GTI Track Day

A couple of posts ago I mentioned that I would be doing a track day where we (Tiernan and I) would be bringing both his GTIs to the track for a showdown.

The Black GTI is a minimal build with cheap coil-overs, Federal ST1 tires (300TW), and a CARB-legal tune.

The Red GTI is a track build with KW Clubsport coil-overs ($3000), Yokohoma A048 tires (60 TW), and a CARB-illegal tune. In addition it has a bunch of trick parts like limited slip differential, adjustable camber plates, tubular control arms, tubular subframe, big brake kit, and who knows what other stuff.

If you watch Donut Media, this is like their hi-lo series where they build two cars, one with top-of-the-line parts and the other with stuff sourced from eBay. Although Tiernan doesn’t write those episodes, he actually does write Donut Media content, and if you’ve watched their channel in the last year, you’ve surely seen one of his scripts in action. No, this has nothing to do with anything on YSAR other than me name-dropping to say I know someone who writes shit watched by millions of idiots. It’s a low bar for sure, but it’s all I’ve got man.

The day started out cold (40F) and remained rather cool (60F). The conditions were clear with no wind. The nearby hills were all green and in the distance some of the higher hills had snow on them. It was a little cold for my taste, but otherwise a beautiful day.

The event was hosted by SpeedSF at Thunderhill West. On the East side there was a Hooked on Driving event. The two organizations attract really different clientele. HoD is older, whiter, and richer. Another interesting difference is that HoD allows Lemons cars while SSF does not. I find this really strange because the Lemons cars that show up to HoD events tend to be in better condition than the low-end cars at SSF events. Honestly, you could shake up the ratty cars between the two and it would be hard to tell the difference.

Looking around at the SpeedSF paddock, there was a large variety of vehicles. My count wasn’t exact, but here are the most popular cars.

  • Miata – There were about an equal number of NA, NB, NC, and ND. Lots of people are still tracking Miatas at SSF (not so at the HoD paddock though).
  • 86 – I think most of the 86s were first generation, but there were a few of the new ones. There was even an AE86.
  • S2000 – There were loads of them!
  • Porsche – Mostly 911 but some Caymans. I didn’t see any Boxsters or 944s.
  • BMW – There were 3-series from E36 to current M2 (well not 3-series but close enough). No E30s though. Of note, there was a 328ix Touring. Pretty cool seeing a true wagon on track.
  • Lexus IS – There were a couple IS300s but also ISF and maybe other things I don’t recognize well.
  • GTI – There were 3 GTIs, including the 2 we brought.
  • Supra – There were at least 2 of the new ones.
  • Lotus – I think both were Elises.
  • Camaro – I think there were 2, and at least one was a ZL1.
  • MR2 – A turbo SW20 and a swapped MR-S.
  • Maclaren – There were 2, but I don’t know the models.
  • Other notable cars include: RX8, C7, Tesla, Alfa C4, Evo IX.
  • There weren’t many FWD vehicles: Veloster N, Civic Type R, Fiesta ST, Civic sedan. I think the only FWD non-turbo was the Civic sedan.

I shot video using my DIY headrest camera mount.

This works okay if you remember to bring your RAM arm. Luckily I found someone willing to lend me one for the day. Thanks Ed! He was driving this Lotus. Does any car say “track weapon” louder than this?

Black GTI

When I got in the Black GTI to drive, I was reminded that I helped modify the throttle pedal to improve heel-toe shifting. It worked okay for the most part except that the brake pedal travel was a bit too long. The car needs a brake job as the pedal was soft and there was no initial bite.

In the video below, I do a trio of laps in the 1:34s. My 1.9L Z3 on the same model of tire is a couple tenths faster.

Other than the overly long braking zones, I found the Black GTI to be a fun track car. As it is set up, the handling is pretty neutral. This particular car has done over 20 track events with only minimal maintenance. I think that speaks to the robustness of the platform.

If you wanted to build this car today, it would cost about $4500. A quick check of Craigslist shows that the average asking price for a Mk4 GTI is $3500. Assume you bargain the seller down to $3000. Then add $500 for suspension, $350 for tune, $450 for tires, and $200 for brake pads.

Red GTI

Sorry, I don’t have video of the Red GTI. The handling is a little better. The brakes are a lot better. The engine pulls better initially and then not. There was something wrong with the tune. If I revved the motor past 5500, there was a very good chance it would enter some kind of safety setting and completely cut throttle for 3 seconds. Driving the car was frustrating because it was a constant battle against the fuel cutoff. Short-shifting everywhere helped, but there were some places where it seemed I would run into the fuel cutoff no matter what I did. I ended up coasting through some sections to try to trick the system into behaving better. The fastest lap I did was a 1:34.22 (one tenth faster than the Black GTI).

Winner?

