GHIT extra: everyone sucks at racing

I was recently interviewed on the Garage Heroes in Training podcast and they asked me a lot of really interesting questions. I want to follow that up in a series of posts on YSAR where I get into a little more depth on a few topics.

I suck at racing

Guess what? I suck at racing. Most people do. There simply isn’t enough money to get the track time to be really good at it.

How many hours do you think it takes to become good at any of the major sports like basketball, tennis, football (either kind), etc? Playing 2 hours per day for 300 days per year for 5 years sounds like a good start. That’s 3000 hours, which includes some mixture of unstructured time, coaching, drills, and games. How many racers do you know that have even 1/10th of those hours on track? Very few. How many of those hours feature coaching? Next to none. Drills? Nope. Wheel-to-wheel races? Some. If you’re a basketball player who plays h-o-r-s-e and shoots free throws a few weekends per year, you probably aren’t going to do very well in the neighborhood pickup game much less any kind of league play. But driving is different from basketball because you drive to work every day, right? Not so much. Biking to work every day doesn’t prepare you for riding a half-pipe any more than driving to work prepares you for track driving.

Good news

Since everyone sucks at racing, it doesn’t take much dedicated work to be better than average. Racing isn’t usually measured against some absolute criterion. You don’t have to be the best, just faster than the next driver. The good news is that you can be the fastest driver on track and still suck at racing! So how do you move from the lower levels to the higher levels of suckiness?

  • Knowledge
  • Skill
  • Confidence

Knowledge

Racing is a complex activity because it involves optimizing the driver, the vehicle, and the interplay between the driver and vehicle. If you want to get out of suckville, you need to understand what driving data looks like. It doesn’t look like a stopwatch. At a bare minimum, you need to be able to understand what a speed trace is telling you. Is the driver braking too much? Is the driver fighting understeer at the exit? You can ask and answer these questions and many more with a speed trace.

GPS-based data loggers are not that expensive when you consider the costs of track time or car parts. It’s one of the best investments you can make to improve your driving. Should you get a dedicated unit (e.g. AiM Solo) or use a phone app with a 10Hz GPS antenna? Up to you, but using your phone without an antenna doesn’t give you enough resolution. If you have a modern car, your car is spitting out data for throttle position, brake pressure, wheel speeds, steering angle, etc. Capturing these requires a more sophisticated data logger that connects to the CAN bus (e.g. AiM Solo DL). These extra channels are really helpful, but also a little confusing to the novice. So start with the speed trace.

Video is also very useful because you can see driver activities that don’t show up on a graph (e.g. hand position while steering). The best place to put the camera is on the roll bar so you can see the driver’s hands and legs. If you don’t have a roll bar, a camera mount that attaches to the head rest works well. The picture below shows a mount I made from some box section aluminum, j-hooks, and a RAM connector.

Bottom line: if you’re not using data to improve your driving, you will keep driving around suckville for the rest of your life.

Skill

You’re not going to make it out of suckistan unless you can drive a car near the limit. And by limit I don’t mean your limit. Everyone drives their limit. In the speed traces below, you can see that the red driver and blue driver have very different ideas about what the limit is. In most corners, the blue driver thinks it’s much lower than the red driver.

Regardless of whose limit is higher, the real question is if your limit is close to the actual limit. How do you know the actual limit? Math. Find the radius of the corner and the grip of the tires (from data) and you can estimate the corner speed. Well, that only works to a degree because the real racing line doesn’t have a constant radius (see previous post). But a little math is good for the brain and will give you some feeling for what should be possible.

The very best way to measure your skill is to compare yourself to dozens of other people driving the exact same cars with identical setups and weather conditions. This is generally impossible in the real world, but is trivial in the virtual world. In other words, sim racing is the best way to compare your technique to other drivers.

Bottom line: If you’re not using data to compare your skill to other drivers, you might as well start buying real estate because you’re never leaving suckistan.

Confidence

Most drivers enter fast corners 10-20 mph too slow. Look at the speed trace above. The minimum corner speeds are the same for slow corners but not fast corners. Why? Because people fear losing control of the car at high speed.

Exiting a corner on the limit is like walking on a tight rope. Entering a corner on the limit is like jumping onto a tight rope blindfolded. — Mark Donohue

Walking a tightrope takes bravery/confidence/commitment. Jumping on blindfolded takes more. And yet this is what it takes to drive a car at the limit. If your confidence isn’t the equal of your skill, you will enter corners 10-20 mph off pace and your lap times will suffer. On the other hand, if your confidence is much greater than your skill, you will probably wreck your car.

