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


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.


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.


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.

Book Review: The Soft Science of Road Racing Motorcycles

Last year, I picked up “The Soft Science of Road Racing Motorcycles” at Powell’s Books on a visit to Portland. If you’re ever in Portland, prioritize Powell’s over Voodoo Donut (which was honestly a little underwhelming). Long ago, when I had a motorcycle, I used to own “A Twist of the Wrist”, by Keith Code. I don’t recall that much about it, or why I no longer have it. The biggest impression it made on me was his “attention budget”. If you have $10 to spend on attention, where do you allocate your “money”? On traction? Braking? Speed sensing? Situational awareness? You get very different results depending on how you diversify your attention portfolio. To get a feel for that thinking, try this out.

Choose 2

  • Drive the traction limit
  • Drive the optimal line
  • Avoid trouble

“Soft Science” is Keith Code’s sequel to “Twist”. This translates very well to driving partly because there is very little motorcycle-specific content. “Soft Science” doesn’t concern itself very much with technique. It is almost entirely about the mental side of racing. Keith Code’s content is very similar to Ross Bentley’s. They use different words, but they say the same thing. That doesn’t mean you should only read one or the other. Most racing books overlap other racing books. Read them all.

Let’s talk about the main message of “Soft Science”. Each one of us carries around with us feelings, thoughts, and plans about how to get around a race track.

  • Feelings – our senses and actions at the moment of driving
  • Thoughts – our prior knowledge and experience
  • Plans – ideas about what we want to do

Feelings, thoughts, and plans conflict with each other. We may have a plan to drive around a corner a certain way, such as “don’t lift at the kink”. And then when we get there we have a feeling that we might die if we don’t lift. Alternatively, we may have a thought like “66 mph is the maximum speed around the corner” and the actual value is 71 mph. Optimal performance means getting our feelings, thoughts, and plans in sync.

“Soft Science” spends a lot of time describing one specific lesson. My brother Mario went to a Keith Code instructional day and they did that lesson there. It turns out, it’s also one of my favorite drills: no brakes, no shifting. Yep, drive around the track without using your brakes. This could be in 3rd or 4th gear depending on the track. One of the most important skills to develop is an accurate sense of speed, and this drill hones that skill more sharply than any other. Note that you wouldn’t want to hold up a lot of drivers by coasting through all your brake zones, but if you have some open track, please try this. You might even get a bunch of friends to sync up like they do at the Keith Code schools.

While I love reading old racing books, they all share one weakness: they’re old. While racing technique hasn’t changed that much since Piero Tarrufi’s 1958 classic, The Technique of Motor Racing, racing technology has. The ability to record and display what the car and driver are doing should fundamentally change the way we learn about and teach high performance driving. Where are the modern driving books that teach at the intersection of theory, practice, and data? Patience, we’re working on it…

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.


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.


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.


If you haven’t read “Optimum Drive” by Paul F. Gerrard, I suggest you buy a copy for yourself and then buy more copies for your racing friends. My racing/driving library has over 30 books and Optimum Drive is my favorite. Conveniently, you can get it in Kindle and Audiobook formats as well as traditional print. I suggest listening to it in audio format on the way to and from the track. I’ve listened to it 3 times so far, and I’ve enjoyed it every time. In fact, I’m looking forward to the next listen. One of the my favorite phrases in the book is that “greatness lives in nuance, not simplicity”. We teach things in a simplified form to make the lessons easier to novices, but the subtleties end up mattering a lot than the simplification. One of the ways we simplify lessons is to synchronize 2 activities when really they should occur separately. He mentions the following instances.

  • Brake and downshift
  • Downshift blip and clutch application
  • Release brake and turn
  • Turn the wheel and turn your head
  • Accelerate immediately after brake release
  • Accelerate and unwind the wheel

Let’s go into a little more detail than Paul does at this point in the book.

