A little racing humor

There are probably some things that should be higher on my list of things to blog about. For example, I was just in a 24 Hours of Lemons race and I haven’t said a word about that. I’m also in the middle of posting some off-season training exercises. I’ve also got a couple new projects in the works that I could mention. However, today I’ve decided I had to make something funny.

In this diagram, you’re supposed to read it from left to right. How do 24 Hours of Lemons racers see themselves, ChampCar, NASCAR, and SCCA? That’s the first row. Which is to say that Lemons racers have a lot of humor about themselves, so I’m equating them with The Cramps (which happens to be one of my all-time favorite bands). Since ChumpCar basically stole the Lemons formula, I think Lemons looks at them as Milli Vanilli. NASCAR is like some big stadium rock group, so Bruce Springsteen? And SCCA, they’re just a bunch of old guys, like Frank Sinatra.

So how does ChampCar see themselves? As one of the most significant bands of all time: Nirvana. As “Real Racers”, they’re just like NASCAR. But the SCCA is a bunch of old guys and Lemons is just weird (Weird Al Yankovic in this case).

I have no idea what NASCAR racers think of Lemons, but probably “that’s strange” sort of like DEVO. And ChampCar is just a boy band like New Kids on the Block. NASCAR see themselves as one of the great American rock bands, which I guess is Van Halen given the rad theme I’m going with in this post. Oh, and the SCCA really is just a bunch of old guys.

Finally we get to the SCCA. They see themselves as the Classic Rock icons Led Zeppelin. Lemons is some clown shit (Twisted Sister) while ChampCar is that homegrown rocker John Couger. NASCAR is Springsteen rather than Van Halen because he doesn’t wear spandex.

I was thinking of adding LDRL (Cindi Lauper for just wanting to have fun), WRL (upscale country-fried rock), AER (something electronic to reference all the cool shit they do), RRL (referencing some obscure bands nobody has ever heard of), NASA (as an exact clone of the SCCA), and F1 (which would require some international flavor of which I’m totally ignorant of). In the end, I decided to keep it simple.

Offseason Training: Part 4 – Unbalanced Setup

Imagine you’re a racing driver and you get in the car only to find it isn’t really set up the way you like. Maybe it’s understeering too much. Maybe it’s oversteering too much. If this was a test day, you might tell the engineers that you would like the setup changed a little or a lot. But this isn’t a test day, it’s a race day, and you have to race the car you have.

Working around problems

In this exercise, your job is to figure out how to work around the problems of an unbalanced vehicle. We’ll keep the car and track the same as the last exercise to keep you in familiar territory, but we’ll change the grip at one end of the vehicle or the other. Assetto Corsa doesn’t allow you to mix tire compounds, but you can change tire pressures. The ideal starting pressure for the Miata is 28 PSI. By setting one end of the car to 40 PSI, you will reduce grip on that end enough to feel a substantial change in handling.

  • Vehicle: NA Miata
  • Track: Brands Hatch Indy
  • Weather: default
  • Setup:
    • Understeer: Front 40 PSI, Rear 28 PSI
    • Oversteer: Front 28 PSI, Rear 40 PSI

Before you begin, try to guess which setup will be faster in your hands and by how much. I think the answer will surprise you. Start with 10 laps of each setup and revisit this drill in a few days to see if you improve.

Understeer

The main danger of an understeering car is running out of room at the exit. If you apply too much throttle too soon, you will have to lift at the exit. In the best case scenario, you will lose some precious 100% throttle time. In the worst case, you will run off track and crash into something. Trail-braking helps to turn the car by giving the front tires more traction. If the vehicle has too much understeer, you won’t be able to get the rear to rotate at all. You can still load up the front so that it turns in better though.

  • Delay throttle application
  • Use trail-braking

If you find yourself running off track, you have to be more deliberate about your reference points. Make sure you set reference points for brakes on, brakes off, and throttle on. Move these around until you can lap consistently without running off course.

Oversteer

A vehicle with a lot of inherent oversteer is really dangerous. It will feel like the car is trying to kill you. To tame this beast, you must reduce trail-braking because the vehicle is already prone to rotating. You may have to separate braking and turning entirely, at least until you get used to the imbalance. You also have to be really gentle on the throttle to prevent power-on oversteer. It’s less obvious, but even a mid-corner lift can cause oversteer if it’s sudden.

  • Reduce trail-braking
  • Roll throttle gently

If you find yourself spinning constantly, your oversteer recovery skills aren’t advanced enough to drive as fast as you think you can. SLOW DOWN. Pretend this is an actual race and save the car.

Progression

In this exercise, I used the slightly faster Street (ST) compound rather than the Street 90s (SV) for no good reason.  The thresholds below aren’t in any way meant to be authoritative. Use them more as a way to gauge your progress.

