Two points SCHRS World committee does an end of the year analysis comparing the gaps in time between the Formula prediction and actual race results. They publish this analysis. For 2017 they report that the gaps or deltas are 2 percent or less for 5 major classes using large events in France for the race data.
Of course a strong one design fleet will see 20 to 40 percent deltas between first and last place finishers sailing identical boats in class... even at the Olympic level! The SCHRS formula is remarkably accurate and no changes to the formula were called for in 2018.
To put this into perspective... consider a theoretical race. with 10 30 footers all sailed equally well. At the weather mark 9 boats will becoming in on starboard and will have to randomly line up bow to stern on the lay line.... The boat on port tack will get to the weather mark exactly the same time as the first boat on Starboard... However, the RRS of sailing will force port to duck the entire parade of boats and round the weather mark in 10th PLACE... On time... they will be 270 feet behind... or around 6 percent behind on time pending their speed over the ground... Even tho they sailed a perfect race. So... what this means is that the RRS will introduce as much as 6 percent error when you try to measure its performance around the race track. SCHRS has developed an accurate measurement formula for beach cats.
Second point, you write
"the sailors seemed to finish pretty much in the same positions regardless of the boats they raced;"
I agree, the pecking order in a fleet is really a good measure of sailing skill and as you noted.... a very good quick check on the validity of any set of calculated race results. We know the top sailors and we salute anyone who sails really well that day and breaks up the ol pecking order...
IMO, what we want is a handicap game that has Accuracy, Transparency, Authority and Robustness. We can go CRAZY about the last significant number in your rating... Forgetting that the RRS introduce noise... We really should value the other three attributes equally.... Having a rating system that is transparent eliminates a lot of the backbiting that undermines a sailors good performance.. Having an Authority outside of the local region also goes a long way in building support for a system. Darline Hobock, was a singular personality who generated national support for her volunteer efforts in administering US Portsmouth for us. SCHRS builds this authority in by its multinational contributors and international support. Of course Robustness ... ie can it handle Mike Fahles custom and home built sail for his mystere 4.3 (I think that was the last sail I remember you working on) is unique to us in the multihull world..... those dinghy sailors tend not to fiddle with their boats in the same way we do....
Now... what happens when Steve Clark's UFO wants to come racing is a new problem... so... hmmm....