I got the following email from Alex P and I thought it would make a good blog post (he agreed).
I’m a novice motorsports hobbyist (5 track days, a bunch of autox). I read your book / blog and really enjoyed the material and learned a lot. Thank you for putting this out there.
You mention simulator drills as a way to get better at car control and give a few examples (drive without brakes, drive in top gear for the course, etc…). Do you have a more concrete list of drills that you think are helpful and in particular ones where there is an easy feedback loop (other than just time around the course) to see whether one is improving or not? If it matters I have access to iRacing and AC.
Also, given the way things are right now, there is no right seat coaching at basically any event I go to, is there such a thing as simulator based coaching and do you have any recommendations for that?
Yes, there absolutely is simulator coaching. If you want one-on-one coaching, there’s a lot to be said for e-coaching (for lack of a better term). Prices go from about $50 to $250 per hour. I paid $100 for about 2 hours of iRacing e-coaching and it was a great experience. I learned a lot about data analysis. There are a lot of advantages to e-coaching.
- You can drive as hard as you want and you won’t get a black flag or wreck the car.
- You can switch driver and passenger really easily.
- You and the coach can hear each other without the engine, wind, and other noises interfering.
- You won’t get coronavirus.
- You can make setup changes very quickly.
- You can compare data to your coach with 50+ data channels if you want. Most people don’t have much more than speed and g-forces, but on a simulator, pretty much everything is available. You can learn a lot about data analysis because the data is so easily accessible, but on the other hand, it is a bit daunting to have so many channels at your fingertips.
Where do you get e-coaching? I would love to try out all of the services and report back on which one I liked best. While I haven’t done that yet, I started the homework for it.
- Driver 61 – $100 for 2 hours or $43 for 45 min.
- Pure Driving School – $100 for 2 hours or $60 for 1 hour.
- James Burke Racing $75 / hour
- Virtual Racing School – $99+/hour depending on the coach (and you have to subscribe $9.99 per month).
- Coach Dave Academy – $150 / 60-80 min session
- Cosmo-Sport – $250 / session
- Jonathan Goring Motorsport – $275 / hour
So who are these coaches? Some of them are pro racing drivers or pro sim racing drivers. You can also find people who will “coach” you for $30 / hour. There are services that have group coaching if you subscribe monthly. You can even get free coaching if you join a team/league.
My advice is to try some e-coaching. Sim racing is just as complex as real racing. If you’re not a computer nerd, editing files can be even more daunting than turning wrenches. If you’re using sim racing as training for real racing $100 or whatever is a lot cheaper than anything in the real world.
There are two ways to think about sim driving (1) I’m doing it to get better at sim racing (2) I’m doing it to get better at real racing.
3 Drills for sim racing
The most critical difference between sim racing and real racing is relying on reference points. Since you don’t have accurate depth perception or g-forces on your body, you have to use your eyes so much more. Ultimately, you will use reference points for brakes on, trail-braking, brakes off, throttle partially on, throttle fully on, shifting up, shifting down, etc. Nobody can think about all of those things at once. Eventually your reference points become automatic. But at the start, you have to make them deliberate.
Find a simple track like Brands Hatch Indy or Lime Rock Park. Practice it over and over in the same car. Repetition is a key part of training, so don’t mix things up too much.
Drill #1: Braking reference
The first reference point to learn is your brakes on reference point. Choose a track with sign boards on the straights. Make sure your delta timer is showing. Experiment with various braking points and watch your delta timer once the corner is over. Which braking point optimizes your lap time? It may be earlier or later than you first imagined. This drill is just about your eyes.
Drill #2: Trail-brake to apex
In this drill, you want to keep notice of your brakes on and brakes off reference points. The goal is to try to extend your braking all the way to the apex using a soft release of the pedal (your initial application will probably also be softer). This means you’ll be overlapping your braking and turning through the first half of the corner.
Drill #3: Crash a lot
Drive as fast as possible and crash over and over. You’ll find that some parts of the track are a lot more dangerous than others. If you want to succeed in sim racing, you have to know which corners are the ones most likely to ruin your race. Identify those corners and treat them with extra respect.