Brake and downshift

Lots of drivers push both the brake and clutch pedals at the same time. I don’t think it’s a reaction to the phrase “in a spin, both feet in”, but rather, a bad habit entrenched from years of street driving. On the street, there’s no great penalty for downshifting immediately because the revs are pretty low. Let’s say you’re going 40 mph in 4th gear and downshift to 3rd. The engine will spin up from 2.5k to 3.5 (or something) as you feed the clutch out. No big deal. Downshifting early on a race track is a completely different story because your revs are always pretty high. Downshifting from 6k will cause your revs to spike higher than 6k, and may even go past red line. I’ve seen data traces where the highest RPM was in the braking zone rather than on any straight. That’s what happens when you synchronize braking and downshifting. In addition to the extra wear on the engine, you also change your brake bias by engine braking. In most cases, this will make your braking less efficient, not more. And if you’re in a RWD vehicle, the drag on the rear wheels could cause you to spin. What you’re supposed to do is brake first and downshift a little later. Let your speed drop before grabbing the shifter. If you’re in the habit of pushing both feet in, try to train yourself out of that. No good can come of it.

Downshift blip and clutch application

Long lost are the days when rev-matching was required on the street, so blips rarely make sense outside of a racetrack setting. When approaching a corner, one must coordinately brake, blip, and switch gears. Some people synchronize these too much by hitting all three pedals at the same time (left foot on clutch, right foot on brake and throttle). If you blip too early, you will feel obliged to shift early (see above). If you resist that urge, possibly because you don’t want to destroy your engine or your car, you’ll have to wait a bit for the speed to come down before feeding out the clutch. But the whole point of blip-shifting is to match road speed with enginespeed. If you’re going to let the engine spin down, what’s the point of blipping in the first place? It may have made you sound like a racer to people who don’t know jack about driving, but make no mistake, the people who know how to drive know the difference between heel-toe and shit-toe.

Release brake and turn

If you ever have me for a coach, you will see that the first lesson is brake release. Don’t snap off the brake pedal, release it slowly. The reason is because releasing the brake is sort of like accelerating. In both cases the weight of the vehicle shifts to the rear. When the front gets light, you get understeer. So if you snap off the brake and start turning, you will experience understeer. You may end up blaming the car, but it’s on you. The fix is to trail-brake. Keep a little brake pressure on while turning. Having weight on the front tires will make them more responsive when you turn the wheel.

Turn the wheel and turn your head

Turn your head first, of course. Novices are often focused on the hood of the car. Drivers should look where the car will go, not just where it’s currently going.

Accelerate immediately after brake release

If you can accelerate immediately after releasing the brake, you probably over-slowed the corner entry. If you’re driving at the limit, the moment you release the brake, you have maximum side loading. You don’t want to accelerate at this moment. You also don’t want to decelerate. What you want is maintenance throttle. I think this point is important enough to self-quote.

If you can get to full throttle immediately, without a period of maintenance throttle, you entered the corner too slowly.

Accelerate and unwind the wheel

You know that string analogy where there’s a string tied to your steering wheel and throttle? That’s what we’re talking about here. When the wheel is turned, no throttle. When the wheel is straight, full throttle. In between, there’s a mixture. But that’s an oversimplification. You should open the wheel in advance of opening the throttle. The advanced form of trail-braking, brake-turning, pretty much requires that timing.


Gerrard mentions that these are just a few of the things we combine for simplicity. I wish he had listed more. I think that in addition to the things we combine for simplicity, there are things taught separately that should be combined. Trail-braking is a great example. Steering a FWD vehicle is another.


One of the things that I espouse is that when you go to the track, it should be to train. While it’s important to have fun, you should also spend some time working on your technique. So when YouTube suggested this video of cars doing a leapfrog passing drill, I nodded my head in approval. The video shows 4 cars taking turns passing each other as they work around Laguna Seca. The video is sped up 2x probably because it was sprinkling.

And then I started watching the video and the head nodding turned to head shaking. The drivers all seem to think that you’re supposed to crawl around the outside of the track and let the faster cars pass on the inside. I checked my library and the Internet to find the source of such wisdom. Finally I found the source. NOBODY FUCKING EVER. Apparently they’re trying to perfect this technique because they keep dive-bombing each other again and again. In some corners, they are driving around with their point-by hand still out the window. For crying out loud, there could be kids watching!

