More students, same lessons

I teach a lecture class on High Performance Driving every quarter. As part of the class, students have the option of driving the simulators in my office. It’s really great having 2 (thanks Gary), because I can parallelize instruction a little and the students get to know each other. In some ideal world, I would have something like 6 rigs in a dedicated space.

My preferred training scenario is this:

  • Assetto Corsa
  • Brands Hatch Indy with default settings
  • NA Miata with default settings

Most students who have never driven a simulator before end up doing lap times around 1:10-1:15. Those with previous experience tend to go a couple seconds faster. My training program is 3 drills.

3rd gear, no brakes

I’ve talked about this drill a few times, and there’s been some excellent discussion among YSAR rearders. This drill teaches so many things.

  • Reference points – you can’t do this drill without finding and utilizing reference points
  • Minimum speed – most drivers over-slow their entries because they brake too hard
  • Momentum – there is very little acceleration in a Miata in 3rd gear, so maximizing momentum is critical
  • Line – understanding how geometry affects grip and lap times

After about 30 min of doing this drill, students will find that they are faster in the drill than when they were with brakes and gearbox. Every student. Every time. Students who were lapping at 1:12 find themselves lapping at 1:08. And the more experienced ones who started at 1:08 are at 1:06.

Why does this drill work so well? First off, it’s a drill. It’s not just driving around a track for fun or lap time. The focus is on figuring out how to drive without brakes or acceleration. That puzzle forces students into a learning mindset instead of performance mindset. Eventually, students will start to care about their lap times, of course. And that’s okay, because the only way to drop time is to improve technique.

The key to this drill is deprogramming. Most students, and I think most car enthusiasts in general, have no fucking idea how to drive a car. They think that driving is about braking hard (often left-footed), heel-toe shifting, mashing the throttle, and drifting. That mindset results in lap times like 1:12. Never mind that you can beat that time easily by coasting around the track at half throttle.


The setup for the second drill is pretty simple. Change the tire pressures at either end of the car to 40 PSI.

By changing the front tire pressures to 40 PSI, the front tires will lose a little grip. It’s enough of a change that the car will be a little sluggish through corners. Students will find the car easy to drive, but a little slow. In order to get faster, you have to rebalance the grip of the car. The way to do this is with trail-braking. Try braking gently all the way to the apex.

A change to 28 front, 40 rear makes the car oversteer quite a bit. Students may have a hard time getting around the course without spinning. Again, the way to mitigate this problem is to rebalance the grip. How do you add grip to the rear? By going through corners with a bit more throttle. That means having to slow the entries a little so that you can add throttle, which moves the load and grip rearward.


The previous drills are useful for deprogramming bad habits and laying the foundation for good habits. But getting really good at these drills will eventually result in one problem: avoiding oversteer.

The fastest way around some corners involves rotation early in the corner. This means driving with yaw, and consequently a greater chance of spinning. In order to become comfortable driving with yaw, you need a situation where it happens all the time, and where yaw improves lap times. This means driving on dirt.

Assetto Corsa isn’t a rally simulator, but it works okay. I like the Karelia Cross track, but any dirt circuit will work. I like short circuits better than rally stages because repetition helps when doing drills. While the Miata is still a great platform for dirt skills, I also recommend driving FWD cars, which behave very differently, and are paradoxically driven with more oversteer than RWD.

4 thoughts on “More students, same lessons

  1. I’ve never been convinced that simulators could really provide anything useful due to not having any real centrifugal (centripetal?) force felt on one’s butt. This article has opened my eyes to how these drills, some of which can’t really be performed on a race track without getting thrown out for spinning all the time, how these drills can truly help via a simulator. So great, just great. Now my budget for uber expensive brake parts needs to be spent instead on a sim rig. Can’t hide a sim rig in the spare bedroom from the wife, whereas she doesn’t notice new brake parts. Ian Korf once again forcing me to realize that most everything I know is wrong.


  2. Ian, your blog convinced me to upgrade my sim rig over the winter (from G25 to fanatec load cell pedals & DD wheel). I’ve been doing a bunch of Dirt Rally 2, since the original doesn’t seem to be for sale anymore.

    Fast forward to my first actual driving of the season at my local autocross this past weekend. On my first run, I had the rear step out in a way that’s always lead to a spin in the past. Saved it this time!


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