4 Drills for real racing
#1 Hand position
Do you plant your hands at 9-n-3, shuffle steer, or something else? Whatever you’re doing could use some deliberate practice. Find a track with lots of hairpin corners. You may find hill climbs are better than closed circuits. You can also use a skid pad or figure 8 track.
- Drive entirely with hands at 9 and 3 even if you have to cross your arms
- Shuffle steer so that your hands stay at the sides of the wheel and never cross each other
- Use hand-over-hand technique as you turn the wheel
- Drive one handed through the entire corner, (practice both hands)
How long should you do each of these? A long time. I used to practice hand drills for 30 minutes continuously a couple times per week. I still do these drills on a skid pad in real life.
#2 Heel-toe shifting
There is some setup before doing this drill.
- You need a relatively firm brake pedal for this drill. If you’re serious about using a sim to train your real driving skills, you should get a load cell brake pedal. If I was buying new, I would probably get either a Thrustmaster T-LCM or Fanatec Clubsport. You can also buy load cell modification kits for Logitech, Thrustmaster and Fanatec pedals.
- Although it may help immersion a little, you don’t need a shifter for this drill. You can use paddles or buttons on your wheel to change gears.
- Your pedals may not be arranged at the optimal height or spacing. Ideally, when you apply your brakes hard, your heel is planted on the floor, and the level of the brake pedal is still slightly higher than the throttle. If your brake is beneath the throttle, you won’t be able to press the throttle with the outside of your foot. You will also have problems if the throttle pedal is too far away.
- In order to get the proper ergonomics, you may need to physically modify your pedals. I removed my Logitech pedals from their plastic housing, put a load cell on the brake pedal, arranged the pedals inverted, and put a metal tab on the throttle. All of this was to replicate the environment in my car.
The goal for this drill is to coordinate your clutch, blip and shift. One of the most common mistakes is pressing the clutch too soon. If that happens, the revs will fall and you’ll find yourself having to feed out the clutch slowly to prevent over-revving. Using the engine to decelerate makes you slower. Try to delay the clutch as long as possible.
- Examine your brake pressure trace. Ideally, heel-toe shifting should not affect your brake pressure
- Examine your RPM trace
- The point of highest RPM should not be during the blip!
- The RPM should not climb gradually while decelerating
#3 Off-track excursions
One thing you can do in the sim world that is really hard in the real world is putting 2 or 4 wheels off track. In HPDEs that will get you kicked out pretty quickly. But if you were in a real race, this is a survival skill you need to practice. The behavior of having 2 or 4 wheels in off track is really different depending on which track and which sim you are in. Grass and sand feel completely different from each other and not every track is modeled authentically. That said, I think iRacing is a good training environment for this drill. Most of the grass is really slick, so if you put half a tire in the grass, you may find yourself spinning.
- Drive off
- On a straight
- At the corner entry
- Mid corner
- At the exit
- Drive back on
- Don’t spin
The key to not spinning is having the wheels pointed in the direction of travel. Most of the times, what this means is going off in a straight line and coming back in a straight line. Go gradually without a lot of hand or pedal input.
Outside of a drill setting, if you feel like there’s a 50/50 chance you’re going to drive in the grass, just commit to it and do it intentionally. Opening the steering wheel and driving straight through grass isn’t a big deal. However, keeping the wheel turned and trying to pray your way through a corner might end in disaster.
I think the most important thing you can learn from sim racing is steering wheel muscle memory. Having the muscle memory to automatically control a sliding car takes hundreds of hours. There is no cheaper or safer way to acquire those hours than on a simulator. If you want to learn how to control a sliding car, it helps if the car is sliding a lot. That means rally.
A force-feedback steering wheel is essential. I use a Thrustmaster TS-PC Racer. I have owned Logitech G25, G27, and DFGT, and have used a variety of Thrustmaster and Fanatec and direct drive wheels. Logitech wheels are okay in iRacing, rFactor 2, and DiRT Rally, but terrible in Assetto Corsa. I don’t need a $1500 wheel, but apparently I do need a $500 one.
Driving on simulated dirt is the best way to hone your muscle memory. The original DiRT Rally is practically free these days (and I prefer it to the sequel). Assetto Corsa has some good dirt circuits and rally stages. iRacing doesn’t have many rallycross circuits, but what they have are uniformly good.
Drive as much as you can on dirt. That is all.