So who wins this shootout, Black or Red? In my mind, Black. It had the same performance for a lot less money. OK, so the Red GTI was hobbled by an engine problem. But the Black GTI was handicapped with shitty tires and soft brakes. I have to judge the cars as driven, and if was going back to the track, I’d take the Black GTI.

Now let’s imagine the Black GTI gets a brake refresh and the Red GTI gets its engine sorted. Which one is the winner? I think the Black GTI wins again. You don’t need to do much to a Mk4 GTI to make it a fun and capable track car. If you want to throw money at a car, get something else. What if you find a fully prepped Red GTI for less money than it took to build your Black GTI? Well, I guess you buy it, and that’s why Tiernan has 2 GTIs.

I’m not sure what’s going on in Tiernan’s mind. Is he selling one? I’d say only he knows, but I’m not sure he does. What would you do with two GTIs?

Here’s what I’d do. Turn the Red GTI into a rally car. Throw some rally suspension and tires on that and let the LSD do its thang in the dirt. Swap the KW Clubsports and sticky rubber on Black GTI to make it even better on track.

Offseason Training: Part 3 – No Brakes

Continuing our offseason training, we now pick up with one of the most important drills you can do: driving with no brakes. Why would we do this when it’s not the way you intend to race your car?

  • It trains your brain to look for reference points
  • It trains your speed estimation skills
  • It makes you appreciate that the steering wheel slows you down
  • If focuses your attention on optimizing grip
  • It helps you optimize corner entry speed
  • It allows you to focus your attention on your racing line and steering technique

Drill

  • Track: Brands Hatch Indy
  • Weather: default
  • Vehicle: NA Miata
  • Setup: default (yes, use the shitty tires), but you should turn tyre wear and fuel consumption off so that the vehicle doesn’t change over time

After getting out of 1st and 2nd, you will spend the entire time in 3rd gear. No shifting! You will be using only one pedal (throttle) and your hands have only one job (steering).

Do ~20 laps and then take a break. You brain does some important learning in the downtime between sessions.

Goal

Your goal is to lap the track in the lowest time possible. All you have to do is figure out the following:

  • When to cut throttle
  • When to start steering
  • When to add throttle

That’s it. One pedal and the steering wheel. How hard could this be? I’ve made a scale for this so that you can label your progress over time.

  • 1:08+ – novice
  • 1:07.x – low intermediate
  • 1:06.x – intermediate
  • 1:05.x – high intermediate
  • 1:04.x – advanced
  • 1:03.x – expert

I typically lap around 1:03.9.

Faster

So let’s say you’re a few seconds off pace. How are you going to go faster? Well, there are only a few things you can do:

  • Change your reference points
  • Change your position on track
  • Change the way you steer

In addition to these, you can make an even more significant change: change your whole outlook on where speed comes from. Race tracks tend to have a lot of corners, and corner speed comes from grip. If you’re going to optimize your lap times, you first have to train yourself to feel and optimize grip. In your next session, focus on what grip feels and sounds like.

Data

Here’s my data trace for RPM, speed, and throttle (it’s a 1:03.76 lap). The RPM and speed graphs are nearly identical because there is no shifting. The throttle trace shows that I’m using the throttle mostly as an on/off switch.

Reflection

Let’s take a moment to reflect on the utility of this drill. Like other drills, the point is to focus on specific skills in order to improve in specific areas. The main areas we are working on are our eyes (finding and using reference points) and hands (feeling grip and steering). This drill is used constantly in the Keith Code motorcycle schools. They’ll do multiple sessions per day with everyone going around the track without braking or shifting. It’s that important.

Try doing the drill several times over the next week . See how much you can improve. Note where your improvements came from. Was it reference points, position on track, steering rate, or something else? Take notes with pen and paper. Writing things down cements them into your memory.

Compare your “no brakes” lap time to your “use everything” lap time. You might be surprised how similar they are. On this track with this car, I’m only about a second faster pushing 3 pedals and shifting. In some areas of the track, I’m going faster with “no brakes”. I think that’s because I’m able to focus my attention on fewer inputs and outputs. In the picture below, the panels are brake, RPM, speed, throttle, and time delta.

Offseason Training: Part 2 – Hands

It’s January and time to get to work on our off-season training. Where do we start? At the beginning.

Skid Pad

In the real world and the virtual world, the Skid Pad is a great place to practice some fundamentals. We’ll use the Skid Pad 0.5 track, which isn’t included with Assetto Corsa, so you’ll have to download and install that first. The car is the NA Mazda Miata that comes with the game, so there’s nothing to download there. For all the exercises, we’ll be leaving the car in 2nd gear.

Enter a practice session and turn right at the sign post to get to the skid pad. Start circling the skid pad on the 50m radius. Go as fast as you can while staying on the 50m line. Once your tires are warmed up, you should be able to maintain 44 mph.

