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.

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.

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

Esports Racing? Dirt Rally 2.0?

DiRT Rally 2.0 was released this week, and I was going to write a week-long diary about how awesome it is, but it turned out to be shorter than expected, so I’ve included a little extra content about racing as an esport.

Nobody gives a shit about esports racing

I’m not sure why car racing is such a terrible esport, but the fact is that nobody watches it. The most famous racing games ever made are Gran Turismo (Playstation) and Forza (Xbox). They must be financially successful because these franchises have been through 7+ iterations for 15-20 years. But if you look at the number of Twitch streamers and viewers, it’s clear that nobody gives a shit. In January 2019, Forza Motorsport 7 averaged 8 streamers and 34 viewers per day. Gran Turismo Sport had fewer streamers (5) but more watchers (76). Let’s put this into perspective with another game, Eurotruck Simulator, which has over 10x the number of streamers and viewers (95, 1009). People would rather watch someone picking up and delivering packages than racing. Let that sink in. It gets worse. In Rocket League, cars play soccer to a tune of 50-fold more viewers.

But wait, no hardcore sim-racer takes Gran Turismo or Forza seriously. That’s console crap. The real racing sims are on PC. Let’s look at the streamer and viewer numbers from the real racing platforms.

  • iRacing (47 streamers, 641 viewers)
  • Project CARS 2 (9 streamers, 92 viewers)
  • Assetto Corsa (9 streamers, 42 viewers)
  • RaceRoom Racing Experience (2 streamers, 31 viewers)
  • Automobilista (1 streamer, 55 viewers)
  • rFactor 2 (1 streamer, 17 viewers)

Nobody gives a flying fuck about PC racing either. However, the overall #15 most popular game on Twitch is Grand Theft Auto V with 539 streamers and 16,321 viewers per day. So people do like cars. They just like them doing stupid shit, not racing. So what can we do to make racing a more popular esport? I give zero fucks. I want my sim software to be as realistic as possible. That probably makes it less popular, not more. Ideally, I want a sim that lets me drive my Toyota Yaris around Thunderhill West. The Twitch impact of that would be on the order of 0 streamers and 0 viewers.

DiRT Rally 2.0 sucks ass

The original DiRT Rally was sort of a surprise when it was released in December 2015. Codemasters was well known for their DiRT franchise of rally games, but none were ever thought of as true rally simulators. In many racers’ minds, the only rally simulator is Richard Burns Rally, which is now so old (2004) that you can’t even buy it anymore (you can find it for free if you look hard enough). With the 2015 release of DiRT Rally, there was finally a modern rally simulator. Not everyone thought it eclipsed RBR, but it was very well received by the hardcore sim crowd. DiRT Rally has been called the Dark Souls of racing games. While I never played Dark Souls, it has a reputation for being the most difficult video game ever. What made DiRT Rally so hard? There was literally no tutorial, no help of any kind. They just threw you into a rally stage, shouted abstruse directions at you, and then played some cool music while you watched the replay of yourself falling off a cliff or hitting a tree. Thankfully, it did get better. Lots better. Eventually you understand the lingo. You adapt your driving to gravel, mud, and snow. You start to think track driving is too easy. I liked it so much that I built my Yaris into a rally car.

Monday

DiRT Rally 2.0 was released at midnight so I stayed up until 2 am. I spent most of the time configuring the controls. I’m still not sure I’ve got the brake pedal sorted. There’s no graph telling you how much each controller is inputting or outputting. With a pressure sensitive pedal, it’s very easy to have the brake partially on at all times. I ended up copying the settings from the original DiRT Rally, but I don’t know if that’s sub-optimal or not. Frustrating. After driving a little, my immediate impressions were “it’s sort of like the original but with surface degradation, different locations, and you can drive in custom events without having to unlock cars in career mode”. So that’s all pretty good. Next up, actual driving.

