With the line between real and virtual racing becoming increasingly blurred, and more and more pro racers making sims a tool to hone their skills, it takes a serious amount of talent, commitment and practice to rise to the top in the world of online racing. So, step forward iRacing ace Ray Alfalla, who's definitely earned the inaugural iRacer of the Year title.
2011 was an exceptional year for Alfalla (with Dale Earnhardt Jr. (LEFT), even before he collected the biggest prize in online motorsports.
In March 2011, the Floridian drove to fourth place in the iRacing.com Intel GP Series World Finals in Germany. He was also one of only a half dozen racers to qualify for both of the world's premier online racing series: the NASCAR iRacing.com Series World Championship (NiSWC) and the iRacing.com NVIDIA Grand Prix Series (iNGPS).
Alfalla proceeded to score 11 top five finishes (including wins at Daytona, Richmond and Texas) en route to the NiSWC title in his ProGeek Chevy Impala. His rewards included a trip to Homestead-Miami Speedway, where he collected his NASCAR championship ring and a check for $10,500 in ceremonies preceding the 2011 Sprint Cup finale.
He didn't fare too badly in the iNGPS either, piloting his digital Williams-Toyota FW31 to top fives at Phillip Island and Zandvoort before focusing on the NASCAR series. Nevertheless, he finished 15th in the overall standings, the highest-placed American.
A student in forensics at Florida Gulf Coast University, Alfalla plans to pursue a career in criminal investigations. He also entertains hopes of breaking into real world racing; hopes that will not have been dimmed by his online racing success or the entrée to the inner circles of the sport provided by his NASCAR championship.
How the iRacer of the Year was decided
As most any professional athlete will tell you, earning the respect of his or her peers means more than all the other awards put together. So when iRacing.com decided to honor its top competitor for 2011, it only made sense for the online racing service's 30,000+ members around the world to have the final say.
The many worthy candidates were narrowed down to five finalists including Floridian Ray Alfalla (2011 NiSWC champion and iNGPS competitor), Elmira, NY's Chris Hughson (winner of more than 1200 online races in 2011), Finland's Greger Huttu (legendary sim racer who won the iRacing.com Intel GP Series World Finals), Brazilian Hugo Luis (2011 iNGPS champion) and Danish student Yang Ou (winner of both iRacing's IZOD IndyCar Premier Oval and Road series).
As befitting an online motorsports simulation service, the voting was conducted online in December, with Alfalla emerging as the consensus choice.
iRacing is the world's foremost online racing service, enabling members to race digital versions of some two dozen race cars in real time on more than fifty of the world's legendary race tracks. The service is updated regularly, with new cars, tracks and features added several times a year.
iRacing stages hundreds of races weekly, and also provides a platform for private leagues to stage their own events. The service boasts its own sanctioning body and licensing structure, enabling members to progress from entry level series to the pinnacle of online racing embodied by the Pro Series, which feature live Internet broadcasts.
Increasingly, professional racers use iRacing to hone their skills, learn new tracks . . . and for fun. The recent iRacing Pro Race of Champions attracted drivers from NASCAR, IndyCar, ALMS, Grand-Am, NHRA and the Australian V8 Super Car Series.
Founded in 2004 by Dave Kaemmer (co-founder of Papyrus Design Group) and John Henry (principle owner of the Boston Red Sox and co-owner of Roush Fenway Racing), iRacing currently has more than 30,000 members worldwide.