Max Corner Speed

While circling on the 50m radius, try to add throttle slowly and get up to 48 mph. You can briefly, but it can’t be maintained. In fact, when you try, you end up on a larger radius. While this may seem an obvious circumstance, it’s worth studying. Every radius has a maximum cornering speed. It is impossible to go 48 mph when the maximum is 44. You cannot bully your way to a faster corner speed. Precision is the name of the game.

Go back to circling at 44 mph. Try steering more. A lot more. It doesn’t work. Once you’re cornering at maximum speed, adding a bunch of steering input doesn’t make you turn more. That’s because you can’t get on a tighter radius when your speed is 44. The speed of the tighter radius might be 40, so you’ll have to get down to 40 before you can maintain a tighter radius. Adding steering will slow you down some, but it’s not an efficient way to turn or decelerate.

Steering with Feet

Let’s get circling at max speed again. What happens when you add or remove throttle? Adding throttle makes you go outwards. Removing throttle makes you go inwards. Braking gently also makes you go inwards. When you’re cornering a maximum speed, deceleration is a great way of steering. In fact, when you decelerate, you do 3 things: (1) add traction to the front tires (2) slow down (3) remove traction from rear tires. Adding traction to the front makes the steering wheel work better. Slowing down allows you to get to a tighter radius. Removing traction from the rear lets the car rotate (slide) to contribute to turning. Win, win, win.

You can also steer with the throttle pedal. But should you? Let’s say you’re cornering at maximum speed and decide you want to turn outward. Should you (a) turn the wheel (b) press the throttle? If you add throttle, the car will naturally change to a larger radius. But this is a form of understeer. The wheel will feel heavy as you fight for lateral grip. You’ll go faster if you just reduce steering lock.

In a RWD car, you can use the throttle to steer with the back wheels if you use enough to get the tires spinning. Massive oversteer looks cool, but is slow. Why? Because you’re sharing turning and accelerating. You’re also reducing the overall grip of your tires. If you want to go fast, you have to keep as much grip as possible, and drifting reduces overall grip.

Understeer

Let’s say you’re headed down a straight and about to enter the corner. Your goal is actually really simple. You need to get down to 44 mph (or whatever the maximum corner speed is). What happens if you end up above or below 44 mph?

If you’re too fast for your target corner speed, you will end up on a larger corner radius than you want. You want to go tighter, but your speed makes you go wider. You turn the wheel and nothing happens. That’s understeer.

If you’re too slow for your target corner speed, what will you do? Probably add throttle in the middle of the corner. What happens when you add throttle? Weight shifts off the front tires making them less grippy. In other words, understeer. Let’s write this in stone.

You can get understeer from entering a corner too fast or too slow.

Lots of people blame a car or its setup for understeer. But most of the time it’s the driver creating understeer.

Drifting?

Of course, you can create your own oversteer, and that’s a really great car control skill. But we’re saving that for another day.

Hands Positions

Regardless of your current habits, you should practice more than one way of holding the steering wheel. On a racetrack, you’ll be using 9-n-3 most of the time. But off road you’ll need more steering lock than that. So it’s a good idea to practice several hand positions.

  • 9-n-3 – put your hands on the sides of the wheel and don’t move them ever
  • Shuffle – don’t let your hands cross the middle of the wheel (right hand stays on right side, left hand stays on left side)
  • One-handed – use your left or right hand only regardless of whether the turn is left or right
  • Hand-over-hand – mimic the driver animation in Assetto Corsa

Slalom

The skid pad has some numbers marked on it at intervals (10, 25, 50, 75, 100, etc.).  Use those as cones and do a slalom, weaving in and out of the numbers as fast as you can. Use all of the hand positions. Which hand position works best for slalom? For me, it’s 9-n-3.

Figure 8

Use two 50m markers as cones for a figure 8 drill (cross over in the middle). Go around one side turning left and then the other side going right. Use all of the hand positions. Which one works best for figure 8? For me, it’s hand-over-hand, although one-handed is also good.

Getting Dirty

One of the best ways to wreck your car (real or virtual) is to drive off track. The skid pad is surrounded by dirt. Drive around the skid pad and then go for a spin in the dirt. I mean that literally. Try to spin. Also try to recover from a spin. One of the most important things you can learn from sim racing is how a vehicle behaves when it goes off course. While the dirt model in AC isn’t perfect, it’s good enough to demonstrate the dangers of off track excursions.

Reflection

Let’s spend a moment reflecting on the concepts in this post.

  • Speed affects radius and vice-versa
  • You can steer with your hands as well as your feet
  • Turning is often accompanied by deceleration
  • Unwanted understeer is often created by the driver
  • Different hand positions work for different situations
  • Driving on dirt is hazardous

Thrustmaster T-LCM Pedal Review

For several years I’ve been a very happy user of Logitech G25 pedals with a PerfectPedal brake conversion (I’ve been using this with a Bodnar cable, which lets you connect it as a solo USB device and also increases its resolution). The feel of the brake pedal is really similar to a real car. There is a little bit of travel and then it’s almost like stepping on a rock. Very little movement. It feels pretty authentic to me, and I feel it is a huge part of my muscle memory for brake control. I love it. I also hate it. There are a lot of games that don’t work well with it. It’s always on somewhere between 20-22%. And in order to get it to 100%, it feels like you’re putting your foot through a car door. My usual setup is to have it work from 25-55%. Not all games work with that.