Tuesday

I drove a stage in New Zealand, and it was decent fun. Trying to beat the AI times is pretty hard. Good, I like challenges. But then I went to Spain to drive on asphalt and my heart shattered into a million pieces. I desperately wanted to love this game because it’s gorgeous, but this is not how tarmac feels. You might as well use a hand controller because what comes through the wheel is total fucking garbage. Words fail in describing my sadness. I don’t have much real world time driving on dirt and gravel, so it’s hard for me to determine how broken the physics are on loose surfaces, but I can say with certainty that the asphalt model sucks ass. The original DiRT Rally wasn’t perfect, but it was so much better.

Wednesday

I went looking for reviews and found 3 types. (1) DiRT Rally 2.0 sucks because of RaceNet. (2) DiRT Rally 2.0 sucks because the physics are broken. (3) DiRT Rally 2.0 is the king of rally games. Apparently the single player career mode requires logging into RaceNet. This makes it impossible for people to play offline. Also, RaceNet has been plagued with bugs, causing people to lose their saved games. As a result, the most common complaint about DiRT Rally 2.0 is the career mode. There are fewer complaints about the physics, but those who complain about it, like me, really hate it. Of the fanboys who think DiRT Rally 2.0 is better than the original, I suspect they have never executed a pendulum turn, much less shifted a manual transmission.

Thursday

One step forward, 2.0 steps back.

Friday

As sequels go, this is as bad as the Phantom Menace.

Saturday

Thankfully, Steam gives refunds.

Coaching Report (-ish)

Last week I posted about the Lucky Dog sim racing series I attended. In the post-race FB chat, I offered to help a slower driver get faster if they were willing to look at telemetry with me and didn’t mind me blogging about it. The only person who took me up on that offer was actually one of the faster racers. The next race on the schedule was Summit Point, so that’s what we would work on. I haven’t run Summit in ages and I’ve never driven the ND MX-5 there. Sometimes I wonder why I keep an iRacing subscription. My laps wouldn’t be ideal, but I logged a couple sessions to get some telemetry for comparison. One expected difference is our setups. He downloads setups from aliens whereas I drive the baseline like a rookie. Setups are critical when looking for tenths of second, but not 1.6 seconds, which was the gap between my fast lap and his. My goals were (1) to figure out why he was 1.6 seconds off and (2) to see if I could offer some advice that would help him get faster. In a perfect world, I’m such a good teacher that he ends up faster than me. I can dream.

Telemetry

The “student” has done some racing in the real world and has been on iRacing for a little over a year. Good, that means we could dive right into the data without troubleshooting rookie problems like how to set up controllers or drive the typical racing line. In the telemetry traces below, you can see panels for Brake, Speed, Steering Angle, Throttle Position, and Time Lost. iRacing reports over 100 channels, but you don’t need more than 4-6 to figure out what’s going on. The image is a screen capture from TrackAttack. One of the things I like about TrackAttack is that it is available on PC and Mac, imports a variety of data formats (e.g. iRacing, AiM, Apex Pro), and stores its data on the cloud. Viewing and sharing telemetry data has never been so convenient. Click on the image to view it full size.

The student trace is yellow and mine is purple. Let’s look at the obvious things first: brake and throttle.

  • He brakes a little later and a lot harder than I do
  • He gets to 100% throttle sooner than I do

In a lot of peoples’ minds, the formula for speed is braking as late and hard as possible followed by accelerating as early and hard as possible. But if that worked, why are my speeds higher pretty much everywhere on track? It’s certainly not the setup. Given that I’m using the baseline and haven’t even bothered to move some weight to the right side of the vehicle, he should carry more speed in the right hand corners, which is most of them. The clue to this mystery comes from the steering angle: he turns the wheel more than me. So when we struck up a FB Messenger conversation, that’s where I started the dialog.

Conversation

I looked at your traces… the more you turn the wheel, the more speed you scrub. How does one get around a corner without steering as much?

Better racing lines. Lol.

No, it’s not the line.

Oh?

(At this point I sent him a TrackAttack screen cap showing the steering angle trace).

Wow! Minimizes the sudden weight transfer by being smoother and only turning as much as necessary….

We both have to turn the same amount at the end of the day. My car is turning just as much as yours believe it or not. The difference is that I’m not using the wheel to do it.

Ahhhhhh….gotcha. Skinny pedal. Lol.

Middle pedal.