  • Novice 1:06.x
  • Low-intermediate 1:05.x
  • Intermediate 1:04.x
  • High-intermediate 1:03.x
  • Advanced 1:02.x
  • Expert 1:01.x

Note that in a balanced car with 28F/28R pressures, a skilled driver can get into the 1:00.X.

Danger

Every drill exists in a context. In this drill, part of the context is “can you drive this unbalanced car safely?” As a student of driving, safety isn’t your only concern. You need to learn how a vehicle behaves in unsafe situations too. I would argue that training for disaster is even more important than training for optimal conditions. In this drill, if your oversteer recovery skills are not well practiced, you need to avoid oversteer. However, once this drill is over, you have to go practice oversteer recovery until it becomes second nature.

Theory vs. Practice (and chemistry?)

I just took part in a PhD qualifying exam in Chemistry. No, I’m not a chemist, but the student’s project was in metabolomics and they wanted someone on the exam with a more -omic perspective. One of the exam questions was about the van Deemter equation. This equation is used to describe the resolving power of a chromatographic column. Let’s put this into a simpler context you may have seen before. If you haven’t seen this, it’s easy enough to replicate at home.

The ink inside pens isn’t generally a single chemical, but a mixture of chemicals. If you want to see those individual chemicals, you can separate them with chromotagraphy. Get some high quality paper, like a coffee filter. Next, grab some pens and make a spot on the botton of the paper. In the picture below, the pen colors appear to be Black, Brown, Red, Green, Blue, and Orange (these were written in pencil because that won’t bleed in the next step). Place the bottom edge of the paper in liquid. As the liquid moves up the paper, the pigments will separate based on how much they “like” the liquid (faster) vs. how much they “like” the paper (slower). Some pigments will travel up the paper very quickly, while others will stay at the bottom. For the liquid part of this experiment, you can use water, alcohol, WD-40, or whatever you happen to have lying around. Depending on the liquid (actually called solvent), you will see different separations. Some pigments are soluble in water but not isopropanol and vice-versa.

If you did this experiment in school, the next part would be trying to determine the relative mobilities of the various pigments. That’s not what we’re doing today. Instead, we are interested in the shape of those pigment blobs. Notice how some pigments stay together better than others? It’s a lot easier to figure out where one pigment begins and the other one ends if the blob is small. In other words, our ability to resolve compounds depends on the size of the blob. This is where the van Deemter equation comes in. The resolving power, H depends on 3 different factors:

  1. A, the molecular path through the paper. There is no straight path, and how much the pigment molecules deflect around the molecules of the paper matters.
  2. B, the rate of diffusion along the length of the paper. If there is a lot of diffusion, the pigment molecules will be moving forward and backward while they are carried by the solvent. Note that the B term is divided by u, which is the speed of the solvent.
  3. C, the mass transfer term, which corresponds to pigment molecules moving sideways across the paper because they have affinity for the paper. Note that this term also has sovent speed (u), but this time it is in the numerator rather than the denominator.

Optimal Separation

In chromotagraphy, the resolving power depends on a variety of factors, one of which is the speed of the solvent. Higher speed is good to counteract diffusion. But lower speed is also good because it allows more time for the pigment to interact with both solvent and paper. If you were designing an experiment, what would you choose as the optimal speed of the solvent? This is the blue line above, which combines the A (purple), B (yellow) and C(light blue) terms. The knee-jerk response is the value that minimizes H, or about 30 mL/min in the graph above. In theory, that value provides the best separation. However, this is not the value used in practice.

Every experiment involves some imperfections. As a result, on any particular day, dialing in 30 mL/min might not be ideal. Perhaps there’s an obstruction in the line that results in 20 mL/min or perhaps the pressure is high resulting in 40 mL/min. There are a lot of things that happen in the real world that makes practice different from theory. Because of this, experimentalists set their flow rates higher than the theoretical maximum. If they find the flow is off a little, it’s better to be on the right side of the maximum than the left. On the left side, if you’re off by a little, the performance drops way down.

What does this have to do with driving?

Wait, you’re still reading? Okay, I had better relate this to driving. The curve above looks a heck of a lot like the slip angle curve turned upside-down. In theory, you want to drive the slip angle that maximizes grip. That’s the peak of the curve. In practice, you want to drive to the right. That is, it’s better to overdrive your tires than underdrive them. FOR PEAK GRIP. Let’s be clear about one thing here, if your goal is optimal speed, then you care about optimal grip. If you care about other things, like tire wear or crashing your car, this isn’t necessarily the correct answer.

Driving on the right side of the slip angle curve takes courage, training, and more training. One reason I tell people to drive on all-season tires is that the slip angle curve is broader. When training, make the exercises easier. When learning to swim, you don’t throw novices into an ocean with giant waves. That will give them a lungfull of water and a fear of swimming that will last a long time. You put novices in the shallow end and give them things to hang onto. The same is true of driving. If you want to learn how to control a sliding car, don’t use R-comps on track. You’ll be surprised when they lose grip, you’ll spin and that will develop a fear of driving the limit. Instead, drive your car on slippery surfaces at low speed in a controlled environment (e.g. skid pad, simulation) to develop confidence in controlling a sliding car.