And what of the POV driver? The last time I saw this much pinching was at a shitting convention.

Virtual Rally Training

Driving with low grip is a great way to improve your racetrack driving skill. That’s why the Kenny Roberts Ranch is a dirt track. It’s also why the Skip Barber Formula 2000 rides on BFG T/A Radials. If you want to get better at driving, leave the sticky tires at home and drive on all-seasons. The same is true of virtual training. Drive on loose surfaces and with hard tires if you want to improve your feel for vehicle dynamics and develop your car control skills.

DiRT Rally

My favorite rally sim is DiRT Rally. When I first discovered it, during the Steam Early Access release in 2015, I knew nothing about rally. But I soon became such a huge fan that I built my Yaris to do double-duty as a rally car. Truthfully, I haven’t done much rallying in real life. I attended the Primitive Rally School at the Santa Rosa Fairgrounds and goofed around a bit at the Prairie City Off Highway Vehicle Park. Those experiences told me 2 things: that rally driving is the best kind of driving, and that DiRT Rally felt pretty realistic.

So why don’t I do more rally? I only subscribe to a few YouTube channels, but one of them is “Racing Fail!”. I like it so much that I donate to it monthly via Patreon (you can even see my name at the start of the videos). Every week, Racing Fail! shows motorsports crashes from the previous week. And every week there are multiple rally drivers wrapping their cars around trees, driving off cliffs, and rolling through fields like mechanical tumble weeds. Occasionally they catch on fire. That’s sort of terrifying. Racing Fail! is a weekly reminder to stay safe and not to wreck my Yaris (or burn myself crispy).

Back to the sim world. DiRT Rally is old enough that it can be picked up on Steam for as little as $10 when it goes on sale. There are newer rally sims from the same developer, Codemasters, but neither DiRT 4 nor DiRT Rally 2.0 is actually better. One of the downsides of DiRT Rally is that there is no community-created content. While DiRT Rally has some great vehicles (by great I mean lower performance cars similar to what I drive) the collection cars and tracks are fixed. There’s nothing new coming. Community-content is what makes Assetto Corsa great. So that begs the question “how good is Assetto Corsa as a rally trainer?”

Rally Training in Assetto Corsa

While you won’t find much official (Kuno Simulazioni) rally content, the community has created plenty of cars and tracks. While the choice of rally cars ranges from the modern WRC Polo to the historic Lada VFTS, you don’t need a rally car for rally driving. For tracks, there are rally stages on gravel, dirt, and snow, as well as hill climbs, street races, and stadium rallycross. As with all AC community content, the cost is mostly free and the quality highly variable.

For training purposes, it’s a good idea to drive both RWD and FWD layouts because they behave differently. For RWD I go with the NA Miata because Miata Is Always The Answer. I say this even though I no longer own a Miata. The Assetto Corsa NA Miata is such a great model that it’s the first thing I turn to, even on dirt. For FWD, I like the Chevy Monza. The motor is on the weak side and the suspension is on the plush side, just like the cars I drive. The Miata is faster on asphalt but the Monza is faster on dirt. But they are very close on any surface, and make a great set of cars to play with for any occasion.

One of the things that makes rally driving unique is the co-driver. In DiRT Rally, you can have visual or audio cues, and you can specify how early or late you want to hear them. Personally, I use audio only and have them announced as far forward as possible. I really enjoy having a co-driver, but for the purposes of training it’s not necessary or even desirable. So while you can download a co-driver app for AC, and you can drive long rally stages, the best way to use AC for low grip training is on a small, closed course. Below are three tracks I recommend and some target times for a Miata/Monza.

  • Karelia – This is a fantasy rally circuit with a good mix of low and high speed corners as well as compromises. It’s probably my favorite rally trainer. Fast laps: 1:04.
  • Gentlemen Rallycross – Although the graphics are sorely outdated, the track is a great mixture of turns and surfaces. There is a joker section. Fast laps: 1:12 (non-joker).
  • Kouvola Rallycross – This is a stadium rally cross that alternates asphalt and dirt. The graphics on this track are much better than the others. There’s more than one fast line, so experiment. The lap features a joker. Fast laps: 0:50 (non-joker).


