Tiernan’s Sim Rig

Racing buddy Tiernan and I recently put together a sim rig for him. Like race cars, sim rigs are never truly complete, so this post is really just documenting version 1.0.

Seat

An authentic sim rig needs an authentic seat. So we went to Pick-n-Pull and started picking and pulling. Some of the seats we didn’t choose had water damage from open windows. We eventually found a nice clean seat from a Mitsubishi Eclipse.

Triple Monitors

The first thing you have to decide is what kind of monitors you’re going to use.

  • Single screen
  • Triple screens
  • VR goggles
  • Projection

I use a single 2560×1080 screen. It’s basically a typical 1080p monitor that is 50% wider. My previous monitor was a 1920x1080p, and it was great. The extra width adds a tiny bit to the immersion, but not that much.

I had an Oculus Rift, but it made me motion sick, so I stopped using it. The sense of immersion was amazing though. When I tried a triple screen setup at Turn2 Racing, I was shocked at how similar triple screens are to full VR. It’s very good and doesn’t give me motion sickness. ¬†Projection screens aren’t mainstream, but I can imagine they could be even better.

We decided to build a triple monitor rig.

Computer

To make life simple, you should have 3 of the same monitors, and all of the cabling should be the same type. While you can mix HDMI, DVI, VGA, and Display Port, it’s a pain having multiple adapters. Also, mixing analog and digital signals is not recommended. So the first order of business was to match monitors and graphic card ports. Since this was a newly built rig, it wasn’t hard finding a cheap-ish computer and cheap-ish 1080p monitors that played well together.

The computer is a SkyTech Blaze (R3 1200, 8GB RAM, RX580 GPU), and the monitors are Dells. The RX580 has 3 Display Ports, so the cabling is 100% Display Port. The monitor stands came from Amazon, and the fancy power strip was something I picked up at a secondhand electronics store.

Cockpit

Before building the cockpit, we took various measurements of Tiernan sitting in an ideal driving position. Then we drafted some plans to put that into action. Half way through construction, we realized we had cut one piece of plywood incorrectly, and it would require actually purchasing plywood to continue (we were using scraps from an old Lemons theme when the Miata was outfitted as the Can’t Am). So we just said fuck-it and started eye-balling every measurement around a 2×4-inspired design. It turned out pretty robust as the 2x4s were connected with grade-8 transmission bolts picked up at Pick-n-Pull.

Controllers

I had an extra G25 and DFGT wheel lying around, as well as a G25 shifter and G25 pedals. The pedals have an AP Electrix load cell on them and Bodnar cable, so they feel much better than stock and can be connected independently of the wheel. That’s good because G25 pedals are much better than wheels. I really don’t like Logitech wheels with Assetto Corsa. Thankfully, Tiernan found a Thrustmaster T150 on Craigslist for $30. It came with a shitty 2-pedal system. So we mixed-n-matched to arrive at a pretty good setup.

Summary

The project took a couple weeks to build because our schedules didn’t mesh well. I’m sure we could build another one in a day. The all-inclusive cost was about $1250, and most of that was because of the new computer and monitors. With some patient hunting on Craigslist, the price could be cut in half.

 

Test Drive

I just returned from a visit with Tiernan and got to try out his rig in Assetto Corsa and Forza 7. So how does it work? Pretty darn good. Here’s my report card.

  • Cockpit 4/5: This is as good as a static rig needs to be. Sure, the extruded aluminum rigs might look more high-tech, but this does the same job for a fraction of the price. To get a higher rank it would need a button box and cup holder.
  • Monitors 4/5: Once the sim is running, it’s very immersive. I thought I had VR goggles on.
  • Sound 1/5: The mono speaker isn’t great. A $20 headset would make this a 4/5.
  • Wheel 2.5/5: While the T150 wheel is definitely a step up from the G25 and DFGT (in AC at least), there’s a big gap between a T150 and a TS-PC Racer. You can definitely have fun and learn tracks with a T150, but as a tool to train your muscle memory, it’s only okay.
  • Pedals 3/5: The AP Electrix load cell brake pedal is better than a spring-n-potentiometer, but it doesn’t have the feel of my PerfectPedal hydraulic unit. The load cell works, but its dynamic range is small. The clutch and throttle are decent.
  • Shifter 4/5: I used the paddle shifters on the T150. I actually like paddle shifters on a sim rig. I don’t get much immersion from a fake stick shift.
  • Forza 7 3/5: I hadn’t tried it before. It’s not as bad as I thought it would be. The graphics are really good. The force feedback is plausible. The track I tried was Laguna Seca, and it was definitely not laser scanned. I can’t believe they are allowed to use the Laguna Seca branding on a track that is so horribly inaccurate.