You suck at training

Type 1 suckage: “I use R-comps because I want to train on what I’ll be driving on”. This is most drivers. Almost every track day enthusiast drives on 200TW or less. I think they do this because they prioritize lap time over learning. A lot of HPDE regulars (including instructors) never learn to drive on the right side of the curve and their solution to getting faster is buying a faster car.

Type 2 suckage: “I drive in such a way that I never slip”. If you’re sim racing, you can drive just under the limit, watch half of your competitors crash out, and take 3rd place on the podium every time. This attitude isn’t improving your skill though. If you get into a situation where you need to control a sliding car, (e.g. off track, in rain, on dirt), you’ll wish you had driven more on the right side of the curve.

Type 3 suckage: “I always drive on the right side of the curve”. If you want to be an excellent driver, you have to also practice driving the left side of the curve. There are times (e.g. endurance racing) where wear-n-tear are more important than lap times. If you don’t practice the left side, you can’t optimize the left side.

Summer (fantasy) trip

I have this fantasy of driving across the US and visiting a handful of race tracks along the way. I’ve planned this trip every Summer for the last few years, but I’ve never actually done it. I’m definitely traveling to New York in June. The question is if I drive or fly. I could drive a trackable car across, tow a track car, or drive something and arrange some arrive-n-drives.

Tracks

I haven’t been to any of the tracks listed below. I’ve driven a few in simulators though. I’ve ranked them here using a mixture of simulation experience, YouTube videos, and a fair helping of je ne sais quois.

  • 5 points
    • Mid-Ohio – When I first started iRacing, I found this track very difficult. But I eventually came to love it for its challenges.
    • Pittrace – Mario says it’s even better than MidO. Available in Assetto Corsa.
  • 4 points
    • Summit Point Jefferson – I’ve driven it in iRacing, and it’s one of my favorites anywhere. It’s a little off the direct path, so its score is reduced by 1.
    • 4 Points: Grattan – Small, twisty, hilly, never driven it. I don’t think it’s in any sim. It’s a tiny bit out of the way.
    • 4 Points: Waterford Hills – Also small, twisty, hilly, and not on the direct route. There is a version in AC, but it looks rough.
    • Putnam Park – I’ve driven it in AC and it was fun. I have friends I’d like to visit in Indiana, which increases its score.
  • 3 Points
    • Summit Main – I’ve driven Summit Point quite a bit in iRacing. It’s a bit off the route.
    • Summit Shenandoah – I have it in AC but haven’t driven it. It’s a bit out of the way. This might be a 4 point track.
    • High Plains – Conveniently located if you’re traveling West-East. Lots of endurance races are held there. Assetto Corsa.
  • 2 Points
    • Utah/Miller – Supposedly a great facility, but the track looks a bit too flat for my taste
    • Raceway Park of the Midlands – It’s a bit flat, but it’s very convenient if you’re driving across the US. Available in AC under its previous name: Mid America Motorplex.
    • Heartland Park Topeka – Mostly flat but good location. It’s in rFactor 2.
    • Englishtown – Weird little track that doesn’t look entirely safe.
  • 1 Point
    • New Jersey Motorsports Park – I’ve driven Thunderbolt in iRacing and Lightning in Assetto Corsa. Both are fun tracks but a little out of the way for this trip.
    • GingerMan – Located close to Grattan and Waterford Hills, but on its own, not a priority. I would love to race there in Lemons though.
    • Blackhawk Farms – Small, fast, flat.
    • Autobahn Country Club – Plenty of corners, but they’re all flat.
    • Gateway/WWT – It’s a roval I’ve driven in iRacing that I like okay. There aren’t many

Routes

The routes are ordered by departure date. It’s not easy finding track days that are conveniently located in time and space. I guess that’s part of the fun.

  • Route 1 – 16 points
    • Raceway Park of the Midlands
    • Grattan or Waterford Hills
    • Mid-Ohio
    • Pittrace
  • Route 2 – 12 points
    • High Plains
    • Raceway Park of the Midlands
    • Gateway (WWTRP)
    • Autobahn
    • GingerMan
    • Waterford Hills
  • Route 3 – 13 points
    • Utah Motorsports Campus
    • Heartland Park Topeka
    • Putnam Park
    • Mid-Ohio
  • Route 4 – 16-17 points
    • Utah Motorsports Campus
    • High Plains Raceway
    • Blackhawk Farms
    • Pittrace
    • Summit Point (Main, Jefferson, Shenandoah all possible)
    • Englishtown
  • Route 5 –  8-9 points
    • High Plains
    • Blackhawk Farms
    • Grattan or Pittrace

North and South

I also think about making trips North and South. There are a bunch of great tracks in the Pacific Northwest. I’ve planned several trips and have yet to do any of them. I’ve also thought about going South but the convenient time for me to do that is in the Summer and it’s way too hot.