I’ve been looking at Thrustmaster T-LCM pedals for a while. They were announced a couple years ago, but it wasn’t until recently that you could find them. Sometimes they are on Amazon for $225 and sometimes $450. They don’t stay in stock very long at $225. I decided to buy them because I really wanted to play Richard Burns Rally (among others).

One of the complaints about the T-LCM is that the brake pedal springs aren’t stiff enough. They come with 6 springs that you can mix and match but even the stiffest springs had too much movement for me. No big deal, I modded the pedal with skateboard truck bushings. In the picture below, you can see the red spring on top of some yellow and red bushings and then the load cell is the silver thing below that.

The brake pedal feels really similar to the PerfectPedal. I think if you swapped them, I wouldn’t even notice. Weirdly, the throttle and clutch feel more different. They use springs, just like the Logitech, but the throws are a little longer.

If you have a Thrustmaster wheel, the T-LCMs plug right into the wheelbase. It also comes with a USB cord in case you want to use it with a different manufacturer’s wheel. So if you own a Logitech wheel, should you modify the brake pedal for $250 or replace the whole set for about the same price? I would buy the Thrustmaster pedals. The T-LCMs feel like they have a little more resolution but more importantly, it puts you one step closer to getting rid of the POS Logitech wheel.

I am 100% satisfied with the Thrustmaster T-LCM pedals. However, I just got them and I don’t know how durable they are. The Logitech/PerfectPedal has been going strong for 7-8 years now, and that’s a hard act to follow.

GTI vs GTI

The Mk4 isn’t well-loved by most GTI enthusiasts. It isn’t the original and nimble GTI that started the hot-hatch movement. And it’s not one of the modern Golf R’s with 300 hp. With a curb weight of 2932 and an engine producing 180 hp / 174 ft-lbs, the best you can say is that it’s almost sporty.  Racing buddy Tiernan has two Mk4 GTIs…

OK, so why would anyone own even one Mk4 GTI? Three reasons come to mind:

  • Cheap
  • Robust
  • Tunable

In California, where we are, tuning an engine is practically illegal these days. Seemingly any change from factory spec will fail an emissions inspection. In order for an engine modification to be CARB-legal, a manufacturer must jump through some hoops. For 1.8T owners, that’s already been done. As a result, you can get a boost of 30 hp and 50 ft-lbs with a relatively cheap software update.

Tiernan’s Black GTI was purchased for under $2K. He added eBay coil-overs and a CARB-legal tune. It’s a decent track car and daily driver, and a heck of a bargain. If you had just one car for everything, this makes a good argument. It has 4 seats, a cavernous amount of storage with the rear seats down, and enough sportiness to be fun on track. It’s also really reliable, having done more than a dozen track days with minimal maintenance. I’ve driven the stock version of the car on track and it was good. I also drove it on the street after the engine tune and the extra power completely transforms the car. I’m really interested to see how it performs on track.

So why did he buy another one? The Red GTI has KW Club Sport coil-overs, a slightly higher performance tune, a limited slip differential, custom transmission, big brake kit, aluminum control arms, tubular subframe, etc. The car was put together by a professional mechanic who owned it since new. It’s basically everything you would want to do to a Mk4 GTI and still have a street-legal car. The price was too good to pass up.

Thankfully, Tiernan hasn’t sold the Black GTI just yet, because we need to drive them head-to-head. I’m curious how much better the pro build is. The bargain hunter in me wants to believe that a suspension swap, ECU flash, and a brake pad swap is all you need to embarrass some true sports cars. We’re headed to the track soon to find out. Look for that soon on YSAR.

 

Offseason Training: Part 1 – Preliminaries

It’s December, and I’m now officially in off-season mode as my next race is several months away. I think sim racing is a great way to train in the off-season, but just because you’re sim racing doesn’t mean you’re sim training. In this series of posts I’m going to give you my thoughts on how to get the most training from a sim rig. The intended audience is amateur racers who want to improve their skills and more importantly, their confidence in their skills.

Assetto Corsa

I’m using AC for this series of posts. Why AC rather than iRacing, Gran Turismo, Forza, rFactor 2, Automobilista 2, Project Cars, etc? Looking around, there are quite a few software titles that tout themselves as racing simulators. Many of them are on the arcade side and not good for training. I think AC, iRacing, rFactor 2, and Automobilista are all very good. Assetto Corsa isn’t the best in any one category, but I think it’s the best overall. It’s dirt cheap and there’s so much great free content. Every sim racer ought to own AC and a hundred mods (cars and tracks from the community). In addition to AC, there’s another piece of software that’s really useful and that is Content Manager. This is simply a better interface to AC than the one the game ships with. It’s definitely not required, but if you love mods, you should get it.

