Big Lies #5: the string analogy

This is post #5 in a series of articles about some of the biggest lies in high performance driving. In this post, I’m going to address one of the dumber teaching analogies.

The string analogy

Imagine a string connecting the bottom of your steering wheel to the throttle pedal. When you’re at full throttle with the wheel straight, the string is taught. If you turn the wheel, it will pull on the string, causing the throttle pedal to rise. In a very coarse-grained linear model, you have inputs something like this.

  • 100% throttle, 0% steering
  • 75% throttle, 25% steering
  • 50% throttle, 50% steering
  • 25% throttle, 75% steering
  • 0% throttle, 100% steering

So what’s the point of this analogy? I think the lesson is that drivers need to find a balance between throttle and steering. And that’s a good point, but it’s an over-simplification that ultimately misdirects attention that would be better spent elsewhere.

Alternatively

The reason people suck at racing isn’t because of the corner exit, it’s because of the corner entry. Instead of imagining the string being connected to the throttle pedal, what if we attached it to the brake pedal? As you turn into the corner, you simultaneously release the brake pedal. That’s a useful thought because one of the biggest mistakes intermediate drivers make is snapping off the brake pedal. Easing off the brake will keep the car from rocking, which will improve grip. Good. Having a mixture of steering and brake will help the car rotate. More good. But ultimately, this analogy is also flawed.

Timing

The problem with the string analogies is that they over-simplify driving mechanics. As Paul Gerrard says in Optimum Drive, competence lies in the subtleties, not generalities. You should start to release the brakes slightly before turning, not at the same time. And as the back end loses some grip and rotates, you may not need to increase steering at all. In fact, you may have to make a steering correction in the opposite direction to prevent spinning. You may also find a mid-corner stab helps if you entered just a little too slow or used up too much grip. On the way out of the corner, you should open the steering wheel a little before adding power, not at the same time. And in a momentum car, you can actually mash the throttle much of the time.

Mind and Body

A studious person might try to break down all of the little steps and memorize each stage. While that’s useful from a pedagogical perspective, it fails in practice. Knowing in your brain doesn’t equate to knowing in your body. Books don’t improve muscle memory. But practice does. However, practice refines your current technique whether it’s correct or not. So you also have to use your brain to figure out if your muscle memory is going down the optimal path or not.

How do you use your brain to figure out if you’re practicing correctly? Data. Examine the data of faster drivers and compare them to your own.

What if you don’t know how to analyze data? Get help in the form of a coach.

Where do you get data of racers driving the exact same car under the exact same conditions? Simulation of course.

How do you train your muscle memory? You can do it with a decent sim rig, which can be built for $1000-3000 depending on how you do it. Oh yeah, and a few hundred hours of deliberate practice with some coaching sprinkled in.

Big Lies #4: they’re just driving harder

This is post #4 in a series of articles about some of the biggest lies in high performance driving. In this post, I’m going to address one of the favorite excuses of the slower driver: “they’re just driving harder”.

Just

What does just mean in this context? That driving harder is a simple switch that can be turned on and off at will. It’s like saying “I could drive faster if I wanted, but I choose not to”. If you’re on a race track with the intent of driving fast, what would motivate someone to drive slower? Actually, there are legitimate reasons for driving at 7 tenths rather than 9 or 10.

  • Safety – As you drive closer and closer to the limit, danger increases. And by limit, I mean both the limit of the driver and the car. But it’s more about the limit of the driver. A driver who gets in over his head may wreck his car, someone else’s car, parts of the track, etc. All of these can add up to expensive expenses. Knowing your limit and the limit of your car will help you identify danger, and driving under that limit will keep more money in your pocket.
  • Consumables – Driving faster means using up more obvious consumables like tires, fuel, and brake pads. But all components on cars are wear items to some degree, and all get used up more quickly the faster one laps a track. In an endurance race, saving fuel, tire, and pad can mean the difference between winning and losing, or even finishing. At the Buttonwillow 24, we brought 2 sets of brake pads and the first set lasted only 8 hours. Driving the next 16 hours on one set of pads meant we had to completely change our driving style to save the pads. We ended up placing 3rd overall with less than 1 mm of pad.

Harder

The real problem with the phrase “they’re just driving harder” is that driving harder isn’t what makes one person faster than another. Speed comes from acuteness of reception, quickness of action, and precision of inputs. Fast drivers understand the subtleties of driving better than slow drivers. It’s been a while since I made a tennis analogy, but I think tennis will put this into perspective.