2.0?

Here’s how I would take this rig to the next level.

  1. USB headset.
  2. Thrustmaster wheel base, wheel adapter, and eBay wheel. I like having a full-size steering wheel, and it’s cheaper to go this route than getting a Thrustmaster wheel. The downside is not having any buttons. But it’s pretty trivial to make a button box with a $20 Amazon kit and if you want shrink-wrapped solution, a numeric keypad is just $8.
  3. A PerfectPedal kit is $250 and turns the G25 into a top-of-the-line pedal. But for $250, one can also get a Fanatec pedal set. Hard decision.

Untitled #1

I had a lot of competing titles for this post. Ultimately, I couldn’t choose.

  • ABA testing
  • Logitech vs Thrustmaster round 2
  • Assetto Corsa and Logitech don’t play well together
  • Silky smooth vs. the ragged edge
  • Hardware matters
  • Software matters

When I first started sim racing, I went through several iterations of Logitech gear including Momo, G25, G27, and DFGT. I did a lot of iRacing with a G25 rig. I quickly upgraded the brake pedal to a PerfectPedal hydraulic unit, and I maintain that at $300, it was worth every penny (they now cost $250). I went from G25 to G27 to DFGT steering wheels, each one being a slight upgrade (believe it or not, the DFGT is on par with the G27 and has some nicer buttons). Much of my DiRT Rally time was with the DFGT. I spent a lot of time using Logitech products. They never broke, and I was really happy with them.

For some reason, which I don’t recall exactly, I decided to plunk down $500 for a Thrustmaster TS-PC Racer. I went back and re-read my review at the time and here were the 3 important take-aways:

  1. Logitech is a great place to start
  2. TS-PC Racer offers more feel
  3. I was immediately a little faster with the TS-PC Racer

This week, I hooked up my old DFGT to a set of G25 pedals with an AP Electrix load cell brake pedal. The AP isn’t sold anymore. It’s not as good as the PerfectPedal, having much less range of motion and precision, but it’s better than a spring on a potentiometer. The whole setup is pretty similar to what I used a couple years ago, and I was feeling a little nostalgic to give the old rig a whirl.

So I loaded up Assetto Corsa and here’s the shocking thing I found: I can’t drive it for shit. I can’t sense or catch oversteer at all. I can drive a few fast laps by driving from memory, but I can’t feel the track, and I end up spinning. I hardly ever spin with the TS-PC Racer. I’ve looked at online guides and messed around with various force feedback (FFB) settings, but I can’t get it to feel good. I want to turn up the FFB gain, but that causes clipping, and a total loss of feel.

I thought maybe it’s a problem with Assetto Corsa, so I loaded up rFactor 2 and DiRT Rally. The DFGT works a little better in rFactor 2. I can definitely feel slides better, but it’s like I’m driving with welding gloves on. The same is true of DiRT Rally. I kept asking myself how I drove like this. The Thrustmaster TS-PC Racer isn’t a small upgrade, it’s a huge one. A Logitech wheel will teach you how to be smooth. In fact, it will punish you badly if you aren’t smooth. But it doesn’t let you drive the ragged edge the way the Thrustmaster does. Give me 100 laps with the Logitech and I’ll be able to put one of those within 0.1 sec of the Thrustmaster top lap. But those 100 laps will feature a lot of frustration and spinning. Furthermore, I’ll be driving more by wrote rather than feel, and ultimately, that’s not what training is for.

Update #1: ORP Experiment

YSAR reader Eric asked me to try the Skip Barber at Oregon Raceway Park. I don’t know ORP very well, and hadn’t driven it in some time, so it took a few familiarization laps to get reacquainted. After 12 laps I had posted a 2:03.6 on my Thrustmaster rig. No crashes, no spins. Then I switched to the Logitech rig. I had to be really careful with the throttle pedal because it’s hard to catch oversteer with the Logitech, but knowing that, I changed my driving style. After 15 laps, the best I did was 2:04.4. My last lap was a real burner, and I was a half second ahead when I crashed out. I would guess that I went off course on about half of the laps, and most of those were the early ones.