Computer Hardware

You don’t need an expensive computer unless you’re planning on a VR or triple monitor rig. Between the two, I prefer triple monitors because VR makes me feel ill. But for training your muscle memory, you don’t need more than a single monitor. I currently use a single 2560×1080, but 1920×1080 is also fine. If you’re going with a single monitor, you don’t need a fancy graphics card. In fact, you can even use an integrated graphics card. What? Believe it or not, AC averages 42 fps on medium quality on my $400 Lenovo IdeaPad 3. Assetto Corsa is 7 years old and therefore works great on modern budget hardware. Alternatively, you can probably find a 10 year old gaming rig on Craigslist for $200.

Simulator Hardware

While you don’t have to spend much on computer hardware, sim hardware is another matter. I started out with a Logitech G25 and I thought it was okay at the time. Now that I’ve driven good racing wheels I could never go back. I don’t think any of the Logitech wheels have enough torque to train your muscle memory. They are particularly poor in Assetto Corsa. If you’re going to use the off-season for actual training, get good hardware and invest in yourself. Thrustmaster and Fanatec make good gear. I don’t think you need a direct drive wheel, boutique pedals, H-pattern shifter, or handbrake. A good wheel and set of pedals will probably set you back $1000.

The initial outlay for a sim rig may seem expensive, but it’s a one time cost that continues to make you a better driver. A used sim rig also retains value, unlike a set of R-comps.

Data Analysis Software

If you’re serious about wanting to improve as a driver, you absolutely have to analyze your driving and compare it to other drivers. Data doesn’t mean lap times. You have to dig deeper (speed, G-forces, steering angle, brake pressure, yaw, etc.). There are several good choices when it comes to data analysis software in Assetto Corsa. I will be using AiM’s Race Studio Analysis (version 2), which imports AC telemetry dump files, so if you want to compare your data to mine (you do if you’re following these posts), then you’ll want to pick up RSA.

Don’t Race

If you’re racing online, stop. You’re probably not improving your skills. Instead, you’re learning workarounds that will turn into hard-to-break bad habits. If your internal monolog is something like “if I’m patient and wait for the other racers to crash out, my rating will improve”, then you’re not learning how to become an expert driver. Instead, you’re learning how to become a mediocre driver. Yes, it’s true that your placements might go up if you’re racing against novices who can’t make it through a race without incidents. But that attitude doesn’t give you skills or more importantly, confidence in your skills. The goal isn’t to be better than a novice racer. The goal is to become an expert.

No Nannies

Don’t use traction control, stability control, ABS, or auto-blip. While these driving aids might make you lap faster, they interfere with your training. What if your actual car has some nannies? Learning how to drive without nannies makes you a better driver with nannies. The reverse isn’t true.

See You Soon

Starting in the New Year, I will be posting some sim training exercises for your edutainment. I hope you get your sim rig sorted and join me.

NASA Time Trials Nonsense

I’ve already written about the nonsense of the SCCA time trials rules that pairs the following mismatched cars in the same group:

  • S6
    • Honda Fit
    • Scion FRS / Subaru BRZ / Toyota 86
  • S4
    • BMW 318is
    • Porsche Cayman

Let’s see what nonsense exists in the NASA time trials rules.

Weight:Power

The NASA formula is based on weight to power ratio. For example, if your car is 3000 lbs and makes 300 hp, you are at 10:1. The cutoffs are as follows:

  • 6:1 TT1
  • 8:1 TT2
  • 10:1 TT3
  • 12:1 TT4
  • 14:1 TT5
  • 19:1 TT6

Weight is race weight, meaning the actual weight of the car on track as you drove it. I don’t know if vehicles are weighed at all regional events, but I’m pretty they will be at national events. It’s pretty simple to weigh a car, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see weigh-ins at region events too.

Power is taken over an average of RPM values. For a typical vehicle with a redline in the 6k-ish region, this means averaging 5 values spread over 2.5k RPM. Vehicles with high redlines use 7 values and low redlines use 3 values. Looking at the dyno classification forms available online, a 1.8 Miata making ~120 wheel hp comes out at about ~130 average hp. How did hp go up? They turn wheel hp into brake hp by multiplying by 1.15 (I think).

I have nothing against W:P as a classing method. Of course there are issues with any system. At high speed tracks, it’s better to have high hp to fight against wind resistance. At low speed tracks, it’s better to have low weight to mitigate grip loss with high loads. I’m not sure it’s 6 to one half-dozen to the other, but W:P classing appears to give lots of builds a decent chance of winning.