Budget is as budget does

I’ve been busy with work and haven’t had much time for driving. I’m still planning on posting some more off-season training exercises. But for today, I want to give you some insight into my racing ethos.

Race as fast as you can afford

This is my attempt to make a statement as witty as:

Take a late apex as early as possible

I love my high performance driving hobby, and race weekends are a big part of that. But I don’t love it enough to break my bank. That’s one reason I have a Toyota Yaris racecar. It was cheap to build, burns only 4 gallons per hour at full race speed, and still let’s me get the better of most Miatas.

I recently purchased a set of Maxxis VR1 in 205/55/16 for my Z3. These were on sale for $60 with free shipping direct from Maxxis. The tires in the bargain bin were 4-5 years old using their “S1” compound. I don’t know exactly how these differ from their newer “S2” compound (other than being $100 cheaper), but I found them to be very good on track. I think they performed about the same as the typical endurance 200TW from 4-5 years ago (Star Spec, 615, NT05, RS3, RE11, etc).

I have a couple races planned in the near future: Sonoma in March and Thunderhill in May. Who knows, maybe Buttonwillow in Fall? Tires are expensive, even when racing on a budget. My go-to tire is the Hankook RS4 in 225/45/15. As most people know, they strike a great balance between performance and longevity. The current price on these is $600 per set at Tire Rack (that price includes free shipping). As race tires go, that’s not very expensive since RS4s tend to last a long time. However, for $600 I could by 10 VR1s on sale. And being the miser that I am, that was too good of a bargain to pass up.

So I purchased 12 of them, which arrived on a pallet. There are two problems here.

  1. I don’t own any 16″ rims with a 4×100 bolt pattern
  2. 205/55/16 has a 25″ diameter and 225/45/15 has a 23″ diameter

However, did I mention that they were $60 with free shipping? Sometimes you have to make compromises. I found some Mini wheels in 16×6.5 on Craigslist for $120 for the set. At $30 each, I didn’t even bargain. The total bill for 4 wheels, tires, and mounting was just over $400. Replacing a set of RS4s would have cost me $700. That $300 difference bought me another set of tires and the cash to mount them.

So what about this 25″ vs 23″ diameter? That’s going to change the shift points a little. 2nd gear will now be good for 65 mph and since the car doesn’t go faster than 95 mph at Sonoma or Thunderhill, we aren’t going to need 4th gear. The 8.7% difference in diameter will also affect braking, but the Yaris has always had plenty of brakes, so I’m not worried about it.

The springs are stiff enough that I don’t think the tires will rub, but the suspension has height adjustment, so I can raise the vehicle if necessary. You can see the fitment in the picture below. It’s looks okay.

YSAR reader Kyle asks what the expected performance difference is. Let’s see what Optimum Lap says. A tractive force diagram shows you how much power you’re getting to the ground at various speeds. This is dependent not only on the engine, but also the gearing, final drive, and wheel size. As you can see in the diagram below, the gears are spaced pretty far apart. So the switch from 2nd to 3rd gear results in a massive loss of tractive force. The 25″ tires allow you to drive various parts of the track in 2nd gear where you would normally be at the bottom of 3rd gear. It also allows you to stay in 3rd gear instead of switching into 4th.

The elapsed distance graph shows that the 25″ Yaris (orange) has a slight advantage in the slower corners and high speed sections, as expected. The net result of all of this is that the 23″ Yaris beats the 25″ Yaris by 0.22 seconds.

In reality, I’m not sure what the difference will be. I’m normally reluctant to shift into 2nd because I stay in it such a short time. So I prefer to drive around at the bottom of 3rd gear than make a switch. Having a useable 2nd might mean I actually use the gear. But shifting takes time and concentration, so there’s no guaranty that I’ll actually be faster. This is one of those things I need to experiment with on a test day.

Thanks Kyle for reminding me to finish the post.

Clean Test Day

I have a simple racing rule: the car doesn’t go to a race unless it has had a flawless test day. I broke that rule for the last race and in return the car broke various parts. Never again. We test before we race, damnit! Given that the next race may be in March, we needed a clean test day soon.

Before

One of the problems in the last race was that the car wasn’t put back together properly. We replaced the engine, which worked flawlessly, but the suspension and alignment got really messed up. We thought the alignment was set up for neutral good handling, but it turned out to be chaotic evil. It was a very bad weekend. So bad I don’t even have video of anything. The only positive thing that came out of it was a D&D joke.

A couple weeks later we assessed the damages and got everything put back together… hopefully. Thanks Tiernan and Mike.

Rental

Teammate Mike knew a guy who wanted to get his VARA license and needed a car. I know that if I was going to a race school, I’d like to be able to rent a car without breaking the bank, so I said yes. There is a lot of worry about that though. What if the car is damaged? What if it’s broken and someone gets hurt? There’s a lot of risk involved, and now that I’m thinking clearly about it, I’m not sure I want to do that again.

