Simulation racing is a step above your average video game. It's so ultra-realistic, you just might bump into your favorite real-life professional racer with some downtime in your next online lobby. But what happens if it turns out he drives like a giant jerk, and officials keep letting it slide? [Updated with comment from Scott Speed below.]
Scott Speed has definitely made a name for himself over his decade-plus racing career, starting in 2005 as the first American to compete full-time in Formula 1 since Michael Andretti departed in 1993. Since then, he's driven in NASCAR, IndyCar, and Formula E; most recently, he's found success in Red Bull Global RallyCross, scoring his third consecutive championship in 2017. But more recently, he's become known to fans of the popular simulator iRacing for something much more dubious: Intentionally crashing into fellow drivers to take them out of the race. Speed confirmed to The Drive that he's since been suspended from the service over his actions.
The controversy flared up this week after Speed ended up in a grid against professional sim racer Jake Hewlett in a spec Porsche 911 race on the Nurburgring Grand Prix circuit. Hewlett also happens to be a streaming partner with Twitch, and he was broadcasting the race to his thousands of followers when he and Speed got tangled up on the second lap while battling for the lead. The pair made contact while running side-by-side out of the Dunlop Kehre, a tight 180-degree hairpin turn, and Speed ended up spinning off into the grass.
A perfectly unremarkable incident, though what happened next was anything but: Instead of brushing off the collision, Speed spent much of the rest of the race trying to ram Hewlett's car whenever he got the chance. Video evidence from the stream shows him repeatedly and purposefully veering into Hewlett, in one case cutting a corner at high speeds in an attempt to smash him off the track.
If this sounds like an average Saturday night on Xbox Live to you, consider the rarefied circumstances at play here. iRacing is an expensive, subscription-based simulator that prides itself on an obsessive commitment to realism, from the laser-scanned tracks and granular tuning details right down the rulebook itself. It offers real, organized racing series with the real-life backing of bodies like NASCAR and IndyCar—and real money at stake for the winners. Meanwhile, Scott Speed is a professional racing driver who has competed on the highest, most respected stages in motorsport. He's also something of a brand ambassador for iRacing after becoming involved in their recent push to develop and promote a new slate of official rallycross content.
In other words, it's not a place where these kinds of shenanigans are welcome, especially from someone officially affiliated with the service. Fans and members have made their displeasure known accordingly: After clips of the incident from this week spread around Reddit, other players began sharing videos of their own run-ins with Speed over the last few months, claiming they had shared them with iRacing officials to no effect.
Another clip recorded back in December shows him trying to slam an opponent into a hairpin wall at full throttle during a rallycross race, though others have pointed out that the driver had previously rear-ended him. Many have called for Speed to be at least temporarily banned from the service, which is typically not shy about excommunicating those who break the rules and shatter the sense of realism for everyone else.
Yet iRacing has been curiously silent on the matter. We reached out to the company for clarification, and a spokesman told The Drive that while they don’t comment on individual members “regardless of who they are,” everyone is subject to the same rules and regulations regarding intentional wrecking. The Twitter handle for a professional sim racing team called Geodesic Racing posted their own email exchange on the matter with iRacing Chief Steward Nim Cross, who called the evidence "accusations and assumptions" and said those involved needed to file an official protest through the company's established channels before any action would be taken.
However, Speed confirmed to The Drive that he has been suspended from iRacing and that he accepts the consequences of his behavior. He doesn't sound particularly happy about it, though.
"This is not real life, it's a game. The penalty for my action if protested against, is a suspension, which I accept[ed] and received. I personally wouldn't feel like a man protesting a guy who I just accidentally wrecked out of the lead for returning the favor," he wrote. "But that's me, and I understand that thinking is not treating iRacing with the appropriate amount of respect and is wrong. For that I sincerely apologize."
That suspension might explain why Speed also posted a Facebook Marketplace listing for his entire racing simulator setup for $7,500 as criticism grew throughout the week. Yet even as he hung up his virtual driving gloves, he couldn't resist mixing it up with his detractors again, mocking a commenter by saying he was going back to "making a living racing." In other words, bye, loser.
Of course, the internet has a way of striking back, and several people have already posted heavily edited clips of Speed cribbed from iRacing promos that make it sound like he's discussing his tips and strategies for ramming opponents.
This wouldn't be Speed's first brush with controversy. Back in 2008, Speed got into it with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. when both were racing in the season finale for the NASCAR feeder series ARCA; in apparent retaliation for an earlier collision, Speed accelerated into the back of Stenhouse's car on a turn and wrecked them both. ARCA officials pulled Speed from the race.
For a simulation service that's built on selling a totally realistic experience to the public, it can be invaluable to have a professional racer in the mix—but it can be just as damaging when they decide to go rogue.