While DiRT Rally is the king of rally sims, there are a few things Assetto Corsa does very well. It gives you a HUGE selection of cars and tracks to play with. And if you want to change the grip of any track, simply edit the surfaces.ini file. I’m not going to pretend I’m an expert on force feedback, but the Miata and Monza feel really good. Good enough to program your muscle memory anyway, and that’s the whole point of virtual rally training.


Some people say that Richard Burns Rally (RBR) is the king of rally sims. That platform is so old that you can’t even buy it anymore. That said, there are people making content for it, even though the game never supported that. The only way to get RBR is by violating copyright, which I try not to do, so I don’t have personal experience with it.

Just 1 mph faster

I think most people who read this blog would like to go just a little bit quicker around a race track. In fact, that may be your New Year’s resolution in a couple weeks. Rather than trying to make a huge leap, like 5 seconds, focus on something more realistic, like averaging 1 mph faster. How much faster is that in terms of lap times? It depends on the car and track. For example, in the Global MX-5 Cup at Laguna Seca, lap times ran about 1:40 in the ND2 Cup car. That’s a nice round number because it’s 100 seconds. Anyway, it turns out that 1 mph amounts to about 1.3 seconds.

As a complete aside, if you’re wondering how much faster the ND2 MX-5 is compared to the ND1, both models are raced in the Global MX-5 Cup (in different classes of course), and the answer is about 2 sec at Laguna Seca. That’s a pretty significant gap, but there’s a lot more gap to be found among the drivers. The top ND1 driver runs about the same speed as the middle of the pack ND2 driver. The difference between the two cars is 26 hp. It’s kind of amazing that even among very good racers, some drivers are effectively 26 hp better than others. Among HPDE drivers, the gap can be huge.

So back to that 1 mph faster. How are you going to go about averaging 1 mph faster? It turns out there are two ways.

  1. Enter the corner with more speed
  2. Enter the corner with more yaw

1. More Speed

For most people, more entry speed is the low lying fruit. That’s because most people brake too much and enter the corner several mph too slow. To go 1 mph faster, just enter every corner 1 mph faster and everything should sort itself out, right?

Let’s take a look at some real data from my team at a Willow Springs race a couple years back. The driver on the red trace is braking way too much, on the order of 8-10 mph in T1 and T2. That results in a lower speed all the way to the next corner and a lot of time lost. You might think the red driver is a novice, or this isn’t his fastest lap, but he isn’t a novice and this is his fastest lap.

If you’re over-braking your corner entries, as do most drivers, then there’s certainly room to enter with more speed. But how can you determine if this is the case?

  • The best way is to compare your driving to someone in an identical car with identical setup and identical weather. That’s easy to do in the sim world, but hard elsewhere.
  • Have a coach or local hotshoe drive your car so you can compare data between drivers.
  • Compare your data to someone else driving a similar car. Perhaps you both have an GT86/FRS/BRZ.
  • Compare your data to someone else in a different car. If you’re on similar tires, your entry speeds should be similar.
  • Compare your data from different laps. You might find some laps you go in faster than others.

Perhaps you’ve noticed a theme here? You’re going to need some data acquisition gear and do some comparative telemetry analysis on the speed trace. Phone apps like Harry’s Lap Timer, RaceChrono, CMS Lap Timer, Track Addict, etc. work well enough. What if you can’t use a smartphone app? I’m not sure what world you’re living in where you’re worried about lap times and can’t use a phone app, but here’s my simplest advice.

  • If you can get to 100% throttle immediately, without any kind of maintenance throttle mid-corner, you probably entered too slowly.

One of the reasons people enter corners too slowly is that they’ve heard the phrase “in slow, out fast” too many times. Another reason is that going faster would scare the shit out of them. In any case, one of the problems of entering slowly is that being under the limit gives you an invitation to add a lot of throttle mid-corner. Here’s a pretty common sub-optimal control input sequence that’s very common among intermediate drivers.