If you’re not driving the limit because you lack confidence, you will always suck at racing. However, I’m sure your loved ones appreciate your extra margin for safety, so don’t feel bad about it. Also, no matter what you do, you will always suck at racing anyway, because there isn’t enough time and money not to. So lighten up, be safe, and have fun out there! There’s a lot more important stuff in the world than how fast you drive around a race track.

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.

Turning Play into Work

If you were headed to a track right now and wanted to work on your driving skill, which track would you choose and what drills would you do? First, let’s consider what makes a track great for learning.

  • Short. If you’re working on your technique, you need repetition. That means you don’t want lap times that are 4 minutes long. Something closer to 1 minute is ideal.
  • CPH. That’s Corners Per Hour. More is better. Getting better at track driving means getting better at braking, steering, accelerating, and most importantly, combining them to achieve balance. Drag strips don’t help. Corners do.
  • Variety. Each type of corner has a different optimization strategy. 90s, carousels, decreasing radii, off camber, ascending/descending, etc. If a track can be run in a reverse direction, that’s a bonus.
  • Slow. You don’t need to go fast to work on technique. And speaking of speed, you don’t need sticky tires either. Lower speeds are safer. That safety equates to your confidence and ability to learn. Slow speeds and low grip are the formula that let you explore the critical border between slip and grip.
  • Time. Ultimately, there’s no substitute for practice time. You can buy a lot with money, but not expertise. Some people learn faster than others, but everyone has to earn their own expertise. You can’t do that with a couple 60 second autocross runs per day. 1 hour on track is okay at the start when track days are overwhelming, but once you get over that, 2 hours is better.
  • Cost. Track time costs money. Whether you’re talking about a $1000/day racing school, time on a simulation rig, or driving around a parking lot, there are always expenses. Whatever your budget happens to be, you want to get the most for your money.

Tracks

In the virtual world, some of my favorite training tracks are fantasy rally courses. I like Karelia Cross and Gentlemen’s Rallycross in Assetto Corsa. AC also has skid pads, figure 8s, and some great drift courses. I actually spend a fair amount of time on one called Drift Playground. rFactor 2 doesn’t have much in the way of dirt, skid pads, or drift courses, so I go with Brands Hatch Indy and Lime Rock Park.

The best training track I’ve been to in real life is Pineview Run. I’ve only turned a few laps there, but it left a big impression on me. It checks off all the boxes. There are 15 turns in under 90 seconds. That’s a crazy number of corners per hour. There’s a good mix of corner geometries and big changes in elevation. Apparently it can be run backwards and they even drive it in the Winter. Too bad it’s 2720 miles away. Closer to home I have Thunderhill West. It’s faster and longer, but has some of the same qualities.

Exercises

So let’s say you’re at your favorite training venue. Now what? Here are 7 of my favorite drills.

  • Hand position. Try focusing on your hand position. Mix up 9-n-3, shuffle, hand-over-hand, and one-handed techniques. Figure 8s on a skid pad are ideal, but also hillclimbs with lots of switchbacks, or tracks meant for drifting.
  • No brakes. One of the biggest problems intermediate drivers face is the inability to sense speed. If you’re not allowed to use your brakes, you become very aware of your speed. Doing this drill will eventually lead to increasing your entry speed all the time.
  • Top gear only. Whatever the top gear is for your track, stay in that the whole time. Since you won’t have much acceleration on the exit, this will force you to keep as much momentum as possible at the entry. This drill helps counter over-braking.
  • Shift after corner. Enter a 3rd gear corner in 4th gear and then shift down after the corner. You may find you go faster because your focus on braking doesn’t collide with your focus on shifting.
  • Clutch-less shifting. This is one you can do on the street. Learn how to downshift without the clutch. This will get you in tune with the transmission. Also, every racing hero has a story where the clutch went out and they kept racing.
  • Heel toe. Focus on your heel toe technique on track, not on the street. Do a bunch of heel-toe shifts and then check your telemetry. If you’re doing it wrong, your blips will be the highest part of your RPM trace. Also check your brake pressure trace. It shouldn’t be affected by your shifting.
  • Unbalanced setup. Make one end of the car lose grip. You can do this with tire compounds, tire pressures, or suspension settings. Figure out how to be fast while driving around handling problems.