They’re beating me because they’re just hitting harder

If you have ever played tennis in your life, you know that hitting the ball harder isn’t going to win many matches. At nearly every level of play, the placement of the ball (in the court) is much more important than its speed. At higher levels, ball speed can become a weapon, but it takes a lot of skill to hit a ball hard and make sure it stays inside the lines. And so it is with driving. Driving faster requires skill earned from many hours of practice. It’s not a switch to turn on and off on a whim.

Just Harder

There is no just harder. Anyone using this phrase is protecting their ego with a misunderstanding of high performance driving. It’s like a double ended sword: they’re cutting themselves as they say it.

If you really want to show people how conscientiously you drive, prove it. Let your actions speak for themselves. Do one burner lap that shows what you’re capable of and then back off the rest of the day.

A walk on the mild side

If you’re one of those people who makes a conscious decision to optimize safety and wear, I applaud you. Not only that, but I’d be happy to have you race on my team. I don’t care about winning. So I don’t care about your lap time. I do care about maintenance and making sure everyone gets to drive. So drive under your limit, save the car, and don’t be a hazard. But you can probably find a space for a burner lap in there somewhere.

Big Lies #3: don’t coast

This is post #3 in a series of articles about some of the biggest lies in high performance driving. In this post, I’m going to address the myth that you should never coast on a race track. Another way of saying this is “you should always be on throttle or brake”.

Crabbing and coasting

There are two common behaviors you see in drivers who are early in their development: crabbing and coasting.

Crabbing is moving sideways on the way into a corner (like a crab). The driver sets up on the outside of the track, like they were told to by their coach (except me, see last article). But instead of turning in from the outside of the track, they start creeping in toward the middle of the track as they approach the braking zone. This decreases the radius of the corner for no good reasons. There are good reasons to set up mid-track, such as defending position, or driving a rain line, but crabbing is unintentionally throwing away speed or grip.

Lots of novices and low intermediates coast into brake zones. Instead of holding the throttle open all the way to the braking point, they let off the throttle and then coast a little before applying their brakes. Coasting a little before braking is a way to save tires and brakes when endurance racing. So it can be appropriate under specific circumstances. But during an HPDE session, there’s really no point.

Both crabbing and coasting are caused by a lack of confidence, or fear if you like. Both should go away in time as the driver gets used to the track and the car. That said, I’ve seen coaches who coast into brake zones (see the Cliff’s Notes post).

Coasting as an exercise

Two posts ago, I showed a speed trace of my brother doing a 3rd gear no brakes exercise. That’s a really great drill for several reasons.

  • You appreciate how much the car slows down from wind resistance. At 100 mph, taking your foot of the throttle makes a noticeable difference.
  • If you’re not allowed to use the brakes, you’ll naturally start to increase your entry speed. This is a good thing!
  • The more you do the drill, the better you will get at sensing your speed.
  • As you increase your entry speed, you’ll start to realize how much speed you scrub off by turning. This is especially true in slow corners because 3rd gear will be too tall and you’ll appreciate every mph lost.

As a training tool, intentional coasting is a great drill.

Always throttle or brake?

The problem with telling people they should always be on throttle or brake is that the phrase has no nuance. How much throttle? How much brake? Without knowing, I think drivers assume that means 100%. Why do I think this? Because most intermediate level drivers I coach alternately mash one pedal and then the other. But maximum speed requires maximum grip, and to attain maximum grip, you have to balance the vehicle. That happens at partial throttle and partial brake. And the utmost balancing happens between the two: i.e. coasting. In longer corners, there may be extended periods of partial pedal and in U-shaped corners where the 2 bends are are at an inconvenient distance, there may even be periods of coasting.

Being witty

With each one of these posts I’m trying to come up with a witty counter-phrase. The phases “never coast” and “always throttle or brake” just aren’t that catchy. Here’s my effort.

Coasting is like asymmetry: ugly when accidental, elegant when intended.

Big Lies #2: use the whole track

This is post #2 in a series of articles about some of the biggest lies in high performance driving. In this post, I’m going to address one of those things HPDE coaches say with a chuckle: “use the whole track, you paid for it”.

