Email from Alex

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?

Simulator Coaching

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.

Simulator Drills

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.

#4 Rally

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.

Bad driving tip #6: on track praying

When driving a racecar, there is no place for faith. If you look at your brake lines and see they are cracked, you don’t blissfully head on to track because you have faith in the almighty that everything will be okay. The consequences of such an oversight could be harmful if not fatal to you or someone else. Similarly, if you’re a safety marshall and you see that someone has their harness straps under their HANS device, you don’t say a silent prayer for them while sending them on their way, you stop them right there!

OTP (on track praying) is a term I made up for spinning when dropping 2 wheels off track. Why is this called OTP? Because it’s like cracked brake lines or messed up harnesses: obvious and avoidable. You know you’re approaching the edge of the track long before you actually leave the asphalt. That moment you realize you’re running out of room is just like observing cracked brake lines. It’s time to do something about it. That something is not hoping everything will be okay. Yet that’s what a lot of amateur racers do. They keep the steering wheel and throttle fixed and hope the racing gods will take care of them. I have for news for you. The racing gods are unkind.

In the video above, the text reads “Once that left rear goes in the dirt it’s all over…”. Yeah, if you’re cornering at something around 1.0G and your outside rear tire can only sustain 0.6G once it hits dirt, you’re going to spin. But you don’t have to corner at 1.0G. There is an alternative. You could corner at 0.6G and then you wouldn’t spin. How can change from 1.0G to 0.6G? OPEN THE WHEEL. Go off track on purpose and under control. Don’t hope that you will stay on track. Hope is forsaken in these lands. Be proactive and do something about the problem before it becomes a disaster for you and other people.

The problem with OTP is that it’s nearly impossible to practice live. You can’t go to an HPDE session and constantly drive off track. And you can’t (legally) slide off the road on your daily commute. So what can you do? The least expensive is to role-play. You can do this entirely in your head. Imagine you’re about to go off track. Right before your tires hit the dirt, picture yourself unwinding the wheel so that you go off track in a straight line. For a little more realism, pretend you’re holding a steering wheel while watching the video above. Open the wheel to prevent the spin. For an even more authentic experience, get a simulator.

How To: hope for the best

Ah yes, we’re talking about how to suck at racing. Well, one method that has proved very useful is to hope for the best (rather than plan for the worst). The most common situation is this: you’re running wide in a corner and there’s a chance you might go off track. What started it? Debris, traffic, missed brake point, etc. It doesn’t really matter. You’re getting close to the edge of the track and aren’t sure what to do. Keep your steering lock (or even increase it) and hope for the best. You just might make it.

Then again, you might not. As an alternative to hoping there’s enough traction to save your bacon, you can go off track intentionally, with the steering wheel straight and the vehicle under control. The video won’t be nearly as exciting though.

ToS: OTP & OTW

We interrupt this blog for an important announcement. YSAR is now available on Kindle! You Suck at Racing: a crash course for the novice driver. Unlike the blog, the book focuses more on what you’re supposed to do rather than what you’re not supposed to do.

We now return you to your previously scheduled programming already in progress…

Turn 9 at Willow Springs is a bit of an adventure. It’s a decreasing radius turn from a blistering fast sweeper onto the main straight. If you come in a little too hot and find yourself running wide at the exit, you have 2 choices (a) hold on to your line and say an on track prayer (OTP) that you make it or (b) open the wheel (OTW) and go off track intentionally. OTP is like procrastination. It’s a bad habit that reinforces its use when everything goes okay. “Thank god I made it” is no way to drive a racecar. Unless you want to end up like this.

It’s much better to open the wheel, zero the steering, and slow the car down under control. LTD.

The 7 deadly spins

Christianity brings us the seven deadly sins.

  1. Lust: Uncontrolled desire, often in a sexual or monetary context.
  2. Gluttony: Overconsumption and wastefulness, usually with food.
  3. Greed: Hoarding of material possessions. Opposite of generous.
  4. Sloth: Laziness, mostly in a spiritual context (e.g. not praying)
  5. Wrath: Hatred, anger, range, often against other people.
  6. Envy: A desire for what others have or sorrow for their successes.
  7. Pride: A belief that you are superior to others. This is considered the deadliest of the 7.

In the church of racing (which I just made up), there are seven deadly spins (the links below refer to previous YSAR posts).

  1. Lust: Your uncontrollable desire to go faster clouds your judgement about when to brake. By the time you realize you’re going too fast, you’re fail-braking out of control.
  2. Gluttony: You overuse the clutch. It’s not a brake, and using it as one makes you prone to down-shitting all over the track.
  3. Greed: Your oversteer recovery uses the whole track: left-right-left-right. Around here we call that a tank-slapper.
  4. Sloth: You’re lazy and rely on hope/faith instead of experience/skill. As you begin to run out of track, on-track-praying isn’t nearly as effective as opening the wheel.
  5. Wrath: Your anger in the slowness or incompetence of other drivers causes you to stomp on the throttle and spin out of control. Enjoy your instant karma-supra.
  6. Envy: When you see another driver spin, your immediate reaction is to take advantage of their misfortune by passing them as quickly as possible. Doing so, you walk straight into a dope-a-dope.
  7. Pride: You’re a little too enamored with yourself and your driving ability. You can’t help but show off. You love donuts, burnouts, and drifting. Hey everyone, look at me!

FYI, the team was banned for the season.

On-Track-Praying

Imagine you’ve just had a brief loss of concentration and missed your reference point for the upcoming turn. Consequently, you’ve entered the corner a little too fast and you’re starting to run out of room at the exit. Which of the following actions describe your steering response?

  1. Turn the wheel more to ensure you will make the turn
  2. Keep the wheel as is and hope for the best
  3. Unwind the wheel and drop 2 wheels off track

Turning the wheel more increases the slip angle. If turned too far, this decreases traction on the front wheels and results in understeer. The result is that the car doesn’t turn at all and runs off track on the outside of the turn.

Keeping the wheel in the same place and hoping you don’t run off track is a form of on-track-praying. Faith has no place on a race track. If you’re about to run off track, it’s entirely up to you to fix it, and that doesn’t mean keeping the wheel in the same place and hoping everything will be alright.

As soon as you drop two wheels off track, your grip goes to shit. The tires that had the most grip were the outside tires, and instead of being on asphalt, they’re now on dirt or grass. Your 1.0g of traction just became something like 0.6g. The only way out of such a situation is to increase the radius of your turn. That means unwinding the wheel. If you suspect you’re about to drop wheels off track, do it intentionally and on your terms.

Maybe you were wrong about your speed and by holding your line you actually make the turn. Bravo, except that you’re reinforcing bad driving habits. “Phew, I made it” is an inferior learning experience to “I handled it like a pro”. The next time, you may not be so lucky. A sudden loss of traction is much harder to control than a planned loss of traction. Efforts to control unexpected oversteer often make matters worse as the vehicle crosses the track one or more times.