Let’s talk about Automobilista 2

Among sim racing enthusiasts, Automobilista (AMS) is well respected for its vehicle dynamics. It’s not very popular compared to iRacing or Assetto Corsa. Honestly, it’s not popular compared to just about any other platform. Maybe that’s because of its obscure car and track collection? Or maybe advertising? In any case, people who like realistic sims tend to have AMS in their software library. Personally, I don’t use it as often as AC or rF2 because of the track collection. I prefer (a) tracks I may visit in real life (b) rally courses. But if AC and rF2 didn’t exist, I’d be very happy with AMS.

Project CARS is well known for its Madness engine. If you want to see how gorgeous a car simulation can be, PCARS and its successor PCARS2 are at the top of the heap. But hardcore sim racers generally feel that PCARS is a little on the arcade side and PCARS2 is a lot on the arcade side. I found that it was really car dependent with some vehicles excellent and others miserable.

When Reiza Studios announced that Automobilista 2 would be using the Madness engine, I got pretty excited. Best physics with best graphics? How can they go wrong? I purchased AMS2 during a sale event but have been waiting for the official 1.0 release before driving it. They have been making lots of little fixes over the last couple months as they get close to 1.0, so the release is going to happen soon. But I got impatient and started trying it anyway.

Controller Setup

Sadly, AMS2 inherits PCARS2’s hidden configuration files. You can’t tweak values in a text file. However, you can see the default values of the pedals when they are at rest, and this lets you set the floor (I think). Calibration probably sets the ceiling correctly but you might want to stop before pushing your pedals to the end just in case. It’s hard to know because there is no feedback in game to show you what the input values are. I suppose I could record data to find out. There are a couple commercial products for data acquisition and analysis (e.g. Z1 Analyzer) but nothing yet that simply exports to AiM, MOTEC, or TrackAttack.

Vehicle Selection

AMS2 has a very strange mixture of cars. You’ll find plenty of Formula cars and prototypes if you like the high end. There are also karts. But there’s also a lot of low performance cars in both RWD and FWD from various Brazilian series.  I can’t think of any other platform that has so many shitty FWD cars. So, yeah, I’m in sim racing heaven with the vehicle selection because I love shitty cars in general. (By shitty I don’t really mean bad, but rather all analog with low power and low grip).

Track Selection

The bulk of the catalog are Brazilian tracks. I’ve never been to any of them and my guess is I never will. So to me they’re a bit like fantasy tracks. Nothing wrong with fantasy tracks! Some of my favorite tracks aren’t real.

Great news, my favorite test track, Brands Hatch, is in the game, as well as a bunch of other UK tracks like Snetterton and Donington. All appear to be laser scanned. There are no dirt tracks yet and I’m not sure if they are planning on that or not.

Driving

My favorite driving test is a low powered Formula car at Brands Indy. AMS2 has a Formula Trainer, so that’s perfect. Unfortunately, the Formula Trainer has some really weird behaviors. The steering isn’t even remotely linear. Turn a little and nothing happens. Turn a little bit more and suddenly the wheels turn too much. There’s a really weird understeer behavior and sometimes the front tires don’t spin at all. I went off track into the grass and the car literally got stuck and couldn’t move. I was about to weep baseball-sized tears of sorrow and ask for a refund when I decided I should check out some other cars.

It turns out that the FWD cars are a completely different story. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a sim so committed to old FWD cars. Thank you Reiza Studios! They are awesome. Finally, FWD cars that actually drive like FWD cars.

Next up, I tried the Formula Vee. Last year, Reiza put together a car and track pack for rFactor 2, and I bought that. So I’ve driven the Reiza FV before, just in a different sim. I really like the FV in rF2. Also, the Puma is really great. In AMS2 the FV is equally awesome. But it isn’t the same. The AMS2 FV is a lot more stable than the rF2 FV. It may be differences in the default setups. I haven’t explored that yet.

Why should the Formula Trainer be so different from the FV? Physics is physics and the two cars aren’t that different on paper. But they are very different. Did RS do something stupid like inherit the Formula Rookie from PCARS2?

Modding

There is no modding in AMS2. That means no community-created cars and tracks. FUUUUUUCK.

