Tuesday, December 6, 2022

A Departing Solstice

It's been over a decade since General Motors retired the Pontiac brand, but on iRacing the Pontiac Solstice has remained on the service offering drivers a great car to learn the basics of car control and race craft.

When iRacing began, the Solstice was the car everyone had to start in if they wanted to road race. Call it the rookie trainer, but if you wanted to run faster cars on road circuits you had to start with the car that handled, well, it certainly wasn't a modern F1 car, or a F1 car from the 50's. It was heavy, clunky, but it did exactly what it was meant to do and that was give racers a good foundation for their sim-racing talents.

The start of my iRacing career was filled with many summer afternoons with that car. I started picking up some wins and I thought I was hot stuff, but then a driver that has the same name as current NTT INDYCAR Series Champion, Will Power, came on and suddenly I was 1.5 seconds off the pace. My confidence, and ego, were quickly put into place. Second place.

Like most, I moved on from the Solstice. It was still on the service, and it was still there, but it was a car I never thought to run. I'd see it frequently as I ran in a series that had it in a multi-class series, but I'd see it in passing or hear it mentioned when other drivers referred to it as a "Slowstice" or a "Puntiac". Memories, however, would always flash in my brain as I passed a Slowstice, ahem, Solstice from those days starting out and it would bring a smile. Yesterday, though, the era of the Solstice we found out would come to an end.

The loss of the car brought about an odd emotional reaction, mainly of which was sadness. I quickly got on the iRacing forums to try and orchestrate a big sendoff race in its last official race. I hadn't touched the car in a decade but there was a strange conviction that I had to do this. I had to do one last race in it. Would I be competitive? While I'm highly competitive, that didn't matter. First, last, didn't matter. It was about the car and the memories of driving it as a rookie and trying to find that tenth of a second that other people had that I didn't. It was about a time iRacing is nowhere where it is today. Hundreds of cars and tracks? Ha! It was a handful of each. We are spoiled now, compared to then, and yet for those that were on there on the opening years may from time to time yearn for that simpler time... and then we drive the newest car around the Nürburgring, and we are quickly glad for modern comforts.

The final race was a somber 25-minute race around Laguna Seca. It was one of the chattiest races I've been a part of as we all told our favorite memories of the car. While many moved on, it remained some driver's favorite car as the skillset of the car is one of pure exit speed and power cannot mask a driver's errors, such as mine yesterday, and it offered a different type of race than, say, modern GT3 racing. However, and this could be the true cause of my emotional response yesterday, time and life moves on.

We should be grateful iRacing kept the car around for almost 13 years after Pontiac became defunct. I recall people posting memories of Pontiac when that announcement was made that GM would no longer make the brand. Time moves on. Life moves on. Whether it's real steel, or a collection of pixels, it does seem everything in life has an expiration date and while I always saw the Solstice in passing on the track, it never came to mind that with each passing it was nearing the finish line. How many things in life are like this? It's hard to grasp this on a daily basis and we never know what was there until it was gone. The Solstice though is now gone and retired from official competition. Sure, it was just a collection of pixels on my screen and in the grand scheme of life it was of little consequence, but it's an end of an era. All eras do end, but it's amazing that a simulated car could've elicited an emotional response from those that noticed, remembered, and celebrated the car that was the Solstice.

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