The report that came back was very positive. Apparently there was a dude whose Spitfire didn’t run so the Yaris had two student drivers. Both thought the car handled really well. Thankfully, it didn’t come back with any major problems. There was some tire wear, the windshield now has a small crack, and the cap to the brake fluid is missing. The crack may have happened after it came back for all I know. And the cap could have been my fault when I last topped it off.

Test Day

I’m not going to take the second hand word of a novice racer about the handling of the car. It still needed a test day. Teammate Tiernan had signed up for a track day at Thunderhill, so I suggested he drive the Yaris and we turn that into a test day. In the last race, the car really went whacky on him, ending in a close encounter with a wall. It was therefore critical to get his assessment on the handling.

  • In the first session, we went out with a “square narrow” setup with RS4 tires on all 4 corners. This worked out great and he raved about the handling.
  • In the second session, we removed the front ARB in order to counteract the inside wheel spin. This also worked well, and he dropped a couple seconds.
  • In the third session, we added 1″ wheel spacers. This is the “square wide” setup. Again, the handling was good and he dropped a couple more seconds.
  • In the fourth session, we added a cheap eBay wing to the rear. The lap times were very similar to the third session, but Tiernan definitely carried more speed through T1 and T2. The top speed on the main straight was 1-2 mph lower, but I think it’s an overall win.
  • Had we done a fifth session, I would have wanted to test 17″ rear wheels shod with 215/40/17 RS-Pros. I’ve used those before and really loved the handling, but the RS4s are probably faster. I only use these other tires because I’m cheap and don’t want to wear out my good RS4s.

Video

Here’s some video from the third session. Fastest lap is the last one: 2:20.67.

Coaching?

I got in the right seat of a car to do a little coaching and felt like I had some vertigo coming on so I asked to be let out after just 1 lap. I might not do too much coaching in the future if this happens again.

Conclusion

That was a clean test day. The car is officially ready to race.

PS

The driving event was hosted by Top GT, a new-ish organization who had hosted private events in the past and is now moving to public events. They have an interesting structure.

  • Novice group – lead follow all day it appeared
  • Point-by group – 3 previous track days required
  • Open groups – 2 separate groups but you can drive in them back-to-back if you want

The open group philosophy is interesting. The idea is that advanced drivers can treat this as an open pit. I think I would like it if the drivers were actually advanced. People went off track way too often. And when they threw the RED FLAG, almost nobody stopped. Seriously, people just drove right past Start-Finish with a red flag waiving. In the advanced group. The reason for the red flag? Because someone went off track, got stuck in the mud, and the passenger got out of the car to try to push it out. In the advanced group. I shit you not. In the advanced group! Thunderhill almost shut the event down because of this, and I honestly think they should have. It would be a lesson these advanced drivers and organizers might remember.

The point-by group was also a shit-show btw. The S2000 sporting plate #1 spun in T12 every session! Open the fucking wheel before you gas it! And the organization didn’t even hire a flagger at T11, so the guy wasn’t getting black-flagged and would just go super-hot as soon as he got back on track. Also, since they didn’t have a T11 flagger, it took a lot longer for them to clear everyone off track with a single Checkered.

GTI Track Day

A couple of posts ago I mentioned that I would be doing a track day where we (Tiernan and I) would be bringing both his GTIs to the track for a showdown.

The Black GTI is a minimal build with cheap coil-overs, Federal ST1 tires (300TW), and a CARB-legal tune.

The Red GTI is a track build with KW Clubsport coil-overs ($3000), Yokohoma A048 tires (60 TW), and a CARB-illegal tune. In addition it has a bunch of trick parts like limited slip differential, adjustable camber plates, tubular control arms, tubular subframe, big brake kit, and who knows what other stuff.

If you watch Donut Media, this is like their hi-lo series where they build two cars, one with top-of-the-line parts and the other with stuff sourced from eBay. Although Tiernan doesn’t write those episodes, he actually does write Donut Media content, and if you’ve watched their channel in the last year, you’ve surely seen one of his scripts in action. No, this has nothing to do with anything on YSAR other than me name-dropping to say I know someone who writes shit watched by millions of idiots. It’s a low bar for sure, but it’s all I’ve got man.

The day started out cold (40F) and remained rather cool (60F). The conditions were clear with no wind. The nearby hills were all green and in the distance some of the higher hills had snow on them. It was a little cold for my taste, but otherwise a beautiful day.

The event was hosted by SpeedSF at Thunderhill West. On the East side there was a Hooked on Driving event. The two organizations attract really different clientele. HoD is older, whiter, and richer. Another interesting difference is that HoD allows Lemons cars while SSF does not. I find this really strange because the Lemons cars that show up to HoD events tend to be in better condition than the low-end cars at SSF events. Honestly, you could shake up the ratty cars between the two and it would be hard to tell the difference.

Looking around at the SpeedSF paddock, there was a large variety of vehicles. My count wasn’t exact, but here are the most popular cars.