Future

How successful will AMS2 be? Not very. It looks great and drives great (mostly), but that isn’t enough to unseat any of its rivals. It doesn’t have the match-making structure of iRacing. Nothing else does either. You might go to AMS2 for organized races but not for pick-up games. It doesn’t have community content. One of the reasons AC and rF2 are so popular is that the community has created a huge number of cars and tracks. It doesn’t have a Miata. Miata is always the answer. It doesn’t have a low price tag. The Season Pass DLC is like $100. It has one thing that the other sims don’t have: a focus on Brazilian Stock Car racing. That means it comes with some pretty cool tracks and some awesome shitty cars. That’s good enough for me and some hardcore sim racers, but most people will get a lot more out of AC, rF2, or iRacing.

So is AMS2 better than the original? Like PCARS2, DR2, and ACC, the graphics got better. Maybe some other things got better or will get better. But the loss of modding is a really hard loss. So no, I don’t think AMS2 is actually better than AMS. It may be someday in the future when there’s more content, but right now you’re better off with the original.

Let’s talk about Assetto Corsa Competizione

Assetto Corsa’s tag line is “Your Racing Simulator”. And I guess that’s a good description. It does many different things well. You can race against AI or other people; on asphalt or dirt; in vehicles ranging from karts to F1; on world famous tracks or fantasy creations. There’s a huge amount of community content and most of it is free.

Assetto Corsa Competizione is and isn’t the sequel to Assetto Corsa. It is in the sense that it’s the same developers using an improved engine. It isn’t in the sense that it has a very specific goal: it’s branded as “The Official World Challenge GT Game” (it used to be the official simulation of the Blancpain GT3 Series, but the name changed in 2020). Everything in ACC is officially licensed. The cars and tracks are absolutely gorgeous. But they are also limited by what was actually available in the real world. There are no Miatas in ACC because there were no Miatas in the Blancpain GT3 Series. There is also no Mid-Ohio or fill-in-the-blank unless the track was part of the series. It feels very limiting.

Setup

The control setup works very well. ACC had no problem detecting my weird array of controllers and I was able to poke a few buttons to set the floor and ceilings the way I like. The overall look and feel was much more like a console game (or PCARS) than the original AC. However, I think the interface in general is good. Not necessarily better, but usable.

Test Drive

There are several difficulty settings to choose among, and they simply turn on/off things like automatic transmission or traction control. I selected “Expert”, which turns everything off. My favorite test track, Brands Hatch, is available, but it uses the full course rather than the Indy configuration. I find it annoying that they don’t have both configurations, but I guess this is what you get when the game is designed to replicate a real-life series where only one version of the track was raced.  I didn’t know which of the various GT3 cars to drive, so I went with the one I’ve seen most often in real life: Audi A8.

The physics felt pretty good without any FFB tweaking. I’ve never actually driven a GT3 car, so it’s hard for me to judge that accurately. I changed the weather to rain, and I wasn’t that impressed with the difference. There’s definitely less grip, but it didn’t have the level of surprise/treachery I’m used to in the real world. It did look amazing though.

Returned

It may be a little surprising, but I returned ACC before I hit the 2 hour limit. It turns out I don’t like GT3 cars. I don’t like the way they look or sound from the inside. Too hi tech. The cars also have too much grip. That may reflect the real world, but I prefer something that slides around.

There’s a pattern here. Project CARS, DiRT Rally, and Assetto Corsa are all better than their sequels. I hope the same isn’t true for Automobilista 2…

Let’s talk about DiRT Rally 2.0

The Original DiRT Rally

When DiRT Rally was a beta release on Steam, I picked it up out of curiosity. I didn’t know much about rallying beyond the spectacular crashes. DiRT Rally is a brutally hardcore game that doesn’t even have a tutorial on how to drive on dirt. I fell in love with it instantly and it remains one of my favorite driving games. I became so excited about rally that I went as far as building my Yaris to rally rules. I haven’t competing in rallies yet, but I still think about it. I absolutely love driving on dirt, be it virtual or real.

DiRT 4 Disaster

When Codemasters announced their next title, DiRT 4, I was pretty excited. It had this cool procedurally generated track technology that allows it to randomly generate stages. Great idea but it didn’t actually create much variation as there were too few building blocks. Worse, the car physics were horrible. Not only have I uninstalled it, I completely removed it from my account so I never have to see that POS again.