The whole track

What exactly do people/coaches mean when they say “use the whole track”? Certainly they don’t mean that you should zig-zag back and forth to make sure you tread all of it, but that’s the image in my mind when I hear it. Since I never say it, I’m going to suppose they mean to take an outside-inside-outside path through a corner. You know, set up on the outside, turn in and touch the apex, track out to the exit. That kind of path maximizes the radius through the corner and therefore maximizes your speed. That should minimize your lap times too, right? Not always.

Imagine you’re all alone on a 16 lane highway (8 each side) and you want to make a U-turn. Given that nobody else is around and you can take any path to make that turn, are you really going to set up on the outside, cross 8 lanes to hit the apex, and then cross another 8 lanes to track all the way to the exit? Legality aside, it’s actually not faster because you traverse way too much track. The racing line through a corner depends on the acceleration of the vehicle, the grip of the tires, the geometry of the corner, and the width of the road. When acceleration approaches grip, it’s better to drive the shortest path even in a 90 degree corner. At this point you should be saying “show me the data”. And I will, but in another post. For now, let me point out that in a 360 degree corner (a skid pad) the smallest radius is always the fastest way around. That’s because velocity increases with the square root of the corner radius but the circumference increases linearly.

Explore the space

I think “use the whole track” is actually a very advanced lesson, and not something you teach novices. In fact, I don’t want novices to use the whole track. I would prefer that they leave quite a bit of margin for error, especially on the exit. So I never say “use the whole track”. If you were my student, I would tell you to “explore the space“. By space I mean both the physical dimensions of the track and the limits of grip, but more grip than space. Feel what the car is telling you. Listen with both your hands and ears. Once you have the confidence to control a sliding car, then you can worry about minimizing your lap time by maximizing your speed through a corner. Until you can balance a car on the edge of traction, I don’t want you going anywhere near the edges. So drive harder closer to the middle of the track and get a feel for a car being driven aggressively. If you mess up, there’s plenty of space to recover.

Going faster

So let’s say you have decent car control and you want to go faster. Now you’re ready for the real lesson in using the whole track. You need to use all of the grip through all of the corner. The line isn’t an arc through a corner. It’s also got dimensions of grip and yaw along its length. Maximum grip is at a slight slip angle. Meaning you have to be slightly sliding through the entire corner. If you’re not sliding on the way into the corner, you entered too slowly. If you’re not sliding on the way out of the corner, you were late to throttle. If you’re not making subtle steering corrections, you aren’t getting enough oversteer. If you’re making big steering corrections, your technique lacks precision. If you find yourself spinning, you didn’t open up the steering wheel before adding throttle. If you find yourself running out of track at the exit, you need a later apex or more rotation. If your tires screech and then go quiet, you used too much grip at once. This is a lot to digest. Ultimately, it’s not about the track, but rather your ability to maximize the grip of the car along its entire path through the corner. In most corners, that will see you taking an outside-inside-outside path, but the exact geometry of the car on that path must also take into account the angle of the car at all points along the path: it’s not exactly parallel to the path at all times. “Use the whole track” is a heck of a lot more complex than it first appears and sends the wrong message to the student. Here’s my alternative.

Use the whole car, you paid for it

Big Lies #1: in slow, out fast

This is post #1 in a series of articles about some of the biggest lies in high performance driving. Where to start? How about the one you’ve heard 100 times: in slow, out fast.

So what’s the big lie exactly? That “in slow, out fast” is the proper way to drive a corner. Of course you have to slow down before a corner, but exactly how slow is slow? Given the way most HPDE drivers navigate a track, slow is way too fucking slow. The problem with the phrase is that it makes one think that mashing the brake and throttle is a fast way around a track.

As driving coaches, we say “in slow, out fast” for our own personal safety, not because we want the student to be fast. I don’t get paid enough to risk my life for a day of someone else’s thrills. You think I want to get into a 500 hp car with a novice behind the wheel? No, no I don’t. So me and every other coach says “in slow, out fast” and pray that we survive the day.

Hitchen’s Razor

I made this infographic/meme as part of my Pandemic Memes. On here you’ll find Hitchen’s Razor.

Next time someone says something provocative, ask them to show you the data. For example, let’s say you’re reading a blog about high performance driving and the author says “in slow, out fast is a big fat lie”. Ask the author to show you the data. Some statements may be made by experts with decades of experience. Other statements aren’t meant to inform you, but to con or troll you. Ask to see the data. Here, I’ll take the lead. “Hey Ian, if you’re going to say in slow, out fast is a big lie, why don’t you show some data?”

