Heraclitus Redux

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Out of every one hundred men, ten shouldn’t even be there, eighty are just targets, nine are the real fighters, and we are lucky to have them, for they make the battle. Ah, but the one, one is a warrior, and he will bring the others back. — Heraclitus

Below is some Time Attack data from iRacing. The car is the MX-5 and the track is Laguna Seca. 281 drivers have taken part in this particular challenge. That’s actually a small number compared to the number of people who race weekly in the MX-5 series (the last race week at Laguna Seca saw 3,148 drivers). Time Attack isn’t as popular as racing right now because it’s part of a beta UI (and maybe other reasons). But the data for fast laps is easier to mine from TA than races so that’s where the histogram comes from.

Following Heraclitus, the top 10% are the real fighters. This corresponds roughly to the 1:39-1:41 segment (actually only half of the 1:41s). The bottom 10%, who shouldn’t even be here, are lapping at 1:50 and above. Only the top 3 drivers are his warriors. If you’re looking at these lap times and comparing them to your own iRacing lap times, make sure that you’re using the exact same weather conditions (78°, late afternoon, partly cloudy, 55% humidity, wind 2 mph N) and setup (baseline, just like in the MX-5 rookie series with fixed setup). Otherwise you may conclude you’re slower or faster than you really are.

In the world of racing, we don’t call the best drivers warriors, we call them aliens. In 2009, Colin Edwards used that term to describe Rossi, Lorenzo, Stoner, and Pedrosa, the 4 riders with a strangle hold on MotoGP. Since then, the term has spread well beyond MotoGP and it’s one of the more common accolades in virtual racing. As long as we’re labeling driver skill, let’s put labels on various levels of driving because Heraclitus’ targets isn’t a very descriptive term for the 80% of the drivers in the middle.

  • Alien: top 1% of drivers, the benchmark
  • Expert: top 5% of drivers, around 1% slower than aliens
  • Advanced: top 10% of drivers, around 2% slower than aliens
  • High Intermediate: top 50% of drivers, 4-5% slower than aliens
  • Low Intermediate: top 75% of drivers, 7-10% slower than aliens
  • Novice: bottom 25% of drivers

So how does one become an alien? Not being one, I can only say so much. My best time under these time attack conditions is 1:40.3. While I’ve been an iRacing member for 5 years, I haven’t used it much for the last 3 years. So I’m actually pretty pleased that I was able to pull out a 1:40.3 after a few sessions back from a long hiatus. I know I lack the precision and consistency to be an alien. I might be able to get there one day, but it would be a lot of hard work and I’m not sure that takes priority in my life. More importantly, I generally understand how to drive a car fast. But what about those people who have been on iRacing for 10 years and still haven’t figured out why they are 3 seconds off pace? What are they doing wrong? How can they fix it? These are two very different questions, and something we will be exploring in detail via telemetry analysis as we finish out 2018 (and we’ll continue in 2019 as well).

2 thoughts on “Heraclitus Redux

  1. Hi Ian,

    First time-long time. You write a lot about improving and becoming a better driver, but I’ve always had a curiosity re: the absolutely hopeless drivers that also have years of experience and thousands or even tens-of-thousands of laps. The bottom 5%. I sometimes see stats for people in iRacing and other sims (and even other genres) that are just mind-boggling. Not because they’re so slow, but because they’re so slow despite having thousands of races.I’m talking about people that are regularly 12-15 seconds+ off pace even after racing for years. I suppose some of it can be attributed to individuals with physical disabilities, but I was wondering if you had any thoughts, as both an educator and a performance driver, on why some fail to improve to even a below-average level.

    Anyways I’ve gotten into sim-racing in the last three months or so and this blog has helped a lot in my development and made me faster. I just wanted to thank you for that.


    1. Thanks for the kind words. I’ve got a bunch of posts planned where I’ll be diving deep into the combination of telemetry and simulation. Your question intrigues me also. How is it that some people just don’t get much better despite many years of practice? Sadly, I can look at my own guitar playing as an example. I’ve got some bad habits that come from being self taught. I’m also lazy about training myself out of the ones I know exist and am negligent about finding new ones. I feel like “I’m enjoying this and don’t need to get better”. If you ask me why I hold the neck the way I do, I’d probably say “that’s my style”. Well, it’s a bad style, and I’ll never get better unless I spend hours training my hands and ears. There are only so many hours in a day and when a free one pops up, I’m more likely to think about driving than guitar. But I also find the act of driving more natural than the act of making music. Perhaps that ease is part of the motivation.

      One thing that sets driving apart from most other activities is that you could get killed doing it. Fear of damage to self and property is probably holding back a lot of drivers. And perhaps for good reason. Driving 10 seconds faster takes a lot of guts and involves sensations you never have on the street (sliding tires). That’s not what’s holding people back on simulators though. I need to find some of those people and see if I can coach them out of it.


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