DiRT Rally 2.0 Initial Release

When DiRT Rally 2.0 was announced I was both excited and nervous. Would it be the much anticipated sequel to DiRT Rally or another disappointment like DiRT 4? It was terrible. I couldn’t get my controllers mapped properly because the interface didn’t show controller values. But the reason I asked for a refund was the asphalt physics in Spain. Absolutely no feedback. It felt like I was driving a 1980s arcade game. I cried myself to sleep that night.

DiRT Rally 2.0 Redux

The next time I purchased DiRT Rally 2.0, I got it during a sale, and paid half the price. And to my surprise and delight, it is much improved. It now has one of the best interfaces for controller input. It’s intuitive and highly customizable. Also, the asphalt physics in Spain are better. Somehow they are not the same as Germany, which feels more like the original. I don’t know why different locations should have such different physics, but they do.

Career Mode

I don’t normally play career mode in simulators but I did in DiRT Rally. I did the entire career and won every championship, even to the top level. I thought I would do the same thing in DR2. The first season went just fine and I was having a great time. Then I hit Argentina and couldn’t progress further. It’s so freaking bumpy that I just hated it. Even with the softest suspension I was jumping all over. Doing 6 stages felt like such a chore. And the next level it would probably be 8. Not even remotely fun. Some locations are brilliant though. My favorites in the original were Greece and Germany. In DR2, these are also great, but despite graphic differences (possibly improvements), they aren’t any better than the original.

Next, I switched to rally cross, and the career mode there is good fun. There’s a lot of contact allowed though, so it easily becomes a demolition derby. While I preferred stage rally to rally cross in the original, it’s the opposite in DR2. Not all of that is because of Argentina and Spain. Rally cross is much improved in DR2 also.

Summary

I’m currently making my way through the rally cross career mode and having a pretty good time. Unfortunately, DiRT Rally 2.0 is not better than the original. It’ less fun, doesn’t have hill climb, locks you into online play, and has various monetary schemes that will see you paying for extra content. Save your money and skip 2.0. During sales, you can pick up the OG DiRT Rally for as little as $5.99. It was even available for free briefly. Like Project CARS, the original was better than the sequel.

Let’s talk about Wreckfest and Crossout

In my search for new car games, I decided to try a couple of games in the combat genre. Back when I was a teenager, I used to like to play the video game Spy Hunter and the pen & pencil game CAR WARS. At that age, I had much more interest in weapons than lap times so let’s see if that’s still the case. I wasn’t expecting any kind of realism in these games, so I’m relaxing my criteria about driving in 1st person and on the sim rig. 3rd person and mouse will do.

Wreckfest

For some reason, this game just didn’t click with me. Although I could drive around with the steering wheel, it felt silly with such a poor physics model. It may be more fun with a controller or mouse and keyboard. After smashing into stuff, the car looked well broken, but it kept driving as if it was undamaged. Visually, the game is great, and if you like smashing into other cars, it’s probably as good as it gets. But I don’t like smashing cars as much as I thought I would. I returned this for a refund.

Crossout

Crossout is a post-apocalyptic, car-based, MMO. It’s not anything like a driving simulation. It’s more similar to a 3rd person shooter. Crossout cannot be driven with a wheel and the physics suck. Yet somehow I’ve played it for 34 hours. It’s like CAR WARS as a video game. I actually played the original CAR WARS video game back back in the 80s, and it’s nothing like that. It’s like how I imagined CAR WARS would be while rolling dice. Driving around and shooting stuff is amazing, but even more fun is building cars bristling with weapons and then shooting stuff.

Here are a couple screen shots of some of the cars I’ve built. I call this one the Wolf Spider. Note the multiple headlamps that look like eyes, and the 8 wheels representing the 8 limbs. Those pointy things in front house shotguns and cause damage when you ram stuff. There are also two pivoting machine guns. When this thing pounces with all guns blazing, look out. And it’s got a rocket booster out back to make quick getaways or change direction to make another pounce.

This next one I call the Scorpion. It’s primary weapon is the tail-mounted machine gun, which is accurate even at long distances. If you dare to get close, it has claws (shotguns) and fangs (head-mounted turret).

Let’s talk about Drift21

I don’t normally play drift games, but since I’m trying out new software, I thought I would give them a go. I went to the Steam store and looked at the most popular games with “drift” in the title. Popularity is the average number of people playing per day. Here’s what I found.