Earlier brake? Or trail brake?

Yeah and yeah.

Both. Roger that.

Your current style is to brake late and hard. When you do that, you can’t rotate the car.

Little earlier on, later off, but less overall pressure.

Earlier on, less pressure, earlier off actually. You can move the whole braking sequence earlier in the corner and carry more speed through the corner.

Oh gotcha. Makes sense. That’s probably why I struggle with a real car that way as well…

The harder and later you brake, the less time there is to set up the ideal corner speed. The less time there is to feel the balance of the car. There’s nothing wrong with threshold braking. But it takes away your time to sense speed. So until your speed sensing skills are exquisite, it’s better to give yourself more time at the corner entry to find the optimal entry speed. I brake pretty softly in real and sim life. I haven’t figured out how to threshold brake and sense speed.

I see. So by braking earlier, you can rely more on the momentum of the car and the suspension instead of sending it in hot and praying that the tires can soak up the forces.

Braking too hard will also see you below the optimal corner speed. The natural reaction to that is to stomp on the throttle. But if you do that, all the weight goes to the rear and the front starts understeering. So if you find yourself pushing, it’s probably because you’re also using a lot of throttle. And that’s because your corner speed was too low.

Got it. That’s exactly what I feel like I am doing, too….

So next time try braking a half marker earlier and trail off the speed to keep as much momentum as possible. It takes a while to change driving style. Don’t expect miracles. Things get worse before they get better sometimes.

Misconceptions

The student knows a lot about driving and is a pretty fast driver. It’s great that we can have a conversation about racing line, weight transfer, understeer, etc. without having to define terms. What’s holding him back are some misconceptions about the fast way around a track. He’s probably had these misconceptions for a while and has a driving style that optimizes them. In order to get faster, he’ll have to unlearn some of what he currently knows and re-train himself to drive differently. Let’s talk about his misconceptions in a little more detail because everyone goes through this.

  • Brake as late and hard as possible
  • Get to 100% throttle as soon as possible
  • Oversteer is generated via the throttle pedal

On the surface, all of these are correct in their own context. If you’re trying to get as much out of the straight as possible, you should brake as late as possible. And if you’re trying to slow the car, you should be using all the traction you have available, not part of it. The reason we drive the typical racing line is to maximize the exit speed. So it makes sense that you want to get on throttle as soon as possible. It’s also true that you can initiate and control oversteer with the throttle. So if all of these things are right, what’s wrong?

I think there are 3 phrases in common usage that improve the novice driver and shackle the advanced.

  • In slow out fast
  • You should always be on throttle or brake, never coasting
  • Whoever gets to 100% throttle first wins

All of these phrases emphasize the speed of the vehicle. By any objective criteria, I’m doing the speed things worse than the student. I brake softly. I’m late to brake and throttle. I coast. What am I doing right that makes up for all that I’m doing wrong?

  • The winning driver is the driver who turns less

So how does one get around a race track by turning less? It starts by learning how to control oversteer with the brake pedal. That’s it. Just one little thing. The brake pedal. And fuck all if I’m not still working on it.

Race Report (-ish)

Recently, the Lucky Dog Racing League started an online racing league using iRacing. iRacing is actually a great platform for private leagues because they do all the hard work for you. All you have to do is to decide who (public or league only), when, and how (track, cars, weather). You do have to pay $0.50 per hour and everyone also has to pay their monthly subscription. But as someone who has tried cheaper solutions, this is well worth the price. I contemplated starting my own league based on Assetto Corsa because they have some important tracks that iRacing does not (e.g. Buttonwillow, Pacific Raceways, The Ridge, Portland International). A hosting service is only about $5 per month, and with that you can hold as many races as you want and nobody has to pay any subscription fees. That sounds great, however some tracks have only 8-12 pit boxes, so unlike iRacing, you can’t host races with 40 cars. That’s a deal breaker, but there are other important reasons I won’t go into that make iRacing the better choice for league racing.