Eric also asked me to post my difficultly/assist settings. That’s easy because everything is always off. The only time I use any assist is when the car came with ABS from the factory. But my favorite sim cars are all pre-ABS models, so it’s rare that I tick the ABS box.

BTW, ORP is only available in rFactor 2, so this was all conducted there. rFactor 2 plays much better with Logitech than Assetto Corsa.

Update #2: Tiernan Experiment

Let’s see what Tiernan has to say. I think Tiernan’s claim to fame may be that he’s driven more exotic cars than almost anyone on the planet. All at parking lots speeds however. You see, he is hired annually as the official car mover by some famous auction or other. Of course, none of that matters here. What’s important is that (a) he’s a sim racing noob (2) he generally knows cars.

I first set Tiernan up with Assetto Corsa at Laguna Seca in the Chevy Monza in the Thrustmaster rig. After running enough laps to run out of fuel, he switched over to the DFGT rig. At which point he threw up his hands and declared that it was total shit. No feel at all. He did get within a couple seconds of his Thrustmaster time, but he was crashing all over the place. He was pretty frustrated and not enjoying it.

Then I switched the software to rFactor 2 and he perked up an said “this is totally fine”. While he didn’t try rFactor 2 on the Thrustmaster rig, I’m sure he would have liked that even better. But the main point is that Logitech FFB is basically broken on Assetto Corsa.

We’re in the process of building him a sim rig, and the question is this: buy a Thrustmaster T300 RS GT ($300) and play anything or inherit the DFGT (free) and avoid Assetto Corsa? Only he can answer that question.

Conclusions

I still think Logitech products are an excellent place to start with sim racing, but if you’re serious about training, you will be better served with a higher-end steering wheel. I have used Fanatec and direct drive wheels, and they don’t feel much different from Thrustmaster. But who knows, maybe if I used a direct drive for a couple years I could never go back to a belt drive like the TS-PC. I really love my TS-PC and while $500 seems like a lot for a steering wheel, it’s cheaper than real racing stuff.

What about iRacing?

If you noticed above, I didn’t report on iRacing. I had an iRacing subscription for several years, but I recently let it expire. Before I say why, let me say a few good things about iRacing.

  • Everyone should try iRacing for a few months minimum. There are some experiences there that are hard to get elsewhere.
  • iRacing has incredibly useful forums. Whether you want advice on software, hardware, or driving, there is a huge community of helpful people. Unlike most forums, there isn’t much flaming. Possibly this is because iRacing requires you to sign up with your real name. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. This community is really great.
  • The Rookie ranks are worth the price of admission. Whether it’s a 10 car pileup in Turn 1 or getting crashed out by a backmarker on the final lap, the Rookie experience is a no holds barred crash-fest. How can this possibly be a good thing? Because you learn to recognize idiotic drivers and dangerous situations. I think one of the reasons I’ve never had a black flag in a Lemons/Chump/Lucky race is partly because of the iRacing Rookie experience.
  • Lots of iRacers use the iSpeed application to record their fast times and compare telemetry traces. While the application isn’t as full featured as MoTec i2 or AiM RSA, for example, it’s good enough. And the real gold is having access to everyone else’s traces. Oddly, this may be the single best reason to use iRacing, and if you’re an iRacer who isn’t using iSpeed, well you suck at training.
  • In addition to the official race series, you can also find custom races or private leagues. Both Lucky Dog Racing League and ChampCar Endurance Series run private leagues. Some leagues require membership, but I think the LD and CC leagues let anyone race at any time. It’s a lot easier to run a league from iRacing than setting up a private Assetto Corsa server.
  • iRacing has a great collection of high quality tracks and cars you won’t find elsewhere.

So if I’m such an iRacing fanboy, why did I let my membership expire?

  • I wasn’t using it very often. It doesn’t make sense to pay $10 or whatever per month for software I’m not actually using.
  • I don’t really like wheel to wheel racing very much. I like perfecting my craft more than beating the other guy. That said, iRacing does have a time trial system. But it’s not a big enough selling point to keep me subscribed.
  • The cars aren’t crappy or vintage enough. Where are the NA Miatas, E30s, and Civics?
  • The FWD selection is tiny and uninteresting.
  • The force feedback isn’t on par with rFactor 2 or Assetto Corsa (with a Thrustmaster wheel, Logitech may be about the same).