  • Miata – There were about an equal number of NA, NB, NC, and ND. Lots of people are still tracking Miatas at SSF (not so at the HoD paddock though).
  • 86 – I think most of the 86s were first generation, but there were a few of the new ones. There was even an AE86.
  • S2000 – There were loads of them!
  • Porsche – Mostly 911 but some Caymans. I didn’t see any Boxsters or 944s.
  • BMW – There were 3-series from E36 to current M2 (well not 3-series but close enough). No E30s though. Of note, there was a 328ix Touring. Pretty cool seeing a true wagon on track.
  • Lexus IS – There were a couple IS300s but also ISF and maybe other things I don’t recognize well.
  • GTI – There were 3 GTIs, including the 2 we brought.
  • Supra – There were at least 2 of the new ones.
  • Lotus – I think both were Elises.
  • Camaro – I think there were 2, and at least one was a ZL1.
  • MR2 – A turbo SW20 and a swapped MR-S.
  • Maclaren – There were 2, but I don’t know the models.
  • Other notable cars include: RX8, C7, Tesla, Alfa C4, Evo IX.
  • There weren’t many FWD vehicles: Veloster N, Civic Type R, Fiesta ST, Civic sedan. I think the only FWD non-turbo was the Civic sedan.

I shot video using my DIY headrest camera mount.

This works okay if you remember to bring your RAM arm. Luckily I found someone willing to lend me one for the day. Thanks Ed! He was driving this Lotus. Does any car say “track weapon” louder than this?

Black GTI

When I got in the Black GTI to drive, I was reminded that I helped modify the throttle pedal to improve heel-toe shifting. It worked okay for the most part except that the brake pedal travel was a bit too long. The car needs a brake job as the pedal was soft and there was no initial bite.

In the video below, I do a trio of laps in the 1:34s. My 1.9L Z3 on the same model of tire is a couple tenths faster.

Other than the overly long braking zones, I found the Black GTI to be a fun track car. As it is set up, the handling is pretty neutral. This particular car has done over 20 track events with only minimal maintenance. I think that speaks to the robustness of the platform.

If you wanted to build this car today, it would cost about $4500. A quick check of Craigslist shows that the average asking price for a Mk4 GTI is $3500. Assume you bargain the seller down to $3000. Then add $500 for suspension, $350 for tune, $450 for tires, and $200 for brake pads.

Red GTI

Sorry, I don’t have video of the Red GTI. The handling is a little better. The brakes are a lot better. The engine pulls better initially and then not. There was something wrong with the tune. If I revved the motor past 5500, there was a very good chance it would enter some kind of safety setting and completely cut throttle for 3 seconds. Driving the car was frustrating because it was a constant battle against the fuel cutoff. Short-shifting everywhere helped, but there were some places where it seemed I would run into the fuel cutoff no matter what I did. I ended up coasting through some sections to try to trick the system into behaving better. The fastest lap I did was a 1:34.22 (one tenth faster than the Black GTI).

Winner?

So who wins this shootout, Black or Red? In my mind, Black. It had the same performance for a lot less money. OK, so the Red GTI was hobbled by an engine problem. But the Black GTI was handicapped with shitty tires and soft brakes. I have to judge the cars as driven, and if was going back to the track, I’d take the Black GTI.

Now let’s imagine the Black GTI gets a brake refresh and the Red GTI gets its engine sorted. Which one is the winner? I think the Black GTI wins again. You don’t need to do much to a Mk4 GTI to make it a fun and capable track car. If you want to throw money at a car, get something else. What if you find a fully prepped Red GTI for less money than it took to build your Black GTI? Well, I guess you buy it, and that’s why Tiernan has 2 GTIs.

I’m not sure what’s going on in Tiernan’s mind. Is he selling one? I’d say only he knows, but I’m not sure he does. What would you do with two GTIs?

Here’s what I’d do. Turn the Red GTI into a rally car. Throw some rally suspension and tires on that and let the LSD do its thang in the dirt. Swap the KW Clubsports and sticky rubber on Black GTI to make it even better on track.

Offseason Training: Part 3 – No Brakes

Continuing our offseason training, we now pick up with one of the most important drills you can do: driving with no brakes. Why would we do this when it’s not the way you intend to race your car?

  • It trains your brain to look for reference points
  • It trains your speed estimation skills
  • It makes you appreciate that the steering wheel slows you down
  • If focuses your attention on optimizing grip
  • It helps you optimize corner entry speed
  • It allows you to focus your attention on your racing line and steering technique

Drill

  • Track: Brands Hatch Indy
  • Weather: default
  • Vehicle: NA Miata
  • Setup: default (yes, use the shitty tires), but you should turn tyre wear and fuel consumption off so that the vehicle doesn’t change over time

After getting out of 1st and 2nd, you will spend the entire time in 3rd gear. No shifting! You will be using only one pedal (throttle) and your hands have only one job (steering).