Modifiers

Once you have your weight and power, you adjust this with modifiers that have absolute values. For example, having suspensions with A-arms of any kind is a -0.7 penalty and having a mechanical throttle cable is a +0.2 bonus. So let’s say you have a 10:1 vehicle with A-arms and throttle cable. Your new WPR is 10 – 0.7 + 0.2 = 9.5. You are now in class TT2.

Using absolute numbers for modifiers is simple, but ultimately a bad idea. For example, the penalty for a wing is -1.0. In relative terms, this is 1/6 of the total cost at TT1 and 1/19 of the total cost at TT6. Also, aero affects low weight vehicles more than high weight vehicles.

Tire Nonsense

Classing vehicles fairly is a hard problem. While I don’t love absolute value modifiers to W:P ratios, overall, it’s simplicity makes it okay in my book. The problem with the NASA rules is they completely screwed up tires. This is how they break down the tire choices.

  • BFGoodrich g-Force Rival, Continental Extreme Contact Sport, Cooper RS3-R, Falken Azenis RT615K+, Maxxis Victra RC-1, Maxxis Victra VR-1, Michelin Pilot Sport 4S, Nankang AR-1, Nitto NT01, Toyo Proxes R1R/R888/R888R/RA-1/RR, Valino VR08GP +1.6
  • Bridgestone Potenza Re-71r, BFGoodrich g-Force Rival S 1.5, Continental Extreme Contact Force, Dunlop Direzza ZIII, Falken Azenis RT660, Federal 595 RS-RR, Goodyear Eagle FI SuperCar 3, Hankook Ventus RS4, Kumho ECSTA V730, Michelin Sport Cup 2 Connect, Nankang CR-1, Nexen Nfera SUR4G, Yokohama Advan A052 +1.0
  • Others (Hoosier) +0

Continental ECS is a 300TW Summer tire that works okay on track. Toyo RR is a 40 TW semi-slick race tire that is used as a spec tire in various race series. Somehow they are in the same class. How do all of the Toyo tires end up in the slowest class? Money. If cheating is the #1 problem with racing, sponsors are a close #2. Not only is the Toyo RR the best value at +1.6, it’s the fastest of all of the tires listed. The only way to go faster would be on Hoosiers, which results in nearly a full jump in class (at anything except TT6). Instead of making the rules fair or budget-friendly, NASA decided to let themselves be bribed. At the high end, there is only the illusion of choice. If you want to win, you will race on Toyo RRs, which also happen to be the most expensive tires here.

Review: Richard Burns Rally

One of the most legendary sims ever made was Richard Burns Rally. Even though it’s 17 years old, people still consider it to be the best rally sim. Strangely, I’ve never tried it. Possibly that’s because it has been out of production for a decade and not easily obtained. Well, that’s not entirely true. You could download free versions all over the place, but it didn’t appear entirely legal and installation didn’t look simple. The game had a fixed number of cars and stages, and to change those required hacking the game.

Rally Sim Fans

The people at Rally Sim Fans have made life much easier. They made a modern RBR installer that has a ridiculous number of cars and tracks, and works with modern sim hardware. It’s just a couple clicks and you’re done. I’m still not sure about the legality of this, but if whoever owns RBR ever decides they want to charge me, I’ll pay.

Installation

  1. Go to the Rally Sim Fans website and make an account.
  2. Download the latest installer (1.16.3 at the time of this post).
  3. Launch the installer. Windows may be reluctant to run the installer, but click the “More info” and let the installer “Run anyway”.
  4. The full download is about 15G and inflates to around 100G. You can also do a minimal install at 2G/4G.
  5. The instructions will tell you a bunch of places not to install. I used an external SSD.
  6. Some of the download locations are in Eastern Europe, which may result in really long download times (days) from the US. Experiment with each to see what the download speed actually is. I was able to use a temporary high-availability server and get 14M/sec download speeds, which is about 100x faster than what I got initially. Don’t worry if you quit the installer, it will pick up from wherever it left off.

Configuration

RBR recognized my sim hardware just fine, but it didn’t allow me to apply dead zones to controls. My pedals absolutely have to have dead zones because (1) the throttle doesn’t go below 5% or above 90%, (2) the brake doesn’t go below 25% or above 60%, and (3) the clutch doesn’t go above 90%. Driving around with partial brake and a clutch that doesn’t actually disengage was a little frustrating, but I did get a sense of the physics. It’s good.

In order to put dead zones in my pedals, I had to install some extra software: vJoy and UCR.

vJoy

vJoy is a virtual joystick. It’s pretty simple to use, just install the software and your computer thinks it has a new controller called “vJoy Device” that has 6 axes and 8 buttons. It doesn’t do anything on its own.

UCR

UCR is the Universal Control Remapper. This lets you change the input from one controller to another controller. In my case, I wanted to move my pedals and hand brake to the vJoy device. Remapping individual axes from my pedals to my virtual joystick was pretty simple, but setting the dead zones was a pain. I couldn’t quite get them dialed in.  And when I finally did get some settings that seemed okay, RBR no longer recognized the steering wheel. So I had to remap the steering wheel from Thrustmaster to vJoy. This had the effect of removing FFB.

