Circuit-LayoutAfter Austrian GP and Silverstone incidents, FIA exploited works in Hungarian pavement to install electronic sensors in conflictive corners and modified rules book and penalties to observe this new situation. Notification about in force rules was as follows.

“During the race, and in accordance with article 27.4 of the sporting regulations, any driver who is judged to have left the track three times at these corners (when counted cumulatively) will be shown a black and white flag,” said the FIA in a note to the teams.
One further crossing will result in a report being made to the stewards for not having made every reasonable effort to use the track.
As discussed, this is likely to result in a drive-through penalty for any driver concerned.”

In a nutshell, system consisted in three warnings to every driver before giving a drive through.

Hockenheim (Germany), next GP in the schedule, was going to abandon these penalties and a thoroughly monitoring due to its lack of conflicting corners but only in the first practice at least 93 offtrack issues were recorded in corner 1, so the Hungarian GP rules were in effect again. These two experiences were a nice test case and valuable experience to expand policies in the rest of the tracks in the schedule.

Going back to the post title, if Myers took some credit for his efforts, Spa 24 hours weekend was a great disappointment, even embarrassing sometimes and should make iRacing staff think about how to handle some track-car combinations.

Spa 24 hours was an endurance event, and as every endurance event was free-incident limit leaving to the drivers decide if the SR price was worth to pay to fulfill their goals even losing licenses. There were some flagrant cases.

12ALZ09_CMYK_Belgien_01_RBHSpa is a very complex track were the limit is very thin. With many fast corners, traction may not working always as expected but its runoffs are wide enough to ensure nothing will happen. There are at least 4 o 5 corners where you can use these runoffs to gain some time going wide. GT3 cars using all perks per lap could gain a maximum of 0.7 secs, multiplied 600 times as in a 24 hours race, they could meaning a 3 laps advantage over another team racing a tighter line.

Every split had teams racing this way, not scoring a clean lap in the whole event and therefore anger and rage spread across many threads in forums. People ask for changes, like were in Daytona 24 hours event last year, for this not happening again. We are talking about media impact of a product trying to show itself as a professional training tool and a simracing reference in e-sports. Spa has been a blot, with collusion of teams and iRacing staff. Many doubts remain now open about e-sports management and Sporting Code.

top_splitTop split, streamed in at least three teams were over 1023 incidents (max showing in the report, more than 1400 incidents in total) and most of them going up to 400 or 500 incidents in 605 laps. Only Team Chimera, eighth place, was able to finish with less than 100 incidents.

Forums and social networks were places to admonish all these attitudes the day after.

“Was excessive? Yes, we acknowledge, but we were not racing better time laps, just keeping a constant pace lap after lap. We wouldn’t lost any position having 800 less offtrack incidents.”

With the following response:

“This should be a kind of a joke. You keep talking arguments to defend something indefensible. Shameless to say not losing position and not racing better time laps. If you find yourself trapped you just find another excuse. iRacing was clear and you keep saying anything but: yes, we did it, we took advantage of a system fault. We did it on purpose and to get the best position.”

More people talking about the event:

“did about 160 laps at the 24H Spa and 19 inc. For my feeling still 3 to many. And wasn’t the slowest in that split.”

image1.img.640.medium“If you finish the 24H on the podium with more than 150 inc you didn’t deserve that podium place at all. Just my opinion!”

“As stated before… if you go wide so often like the majority of the fellas did then it is obviously on propose… why should you go offtrack so often, if not for gaining time and being too fast? Do you want to tell me that these guys do not know the track limits?”

“Why can they respect the limits in qualifying but not in the race? Because in qualifying you will be punished appropriately but not in the race… that stinks”

“the thing for me is that on the mentioned tracks everyone can “abuse” the track limits and use the better line, but on spa drivers who try to avoid offtracks are at a disadvantage compared to drivers who don’t give a shit and go full throttle through blanchimont for example. it’s simply not very sportsmanlike.”

What to do

image16x9.img.1536.highMany proposals have been arguing these days, although of course everybody is thinking about how the new rule could fit themselves, which is a little depressing. Some of them are useless nonsense like reduce even more limit incidents per race, DQ at x6 in oval, DT and Stop and Go in a 30 mins race per incidents and many more ultra punitive and crazy ideas.

On the bright side many users agreed in the need to split offtrack and another kind of incidents. It is a huge change and maybe a too important one to develop as a response for an isolated event, so maybe we should think how to apply solutions for this problem.

  • As with Daytona and the apron limits, rules could be in effect only for these kind of tracks to discourage drivers going wide to gain time. Drivers can only use the racing surface for qualifying and racing. The apron is not defined as racing surface, example Daytona Road Course. Cars may not use the apron to gain an advantage in qualifying or racing. Any advantage will be determined by This section may be protested.

  • An overall limit for these endurance events with a DQ for the team.
  • Incidents limit for every driver in the team forcing to switch driver when driving over it. This limit could be permanent implying an individual DQ or resetting every with a driver switch.
  • Having slow down areas in Spa like Imola. At the beginning this could be a way to proceed but we know many drivers would control the way time is decreasing and slowing down pursuers and endangering other drivers.
  • Drive Through or Stop and Go matching a number of incidents. Leaves some margin to play with it to the team and could be misused.

No matter what action or solution should be applied but I consider two principles must be enforced.

  1. Sanctions should be within the race.
  2. Sanctions shouldn’t interfere directly or indirectly with other drivers on track.

Situations like these are those which iRacing has to manage in a very different way from the rest of the sims and games and stay away from possibles issues that could lead to a bad image or wrong association of the target group they want to reach.

I wish it was the last time we have to talk about it but sadly I don’t think so. Next, Le Mans in two months. We’ll see what happens.

Note: “Biscotto” is more specific in the sense there need not be an exchange of money, because the secretly-agreed-upon result is of mutual benefit to the agreeing parties.

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