If you’re having a great time in iRacing, keep on doing it. There are lots of reasons why it’s the most popular racing sim. But if you get curious, have a look at Assetto Corsa, Automobilista, DiRT Rally, Project CARS, RaceRoom Racing Experience, and rFactor 2. Each has something interesting to offer.

Virtual Rally Training

Driving with low grip is a great way to improve your racetrack driving skill. That’s why the Kenny Roberts Ranch is a dirt track. It’s also why the Skip Barber Formula 2000 rides on BFG T/A Radials. If you want to get better at driving, leave the sticky tires at home and drive on all-seasons. The same is true of virtual training. Drive on loose surfaces and with hard tires if you want to improve your feel for vehicle dynamics and develop your car control skills.

DiRT Rally

My favorite rally sim is DiRT Rally. When I first discovered it, during the Steam Early Access release in 2015, I knew nothing about rally. But I soon became such a huge fan that I built my Yaris to do double-duty as a rally car. Truthfully, I haven’t done much rallying in real life. I attended the Primitive Rally School at the Santa Rosa Fairgrounds and goofed around a bit at the Prairie City Off Highway Vehicle Park. Those experiences told me 2 things: that rally driving is the best kind of driving, and that DiRT Rally felt pretty realistic.

So why don’t I do more rally? I only subscribe to a few YouTube channels, but one of them is “Racing Fail!”. I like it so much that I donate to it monthly via Patreon (you can even see my name at the start of the videos). Every week, Racing Fail! shows motorsports crashes from the previous week. And every week there are multiple rally drivers wrapping their cars around trees, driving off cliffs, and rolling through fields like mechanical tumble weeds. Occasionally they catch on fire. That’s sort of terrifying. Racing Fail! is a weekly reminder to stay safe and not to wreck my Yaris (or burn myself crispy).

Back to the sim world. DiRT Rally is old enough that it can be picked up on Steam for as little as $10 when it goes on sale. There are newer rally sims from the same developer, Codemasters, but neither DiRT 4 nor DiRT Rally 2.0 is actually better. One of the downsides of DiRT Rally is that there is no community-created content. While DiRT Rally has some great vehicles (by great I mean lower performance cars similar to what I drive) the collection cars and tracks are fixed. There’s nothing new coming. Community-content is what makes Assetto Corsa great. So that begs the question “how good is Assetto Corsa as a rally trainer?”

Rally Training in Assetto Corsa

While you won’t find much official (Kuno Simulazioni) rally content, the community has created plenty of cars and tracks. While the choice of rally cars ranges from the modern WRC Polo to the historic Lada VFTS, you don’t need a rally car for rally driving. For tracks, there are rally stages on gravel, dirt, and snow, as well as hill climbs, street races, and stadium rallycross. As with all AC community content, the cost is mostly free and the quality highly variable.

For training purposes, it’s a good idea to drive both RWD and FWD layouts because they behave differently. For RWD I go with the NA Miata because Miata Is Always The Answer. I say this even though I no longer own a Miata. The Assetto Corsa NA Miata is such a great model that it’s the first thing I turn to, even on dirt. For FWD, I like the Chevy Monza. The motor is on the weak side and the suspension is on the plush side, just like the cars I drive. The Miata is faster on asphalt but the Monza is faster on dirt. But they are very close on any surface, and make a great set of cars to play with for any occasion.

One of the things that makes rally driving unique is the co-driver. In DiRT Rally, you can have visual or audio cues, and you can specify how early or late you want to hear them. Personally, I use audio only and have them announced as far forward as possible. I really enjoy having a co-driver, but for the purposes of training it’s not necessary or even desirable. So while you can download a co-driver app for AC, and you can drive long rally stages, the best way to use AC for low grip training is on a small, closed course. Below are three tracks I recommend and some target times for a Miata/Monza.

  • Karelia – This is a fantasy rally circuit with a good mix of low and high speed corners as well as compromises. It’s probably my favorite rally trainer. Fast laps: 1:04.
  • Gentlemen Rallycross – Although the graphics are sorely outdated, the track is a great mixture of turns and surfaces. There is a joker section. Fast laps: 1:12 (non-joker).
  • Kouvola Rallycross – This is a stadium rally cross that alternates asphalt and dirt. The graphics on this track are much better than the others. There’s more than one fast line, so experiment. The lap features a joker. Fast laps: 0:50 (non-joker).