Data

In the following graph, you will see two speed traces. On the Y-axis is the speed of the vehicle. On the X-axis is the distance the vehicle has traveled. The graph is synchronized on distance so each point along the X-axis is the same part of the track. What do you notice here?

  • The driver on the blue line is going in slow and out fast
  • The driver on the red line appears to be afraid to brake
  • The minimum corner speeds of the red line are a little higher than the blue line
  • The maximum straight speeds of the blue line are much higher than the red line

So which driver is lapping faster? It turns out that they are only 0.183 seconds apart over a ~1.5 minute lap time. The driver on the red line (my twin brother Mario) was doing a 3rd-gear-no-brakes drill. Yes, that’s right, he wasn’t using his brakes at all. And yet he’s doing the same lap time as the driver furiously mashing pedals on the blue line. Looking at the graph, would you be able to predict this? Not unless you have some experience reading speed traces. The high speed differences look like a big deal. But it turns out that going slow for any length of time will really kill your lap time.

In fast, out slow

You know why nobody ever says “in fast, out slow”? Because it’s fucking terrible advice. It’s dangerous and slow. So by contrast, “in slow, out fast” must be great advice, right? Despite being catchy, and having some nicely contrasting words, no, it isn’t good advice if want to improve as a driver.

Cornering faster

So what would I tell a student who wanted to improve and wasn’t threatening my life? It depends on the skill and experience of the driver.

For lower intermediate drivers, I would focus on minimum corner speed. Your minimum corner speed defines pretty much your entire cornering strategy. How slow do you plan on going and where exactly is that spot of minimum speed? I call the position of minimum speed the nadir. Everything before the nadir is slowing down and tightening. Everything after the nadir is speeding up and opening. In a typical corner, the nadir is before the apex. To summarize this in one punchy statement I offer this: don’t go any slower than the slowest point in the corner.

For higher intermediate drivers, I would focus on rotating the car. If the car isn’t slipping on the way into the corner you probably went in too slow. If you never have to make steering corrections, you’re not driving hard enough. And by hard I don’t mean hitting the brake pedal hard, but quite the opposite. Oversteer is generated with a soft brake pedal. A gradual release increases oversteer. To be clear, the oversteer you’re generating is on the way into the corner, not on the way out. Here’s my phrase to remember these things: slip not, win not.

Appendix

Here’s the graph with the time delta at the bottom. Remember, always demand the data.

FWD Drifting 101

So let’s say you have a front wheel drive vehicle because that made sense at some point. Actually, there are a lot of reasons FWD vehicles make sense.

  • Lighter
  • Cheaper to manufacture
  • Better fuel economy
  • More compact
  • More interior space
  • You got one as hand-me-down

RWD vehicles have several advantages too, but let’s be honest, the only one that really matters is power-on oversteer. Burnouts are good, dumb fun and drifting is a visceral mixture of beauty and savagery that is so instantly compelling that even non-car-enthusiasts find it engaging.

Oversteer

Sadly, you’ve got a FWD econobox and you can’t join the fun. Or can you? One of the common misconceptions about FWD vehicles is that they are a bucket full of understeer. With 65-70% of the weight of the vehicle on the front tires, FWD vehicles actually want to oversteer. They just need a little encouragement sometimes. Here are some of the ways you can do that.

  • Lift – Lifting off the throttle shifts weight forward. Ideally, all you need to get a FWD car to rotate is to snap your foot off the throttle in the middle of a corner.
  • Brake – Braking is an even more aggressive form of weight transfer than lifting. Brake too much and you’ll get understeer as the tires are using all their traction for deceleration instead of cornering.
  • Hand brake – Not only does the handbrake transfer weight forward, it also changes the brake bias so that the rears do more work. Even if the rear tires aren’t locked, they will have less lateral grip because they are using longitudinal grip for deceleration.
  • Flick – The Scandinanvian Flick is a dynamic way of swinging weight around. Not only are you decelerating as you turn, you’re also throwing weight to the outside.

Things that work in RWD but not FWD.

  • Throttle – Adding throttle will not overspin the rear tires. Instead, it pulls you out of a drift! No, no, no. Don’t do it.
  • Clutch kick – Spinning up the engine and then engaging the transmission is one way to reduce  traction as the wheels suddenly get power. In a FWD vehicle, that just makes you look like a chump.