First Drive

Driving without force feedback is strange. It is actually possible though and because I’ve driven enough rally, I was able to drive through some stages without problems.

RBR vs. DiRT Rally and others

Most of my previous “hard core rally sim” experience has been with the original DiRT Rally. I’ve also driven other rally sims or sims where rally driving is possible.

  • DiRT Rally 2 – not as good as the original, and the asphalt physics appear to be broken
  • DiRT 4 – not really a hardcore rally sim
  • Assetto Corsa – not designed as a rally sim, but does a pretty good job anyway
  • iRacing – although the selection of dirt cars and tracks is very limited, the dirt feels pretty darn good
  • rFactor 2 – I tried a rally course and it was terrible

So how does RBR compare to DR? Well, I wasn’t able to really test RBR fully because my pedals are weird. Maybe if I had my pedals connected to my wheel I could have gotten it to work. Maybe this is an excuse to get the new Thrustmaster T-LCM pedals?

It appears to me that RBR is the Assetto Corsa of the rally world. That is, there is really good community content. Of course, some of that content is more polished than others. From what I can tell when I had FFB working (but poor pedals), the feel is very similar to DiRT Rally. The selection of cars and tracks is equivalent, but RBR has more potential because it can be modded. If you own a simple sim rig where the pedals connect to the wheel, you should definitely check out RBR.

I’m going to keep hacking at things and hopefully figure out how to get everything working in RBR.

Convertibles: top up or top down?

If you have a convertible, should you drive it on track with the soft-top up or down? There are a number of things to consider.

  • Visibility – top down is safer because you can see behind and to the sides better
  • Disaster – top up is safer because your arms are less like to flop outside the vehicle if your car rolls
  • Top speed – top up is faster because there is less drag
  • Corner speed – top down is faster because there is less lift

Well, that’s not very well resolved. There are reasons to have your top up and top down. If you look at the Spec Miata rules, they allow you to run with a factory hard top, which most people do, or run completely naked.

  • NASA – 8.1.2 Hardtop may be used, and if used, must be securely bolted in place.
  • SCCA – 6e. Convertible tops and attaching hardware shall be completely removed. Cars may compete with the Mazda factory detachable hard top in place (latches shall be replaced with positive fasteners), but it is not mandatory.
  • Specmiata.com – 7.e. (but the exact same wording as SCCA).

Is a Spec Miata actually faster with the top off? I don’t know. Given that nobody drives a top-down SM, it’s probably faster with the top on. On the other hand, when Best Motoring did an all-convertible battle, they found that the cars were faster with the tops down (the exception was the Boxster S, which was nearly identical). Maybe it’s because racing isn’t time attack (i.e. there is drafting).

Here’s a screen shot of the results from the video.

The video is definitely worth watching.

One of these days I need to do some back-to-back testing with top down and up to see what is faster in my car.

FWD FTW

If you look at the YSAR Library, you will find a short description of The Front-Wheel Driving High-Performance Advantage by Jack Doo. When I read it, I remember thinking “oh, that’s cool”, but none of the content really struck me as “FWD is actually better than RWD”. Given my recent experiments in RWD vs. FWD, I have come away with the following provocative thought.

For 99% of YSAR readers, FWD is faster than RWD

Primary Disadvantages

First off, let’s look at why that might not be true.

  • 0-60 and 1/4 mile: RWD wins
  • 60-0: RWD wins
  • 0-100-0: RWD wins
  • Skid Pad: RWD wins

FWD vehicles have a disadvantage in a straight line. As soon as they accelerate, weight shifts to the rear, away from the drive wheels. At low speeds where gearing allows high acceleration, FWD vehicles spin their tires. For the drag strip, you want as much weight over the drive wheels as possible. So in order for FWD to have good off-the-line acceleration, it needs extra weight over the front wheels.

FWD vehicles are also worse at braking. When you double the load on a tire, it doesn’t produce double the grip. Not quite. The best situation for braking is to have 50/50 weight distribution during braking. This might be 40/60 static weight distribution like a RR layout. FWD vehicles might be at something like 80/20 during braking, which is pretty terrible.

For cornering, the best weight distribution is closer to 50/50 because all 4 tires are contributing to grip. FWD vehicles are much farther away from 50/50 than RWD vehicles, and so they also lose on the skid pad.

Since race tracks are composed of straights and corners, in theory RWD should be superior to FWD.

In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not. — Albert Einstein

Primary Advantages

Common knowledge says there is one place where FWD has an advantage: rain. Why exactly does FWD win in the rain? If you look at the RWD advantages above, all of them should hold true in the rain. It’s not like rain changes the coefficient of friction differently for RWD and FWD. Both are lowered the same amount. So why is FWD faster in the rain? Maybe it isn’t. But if it is, why doesn’t this lead to FWD being generally faster under all conditions?