Title Popularity Price Two Words
CarX Drift Racing 378 14.99 External view
Drift21 93 24.99 Brake broken
High Octane Drift 47 0 Keyboard only
RDS 30 17.99 One controller
Torque Drift 18 14.99 No wheel
Furidashi 8 14.99 External view
Drift of the Hill 4 1.99 No wheel
Peak Angle Drift 3 7.99 One controller

Of these 8 games, I could only play Drift21. By play I mean that I could plug in my wheel and pedals and drive in first person view. Some games were keyboard only. Others could only support one controller at a time (i.e. wheel or pedals but not both). Others had external view only. I’ve seen phone apps that were better. In fact, I’ll bet some of these were phone apps converted to PC. So what was going to be a drift games shootout became a review of just Drift21…

Drift21

Drift21 was previously called Drift19. But apparently they didn’t get their shit together enough to release it in 2019 so it became Drift21 (with a 1.0 release sometime in 2021?). Here’s what Drift21 says about itself on its website.

DRIFT21 is a fully immersive drifting simulation – with real licensed cars and tracks – featuring different drifting styles: power drift, handbrake and clutch kick. Build your dream drift car, change parts, boost performance and show your skills on Japan’s legendary EBISU circuits!

Early Access

It should be noted that Drift21 is currently in Early Access status on Steam. What exactly is Early Access?

This Early Access game is not complete and may or may not change further. If you are not excited to play this game in its current state, then you should wait to see if the game progresses further in development.

I’ve purchased a bunch of games in Early Access before. For example, I purchased DiRT Rally that way. While Early Access is a bit of a warning sign for something that might become abandonware, I’ve had good success with them so far.

Setup

The menu system was designed usefully enough, however I could not fully configure my controls. My brake pedal didn’t register any input until I was pushing so hard my muscles were straining. While there are sliders to adjust control sensitivity, they didn’t really work. As a result, I had to drive around without braking. Hopefully they fix this at some point or they will lose all the players with load cells.

Play

The physics and force feedback are not just unconvincing but annoying. Maybe all of their customers use hand controllers and don’t care. For those of us with wheels and pedals, it doesn’t feel even remotely authentic.

The graphics and sound are okay. While I’ve never been to any of the Ebisu circuits, they look pretty realistic to me. I think the graphics is one of the stronger parts of the game. If they can fix the controls and physics, this might be fun.

Thank goodness for Steam refunds

If you play a game for under 2 hours and own it for under 2 weeks, it’s pretty easy to get a refund. Just go to the Support tab in the game’s home page to start the process. It usually takes about 24 hours for the money to go back into your wallet. Thank goodness, because that means I didn’t have to spend any money on any of the games I tried, including Drift21.

Best sim for drifting?

Assetto Corsa. That’s probably the best platform for drifting right now. There are tons of great drift tracks and cars available for free, and the physics are pretty convincing. Personally, I like drifting the NA Miata. The low power means you have to transfer weight to initiate the drift and maintaining the drift requires an aggressive but nuanced throttle pedal. You can frequently get Assetto Corsa on sale for $10, which is a bargain, especially when compared to the $25 they’re asking for Drift21. But as I’ve said before, AC and Logitech don’t work all that well together. If you want to drift, you should probably invest in a high end Thrustmaster wheel or something with direct drive.

Let’s talk about Project CARS 2

I’ve owned Project CARS 2 for a little over a year. But after an hour I stopped playing it. That was enough for me to realize it wasn’t going to be one of my favorites, and I sort of forgot about it. But 60 minutes isn’t really a fair shakedown, and I should take a closer look. In the time since release, maybe they fixed some of the things I didn’t like before or released new content.

Controller Setup – user friendly, but deeply flawed

Setting up my wheel, pedals, and handbrake can be difficult because they are all separate devices. Some games expect you to have everything integrated into the wheel, which I don’t. Unexpectedly, getting my gear recognized and calibrated was really simple. But there was no customization. It’s critical for me to be able to change the low and high dead zones because my pedals don’t read zero at the bottom or 100% at the top. The throttle usually reads about 5% when off and doesn’t get to 100% at all. The clutch does get to 0% and 100%, but real clutches have a big dead zones. The brake is the biggest problem. It reads 20-22% when off and it’s pressure sensitive. While I can get to 100%, that’s pushing really hard. I usually calibrate my dead zones as follows.

