iRacing uses a ranking system to keep track of everybody's performance so its matchmaking system can provide close wheel to wheel racing. It's not unique in itself as lots of competitive online games use some sort of ranking system. Think of Dota's MMR or League of Legends' Elo, of which the latter may sound familar as the Elo rating system is widely adopted among chess players around the world.
"The Elo rating system is a method for calculating the relative skill levels of players in zero-sum games such as chess. It is named after its creator Arpad Elo, a Hungarian-American physics professor." Wikipedia.com - Elo rating system
Wondering why you gained (or lost) iRating points at the end of a race? There's many factors that come into play when determining whether you earned or lost points at the end of the race. First we will explain what iRating is before we jump into how it's used for matchmaking.
iRating is a numeric value that iRacing's algorithm calculated based on your performance and is then used in matchmaking to achieve close matched racing. Simply put how fast iRacing thinks you are.
iRacing uses their iRating system to determine how fast you are and who should be put together in a race.
This system is quite advanced, but please allow an iRacing team member to explain.
"Everyone that finishes ahead of you in the session takes iRating points away from you. You take iRating points away from everyone that finishes behind you. The number of points in each exchange depends on the two iRatings involved, and which finished ahead of the other. The iRating system uses the Elo rating system from the chess world as its inspiration."iRacing Staff - Randy Cassidy
A really dumbed down version is that if you finish in the top half of the field you should gain iRating. There are outliers, but as a general rule of thumb. Now this depends heavily on the Strength of Field metric which simply put is a combination, or average if you will, of all the drivers iRating who are part of the session.
Imagine on a Saturday afternoon where people are signing up for a popular MX5 or Skip Barber race. There are 80 iRacers who signed up for the race, though we can't fit 80 drivers on any (road) grid or would it be good for your framerate or session stability. Now those 80 drivers will be split up into 4 races, featuring 20 racers each. At this point iRacing's algorithm will create those 4 sessions and try to put people of equal speed (iRating) together.
Now if your iRating is somewhere around a thousand to fifteen hundred ratio, you maybe be put in the 2nd or 3rd split, while if you have an iRating of over 3k, you are likely finding yourself in the fastest session, also known as top split.
Top Split is a term used for the fastest session. Often during high Strength Of Field (SOF) Races, which are likely to occur during peak times (such as certain week nights or weekends).
Simply put, by finishing races in a better position than where you started.
Please note: that this is a very dumb downed version, and there are a lot of details and caveats to take into consideration. For example if you did not qualify, or did not manage to get a good lap in, you might start all the way in 22nd. If you managed to keep it clean and finish in 17th, you are still likely to lose some iRating.
First of all, your race has to go official. This means that enough people signed up to participate in the event. Learn more about Races Going Official.
Although it's a relative score that will always be changing, there are some ballpark figures to use when trying to determine how you weigh up against the rest of the iRacing community. We also highly recommend reading some of these top rated comments on what's considered a good iRating.
Generally speaking anywhere between the 0 - 999 range is considered on the (s)lower side. Races with only iRatings in this range are usually a little hectic and may also contain players who do not belong here based purely on their pace (they are faster than those around them), but for other reasons received this iRating. For example a player who :
Now if you have an iRating that sits between one and two thousand, than you are getting into an interesting mix of players who are likely very evenly matched with you. This will also mean you often find yourself in high participation races in the top split or second split. Both of which will most likely be very hard to win for you, but should give you plenty of opportunity to learn and have some wheel to wheel action.
Somebody with an iRating between two and three thousand has likely sunken a good chunk of time into the sim and is a sim racer with a lot of passion. Exactly the crowd you want to race, most of them are experienced and you will be having a great time going wheel to wheel into any corner.
Wait what, it's over 9000?! Yea it's possible, usually people who are this fast are referenced to as aliens in the sim racing community. Their speed is simply unnatural and therefor it's believed that these are actually aliens showing us a thing or two. All jokes asides, these are very talented sim racers and often can be found coaching or getting opportunities to race in the real world.
Now this is a bit of a controversial one as both iRating and your Safety Rating should be a result of you participating in races. By trying to game the system you might have a higher iRating than the system designed for you to have. It will be great to post in your forum signature or boost your ego (which is totally fine), but you might end up in races against stronger opponents and iRacing still believes you should be on the podium in order to not lose any points. Which is also the beauty of the system, the more you race the more likely you will race against equally skilled opponents.
With all of this in mind, you can approach each race from an analytical standpoints before considering joining. There's a great post that focuses on Oval series and how to boost your iRating.
Let's assume you do not want to reduce your participation, but you simply want to get a higher number to get into better splits. A few things to keep in mind:
I get it, this is the advice you saw everywhere already. And I'm sure you have been practicing - which is great! One thing I will note is that consistency is key, so besides practicing a quick lap, try to get 10 or 15 laps in a row all between 1 or 2 tenths. If you can reproduce this pace, you are off to a great start as spinning or going off track loses you a lot of time. Don't underestimate the power of being consistent.
From this additional practice will come the ability to set a consistent fast lap. This doesn't mean you have to drive on the edge, however it can help to take out almost all the fuel for this lap and just have it be a quick one. Not the fastest, but somewhat quick. What this does is make you start in the top half of the split, which already means that half of the potential wrecks happen behind you.
This is easier said than done. Often accidents could have been avoided. The key word here is often, because there are situations where you may be on the receiving end of some bad luck of karma. And that happens, it's racing. Get out of your bucket seat or make shift racing (kitchen) chair - and stretch your legs. Drink some water, grab a snack. Then, decide wether you want to sign up for another. Being in the right mindset is important. Being frustrated or annoyed will not help you. It's understandable, but if you sign up for more races while being frustrated, the chances of getting into trouble or accidents is significantly higher.
All of the pointers above should lead to finishing more races (which in turn should result in more iRating). The practice makes you consistent, the qualifying lap will get you further up the grid, staying out of trouble helps you keep your car in one peace, and finishing more races will result in an increase in iRating (unless you already have a high iRating).
Note that this advice mainly works for sim racers with an iRating of 2k or lower. Once you get higher up, you do genuinely need to have some pace in order to compete.
Generally speaking, since you start out with 1300~ iRating, this could be considered as the average iRating. It could be said that if you have an iRating of over 2500, you would probably beat the average iRacing member if you were to be matched up to 5 random members. You can also see where you fit by going to Results and Stats -> Driver Stats and then finding your position relative to all members. It is believed that the majority of players sit around the 1300-1400 mark.
Although overall it depends, there's definitely a pattern to be found when it comes to drivers with a higher iRating and the amount of incident points they accrue on average. Between 5-8 points is not uncommon, while having more than 10 incident points is rare among high rated sim racers. This makes sense as getting into tangles or off track generally loses you time (cough not including off tracks on Spa cough). There's a great breakdown on the distribution of iRating you can find on you suck at racing.