  1. Mash brake pedal – leads to low entry speed
  2. Mash throttle – leads to mid-corner understeer
  3. Lift throttle – to prevent running out of room at the exit

One of the misconceptions of the intermediate driver is that they should mash the throttle mid-corner. That will get the car to rotate, right? Somewhere in their past the driver not only heard “in slow, out fast”, they also heard “loose is fast”. So they think mashing the throttle will get the car to loosen up. Spinning the rear tires isn’t the same as transferring weight to the front. Drifting greatly reduces the overall grip of the car. Transferring weight does not.

Too much speed

As you get better at optimizing your entry speed, you will eventually run into another problem: you can’t actually enter any faster. Let’s assume that 66 mph is the limit for a specific vehicle in a specific corner. What happens if you try to go 67 mph? The corner radius has to get bigger. The equation that relates speed, grip, and radius is: speed = sqrt(grip * radius). If you decide to enter a 66 mph corner at 67 mph, the radius of the corner will have to get larger to compensate because grip is a constant. In other words, you’ll fall off the track at the exit. If you don’t want that to happen, you’ll have to lift off throttle to tighten the radius and now you’ve basically done the corner backwards (in fast, out slow).

The intermediate level of driving is a mixture of too little and too much entry speed. In both cases, drivers are fighting understeer at the exit, but for different reasons. In either case, if you have to lift at the exit, you’re killing your lap time. The whole point of the typical late apex racing line is to optimize the power of the car in the second half of the corner. Lifting ruins that.

Even if you’re not lifting at the exit, you might still be in the “too much entry speed” category. Some drivers have enough discipline not to mash the throttle, so they don’t have to lift later. Instead, they spend a lot of time coasting in the mid-corner and are late on throttle. The time to add throttle is actually before the apex, but mid-corner coasters add throttle at or after the apex.

The high intermediate performance plateau

There is a very natural performance plateau associated with optimizing entry speed. Eventually you can’t go any faster and you learn the exact entry speed that maximizes every corner. If you accidentally enter 1 mph slow, you add a little extra throttle mid-corner, but not so much that you run out at the exit. If you accidentally enter 1 mph too fast, you coast a bit mid-corner, and end up a little late to throttle. This style of driving, where you modulate mid-corner speed with the throttle can be pretty fast and consistent. It isn’t actually the fastest or safest way around a track, however. Breaking out of this style of driving can be difficult, especially if you’re good at it. If you’re a racer whose been hard stuck 1-2% behind the front runners, this is probably the reason.

Brace yourselves, another tennis analogy is incoming…

One of the greatest tennis players of all time was Steffi Graf. She had a huge serve, killer forehand, tireless legs, and a consistent slice backhand. But no matter how good your slice backhand is, it is a liability against a serve-n-volley player who loves slow rising balls. In order for Steffi Graf to beat Martina Navratilova, she had to learn how to hit a topspin backhand. It’s a completely different stroke requiring changes as fundamental as how she held the racquet. Eventually she learned the stroke and the rivalry ended shortly thereafter. A similar situation existed with Ivan Lendl and John McEnroe. In case the analogy isn’t crystal clear, slice backhands are like intermediate driving. If you want to get to the advanced levels, you’ll have to learn how to rip a topspin backhand.

2. More yaw

The other way to lap 1 mph faster is to enter a corner with more yaw. There are two main advantages to this technique.

  • The front wheels do less steering
  • The drive wheels are pointed towards the exit sooner

Steering slows the car. The phrase “in slow, out fast” is not nearly as important as “the driver who steers less wins”. Having the drive wheels straight sooner leads to opening throttle sooner. Entering a corner with more yaw means less loss of speed and more gain of speed. It’s a win-win scenario. So why don’t more people do it?

  • Yaw leads to spinning

That’s reason enough. Spinning is dangerous. It wrecks cars, injures people, and gets drivers kicked off track. Lose-lose-lose. So why bother learning how to do it? Safety, paradoxically. A driver who can deal with yaw can deal with other adverse conditions such as rain, dirt, oil, and off track excursions.