I think what all of this boils down to is the following truths (which are true because some Internet expert named Ian said so).

  1. Cars are driven by humans
  2. It’s better to turn when slow than fast

In order to drive a vehicle at the limit of adhesion, the driver must have confidence in their car and their abilities to drive the car. It doesn’t matter what potential a car has if a driver is unable to extract it. I see this all the time in data. One driver gets 0.2G more grip than the other driver in every corner. Both are driving what they perceive to be the limit. Neither is driving the true limit. They are driving their own limits. A car that inspires confidence allows a driver to get closer to the actual limit. Why does FWD inspire confidence? Because RWD may break loose on acceleration and cause a spin. Fear of spinning turns out to be one of the biggest problems of high performance driving.

To explain the next FWD advantage, I want you to imagine a completely different scenario. You’ve probably seen kids riding on skateboard ramps. I used to do that when I was younger. A skateboarder goes up one side, turns, and goes to the other side. This is repeated back and forth often with tricks in the air. Now imagine if you wanted to turn on the flat bottom of the ramp and go back up the side you just descended. Well, it would be impossible. While you could turn on the flat bottom, you probably wouldn’t have enough grip to conserve the momentum to return back up the ramp.

Here’s another imperfect analogy. Imagine you’re dogfighting in WW2. You can try to out-turn your opponent in a horizontal plane or perform yo-yo’s in the vertical plane. A yo-yo is a maneuver where the plane flies nearly straight up, turns at very low speed, and reverses direction back down. This can be repeated over and over much like riding a skateboard ramp. All of the turning is done at the top of the yo-yo. If you tried to turn at the bottom of the dive, you would lose all of your momentum and would be unable to get altitude again. A dogfighter who has an altitude advantage can keep that by bouncing an opponent all day. But if said dogfighter tries to make a flat turn at the bottom, the advantage is forever lost and now it’s an equal fight.

Cornering a car is like skateboarding on a ramp or performing a yo-yo in a plane. You know that saying “in slow, out fast”? Yes, you’ve heard that a thousand times. There is a slow part of the corner and there is a fast part of the corner. The slow part is where you want to do your turning, not the fast part.

A FWD car uses its front wheels for acceleration and its rear tires for grip. Because the rear tires have only one job, grip, they aren’t going to slide out under acceleration the way RWD does. This is where FWD vehicles give a driver confidence. A FWD driver knows that as soon as they add throttle, they can pull themselves out of a slide. This means they can enter a corner with more rotation. In other words, FWD gives the driver confidence to rotate more when going slowly. As described in the analogies above, turning while going slow is much better than turning while going fast. FWD also gives the driver confidence to accelerate in the 2nd half of the corner because the rear wheels aren’t going to lose traction and cause a spin. Let’s summarize.

  • FWD is better in the early part of a corner where rotation happens
  • FWD is better in the late part of the corner where acceleration happens

So what happens to the non-expert RWD driver? First off, they enter the corner well under the limit because they’re worried about oversteering and spinning. Since they are going slow, they are invited to add throttle in the mid-corner. If they add a little throttle, they understeer as the front tires unload and search for traction. If they add a lot of throttle, they oversteer as the rear tires fail to simultaneously balance lateral and longitudinal grip. The RWD driver ends up spending a lot of time at partial throttle because the rear tires are being asked to turn and accelerate at the same time.

For the sake of equality, let’s imagine what happens to the non-expert FWD driver. They too enter the corner under the limit. But they enter faster because they aren’t as worried about spinning. Entering faster is somewhat paradoxical because the FWD vehicle actually is worse at braking. In the mid-corner, they too are invited to add throttle, but this just causes a little understeer, which the driver mitigates by lifting a little. Lifting also helps rotate the car and so it practically turns itself through the corner. In the second half of the corner, the FWD driver only has one job: add the right amount of throttle that tracks out to the exit. There is no sawing at the wheel.

Summary

The FWD advantages aren’t so much physical advantages of the car as they are mental advantages to non-professional drivers. Driving a race car at the limit is difficult, dangerous, and nerve-wracking. Getting the most out of a car really means getting the most out of yourself. And that really comes down to your skill and your confidence in your skill. It is my contention that you will get more out of yourself driving FWD than RWD. I think this is true in the real world and in simulation. Does that mean you should give up RWD in favor of FWD? No, you should drive both. The skillset required to drive FWD is different than RWD, but there is a huge overlap. Ultimately, as you improve as a driver, the FWD advantages diminish, and maybe one day you’re faster in RWD. That hasn’t happened to me yet.

Postscript

My brother called me to remind me that FWD loses at Pineview (his local track) every time. There are caveats to the FWD advantage. If you’re not in danger of spinning or crashing, there will be no FWD advantage. In high grip situations, RWD should win. Heck, RWD should win all of the time, even in the rain. It just doesn’t be we suck at racing.