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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.