2 Keys to FWD Drifting

The best way to create imbalance is to start with imbalance. Yes, FWD vehicles have more traction in front, but if it’s worth doing, it’s worth over-doing. The first key to FWD drifting is to put sticky tires in front and slippery tires in the rear. This is such an effective oversteer formula that it would be dangerous to drive on the street. It’s not quite skid plate racing, but it’s on that spectrum. If you drive around in a circle, progressively gaining speed, your rear tires will reach their adhesion limit before the fronts and the back end will start chasing you around. Alternatively, try braking as you enter a corner. Get ready to countersteer because you’re about to swap ends.

Getting the rear out isn’t hard, but keeping it there is. In a RWD car, you use a mixture of throttle and steering to hold a slide. In a FWD car, it’s steering plus brake. The second key to FWD drifting is managing your finite supply of momentum. The critical word here is finite. You can’t build momentum. All you can do is spend it. If you’re wasteful and spend that momentum all at once, you may pivot or spin, but you won’t drift. If you want a long drift, you need to bank a lot of momentum so you can spend it gradually throughout the drift.

  1. Enter the corner at high speed. No, even higher speed. This is your momentum bank.
  2. Use a mixture of light steering and light braking to create oversteer. You shouldn’t need the hand brake.
  3. Make steering corrections to prevent spinning. The corrections need to be fast, and possibly large.
  4. Go back to step 2 a few times.
  5. Finish the drift by yanking the car out with throttle. Bonus points for getting all 4 tires smoking.

If you can drift a FWD car, you can also drift a RWD car. The reverse isn’t true.

Let’s talk about Automobilista 2

Among sim racing enthusiasts, Automobilista (AMS) is well respected for its vehicle dynamics. It’s not very popular compared to iRacing or Assetto Corsa. Honestly, it’s not popular compared to just about any other platform. Maybe that’s because of its obscure car and track collection? Or maybe advertising? In any case, people who like realistic sims tend to have AMS in their software library. Personally, I don’t use it as often as AC or rF2 because of the track collection. I prefer (a) tracks I may visit in real life (b) rally courses. But if AC and rF2 didn’t exist, I’d be very happy with AMS.

Project CARS is well known for its Madness engine. If you want to see how gorgeous a car simulation can be, PCARS and its successor PCARS2 are at the top of the heap. But hardcore sim racers generally feel that PCARS is a little on the arcade side and PCARS2 is a lot on the arcade side. I found that it was really car dependent with some vehicles excellent and others miserable.

When Reiza Studios announced that Automobilista 2 would be using the Madness engine, I got pretty excited. Best physics with best graphics? How can they go wrong? I purchased AMS2 during a sale event but have been waiting for the official 1.0 release before driving it. They have been making lots of little fixes over the last couple months as they get close to 1.0, so the release is going to happen soon. But I got impatient and started trying it anyway.

Controller Setup

Sadly, AMS2 inherits PCARS2’s hidden configuration files. You can’t tweak values in a text file. However, you can see the default values of the pedals when they are at rest, and this lets you set the floor (I think). Calibration probably sets the ceiling correctly but you might want to stop before pushing your pedals to the end just in case. It’s hard to know because there is no feedback in game to show you what the input values are. I suppose I could record data to find out. There are a couple commercial products for data acquisition and analysis (e.g. Z1 Analyzer) but nothing yet that simply exports to AiM, MOTEC, or TrackAttack.

Vehicle Selection

AMS2 has a very strange mixture of cars. You’ll find plenty of Formula cars and prototypes if you like the high end. There are also karts. But there’s also a lot of low performance cars in both RWD and FWD from various Brazilian series.  I can’t think of any other platform that has so many shitty FWD cars. So, yeah, I’m in sim racing heaven with the vehicle selection because I love shitty cars in general. (By shitty I don’t really mean bad, but rather all analog with low power and low grip).

Track Selection

The bulk of the catalog are Brazilian tracks. I’ve never been to any of them and my guess is I never will. So to me they’re a bit like fantasy tracks. Nothing wrong with fantasy tracks! Some of my favorite tracks aren’t real.

Great news, my favorite test track, Brands Hatch, is in the game, as well as a bunch of other UK tracks like Snetterton and Donington. All appear to be laser scanned. There are no dirt tracks yet and I’m not sure if they are planning on that or not.

