An Identical Twin Study of Car Racing

This week we have a guest writer! It happens to be my twin brother Mario. Red text is me making editorial comments.

I think this is as good of an identical twin study as you’re going to get in car racing. I don’t know if such studies exist, but I’ll start with that bold statement. Here’s another bold statement: my identical twin brother is between 2 and 5 seconds faster per lap than me on just about every track.

I feel like I’m a pretty typical amatuer racer. I’m not overly analytical, and I drive more with my heart than with my head. I can’t tell you where all of my braking markers are for every corner, or how many RPMs the engine is spinning everywhere on the track. I have at times even caught myself shuffle steering. But I’m not a total noob. I’ve done 17 endurance races and I’m generally pretty fast and safe, and my abilities are probably a lot like many of you.

My identical twin brother Ian, on the other hand, has taken to car racing like a duck to soup. He coaches, he races simulators, he writes this blog and wrote a book of the same name. Ian is the hyper analytical racing scientist, which is what you’d expect from a genetics professor. Compared to me he’s made a cognitive leap ahead.

Ian and I have a similar amount of racing experience, and when we first started racing I was a bit faster. So how did he leave me several seconds behind? And by the same token, if you’re the everyman racer that I am, and you do everything Ian does, could you be many seconds per lap faster than you are now? Yeah, I’m pretty sure of it.

Ian is lighter

Despite being identical twins, Ian usually weighs about 15-25 pounds less than I do. His diet is a bit better with regular salads, but he has a thing for sugary drinks that I don’t. However, he doesn’t drink alcohol, and I do, and that’s probably most of the difference in our weight. I don’t know what twenty-five pounds of beer does to a lap time, but it sure doesn’t help.

I’ve really reduced sugary drinks in the last couple years. I drink a lot of tea though, and mostly decaffeinated/herbal. I don’t drink beer ever, but I’ll have a glass of red wine a few times per year.

He gets more track time

In the early days, I was the one with more track time, most of it on motorcycles, but track time nonetheless. Since Ian started coaching, and since I moved to NY, he gets more track time than I do.

This is most obvious when we both get to a race. It takes me a bit of time to warm up, and I’m not lapping fast or consistently until 30 minutes into my stint. On Ian’s second lap he’s going about as fast as my best lap of the day. He attributes a lot of his instant speed to sim racing.

Sim racing isn’t the same as real racing, but the feel of the car is close enough that it keeps me sharp.

He races a proper simulator

The only simulated racing I do is Gran Turismo on the Playstation, and with a DualShock controller; no wheel, pedals, etc. I like racing on the couch, and I just don’t want to sit in front of a computer after working on one all day. I suppose I could get a dedicated cockpit setup, and Ian tried to get me started with one, but it didn’t go smoothly due to hardware problems. In the end, I abandoned iRacing rather quickly and went back to Gran Turismo.

But for sure, this is part of Ian’s secret sauce. It’s not just track knowledge and laps, it’s sensing the slip angle, threshold braking, feedback through the pedals and wheel, etc.

I usually recommend iRacing as a first simulator. But that’s because most people suck in traffic and the iRacing rookie ranks have so many horrible drivers that it’s very good training for situational awareness. If you already have your head on a swivel and want to perfect your technique, I recommend Assetto Corsa. It’s cheaper and arguably better.

He has higher minimum cornering speed

When we compare overlays, it’s obvious where Ian’s killing me: minimum corner speed. He simply carries more speed through the corner by slowing down less. He’s good at trail braking, and I’m not. Which is because a) I don’t practice trail braking, because b) I don’t get enough track time, and c) I don’t do sim racing with a wheel and pedal. But it’s also because I have a particular driving style I’m comfortable with, and it’s hard to break old habits.

I’d say it’s 50% trail-braking and 50% figuring out that one corner that really matters.

My driving style is slower

I brake early and get on the gas early. I don’t know why I drive that way (probably came from motorcycles), it’s certainly not productive in a Miata. It feels natural, that’s the best I can explain it. Let’s take a look.

Reading from left to right in the graph below, I’m the red line, Ian is black. We’re braking at about the same rate (the slopes are about the same), but I’ve started braking earlier, so that I can get on the gas earlier.


And it works! You can tell because I have the highest cornering speed through T2 and coming up to T3 (the red line is closest to the top). But… if you look at the time graph at the bottom, oh fuck, I’ve lost a quarter second already.

In the graph below you can see I’m doing the same damn thing in T4, early on the brakes, early on throttle. Again with the highest speed between T4 and T5, but then just throwing that away by braking too early for T5! Looking at this now, I’m like, WTF am I doing out there? By the time we reach T6 I’ve lost .75 seconds. It’s only a bit here and a bit there, but it keeps adding up, and by the end of the lap, he’s got 2 seconds on me.

Where I can improve, you can improve

There are clear areas for improvement. For one, I could lose a bit of weight, and I’m cutting down on beer. I really should get a proper simulator, but they are expensive and difficult to set up. I’d rather just have more track time (wouldn’t we all), but I have to think that sim racing, even with the hardware expense and monthly subscription, is cheaper than a couple DEs.

But I think the hardest part might be breaking bad habits. I’ve taken a bit of pride in being lazy about my driving (“I just show and drive, man!”), and if I want to get faster, that attitude is the first thing that needs to go. I have to become a student of the game, and with that, ditch my rally-like driving style. The data clearly proves that optimizing the corner for early throttle never makes up for what I’ve lost on the brakes.

Identifying the problem is the first part of finding a solution, and I believe I’m well on my way. What about you, where can you improve?

I think there are a lot of ways to improve one’s driving. It’s not just sim racing where I’ve invested a lot of time and effort. I’ve read dozens of books about racing and engineering. I coach for Hooked on Driving and sometimes other organizations. I attend seminars and webinars every chance I get. I’ve paid for coaching, oddly, in the sim world but not the real world. Yes, you read that correctly: I’ve paid someone $100 to critique my ability to play a game. I built my own racecar. I write this blog to cement these things in my mind because I learn by writing. I saw this mountain I had no idea how to climb and became obsessive about climbing it. While I agree with Mario that identifying the problem is the first step, there are many steps along the path and some are painful. Motivation is what gets you past them. When people are interested in joining my research group, I don’t look for previous experience with bioinformatics or genomics, I look for motivation. I can teach you how to become a scientist, but not why you would put up with long hours and a small paycheck. Everyone has to find their own spark. A lot of people say “I want to be a faster driver”. And that want will get you somewhere over time. But not as far or as fast as if you say “I need to be a faster driver”. Why did I need to be faster? That’s irrelevant. Why do you need to be faster?

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