Conclusion

While DiRT Rally is the king of rally sims, there are a few things Assetto Corsa does very well. It gives you a HUGE selection of cars and tracks to play with. And if you want to change the grip of any track, simply edit the surfaces.ini file. I’m not going to pretend I’m an expert on force feedback, but the Miata and Monza feel really good. Good enough to program your muscle memory anyway, and that’s the whole point of virtual rally training.

Postscript

Some people say that Richard Burns Rally (RBR) is the king of rally sims. That platform is so old that you can’t even buy it anymore. That said, there are people making content for it, even though the game never supported that. The only way to get RBR is by violating copyright, which I try not to do, so I don’t have personal experience with it.

Shootout: SBF2000 @ LRP

The most famous racecar driving program in the world is probably the The Skip Barber School. In 1975 they started training drivers in Formula Ford style cars which later became codified as the Skip Barber Formula 2000 (aka SBF2000 or “Skippy”). The cars are not very powerful, have hard tires, and minimal aero. This makes them excellent training cars that provide a direct interface between the driver, car, and track. Although the Skip Barber School operated out of several locations, it originated at Lime Rock Park, and the combination of the SBF2000 and Lime Rock Park is an absolute classic for driver education. What’s true in the real world is often true in the sim world, and one of the best ways to develop your sim racing skills is in the Skippy at LRP.

There are several simulators that offer this combination, including my favorite hardcore trio of Assetto Corsa, iRacing, and rFactor 2. Let’s take a quick look at each package as a virtual trainer.

Assetto Corsa

Pros

  • Available on Steam for $20 or as little as $5 when it goes on sale
  • Official DLC (downloadable content) is cheap
  • Huge amount of community-created DLC cars and tracks, most of which are free
  • Supports Race Studio Analysis, Track Attack, MoTec i2, and others for telemetry analysis
  • The Russell Alexis Formula Ford Mk 14 is an even better model than the Skip Barber F2000 (I think)
  • You can modify the grip level of the track to simulate rain, for example

Cons

  • Community-built DLC is highly variable in quality (Lime Rock is good)
  • There is no way to automatically keep your DLC up to date, so you’ll have to manually search for updates

iRacing

Pros

  • Both the Skippy and Lime Rock were just updated in December 2019
  • All tracks are laser scanned
  • Best match-making if you want competitive racing
  • Supports MoTec i2, Track Attack, iSpeed, and more for telemetry analysis
  • iSpeed has a huge database of telemetry data, which is useful for comparing your laps to others

Cons

  • Costs $12 for each additional car and track
  • Costs $12 per month
  • The SB model has way too much grip

rFactor 2

Pros

  • Available on Steam for $32 and much less when it goes on sale
  • Growing amount of community DLC that is easily installed and kept up to date in the Steam Workshop
  • Supports MoTec i2 for telemetry analysis
  • SBF2000 model is the best model of any car in any game

Cons

  • Some good DLC is not in the Steam Workshop
  • Not as many cars and tracks as Assetto Corsa
  • Least popular for online racing

Comparing the SB2000s

If I’m going to sit down for a serious sim training session, my first thought is rFactor 2. The Skippy feels perfect. Every input has an effect on the handling no matter how subtle. I wish every car in every sim had this feel, but they don’t. Some cars are totally broken. Some sims are totally broken. The rF2 Skippy is the best that sim racing has to offer.

The Assetto Corsa Skippy isn’t quite as wonderful as the one in rF2, but it’s still pretty good. However, my favorite trainer in AC is actually the Russell Alexis Mk 14 Formula Ford. It’s a free download, but you can PayPal the author to say thanks (I gave him $10).

I was really excited when I heard that both the Skippy and Lime Rock would be updated in the latest build of iRacing. That excitement didn’t last long. iRacing force feedback offers very little feel compared to AC and rF2. Also, the car grips way too much and there isn’t a way to turn that down far enough to make the car a good trainer. Overall, it’s a real disappointment, and I can’t recommend it.

UCD FYS HPD recap

At UC Davis, I usually teach classes on genomics, bioinformatics, and programming. That’s where my expertise lies. But it turns out that one can teach almost anything in college. I find it funny that if you want to teach kids in elementary school you need degrees in teaching but nobody even cares at the college level. So I teach classes on writing and driving, topics I haven’t studied nearly as much.