Driving

My favorite driving test is a low powered Formula car at Brands Indy. AMS2 has a Formula Trainer, so that’s perfect. Unfortunately, the Formula Trainer has some really weird behaviors. The steering isn’t even remotely linear. Turn a little and nothing happens. Turn a little bit more and suddenly the wheels turn too much. There’s a really weird understeer behavior and sometimes the front tires don’t spin at all. I went off track into the grass and the car literally got stuck and couldn’t move. I was about to weep baseball-sized tears of sorrow and ask for a refund when I decided I should check out some other cars.

It turns out that the FWD cars are a completely different story. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a sim so committed to old FWD cars. Thank you Reiza Studios! They are awesome. Finally, FWD cars that actually drive like FWD cars.

Next up, I tried the Formula Vee. Last year, Reiza put together a car and track pack for rFactor 2, and I bought that. So I’ve driven the Reiza FV before, just in a different sim. I really like the FV in rF2. Also, the Puma is really great. In AMS2 the FV is equally awesome. But it isn’t the same. The AMS2 FV is a lot more stable than the rF2 FV. It may be differences in the default setups. I haven’t explored that yet.

Why should the Formula Trainer be so different from the FV? Physics is physics and the two cars aren’t that different on paper. But they are very different. Did RS do something stupid like inherit the Formula Rookie from PCARS2?

Modding

There is no modding in AMS2. That means no community-created cars and tracks. FUUUUUUCK.

Future

How successful will AMS2 be? Not very. It looks great and drives great (mostly), but that isn’t enough to unseat any of its rivals. It doesn’t have the match-making structure of iRacing. Nothing else does either. You might go to AMS2 for organized races but not for pick-up games. It doesn’t have community content. One of the reasons AC and rF2 are so popular is that the community has created a huge number of cars and tracks. It doesn’t have a Miata. Miata is always the answer. It doesn’t have a low price tag. The Season Pass DLC is like $100. It has one thing that the other sims don’t have: a focus on Brazilian Stock Car racing. That means it comes with some pretty cool tracks and some awesome shitty cars. That’s good enough for me and some hardcore sim racers, but most people will get a lot more out of AC, rF2, or iRacing.

So is AMS2 better than the original? Like PCARS2, DR2, and ACC, the graphics got better. Maybe some other things got better or will get better. But the loss of modding is a really hard loss. So no, I don’t think AMS2 is actually better than AMS. It may be someday in the future when there’s more content, but right now you’re better off with the original.

My New Car Activity

Tomorrow, I’m starting a completely new car activity! Food delivery. No, seriously. When the pandemic started, I was trying to figure out a way I could help people. A friend suggested Meals on Wheels, so I contacted them. Months went by with very little communication. But then a couple weeks ago I had a zoom meeting for orientation. Then last week I got a call that they need a driver for Winters (about 15-20 minutes away). So I’m starting tomorrow. If all goes well, I’ll be doing deliveries on Friday and Tuesday mornings.

What the heck is Meals on Wheels? It’s an organization that provides free meals for seniors in need. We take fully prepared food to their doorstep and also check in on them to make sure they are okay. In the pandemic era, that means I drop off the food and retreat to a safe distance before interacting with them. I’ll be wearing a mask, of course, so I hope they know I’m one of the good guys.

Which car am I driving? While I love the idea of doing meal deliveries in the racecar, the Yaris is over at Mike Meier’s place getting some minor work done. So I’m taking the Elantra GT. It has a huge trunk and has good fuel economy. It’s perfect for the job.

Let’s talk about Assetto Corsa Competizione

Assetto Corsa’s tag line is “Your Racing Simulator”. And I guess that’s a good description. It does many different things well. You can race against AI or other people; on asphalt or dirt; in vehicles ranging from karts to F1; on world famous tracks or fantasy creations. There’s a huge amount of community content and most of it is free.

Assetto Corsa Competizione is and isn’t the sequel to Assetto Corsa. It is in the sense that it’s the same developers using an improved engine. It isn’t in the sense that it has a very specific goal: it’s branded as “The Official World Challenge GT Game” (it used to be the official simulation of the Blancpain GT3 Series, but the name changed in 2020). Everything in ACC is officially licensed. The cars and tracks are absolutely gorgeous. But they are also limited by what was actually available in the real world. There are no Miatas in ACC because there were no Miatas in the Blancpain GT3 Series. There is also no Mid-Ohio or fill-in-the-blank unless the track was part of the series. It feels very limiting.

