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.

Stopwatch or it didn’t fucking happen

Probably like many of you, I sometimes watch car reviews on YouTube. I wish there was some way of determining ahead of time if the people reviewing the car were experts or poseurs. Here’s what one journalist says as he drives the Civic Si.

Chuck it into a corner like so… yeah, and you can feel that diff working up front, you can feel it pulling the car through the corner.

Now let your imagination fill in the scene… the driver approaches a tight corner at high speed… he brakes and throws the car in… the rear drifts around as the front tires dig the car out of the slide…

OK, time to click the link…

How embarrassing. The only thing he chucks into the corner is his credibility. He can feel the diff working… without any wheel spin? You fucking P-O-S-E-U-R. Apparently the 50k+ subscribers are tuning in for their sparkling personalities or handsome visages, because it’s certainly not the driving.

What about those reviews where the journalist gets out of the car for the track test? Hey Randy Pobst, can you take over? Pretty please. Drive the goddam car yourself. It’s literally part of your job description. Of course I understand why they do it. Professionals are more consistent. But the journalists should also post their lap times. If they’re 5 seconds off, I want to know that. It speaks to their credibility. Stopwatch or it didn’t fucking happen.

On the Physics of Racing

One of the first things I read on racing is a collection of articles called “The Physics of Racing” by Brian Beckman. This made a big impression on me because the author takes a very mathematical view of racing. That’s something I could sink my teeth into because I had more experience with math than performance driving. Then I got to the part where he went to a racing school at Sebring. He was more experienced than the novice racers but he was also older. All the students drove identical Panoz cars. He found that his old-fashioned straight-line braking left him 65 feet (about 0.5 seconds) behind the more modern students who were trail-braking. Then he drops this bomb.

A record time around the course in the Panoz school cars is 2 min 28 seconds. The students were doing 2:40 to 2:45. I believe I uncorked a 2:36 somewhere along the way, but my typical lap was 2:40 and the quicker guys pulled about 65 feet on me at the start-finish every lap, which I reckoned before to be worth half a second

I don’t want to know why he thinks he’s 0.5 seconds slower than a bunch of rookie racers. I want to know why his typical lap was 12 seconds off! Clearly there’s a more important lesson here than a little trail-braking. If the lap record is a 2:28, a 2:36 isn’t uncorking anything other than a bottle of shit. That said, he posted his lap times, and for that he should be commended. It puts things into perspective. He’s a guy who understands the theory of racing but has some trouble putting it into practice. That’s okay. Lots of people are in the same boat. Like me, or maybe you.

YSAR in 2019

As this is my first post of 2019, I thought I would say a few words on the future direction of YSAR. There are a lot of people who offer insight on performance driving. Most of them know their shit better than me. I’m not Ross Bentley or Peter Krause. So why tune into YSAR? I guess because you like your driving content with an eclectic mix of math, simulation, video, science, irreverence, and irrelevance. YSAR used to focus on crashes, but I think it has evolved into some kind of mental pit stop for the improving driver.

As we look forward to 2019, I’m eager to find out where this performance driving journey will take us. Frankly, I’m as much a passenger as a driver in this endeavor. Before we start, let’s agree to chuck the poseur bullshit into the corner. There’s no room for artifice where we’re going. There is room for incompetence though. Let’s find out where those 8-12 seconds went and fix that shit. Oh, and there’s also room for a metric ass-ton of swearing. This is you suck at racing, after all. The shit has, and always will be, fucking real. Or in more gentlemanly terms, I will always be honest with you. Whether it’s modeling vehicle dynamics, debunking driving myths, reviewing the latest gizmo, or recounting my latest driving adventure, I will present stuff as factually as possible. I give zero fucks about impressing professionals or companies, and won’t alter my content in an effort to impress or appease them.

Am I just going to ramble on this week or is there going to be any actual driving content? Okay, okay, let’s call bullshit on someone with more racing credentials than me.

The Euler Line

Do you subscribe to Speed Secrets Weekly? It’s a weekly newsletter delivered to your inbox. If not, you might consider it. Every Tuesday there’s new content from Ross Bentley and usually a guest writer. Professional drivers, engineers, and coaches contribute regularly. And also amateurs like me. I’ve written two articles for him in the past and just a few days ago I started a new 2-part article on why spinning is an important part of driver development. I won’t regurgitate those posts here but instead urge you to subscribe to SSW. It’s only $15 per year and makes every Tuesday just a little better.

One of the recent posts that got my attention was written by Randy Beikmann. It’s a theoretical post about the ideal driving line that compares the circular arc to an Euler spiral (pronounced “oiler”). Probably every book since Piero Taruffi’s 1958 classic, “The Technique of Motor Racing”, introduces the racing line as a circular arc. Nobody actually drives this arc. It’s used (1) to demonstrate the largest possible radius through a corner and (2) as a point of comparison to the typical late apex racing line. Here’s an awesome picture of the ideal line from that book.

One unrealistic thing about the circular arc is that one goes from straight wheels to turned wheels instantaneously. The author suggests that instead of turning the wheel suddenly, you should turn the wheel at a constant rate. Steer it in gradually, steer it out gradually. The path through the corner is not circular. It follows an arc called an Euler spiral, which is more gradual at the entrance and exit. The author goes one step further and shows through a Mathematica simulation that driving on the Euler arc is faster than a circular arc. In the diagram below, you can see the flatness of the blue line. That’s the constant speed of a circular arc. The Euler line has a lower minimum corner speed but makes up for it by getting to throttle sooner.

