A couple of weeks ago we discussed improving your circuit and track knowledge to help you turn in quicker lap times. When we touched upon the subject of Sim Racing, we were inundated with enquiries about which platform we recommend but also were surprised by how many people referred to Sim Racing platforms as ‘games’! We’re not being highbrow here, we’re in the business of motorsport, not gaming so we’d like to clarify that we’re talking about Sim Racing as a way to improve driver and car performance. Yes, this may involve some fun along the way but we’re not talking about child’s play, we’re talking some serious stuff! So, if you want to play with the big boys (and girls) on track, let’s look a little deeper into how you can use Sim Racing to improve your lap times on the actual track, not just the virtual one….
“So how can Sim racing help me become a quicker driver?”
Well, simply spending a time on a simulator turning laps may not help you become a faster driver. No, getting the most out of a session on a simulator involves setting up meaningful exercises to practice.
Let’s say that you want to improve your braking ability. One of the advantages of using a simulator is that you can have the entire track to yourself, meaning that there are some things that you can do on a sim that wouldn’t be allowed on a test or track day.
The best place to start is to identify an area of your driving that you want to improve on. Maybe you want to be more confident on the brakes, work on your racing lines or improve your car control. Whatever it is, there is always something that you can do to help improve your skills which can then be transferred over to the real world.
Start with a Braking Exercise
A simple, yet effective exercise to try would be a straight-line braking exercise. All you need to do is find a track with a decent length straight and find a suitable, constant, braking marker. Something like a line on the track, an access road or corner distance marker would be suitable, as long as there is enough track on the other side to be able to stop the car.
Once you have selected your chosen reference point, try approaching your marker at a constant speed, anywhere between 70-100 mph would be a good starting point depending on the type of car that you are in. As soon as you reach your specified marker point, hit the brakes with full pressure and see where you end up at a complete stop.
Repeat the exercise again, but this time reduce the amount of braking pressure that you use and see where you end up in comparison with your first attempt. Continue in this manner a few more times and record where the car comes to a halt. You could also experiment with different techniques, such as a larger amount of pressure in the initial braking phase before trailing off the pedal or having a softer initial press to lessen the weight transfer.
You will eventually get to the point where you will find what the best braking pressure is for the particular car that you are driving.
The next thing to do is to try to repeat the exercise with the same optimum pressure as many times as you can until it becomes a natural feeling. The trick now, is to increase your approach speed and judge your braking distances for corner entry, before transferring your new skills back into the real world.
This is just one of the many ways that you can use a simulator to help you with your driving technique and, importantly, when you are at the track you are on the pace quicker than before and can spend more laps shaving lap time rather than learning the circuit or practicing a new technique.
Learning the Track
Using Sim racing as a way to develop your specific track knowledge only really works if you are hitting some of the bigger British tracks such as Brands Hatch, Silverstone, Donington or Europe’s monster circuits like Spa, Nürburgring or Le Mans. That’s because not all Sim racing software or ‘games’ have all the tracks loaded that you’d need for the smaller domestic racing series. That said, even the pros use simulators to strengthen their track knowledge. Lando Norris, Max Verstappen and Sébastien Loeb are all fans. And although the mechanics simply haven’t been there to support a full motorbike Sim until recently, even top MotoGP riders have been known to thrash a few laps on the PlayStation or X-Box to help them get used to track changes or refresh their knowledge pre-season.
There is now absolute proof that Sim Racing can make you a better driver. In January 2019, a ‘virtual motorsport’ professional beat a Formula E and ex-F1 driver on an actual, physical track. The concept of the annual Race of Champions is an interesting one which aims to ‘level the field’ of motorsport to find the world’s best driver. It’s the only race worth winning where you get no points for excelling in mechanical engineering excellence! Forget development along strict homologation rules, everyone gets exactly the same car, it’s down to what you do on the track. It invites entries from F1, WRC, IndyCar and since 2018…..Sim Racing! There’s now even an eROC just for Sim Racers. This is serious stuff and Sim drivers are now being recognised as some of the best drivers in the world. Just think – all airline pilots and Air Force pilots are trained on simulators before they are given the responsibility of flying an actual plane. Or think of it another way – all other sports people train in the off-season to maintain their fitness levels, so Sim racing is a way for drivers to train the brain, not just the body.
Which Sim Racing ‘Game’ Should I Buy?
There are too many factors to consider when choosing which Sim racing platform is right for you. The guides we found all suggest different games but the most commonly suggested is Assetto Corsa and the spin-off, Assetto Corsa Competizione which offers cars and tracks from the Blancpain GT series. For your average motorsport fan, Assetto Corsa Competizione may be a little too limiting, but for your professional team, racing driver and track day enthusiast, it’s exactly what you need to learn the tracks like a pro. There are opportunities to learn the circuits of Monza, Brands, Silverstone and Spa as well as everywhere else on the GT World Challenge calendar.
You can read Auto Guide’s Top 5 Racing Simulator Games here or just do a Google search for the new releases in 2020 when you’re ready to buy.
Sim Racing for the Motorsport Professional
Almost all large teams now use sim software to develop their track knowledge and it’s isn’t just used by drivers looking to learn each corner and camber. It’s also used by race engineers and strategists to help them to gather telemetry in a simulated environment both before and during a race weekend. This helps them to make the right tyre choices, decide on suspension set-up, all manner of important choices which can be made with insights into how the car or bike will behave on each corner, straight and chicane.
Telemetry systems integration are also now available in the world of Sim racing. Now this definitely separates the pros from the gamers, and this is where you’ll shave more physical lap time by using a Sim. The technology is rather in its infancy but systems such as SRT: Sim Racing Telemetry can be integrated with sim games including F1 2019 and Project Cars 2. “The system records all available telemetry data during timed laps and presents them on simple and intuitive interfaces: drivers can analyze data by looking at bare numbers, interactive charts or projected on a reconstructed track.” Sim Racing Telemetry is available on PC, Mac, iOS and Android. Data acquisition is supported from PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Mac.
If you’re using Assetto Corsa, ACTI is a standalone client that together with an in-game app allows live access to and recording of Assetto Corsa telemetry data.
If you’re working with a pro team, take a look at rFpro which is a driving simulator capable of providing vehicle dynamics testing on a professional level. It currently supports F1, NASCAR, IndyCar, WEC, Formula E and Super-GT. It can be used for driver training as well as set-up calibration and engineering development. It’s not cheap but it’s very effective!
Take a look at this great guide to getting started with Sim Racing from Richard at SimRacingCockpit.com.
If you are looking to improve your lap times on the actual track, rather than a keyboard warrior just looking to outperform his mates in the simulated world of motorsport, we’d like to hear from you! What tips and tricks can you share with other drivers looking to shave their lap times? Have you been using sim racing to brush up on your track knowledge or improve your racing skills and set-up? Drop us a line firstname.lastname@example.org or comment on our Facebook post.
The National Motorsport Academy offer the world’s only online professional motorsport qualifications. Fit your studies around your family and work with our flexible BSc and MSc in Motorsport Engineering. If you are already qualified in another engineering or mechanical discipline, you can also transfer these skills to a motorsport qualification with the Final Year Top-Up. Start anytime, qualify in a year!