Since this was the first time I taught a First Year Seminar on High Performance Driving, the course organization and content was a bit scatterbrained. It will get better in the future. On the last day of class, we went to Turn 2 Racing so the students could drive some high-end simulation rigs. That was good fun, as expected, but it also turned out to be surprisingly educational to me.

Left foot braking

With the exception of the few times I’ve been karting, I never brake with my left foot. It feels alien to me and I have absolutely no subtlety. It’s like an on/off switch. Unfortunately, some of the rigs are set up so that you have to brake on the left. While that might be okay in some cars, we had set up an NA Miata without assists, so there was no auto-blip. This meant that shifting could really upset the car if you did it at the wrong time. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could adapt to both left-foot braking and no heel-toe. It took me about 2-3 laps to figure out how to blend the brake and throttle so that shifting didn’t upset the car. I didn’t analyze the individual movements and commit them to memory. I just let my body take over and it worked out okay. After 10 minutes I had set lap times less than a second off of what I do at home where I’m much more comfortable. That was a HUGE surprise.

Not everyone starts from zero

Another educational experience for me was watching the other students drive. The fastest student (high 1:03) had done a lot of Xbox-style driving but never on a sim. And yet his steering corrections and pedal work were pretty refined. Where did he get those skills? The next fastest student (low 1:04) had done a lot of real racing, but not sim racing. Some people don’t adapt well to the virtual world, but he did very well. Most of the other students were several seconds off pace. At the novice level, people can have very different abilities. I think that after a month of training, the rank order could be very different. Just like in math, music, or basketball, not every starts at the same level and not everyone learns at the same rate. And the order may change again several years down the line because some people have the motivation to keep learning after the shine wears off.

Reviews

Overall, the students thought the class was fun and educational. But they wanted more simulation driving and more videos. What did they want less of? Math and physics. They say you lose half your audience with each equation. But I think it’s more about the pacing. There’s a time to talk about math, and it’s probably not the first thing.

Homework

If you want to pretend you joined our class for the day at Turn 2 Racing, load up Assetto Corsa and choose NA Miata and Brands Hatch Indy. Use all of the defaults including weather, tires (Street 90), camber, fuel, etc. Note that this is by no means the fastest way to drive the NA Miata. You get two 15 minute sessions.

  • 1:06.X – you’re a good student
  • 1:05.X – you beat the TA
  • 1:04.X – you’re in the elite group at the top of the class
  • 1:03.X – you’re teacher’s pet
  • 1:02.7 – my left-foot braking time
  • 1:01.9 – my right-foot braking time (at home)

Next time

I’m teaching the class again next quarter. I have some new ideas how to make it more fun and more educational, including a non-linear unschooling syllabus. More on that later.

FWD vs. RWD rain: part 2 (thanks Paul)

I have to thank YSAR reader Paul for sending me down this path, because it’s been really fun. I truly appreciate feedback that makes me look critically at a problem. In this part 2, I do some testing in Assetto Corsa, and come away with some surprise.

Testing scenario

To do the fwd vs. rwd and dry vs. wet experiments, I had to choose a track, two cars, and two grip levels. I like to use Brands Hatch Indy and the NA Miata as a baseline. Sometimes I use the Street 90s tire and sometimes the Street tire. The Street 90s are a couple seconds slower. When you have the AI drive the car, both tires have the same lap times. I think it uses the default (Street 90s) tire. So that’s what I did too.

For the FWD car, I chose the Chevy Monza Classic 500EF. This model is a free download. One reason I chose it is because the dry lap times are very similar to the NA Miata when both cars are on their default tires.

For the wet grip, I reduced traction from the default 0.98 to 0.75. That figure is a little bit arbitrary, but I’ve seen various tables that show a reduction of about that much.

  • Track: Brands Hatch Indy
  • RWD: NA Miata
  • FWD: Chevy Monza
  • Dry – 0.98 grip
  • Wet – 0.75 grip

How to modify Assetto Corsa grip

There are three ways to modify the grip of cars in AC that I know of: run a server, change tires, change track surface. The easiest is the last, but for completeness, I’ll describe the other two first.

If you set up your own server, you can set the grip level of the track. This requires a separate program running as the server. That’s why I’m not recommending it. But on the plus side, it’s just one line of one file.