I greatly admire the elegance of the Euler spiral model, but it left me wondering “does anyone actually steer like this?” We can answer that pretty clearly by comparing theoretical and actual steering traces. TL;DR nobody drives the Euler line.

The black line below represents the steering angle of the Euler line: constant winding in followed by constant winding out. It’s shaped like a capital A. In reality, there are steering corrections. An idealized representation is shown by the green line, which looks like a capital M. The steering wheel is turned in a little, but then the back of the car rotates around (often from trail-braking). A steering correction (steering the opposite direction and back) puts the car back on line, and then the steering wheel is unwound towards the exit.

Here are some traces driven by the Assetto Corsa AI. Steering angle is the 3rd panel. As you can see, it doesn’t look like the letter A expected from an Euler line. The top of the peak is flattened and there’s often a spike in the middle representing the steering correction. At around 4000 feet the trace looks like the letter W, not V.

How about real drivers? Here are the “alien” steering traces I showed in part 5 of the Ghosting the Aliens series of posts. Where are the isosceles triangles? The steering wheel is rarely turned at a constant rate, and sometimes very quickly.

Here is me driving in simulation with 3 very different setups (blue understeer, red oversteer, green neutral). The middle panel is the steering angle. The understeer setup is the most similar to the Euler line, but it’s hardly symmetrical and there’s a steering correction late in the corner.

In theory, there’s no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.

So if nobody drives an Euler line, why is Randy Beikman wasting time writing and talking about it. It’s because it’s not a waste of time. It’s important to understand the theory behind racing. It’s even more important to understand where the practice differs from that theory. In the end, we want the theory to catch up to the practice. When that happens, we can take our speed beyond our current understanding. It takes time to model these things correctly. While less than perfect, I admire the work by Beikmann and his Euler model. Beautiful things can have flaws.

Real Heroes

Guest post and 2nd place in the 2018 YSAR Author Contest. This one comes from Jenna Korf, my brother’s wife. Why did my brother and his wife get on the podium? Is this a case of nepotism? No, there were only 4 entries. I thought it would be fun for others to share their stories but apparently not. As usual, editorial comments in red.

When my husband initially told me about this writing contest and that the winning prize is a lap timer, my first thought was “I give zero fucks about a lap timer.” It was then that I knew I had to write this. 

So, what’s it like to be married to a race car driver? A couple of words that come to mind are Annoying. And frustrating. 

Annoying because it seems like every time we get in the car, it’s a call to his twin brother, on speaker of course, so I can’t escape it. to discuss… you guessed it, tires. You’d think maybe they would want to discuss different aspects of the car – or life. But no. They have the same conversation, over and over and over. It goes something like this. 

“Did you see that test they did on the wiley tires?” “I did! Let’s test all 10 sets of crazy train tires on 10 different tracks in different weather so we can gain that .0001 second!” “Well the front tires wouldn’t make a difference because of the fire roasted tread.” “Yeah, but if you swap out the front right tire and coat it with dressing and put a hat on it you’ll get .05 seconds back that you lost when you first turned the back tire out. And then we can stay on the track for 2 seconds longer!”

Just. Wow. 

I often wonder how my husband would like to be trapped while I talk to my girlfriend about her relationship? For hours. On end. 

Oh, and if you’re lucky enough to be married to a racer who participates in the 24 hours of Lemons race, it’s not just any car that takes up their time, money and energy. It’s a Noah’s Ark car – animals hanging out of it and all. Or a Scooby doo van. Or a half and half Lamborghini / Ferrari car. 

But it’s a serious sport, you know. Deserving of respect. 

I think what I mostly don’t understand about how awesome racing is when you spent thousands of dollars (on a car that we’re sure to make our money back on when he’s ready to sell), hundreds of hours working on it, (time that he could have spent with me), all to have the engine blow after 10 minutes on the track. True Story. 

The kicker is that after that experience, instead of doing what most intelligent people would do (and my husband IS super intelligent), like sell the car, somehow the logical thing to do is to sink even MORE money into it so he can fix it, get some more use out of it and then sell it at a better price. Um… I can’t even. 

So am I missing something about the greatness of this “sport”? Maybe. But in my opinion, the spouses of the racers are the real heroes here. And who can blame me for thinking that? My husband once sent me a picture of himself at the track. He was wearing nothing but a sun hat and an adult diaper. I rest my case. 

Portrait of a real hero. All 4 feet 12 inches of her disappointment look down at your silly, wasteful hobby that you happen to suck at. Since her post was like her, short, I thought I’d get her to respond to a few famous quotes.

To finish first, you must first finish.
— Juan Manuel Fangio

I’m already finished with this. The question is, when will you be?

The winner ain’t the one with the fastest car, it’s the one who refuses to lose.
— Dale Earnhardt

So why do you spend so much fucking money on the car?

To achieve anything in this game you must be prepared to dabble in the boundary of disaster.
— Sterling Moss

What about wallowing in disaster? I mean, I’ve seen a lot of wallowing. It’s pitiful. I suggest you give it up before it gets to the wallowing stage.

The basic problem with motor racing as a profession is that it costs too much money to get good enough at it to get paid for doing it.
— Carroll Smith

And the basic problem with motor racing as a hobby is it costs too much money and you never get paid for doing it (or get good at it).

Racing is life. Everything that comes before or after is just waiting.
— Steve McQueen

Did you say something? Cause I could have sworn I just heard you say you will always be a wanker. Fucking wanker.