  • Throttle 15%-85%
  • Brake 25%-50%
  • Clutch 15%-75%

Project CARS 2 has no such capability in the software. There isn’t any configuration file either. Most games put a config file in your documents folder, but Project CARS 2 encrypts this information in a Steam folder. How can I compete for fast times when I’m dragging my brakes and not getting to full throttle?

Car Selection – mostly high performance

I like having a mixture of cars to experiment with. My ideal situation is the following:

  • Old school Formula car like FF, FV, Skip Barber. These are my favorite for driving because they have no nannies, no grip, and decent power to weight ratio.
  • Mazda Miata. Well, Miata is always the answer. I have a lot of time in these in the real and virtual world, so I like being in a familiar environment.
  • FWD. Front and Rear wheel drive cars handle differently. I like both, and it’s important that whatever sim I’m driving models them realistically.

Project CARS 2 has a lot of really high performance cars, but not much of what I’m looking for. There is a Formula Rookie (FF I think), Toyota GT-86 (sort of like a Miata in performance), and a Renault Clio Cup for FWD. So my minimal set is reasonably well taken care of, but beyond that, it’s mostly rocket ships.

Tracks – not many, some good, some bad

Among the track collection is my favorite test track: Brands Hatch. So that’s great. There are also some nice scenic drives in Azure Coast and CA Highway 5. But there aren’t many tracks I have driven or expect to drive in real life. However, there are two very important tracks to me in the game: Sonoma and Laguna Seca. I have driven both of these tracks quite a bit and I can tell you that the Project CARS versions are disturbingly inaccurate. Every time I turn a lap, my brain is confused about the track I know vs. the track I’m presented with. Not only are these not laser scanned, they aren’t even close to authentic. How can the track owners allow such renditions?

The following US tracks are not laser scanned. Avoid.

  • Laguna Seca
  • Road America
  • Sonoma
  • Watkins Glen
  • Willow Springs

The following US tracks are laser scanned. Enjoy.

  • COTA
  • Daytona
  • Dirt Fish
  • Indy
  • Texas
  • Long Beach

Vehicle Dynamics – some bad, some good

The laws of physics shouldn’t change from vehicle to vehicle. But they do in Project CARS 2.

The first car I tried was the Formula Rookie. This is basically a Formula Ford, and it should be the perfect car for testing physics. There’s a reason they were used in the Skip Barber school. In a word, it’s terrible. It won’t oversteer unless you drive it in the rain with wets on the front and sports on the rear. I guess they wanted a noob friendly car for noobs, but that’s not what Formula Fords are. They’re all analog and hard-mode. In case you’re thinking I had assists on, I NEVER have assists on.

Next I tried the Ford Escort 1600 and Toyota GT-86. They feel like the same car. They will oversteer if you brake mid-corner or power too much out of a turn, but it feels like the game is guiding you. It’s hard to really mess up. And here’s a weird thing I noticed, you can’t spin more than 180 degrees. Not sure why, but once you go around 180, it’s like you hit a wall and the car straightens out. I had a hunch and loaded up GTR 2. The core developers from Sim Bin (GTR2) are the same people at Slightly Mad Studios (PC2). And guess what? The GTR 2 cars also have the same weird 180 degree behavior.

What about FWD? The Renault Clio Cup car has lift oversteer, but you aren’t punished if you mess it up too much. And when you add throttle, it’s almost as if the rears are also getting power. Hrmph.

In Project CARS, each vehicle has a “Control Difficulty” rating from 1-3. All of the cars above have a rating of 1 (easy). So then I tried the Formula C with a difficulty of 2, and it was better. Well if that’s the case, what about level 3? So I selected the Mercedes 190E 2.5-16 DTM and yes, that’s a much better model. In fact, I’d rather drive the 190E than any of the cars in iRacing. It’s that good. On the other hand, I’d rather drive any car in iRacing rather than the Project CARS 2 Formula Rookie. It’s that bad.

Rain and Dirt – depends on car and tire

The vehicle dynamics in the rain or on dirt depend so much on which car and tire you’ve chosen. The Slick and Wet tires have more grip on dirt than the All Terrain or Winter. What kind of tire/surface interaction model is that? Broken. Also, the dirt is much bumpier and grippier than the iRacing dirt model. Maybe Project CARS 2 models dry dirt? I definitely prefer the iRacing dirt. Despite my grievances, the most fun I’ve had with Project CARS 2 is driving the 190E on All Terrain tires on the various rallycross tracks. That’s some seriously fun shit. I can do that all day. Well, not all day. The combination of super bumpy terrain and me having a great time ended in a rare case of motion sickness.