Setup

The control setup works very well. ACC had no problem detecting my weird array of controllers and I was able to poke a few buttons to set the floor and ceilings the way I like. The overall look and feel was much more like a console game (or PCARS) than the original AC. However, I think the interface in general is good. Not necessarily better, but usable.

Test Drive

There are several difficulty settings to choose among, and they simply turn on/off things like automatic transmission or traction control. I selected “Expert”, which turns everything off. My favorite test track, Brands Hatch, is available, but it uses the full course rather than the Indy configuration. I find it annoying that they don’t have both configurations, but I guess this is what you get when the game is designed to replicate a real-life series where only one version of the track was raced.  I didn’t know which of the various GT3 cars to drive, so I went with the one I’ve seen most often in real life: Audi A8.

The physics felt pretty good without any FFB tweaking. I’ve never actually driven a GT3 car, so it’s hard for me to judge that accurately. I changed the weather to rain, and I wasn’t that impressed with the difference. There’s definitely less grip, but it didn’t have the level of surprise/treachery I’m used to in the real world. It did look amazing though.

Returned

It may be a little surprising, but I returned ACC before I hit the 2 hour limit. It turns out I don’t like GT3 cars. I don’t like the way they look or sound from the inside. Too hi tech. The cars also have too much grip. That may reflect the real world, but I prefer something that slides around.

There’s a pattern here. Project CARS, DiRT Rally, and Assetto Corsa are all better than their sequels. I hope the same isn’t true for Automobilista 2…

Let’s talk about DiRT Rally 2.0

The Original DiRT Rally

When DiRT Rally was a beta release on Steam, I picked it up out of curiosity. I didn’t know much about rallying beyond the spectacular crashes. DiRT Rally is a brutally hardcore game that doesn’t even have a tutorial on how to drive on dirt. I fell in love with it instantly and it remains one of my favorite driving games. I became so excited about rally that I went as far as building my Yaris to rally rules. I haven’t competing in rallies yet, but I still think about it. I absolutely love driving on dirt, be it virtual or real.

DiRT 4 Disaster

When Codemasters announced their next title, DiRT 4, I was pretty excited. It had this cool procedurally generated track technology that allows it to randomly generate stages. Great idea but it didn’t actually create much variation as there were too few building blocks. Worse, the car physics were horrible. Not only have I uninstalled it, I completely removed it from my account so I never have to see that POS again.

DiRT Rally 2.0 Initial Release

When DiRT Rally 2.0 was announced I was both excited and nervous. Would it be the much anticipated sequel to DiRT Rally or another disappointment like DiRT 4? It was terrible. I couldn’t get my controllers mapped properly because the interface didn’t show controller values. But the reason I asked for a refund was the asphalt physics in Spain. Absolutely no feedback. It felt like I was driving a 1980s arcade game. I cried myself to sleep that night.

DiRT Rally 2.0 Redux

The next time I purchased DiRT Rally 2.0, I got it during a sale, and paid half the price. And to my surprise and delight, it is much improved. It now has one of the best interfaces for controller input. It’s intuitive and highly customizable. Also, the asphalt physics in Spain are better. Somehow they are not the same as Germany, which feels more like the original. I don’t know why different locations should have such different physics, but they do.

Career Mode

I don’t normally play career mode in simulators but I did in DiRT Rally. I did the entire career and won every championship, even to the top level. I thought I would do the same thing in DR2. The first season went just fine and I was having a great time. Then I hit Argentina and couldn’t progress further. It’s so freaking bumpy that I just hated it. Even with the softest suspension I was jumping all over. Doing 6 stages felt like such a chore. And the next level it would probably be 8. Not even remotely fun. Some locations are brilliant though. My favorites in the original were Greece and Germany. In DR2, these are also great, but despite graphic differences (possibly improvements), they aren’t any better than the original.

Next, I switched to rally cross, and the career mode there is good fun. There’s a lot of contact allowed though, so it easily becomes a demolition derby. While I preferred stage rally to rally cross in the original, it’s the opposite in DR2. Not all of that is because of Argentina and Spain. Rally cross is much improved in DR2 also.

Summary

I’m currently making my way through the rally cross career mode and having a pretty good time. Unfortunately, DiRT Rally 2.0 is not better than the original. It’ less fun, doesn’t have hill climb, locks you into online play, and has various monetary schemes that will see you paying for extra content. Save your money and skip 2.0. During sales, you can pick up the OG DiRT Rally for as little as $5.99. It was even available for free briefly. Like Project CARS, the original was better than the sequel.