Do ~20 laps and then take a break. You brain does some important learning in the downtime between sessions.

Goal

Your goal is to lap the track in the lowest time possible. All you have to do is figure out the following:

  • When to cut throttle
  • When to start steering
  • When to add throttle

That’s it. One pedal and the steering wheel. How hard could this be? I’ve made a scale for this so that you can label your progress over time.

  • 1:08+ – novice
  • 1:07.x – low intermediate
  • 1:06.x – intermediate
  • 1:05.x – high intermediate
  • 1:04.x – advanced
  • 1:03.x – expert

I typically lap around 1:03.9.

Faster

So let’s say you’re a few seconds off pace. How are you going to go faster? Well, there are only a few things you can do:

  • Change your reference points
  • Change your position on track
  • Change the way you steer

In addition to these, you can make an even more significant change: change your whole outlook on where speed comes from. Race tracks tend to have a lot of corners, and corner speed comes from grip. If you’re going to optimize your lap times, you first have to train yourself to feel and optimize grip. In your next session, focus on what grip feels and sounds like.

Data

Here’s my data trace for RPM, speed, and throttle (it’s a 1:03.76 lap). The RPM and speed graphs are nearly identical because there is no shifting. The throttle trace shows that I’m using the throttle mostly as an on/off switch.

Reflection

Let’s take a moment to reflect on the utility of this drill. Like other drills, the point is to focus on specific skills in order to improve in specific areas. The main areas we are working on are our eyes (finding and using reference points) and hands (feeling grip and steering). This drill is used constantly in the Keith Code motorcycle schools. They’ll do multiple sessions per day with everyone going around the track without braking or shifting. It’s that important.

Try doing the drill several times over the next week . See how much you can improve. Note where your improvements came from. Was it reference points, position on track, steering rate, or something else? Take notes with pen and paper. Writing things down cements them into your memory.

Compare your “no brakes” lap time to your “use everything” lap time. You might be surprised how similar they are. On this track with this car, I’m only about a second faster pushing 3 pedals and shifting. In some areas of the track, I’m going faster with “no brakes”. I think that’s because I’m able to focus my attention on fewer inputs and outputs. In the picture below, the panels are brake, RPM, speed, throttle, and time delta.

Offseason Training: Part 2 – Hands

It’s January and time to get to work on our off-season training. Where do we start? At the beginning.

Skid Pad

In the real world and the virtual world, the Skid Pad is a great place to practice some fundamentals. We’ll use the Skid Pad 0.5 track, which isn’t included with Assetto Corsa, so you’ll have to download and install that first. The car is the NA Mazda Miata that comes with the game, so there’s nothing to download there. For all the exercises, we’ll be leaving the car in 2nd gear.

Enter a practice session and turn right at the sign post to get to the skid pad. Start circling the skid pad on the 50m radius. Go as fast as you can while staying on the 50m line. Once your tires are warmed up, you should be able to maintain 44 mph.

Max Corner Speed

While circling on the 50m radius, try to add throttle slowly and get up to 48 mph. You can briefly, but it can’t be maintained. In fact, when you try, you end up on a larger radius. While this may seem an obvious circumstance, it’s worth studying. Every radius has a maximum cornering speed. It is impossible to go 48 mph when the maximum is 44. You cannot bully your way to a faster corner speed. Precision is the name of the game.

Go back to circling at 44 mph. Try steering more. A lot more. It doesn’t work. Once you’re cornering at maximum speed, adding a bunch of steering input doesn’t make you turn more. That’s because you can’t get on a tighter radius when your speed is 44. The speed of the tighter radius might be 40, so you’ll have to get down to 40 before you can maintain a tighter radius. Adding steering will slow you down some, but it’s not an efficient way to turn or decelerate.

Steering with Feet

Let’s get circling at max speed again. What happens when you add or remove throttle? Adding throttle makes you go outwards. Removing throttle makes you go inwards. Braking gently also makes you go inwards. When you’re cornering a maximum speed, deceleration is a great way of steering. In fact, when you decelerate, you do 3 things: (1) add traction to the front tires (2) slow down (3) remove traction from rear tires. Adding traction to the front makes the steering wheel work better. Slowing down allows you to get to a tighter radius. Removing traction from the rear lets the car rotate (slide) to contribute to turning. Win, win, win.

You can also steer with the throttle pedal. But should you? Let’s say you’re cornering at maximum speed and decide you want to turn outward. Should you (a) turn the wheel (b) press the throttle? If you add throttle, the car will naturally change to a larger radius. But this is a form of understeer. The wheel will feel heavy as you fight for lateral grip. You’ll go faster if you just reduce steering lock.

In a RWD car, you can use the throttle to steer with the back wheels if you use enough to get the tires spinning. Massive oversteer looks cool, but is slow. Why? Because you’re sharing turning and accelerating. You’re also reducing the overall grip of your tires. If you want to go fast, you have to keep as much grip as possible, and drifting reduces overall grip.

