LAST UPDATED: July 1, 2020
Skip Barber’s eRace Series is the Best Competitive Sim Racing Experience You Can Get for $20
A week spent chasing the racing dream... from an office chair.
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PUBLISHED ON July 1, 2020
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Equipped with a $200 wheel and pedal set, a homemade scrap-wood rig to hold it together, and very little sim racing skill, I entered a week of the Skip Barber Racing School eRace Series. For $20, I was promised a week of practice, competitive qualifying, and a shot to compete in a prize-laden sim race. What I actually got out of it was so much more.
I can’t stop telling my friends and family about the Skip Barber sim racing experience. I’ve become that guy. You’ve just become those friends.
The moment I played Gran Turismo on the original PlayStation, I was hooked on racing games that had elements of realism. Since then, I’ve continued to buy more of these games than I have time to fully enjoy. From the Forza Motorsport and Dirt series to Need for Speed and Project Cars, my backlog was overwhelming, but my desire to pick up a controller and play one of them was seriously waning.
I ordered a modest racing wheel and pedal set that wouldn't break the bank (and wasn’t complete garbage). Thrustmaster’s PC / Xbox One compatible TMX Force Feedback came highly recommended and was affordable at around $200. Pine boards and deck screws left over from past projects formed a quick stand that can hold the wheel and pedals securely where I like them and bind the wheels of my desk chair in place relative to the controls. It’s not pretty, but it’s functional and stupid-cheap. Of course, an easy argument can be made to order a $120 adjustable metal wheel and pedal stand instead.
After installing iRacing and Assetto Corsa, I was ready to race, and then to be completely frustrated by how difficult it was to control a virtual car on a virtual race track.
I didn’t expect to post top lap times my first time out, but having some autocross experience and a ton of racing game experience, I did expect to complete some laps without being a danger to other virtual drivers. I kept at it for a few weeks but wasn’t progressing like I wanted. I just couldn’t get confident.
If this was real life racing skill that I wanted to improve, I would go to a racing school like Skip Barber. So I went looking for virtual racing schools and found a few guys that will shadow you and provide instruction over Discord. I was about to employ one of them when a friend turned me onto the Skip Barber eRace Series.
For $20 I could enter a week-long hot-lap competition on a custom track in a virtual Skip Barber Formula 4 race car using the Assetto Corsa simulation engine. With a top-20 finishing time, I would get virtual instruction from a Skip Barber Racing School instructor and be entered to compete in a sim race with the other 19 qualifiers.
That was enough for me to sign up, but the prizes up for grabs each week were a bonus hook. The site claims over half a million dollars worth of prizes will be awarded throughout the series, and that figure is easy to believe. The grand championship prize is a five-day competition licensing race school, Skip Barber Racing School coaching, and a non-virtual seat in the 2020 Skip Barber Race Series. Weekly prizes change each week and are just as impressive, including racing school packages and credit at any of the Skip Barber Racing Schools in the US.
Just for participating in a weekly qualifier, I got a $200 credit to a non-virtual Skip Barber Racing School. I plan to attend their school at Road Atlanta next year, so this was a no-brainer value: On top of the sim racing experience, I was spending $20 to save $200.
After creating a UMG Gaming account and installing the Skip Barber launcher software, I was ready to practice. The launcher starts Assetto Corsa, loads the correct car and circuit, tracks competitors’ times, and prevents cheating. It’s just a bit more involved than installing a typical PC game, but overall, it’s very straightforward and easy to do. Skip Barber maintains a presence on Discord not just for race control, broadcasters, and friendly banter, but also for technical support. Any issues I saw crop up in the channels were quickly addressed and remedied.
After a week of practice, competitors have a 14-hour block of time to turn in their best qualifying hot lap. The top 20 not only go on to compete in a competitive race, but they also receive real-time Skip Barber instruction specific to their driving during a training session during the next week.
I won’t lie to you, my friends, after all the racers had finished, I missed qualifying by one position, and I was heartbroken.
But instead of sulking, I chose to watch the live streams of my betters receiving their real-time instruction, and it filled me with resolve and excitement. Not only did it make me immediately sign up for the next week, but just listening to the Skip Barber instructors coach my competitors gave me tips and refinements that improved my hot lap times by more than two seconds on the same course.
The fact remains that my experience with the Skip Barber eRace Series was worth far more than the $20 I spent. I’m confident there’s no better introduction to competitive sim racing available, and I encourage all my friends to give it a go before this season ends.