Pre-race prep

Round 1 of the Lucky Dog sim series was at Okayama. This is a track every iRacer knows because it’s part of the track rotation in the rookie ranks. I don’t think I’ve raced it since I was an iRacing rookie back in 2013. And I haven’t been using iRacing much since mid-2015 (I got into DiRT Rally, Assetto Corsa, and Overwatch). Getting ready to race in the Lucky Dog series meant I had to put some time into iRacing, the Global MX-5 Cup car, and Okayama. Whenever I do virtual training, I keep a log of my best and optimal lap times for each ~20-30 minute session. Here’s what my log shows about my lap time progression over a few days.

  1. 1:47.286, 1:46.880
  2. 1:46.936, 1:46.514
  3. 1:46.883, 1:46.361
  4. 1:46.578, 1:45.889
  5. 1:46.163, 1:45.595
  6. 1:45.764, 1:45.273
  7. 1:45.620, 1:45.079

How did I drop 1.5 seconds? It’s mostly about learning the track better. I improved every session, which begs the question: how much faster could I go? Probably not much faster. A couple tenths. If I wanted to go faster than that, I’d have to spend a lot of time tinkering with setups. I generally drive the baseline/default setup. I know that there’s a few tenths or even a half second in the optimal setup, but I find that work tedious, so I rarely do it. Sure, I could download a setup someone else crafted, but part of me thinks that’s a form of stealing even if they’re giving it away for free.

As part of my pre-race prep, I also wanted to know who I was racing against. So I looked up some of the drivers in the league. iRacing rates every driver with iRating, which indicates their general skill level based on race results. My iRating is currently 1907. It’s not that good and not that bad. The names in the league that I recognized had iRatings between 900 and 2200. That indicated I would probably be running up front. However, it is possible to have a low iRating because you were a victim of rookie race carnage and didn’t do much official racing afterwards.

Race day

The race was set up with 20 minutes of practice, 10 minutes of qualifying, and 30 minutes of racing. During the practice, I set the fast time at 1:45.9. There was a pretty large range of driving ability on display with people crashing here and there. That doesn’t happen often in the real world because people tend to be more cautious. In qualifying, I never got a clean lap and settled for 3rd. Given that the #1 driver did a 1:45.5, which was 0.1 seconds faster than my practice sessions, it wasn’t likely I was going to catch him even with a squeaky clean lap.

The race started as lots of races start: with an incident in Turn 1. The #2 driver got hit and had to go back to the pit for repairs. The carnage behind us meant that me and the #1 driver got a couple seconds gap on the first lap. Over the next 10 minutes or so, we lapped well off our best times as we jockeyed for position. We went around a lot of corners 2 wide. I think we were both having a great time and built up a decent lead. During this time I noted that my advantage was in the fast corners and his was in the slow ones. My guess is he set up his car to oversteer more. That would get him rotating better in the slow corners but maybe not have as much grip in the fast ones. Alternatively, it may have been technique. The last corner on the track is a slow one, so I knew that if I was going to beat him, I’d have to be ahead in the middle of the track where I was faster. Another thing I noticed was that he braked a lot later than me. I’m not used to driving with ABS and as a result, I tend to brake more gently than I probably should.

Somewhere about halfway through he made a little bit of an error and I took the lead on the straight that followed. On the next corner, he went inside of me, misjudged the braking, and hit me. I had set up sort of wide for the corner, not really taking a defensive line. Given the previous 50 corners we had negotiated without incident, I figured we would do the same here. But I brake earlier than he does, and when he saw that, he probably thought he could dive inside. Two wrongs don’t make a right, they make dents. After that, neither of our cars were the same. Our lap times suffered and our 15 second lead eroded a little every lap. Towards the end of the race he had a really bad corner and nearly lost it. My gut instinct was to slow down to make sure he was okay. I think I even said “hey, are you okay?”. What I should have done was speed past him for the win. But I didn’t and he won by 0.4 seconds a lap later. That’s fine with me. I don’t race to win. I like that spirit of competition, but I don’t chase trophies.

Post-race thoughts

As entertainment, a virtual race with 15 identical cars can’t compete with a real race with 150 unique cars. However, it’s a heck of a lot less expensive than real racing, so the fun per dollar is hard to beat. More importantly, the worst health risk is RSI, not burning to death. While there isn’t much passing, it’s still good practice for race craft. I haven’t decided if I want to race in the league every week. DiRT Rally 2 is coming out in a couple weeks and I love driving sideways.