Understeer

Let’s say you’re headed down a straight and about to enter the corner. Your goal is actually really simple. You need to get down to 44 mph (or whatever the maximum corner speed is). What happens if you end up above or below 44 mph?

If you’re too fast for your target corner speed, you will end up on a larger corner radius than you want. You want to go tighter, but your speed makes you go wider. You turn the wheel and nothing happens. That’s understeer.

If you’re too slow for your target corner speed, what will you do? Probably add throttle in the middle of the corner. What happens when you add throttle? Weight shifts off the front tires making them less grippy. In other words, understeer. Let’s write this in stone.

You can get understeer from entering a corner too fast or too slow.

Lots of people blame a car or its setup for understeer. But most of the time it’s the driver creating understeer.

Drifting?

Of course, you can create your own oversteer, and that’s a really great car control skill. But we’re saving that for another day.

Hands Positions

Regardless of your current habits, you should practice more than one way of holding the steering wheel. On a racetrack, you’ll be using 9-n-3 most of the time. But off road you’ll need more steering lock than that. So it’s a good idea to practice several hand positions.

  • 9-n-3 – put your hands on the sides of the wheel and don’t move them ever
  • Shuffle – don’t let your hands cross the middle of the wheel (right hand stays on right side, left hand stays on left side)
  • One-handed – use your left or right hand only regardless of whether the turn is left or right
  • Hand-over-hand – mimic the driver animation in Assetto Corsa

Slalom

The skid pad has some numbers marked on it at intervals (10, 25, 50, 75, 100, etc.).  Use those as cones and do a slalom, weaving in and out of the numbers as fast as you can. Use all of the hand positions. Which hand position works best for slalom? For me, it’s 9-n-3.

Figure 8

Use two 50m markers as cones for a figure 8 drill (cross over in the middle). Go around one side turning left and then the other side going right. Use all of the hand positions. Which one works best for figure 8? For me, it’s hand-over-hand, although one-handed is also good.

Getting Dirty

One of the best ways to wreck your car (real or virtual) is to drive off track. The skid pad is surrounded by dirt. Drive around the skid pad and then go for a spin in the dirt. I mean that literally. Try to spin. Also try to recover from a spin. One of the most important things you can learn from sim racing is how a vehicle behaves when it goes off course. While the dirt model in AC isn’t perfect, it’s good enough to demonstrate the dangers of off track excursions.

Reflection

Let’s spend a moment reflecting on the concepts in this post.

  • Speed affects radius and vice-versa
  • You can steer with your hands as well as your feet
  • Turning is often accompanied by deceleration
  • Unwanted understeer is often created by the driver
  • Different hand positions work for different situations
  • Driving on dirt is hazardous

Thrustmaster T-LCM Pedal Review

For several years I’ve been a very happy user of Logitech G25 pedals with a PerfectPedal brake conversion (I’ve been using this with a Bodnar cable, which lets you connect it as a solo USB device and also increases its resolution). The feel of the brake pedal is really similar to a real car. There is a little bit of travel and then it’s almost like stepping on a rock. Very little movement. It feels pretty authentic to me, and I feel it is a huge part of my muscle memory for brake control. I love it. I also hate it. There are a lot of games that don’t work well with it. It’s always on somewhere between 20-22%. And in order to get it to 100%, it feels like you’re putting your foot through a car door. My usual setup is to have it work from 25-55%. Not all games work with that.

I’ve been looking at Thrustmaster T-LCM pedals for a while. They were announced a couple years ago, but it wasn’t until recently that you could find them. Sometimes they are on Amazon for $225 and sometimes $450. They don’t stay in stock very long at $225. I decided to buy them because I really wanted to play Richard Burns Rally (among others).

One of the complaints about the T-LCM is that the brake pedal springs aren’t stiff enough. They come with 6 springs that you can mix and match but even the stiffest springs had too much movement for me. No big deal, I modded the pedal with skateboard truck bushings. In the picture below, you can see the red spring on top of some yellow and red bushings and then the load cell is the silver thing below that.

The brake pedal feels really similar to the PerfectPedal. I think if you swapped them, I wouldn’t even notice. Weirdly, the throttle and clutch feel more different. They use springs, just like the Logitech, but the throws are a little longer.

If you have a Thrustmaster wheel, the T-LCMs plug right into the wheelbase. It also comes with a USB cord in case you want to use it with a different manufacturer’s wheel. So if you own a Logitech wheel, should you modify the brake pedal for $250 or replace the whole set for about the same price? I would buy the Thrustmaster pedals. The T-LCMs feel like they have a little more resolution but more importantly, it puts you one step closer to getting rid of the POS Logitech wheel.

I am 100% satisfied with the Thrustmaster T-LCM pedals. However, I just got them and I don’t know how durable they are. The Logitech/PerfectPedal has been going strong for 7-8 years now, and that’s a hard act to follow.