How are you supposed to learn to drive with yaw when practice may endanger people or property? Thankfully there is sim racing. Your body can learn how to drive with yaw without breaking stuff. All you need is a sim rig and the motivation to unlearn your bad habits. But wait, what about that blog post a couple weeks ago where I was giving 12 reasons not to buy a sim rig? Those reasons are good reasons. But training your muscle memory to automatically correct for oversteer? That one positive is worth a few dozen negatives.

The basketball analogy

I’m constantly trying to come up with analogies between high performance driving and some other sport. Here’s my attempt at using basketball.

I go to the gym 5 days per week before I go to work. Partly this is a personal commitment to general physical fitness, but more and more it’s about taking care of my weak back. For my cardio, I often ride a bike or use the rope climbing machine, but if my back feels okay, I’ll shoot baskets for a half hour. I’ll warm up shooting around the key and then spend the bulk of the time hoisting 3-pointers. I used to be a jump shooter, but in order to protect my back I’ve become a set shooter. I’m too lazy to count up every shot I make and miss, so instead I just remember the longest streak each day.

3, 4, 4, 6, 5, 3

That’s my recollection of my longest streak in the last few sessions. I consider 4 to be a good day, 3 to be an off day, 2 to be a bad day, and if I happen to get more than 4, it’s sort of a lucky day. I’ve hit as many as 8 in a row. Overall, I estimate I hit about 35% of my threes from the college line. At the NBA line it probably falls to 20%.

What does this have to do with driving? Each corner is like a 3 point shot. So if there are 10 corners on the track, what are the odds that I hit each one perfectly? Not that great. Out of every 10 3 point shots, I might hit anywhere from 0 to 9. Let’s say I’m having a shooting contest with Steph Curry and have that rare moment that I hit 9/10 and he has an off day and hits 8/10. That one time I beat him doesn’t matter much when he wins 99.5% of the time. Similarly, getting fast time of the day doesn’t mean much when you’re counting overall laps.

More importantly, I think it’s important to realize that you can’t have your best performance every time. In the same way that I can’t expect to hit 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, etc. 3-pointers in a row the next times I go to the gym, we can’t expect our lap times to improve every time we go to the track. If your lap times are improving every time, it’s an indication that you’re still very early in your driver development. Getting faster is hard work.

To get to the point where I can hit 35% of my 3-pointers, I’ve played well over a thousand hours of basketball. I haven’t driven on track even 100 hours. It stands to reason that I’m a better basketball player than driver. And yet, while I probably could have played on my high school basketball team, there’s no way I would have made it on my college team. Given that most people can’t count their track time in the thousands of hours, much less hundreds, it stands to reason that most drivers are actually really bad at driving. It’s not their fault. There simply isn’t enough time and money to drive an hour a day for several years.

How do I get better at basketball? To improve my shooting, not only do I need to go to the gym more often, I also have to fix some bad habits. I don’t actually know how many bad habits I have because I’m a self-taught player. That said, I think my form is better than a lot of the other self-taught players I see at the gym who are still shooting with 2 hands. Most self-taught players have much unlearning to do. I think this is true of drivers. More and more, I think self-taught = bad habits.

Speaking of driving hours, the actual number of hours I’ve driven on track is 89.5. This doesn’t count coaching hours. Here’s the break-down year-by-year.

  • 2012 – 5.5 hours
  • 2013 – 6.5 hours
  • 2014 – 18 hours
  • 2015 – 18.5 hours
  • 2016 – 16 hours
  • 2017 – 12 hours
  • 2018 – 8 hours
  • 2019 – 5 hours (8 expected)

If you’re reading this blog thinking I’m some kind of driving expert, note that I have less than 100 hours of track driving. I’ve driven several hundred hours in iRacing, Assetto Corsa, DiRT Rally, etc. but how much do those cross over to the real world? I’m probably a little unusual in how serious I take my sim racing time. I don’t goof around on the thing. I train. I also spend a lot of time researching and writing about driving. I’ve spent more time in the library than on virtual tracks, and that counts for something in my driver development. Taken all together, it still doesn’t make me an authority. The fact that I can dominate a wet race in an econobox with 4 year-old tires speaks more to the overall low level of the sport than to my own ability.