Ghosting the aliens: part 5, fast is fast

This is the last of the Ghosting the Aliens series of posts. Not to fear, we will return for more telemetry analysis in 2019.

Slow is smooth, smooth is fast

— said no alien ever

In this post, I’m going to argue that an overemphasis on “slow is smooth” results in “slow is slow”. If you truly want to be fast, there are some techniques that require you to move quickly. From the outside of the car, everything looks smooth, however. How does interior violence become external elegance? As we did the last couple weeks, let’s load up Alex Czerny’s fast lap in iSpeed. This time, let’s add the second fastest lap of the season, Riku Alatalo’s 1:39.842. Time for a closer look at alien anatomy.

Braking

Both Alex and Riku have similar braking profiles. They hit the brake pedal hard and fast. The release is slow, however. I think I’ve talked about “hard on, soft off” nearly every post in this series. It’s that important! Next time you’re on track, try to spend a little mental energy to examine your brake release. Do you get to maximum brake pressure quickly? More importantly, do you snap off the brake pedal or ease off? Hopefully you’re running telemetry and can look at the traces when you get home.

Clutch

There is only one way aliens use the clutch: fast. Look at the traces below. The clutch pedal is in and out instantaneously. If you find that you’re easing out the clutch, it’s because you didn’t match revs. The fix is pretty simple: wait. As you approach the corner, apply the brake pedal only. Wait. Wait some more.  Step on the clutch right before the shift.

Gearbox

There really isn’t a slow vs. fast argument in using the gearbox. If you’re sprint racing, you shift as quickly as possible and don’t care about abuse. If you’re endurance racing, you shift gently to ensure longevity. What’s interesting in the trace below is that these two aliens don’t agree on the best gear choice. Alex shifts briefly into 5th before T2 and Riku shifts briefly into 3rd in T10. If you’re looking for those extra tenths on track, your gear choice is probably the last thing to optimize.

Throttle

In a low powered car like a Miata, the throttle can often be used as an on/off switch. Note how many of the traces look rectangular. However, this is not true in the middle of the corner where the drivers are balancing weight to optimize grip. It would also not be true on a wet track.

Steering

The thing that separates aliens from the rest of the pack is that they can drive on the ragged edge while under complete control. The initial turn in to a corner is pretty gentle. At this time, their foot is still on the brake. The combination of steering and braking causes the back to lose traction and start rotating. This is intentional oversteer whose role is to point the car towards the exit. The car is now exhibiting excess yaw, and unless something is done about this, the car will spin. That something is a steering correction, and it is very, very quick. In the image below, I’ve put red dots where the steering wheel is moved with great speed. After the correction, the steering becomes slow again (unless another correction is required).

Aliens make steering corrections all the time. If you overlay multiple laps from the same driver, you’ll find that not all corrections are in the exact same place or have the same magnitude. The ragged edge isn’t always repeatable.

Let’s take a look at a couple videos featuring fast and slow corrections. The first video features me driving my brother’s Miata. If the video doesn’t queue up to the right spot, go to 1:30. Or just keep watching. I make steering corrections in a lot of corners.

Here’s what happens when you don’t make fast corrections…

Slow vs. Fast

So let’s review which parts of driving are slow and which parts are fast.

  • Brakes on is fast (assuming you’re traveling in a straight line)
  • Brakes off is slow
  • Clutch in is fast
  • Clutch out is fast if you’re rev-matching
  • Clutch out is slow if you’re not rev-matching
  • Throttle off is fast (usually, but not mid-corner)
  • Throttle on is fast after mid-corner balancing
  • Steering in is initially slow
  • Steering correction is fast
  • Steering out is slow

Final Thoughts

If you want to be a faster driver, telemetry analysis is a really useful tool. While comparing your laps to each other is helpful, the most gains occur when you compare your laps to someone faster. The cheapest way to go down this path is with a simulation rig. The telemetry is already built into the software and you’re not going to do any permanent damage along your bumpy performance driving education journey.