If the cars are developed in the legacy way, they have editable text files for individual components like tyres (yes, that’s spelled with a ‘y’ because AC uses the British English spelling rather than American English). Most cars these days have binary files that aren’t easily edited. Both the Miata and Monza use binary files. This is why I’m not recommending this way.

If you look in a track folder, you will find a surfaces.ini text file that you can edit. A track may have several surfaces. For example the Brands Hatch Indy file has 11 surfaces. Before you go editing this file, first make a backup copy so that you can restore it to its original configuration later. The grip levels of the various parts of the track range from 0.98 on asphalt to 0.6 for grass. To simulate rain, I set everything to 0.75 because I was lazy and didn’t want to multiply everything by 0.75. But that would be a better way I suppose. However, I planned on driving on the track, not grass or curbs.

AI driver

The first thing I wanted to test was how much the AI driver was affected by reduced traction. Here are the values.

  • RWD -7.31% loss
  • FWD -6.95% loss

There is more loss in RWD than FWD. To put it into the perspective of a typical lap, if your dry time is 2:00 minutes, your RWD wet time will be 2:08.78 and your FWD wet time will be 2:08.34. 0.43 seconds is pretty significant in a sprint race, but we’re not talking about 10 seconds here. It’s just a little time. However, this is the AI driving. What about a human?

Human driver

Move over AI, it’s time for Ian to step into the car.

  • RWD -9.06% loss
  • FWD -6.92% loss

That looks a bit more significant. Let’s put this into perspective of my Toyota Yaris at Thunderhill last May. My fast dry time was 3:43. If we multiply these 223 seconds by 1.0906 and 1.0692 we find that the difference between RWD and FWD is nearly 5 seconds. That’s pretty significant! Given that my Yaris is heavier, higher, and less powerful, than a Miata, the Miata has all the advantages on a dry day, but given some rain, the advantage just might tip in my direction.

Here are the graphs for the simulation experiments.

However, this is a human driving a simulator, what about in real life?

More data diving

Let’s look at the actual laps from the race. On a dry track, I was averaging about 3:50 in traffic. Bring on the rain and that drops to 4:20. So about 30 seconds. I had to make a lot of passes, and when I had a clean lap, I got down to 4:03, which is a loss of just 9%. Driving around slow cars in the rain really kills your lap time.

Some of the fast RWD cars I passed included the Miata of Eyesore and the Celica of Uncle Joe’s. Eyesore’s fast lap was 3:29 but in traffic it was typically 3:35-3:40. They dropped to 4:35-4:40 in the rain, a loss of 60 seconds. Uncle Joe’s fast lap was a 3:34 and it’s traffic laps were in the 3:40-3:45 range. In the wet, they dropped to 4:25-4:30, or about 45 seconds.

Two of the fast FWD cars I passed were the Integra of Big Test Icicles and the Neon of Neon Pope. The Integra went from 3:50 dry to 4:25 wet. The Neon was 3:45 and 4:30.

The race winners, Shake and Break (E30), were typically lapping at the same speed as Eyesore in the dry (3:35) but much faster in the wet (4:10).

Let’s take a look at the relative losses of these cars.

  • Yaris -13%
  • Celica -20%
  • Miata -28%
  • Integra -15%
  • Neon -20%
  • E30 -16%

Summary

Given equal lap times on a dry track, a FWD car definitely has an advantage over a RWD on a wet track. How much? I think it depends a lot on the skill of the drivers. At the high end, maybe 0.5 sec per lap. At my level, a couple seconds. At the “you can’t drive for shit in the rain” level, I think it’s less about which wheels are connected to the engine and more about the driver lacking the skill and confidence to maximize traction in the rain. Pedal mashers who over-brake and then hammer the throttle are the ones most severely affected. A Miata doesn’t normally spin when you stomp on the throttle. But it does in the rain, and if one’s driving style isn’t very nuanced, rain will be very unkind to your lap times. However, in a FWD car, stomping on the throttle may cause a bit of understeer, which is easily mitigated by lifting. FWD cars are more noob friendly. I’m not a noob, so I don’t see that FWD and RWD are that much different. But to someone not used to sliding their car around, RWD could be a major disadvantage.