Let me wrap up this rambling with a couple thoughts.

  • It’s okay to suck at racing because there isn’t enough time/money not to
  • Being faster than someone who sucks at racing doesn’t mean you’re actually good at it
  • You can improve your real driving in the virtual world or by opening a book


First Year Seminar and Turn 2 Racing

For the first time ever, I’ve decided to teach a class on “High Performance Driving”. This is a First Year Seminar at UC Davis. FYS courses are a mishmash of topics designed by professors on virtually any topic. They are meant to be a fun diversion away from the more stressful courses. Since they are taught voluntarily, the content is usually something the teacher is passionate about. The courses are actually open to students of all levels, but first years and transfers get first choice I think. For the last few years, I’ve been teaching an FYS course on “Nanowrimo”. I’m doing that again, but that is quite literally a whole other story. For some reason, I thought I should try teaching a course on driving without actually doing any driving.

Serendipitously, a driving simulation business, Turn 2 Racing, just opened up in Davis. I applied for a mini grant for the course and the university gave me $500 so that the students could get some seat time on the simulators. Thanks UCD! The students are going to love this. Here’s a picture of the setup. See farther below for a brief review.

Course Details

Learning Objectives

If you’ve never designed a course of instruction, an excellent place to start is with the learning objectives. This should be a short list of things you want the students to remember 1 year later. Here are mine.

  • Communicate using the vocabulary of drivers and engineers
  • Describe the racing line in mathematical and conversational terms
  • Identify common driving errors from watching video
  • Interpret telemetry traces to diagnose driver and car problems
  • Dispel common performance myths using data


Here’s a brief description of the content for each week. On the first day of class, I’ll discuss with the students what things they most want to learn. After that, I may adjust the syllabus to make sure the most popular content is covered. Well, except if people want to know how to modify their cars to make them look cooler. I have zero patience with ricers. RICE isn’t an ethnic slur. While many of the cars with Race Inspired Cosmetic Enhancements are Japanese, the stupid shit wannabe racers do to their cars transcends country of origin, ethnicity, gender, etc.

  1. Introductions, the racing line
  2. Power and grip
  3. Oversteer, understeer, balance
  4. The unusual properties of rubber
  5. Getting started in simulation driving
  6. Understanding telemetry traces
  7. Common errors
  8. Advanced driving techniques
  9. Getting started in the real world

Turn 2 Racing

A couple days ago I took a trip to visit Turn 2 Racing. I had been chatting with the owner via text to plan out the FYS visit and guest lecture, and I thought I should finally meet him and look at his shop. He let me try a couple of his rigs. Here are some random thoughts.

  • The owner is a really nice guy who is very passionate about sim racing, karting, and technology. He’s definitely the right person to be venturing into this area.
  • Nearly all of his business comes from Sacramento rather than Davis. But UC Davis school isn’t in session yet, so the large population of car enthusiasts on our campus have yet to arrive. I hope his business thrives in Davis, but I wonder if he’ll end up in Sacramento.
  • All of his rigs are custom built with high-end equipment: direct drive wheels, load cell pedals, triple monitors, external and headphone speakers, etc. Two of the rigs have platform motors that rock, roll, and rumble the seat to give you a feeling of driving a real car. His kids rig is sort of like my home rig.
  • Since most people who drop into his shop have no idea how to drive a race car in simulation or the real world, he has to make a lot of setup choices to reflect that. By default, all of the cars are set up with nannies. Also, the brake pedals are all mushy.
  • Each rig is set up slightly different from the others. I tried 2 of them, and they drove differently from each other and much differently from my home setup. I prefer a really firm brake pedal and a pedal geometry that allows me to heel-toe while keeping my heel planted on the ground. It wasn’t possible on his rigs. But just like the real world, you have to adapt to the car you’re driving.
  • I didn’t try the Formula rig or kids rig because they are 2 pedal systems with the brake pedal way over on the left. While I have done a few karting sessions, I haven’t learned to left-foot brake.
  • I’m really looking forward to bringing the class here. I think they’ll have a blast and the physical experience will improve the theoretical work we do in the class.