Summary

Stay away from the vehicles with a Control Difficulty rating of 1. They will make you a worse driver in real life. Also, don’t load up the non-laser-scanned tracks or you will be sorely disappointed. However, if you choose the 190E and a laser-scanned track, you’ll feel that all is right in the sim racing world.

Let’s talk about iRacing

My iRacing subscription is running out at the end of the month and I don’t plan on re-subscribing. There are a bunch of other simulators I want to experience and review here on YSAR. That series of posts is about to start, but before I journey into new territory, let me take a moment to reflect on my most recent iRacing experience.

Delta Challenge and the MX-5

I love trying new tracks, and the delta challenge gave me some motivation to try tracks I didn’t think I would be interested in. I don’t imagine many YSAR readers actually took up the challenge, but if you did, I hope you also found some pleasure in it. I know I did.

This also gave me a chance to drive the Global MX-5 Cup car. Back when I was an iRacing Rookie, we were in the NC car. The ND is a fantastic car even with the baseline setup. I hear a lot of complaints about it though. Here’s my advice.

  • Understeer – If this is your complaint, you’re probably trying to steer while mashing the throttle on a too-slow entry. Enter faster, hold some brake while turning, and you will find it oversteers plenty.
  • Oversteer – If this is your complaint, it’s probably because you are mashing the throttle while holding the wheel in one place. Open the steering wheel just before adding throttle and keep opening it gradually while you add throttle. If you run out of track, your idea about the corner geometry was off.
  • Twitchy – Cars slip around at the limit in real life too. It’s easier to go beyond the limit in a simulator where you don’t have Gs you can feel and where your survival instincts aren’t telling you to slow down. Learn to drive the limit in iRacing and it will give you the confidence to drive faster in real life.

How has iRacing changed for the better?

There’s a lot more free content than there used to be. When new models of cars/tracks supersede others, they make the older ones free. So even if you don’t buy any cars or tracks, there’s plenty to keep you busy for months. While I didn’t get to try much of the new dirt tracks, I thought Daytona and Phoenix were really fun. Balancing dirty traction in the MX-5 is sort of like driving on a really wet track in the real world. The dirt model in iRacing is pretty darn good.

How has iRacing changed for the worse?

Nothing is really worse, but like a shark, if you don’t keep moving forward, you die. Not that iRacing has any chance of dying anytime soon. The competitors are so bad at match-making and custom games, that iRacing continues to have a bright future. So even though some parts of the service are worse than its competitors, iRacing is still winning the esports racing scene. So what parts of iRacing aren’t moving forward?

Website

The home page looks like it was built in the early 2000s. Aside from the look, there are many silly errors and inconsistencies. It’s like they don’t have any QC/QA personnel. Or they don’t care. Or they don’t have time. Whatever the cause, the UI makes for a pretty amateurish user experience.

Tires

The tire model is still a problem. They have the most grip within the first 5-10 minutes, after which, the grip gets worse. As soon as you heat a tire over X, it will never have optimal grip again. In the real world, not all the tires have the same properties, yet it appears they do in iRacing. It’s also harder to control a drift in iRacing than in other simulators or in the real world. Is this a problem with their force feedback or tire model? I don’t know, but I’m lumping them together and saying that whatever model they have for grip and grip feedback is bugged. It’s not completely useless, but some other simulators are both more fun, and more realistic in my experience.

Content

Where are all the low performance cars? Also, where are the front wheel drive cars? I don’t own many iRacing cars because I don’t like the selection. I do own a lot of tracks though, and that selection is very good because everything is laser scanned. I wish they had more of the tracks I visit in real life, but I would say that about every simulator. It doesn’t really bother me that cars and tracks cost money. All of this shit is so much cheaper than real world racing.

When Will I Return?

I’ll renew my subscription again…

  • If I’m going to a track in the real world and only iRacing has it
  • If my real life racing buddies want to do endurance racing online
  • If I want to do a simulator shootout
  • If a long time passes and I want to check in on it again

Until then, I’m off to drive other sims. Check back soon for some of those stories.