I just watched the “you suck at racing in the rain” video again asking myself “where does the Yaris have an advantage?” The expectation is under acceleration. But that’s not where I’m catching people. It’s under braking. There is no FWD braking advantage. If you’re thinking it’s because my car is newer than the others and has ABS, that’s a good idea. However, you can hear the tires sliding in some corners when they lock up because my ABS has been broken for a while.

So to sum it all up, the reason for Yaris Rain Domination (YRD) is a little bit of FWD advantage and a shit-load of “most people suck at racing in the rain”.

iRacing vs. others

The most popular driving game is Grand Theft Auto V. The number of people tuned into that is greater than all other platforms combined (I’m using Twitch statistics for the last 180 days). To be fair, GT5 isn’t really a driving game. I don’t think anyone buys wheel, pedals, and shifter to play GTA5. But the number of average viewers, 73,267, is an indication of how popular driving content (ish) can be.

The next most popular game, Rocket League, is soccer played with cars. But the cars don’t really move like cars. They drive up walls, spin and flip in the air, and generally behave like superheroes. It looks like fun. Not like driving, but it looks like it takes a mixture of skill and teamwork. It’s roughly 1/10th as popular as GTA5, but 6,485 average viewers is pretty amazing.

iRacing is the most popular simulation title, and its popularity is climbing consistently. The yearly numbers from 2016 to 2019 are 141, 167, 299, 642, and if you focus on the last 180 days, 732. That’s great, but still only 1% of the viewership compared to GTA5.

Weirdly, Euro Truck Simulator (726) and American Truck Simulator (199) are some of the more popular simulation titles. Apparently it’s more engaging to watch someone navigate city streets than race tracks.

F1 2019 is doing surprisingly well with 415 average viewers. F1 is the most watched motorsport in the real world, so it stands to reason that it would be popular in the gaming world. I’ve never tried F1 2019 or its predecessors. When I buckle into my virtual harness, I like to drive cars I might drive in real life, and have those cars behave authentically. I can’t imagine driving an F1 car in real life, and if I did so in simulation, I wouldn’t have any idea how authentic it was.

It’s surprising how poorly some of the iRacing direct competitors are faring. Assetto Corsa Competizione was designed to be an iRacing killer. ACC is the official Blancpain GT simulator. That license used to belong to iRacing and the GT3 cars were the most popular on iRacing. Somehow ACC got the rights instead, and their competitive esport version of the series has only 42 average viewers. Near the same popularity, 58, is Gran Turismo Sport, another esport attempt that hasn’t proved popular. Other mild failures include¬†Project CARS 2 (48) and DiRT Rally 2 (36), two titles whose sequels were arguably not better than their originals.

At the moment, my 3 favorite platforms are rFactor 2, Assetto Corsa, and DiRT Rally, in that order. I’ll post soon about why rFactor 2 has overtaken Assetto Corsa. But rFactor 2 and DiRT Rally have miserable viewership: 10 each. What’s worse, I’m really looking forward to Automobilista 2, due out in Spring 2020. The original Automobilista has zero viewers, and I don’t imagine the sequel will have a huge impact either.

Why is iRacing winning the relatively small esports racing market? I think there are four main reasons.

  1. It’s the most popular platform. New players will be attracted to the game with the most players.
  2. It’s good enough. Among hardcore sim racers, iRacing isn’t considered to have the best physics. The tire model, in particular is often criticized. However, all the tracks are laser-scanned, and the feel of the game is pretty good.
  3. They have the best racing support. Whether you’re racing in official series or building a custom race of your own, iRacing makes it easy to get into a race, or manage one.
  4. The iRacing community forums are very helpful and a great resource for the improving sim racer. Perhaps the requirement for using your real name reduces some of the toxicity rampant in other esports.

So why isn’t iRacing my favorite title? Because esports racing isn’t my #1 priority when it comes to virtual driving.

The Numbers

  • 73,267 Grand Theft Auto V
  • 6,485 Rocket League
  • 1,344 TrackMania2 Stadium
  • 732 iRacing
  • 726 Euro Truck Simulator
  • 415 F1 2019
  • 302 Forza Horizon 4
  • 199 American Truck Simulator
  • 58 Gran Turismo Sport
  • 51 Assetto Corsa
  • 48 Project CARS 2
  • 42 Assetto Corsa Competizione
  • 36 DiRT Rally 2
  • 10 rFactor 2
  • 10 DiRT Rally
  • 0 Automobilista