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01/20/2009: racing simulators

Category: Racing Simulators
Posted by: Mike
Before I ever stepped out onto any track, I had years of "experience" playing various racing sims/games.

I started playing racing games around 1997 after our family got internet access. I download and tried out every racing game I could find. Some were horrible. A few of the best were NASCAR Racing and Indy Car Racing II, from Papyrus. I spent a good deal of time pounding on the arrow keys with these games.

Eventually I got a wheel and pedals, and started playing Grand Prix Legends (GPL), another Papyrus title. The game was a real challenge; a test of car control. Soon after, I started playing Live for Speed (LFS), while at college with high speed internet access. Live for Speed had some intense multiplayer online racing, which allowed me to work on racecraft - setting up passes, etc.

How much will my "experience" playing racing simulators help in real racing? I believe they will help at least somewhat. I've gotten up to decent speed in indoor karting pretty quick and I think part of the reason is the time I've spend on the sims.

I'm planning on getting some decent practice on the sims before racing schools this spring in as close of a sim environment as the real thing. Right now I'm only practicing on LFS with the Formula BMW. I'm also planning on trying rFactor or iRacing, to gain some sim track experience on the track I'll be driving (VIR). Right now, I need to upgrade my computer hardware though...

The usefulness of sims as training for real racing is something that's always intrigued me, because for the longest time sims was the closest I could get to real racing! However, I haven't been able to find too much written on the topic. I'll be sure to provide insight on how much (or not) my sim practice helps my real racing endeavors in the future.
Category: Budget
Posted by: Mike
Check out this interesting series of articles from The Last Turn Clubhouse. It provides a comprehensive brakedown of the budget to run a car in the two major sports car racing series in the US - ALMS and Grand-am.

Few things I found interesting: The GT class is not much cheaper to run the the LMP classes in ALMS, and the Grand-am Daytona Prototypes are not significantly cheaper then ALMS prototypes, but still (according to the article) cheaper then the ALMS GT class!
Category: Racing Schools
Posted by: Mike
Skip barber is running a bring-a-friend promotion until February 13, 2009. I'll be attending the 2 day advanced school at VIR April 27-78. If you're interested in this program and want to save some money, let me know!

01/10/2009: Road Racing Schools

Category: Racing Schools
Posted by: Mike
When I was younger, I thought I would get into racing by building/modifying my own racecar and racing it, then somehow moving up the ladder from there. Sometime during college I realized that this wasn't a practical option. I wouldn't have the money to actually modify my car and race it until I graduated and had a job, but then I would need my daily driver for transportation. Buying a car strictly for racing would involve having someplace to store it, and potentially a trailer as well. So I'd need a garage to work on and store my car. And a truck to pull the thing. And tools. All things that I don't have, and probably won't for a few more years. Working on the car would also be a slow learning process, unless I paid someone to do it, which would involve more money. Overall, it would be a 10-20k initial investment just to get to the track to race at the amateur regional level, and all the pieces probably wouldn't come together until I was 30.

I'm still considering getting involved in club racing when I'm 30 or so. But I realized I could get into racing sooner and potentially progress further if I spent my money on professional racing schools and arrive and drive deals starting now. About a year ago I started researching schools closely online. I ended up contacting a few schools and decided on two schools with locations close to me.

I'm really excited to be doing the racing schools this spring. I'm going to be doing the three day school at Bertil Roos and the two day advanced school at Skip Barber, both at Virginia International Raceway. Total cost is a little over 5k, not including transportation to the track, lodging and potential crash damage.

I figured I'd provide a summary of the major schools here, pointing out the key differences. All these schools are reputable and offer comparable programs in formula race cars.

Skip Barber Racing School- by far the biggest, most well known program. Many well known professional drivers went to their schools and many raced in their race series. Many of their instructors have professional racing experience. Locations all over the US. Their 3 day school is in a wingless formula ford type car, while the advanced racing programs cars add wings (like a f2000 car) and a 5 speed sequential tranny. They also run regional race series and national series.

Bertil Roos Racing School - A smaller school that usually does a few locations on the east coast. A little cheaper then skip barber. All programs use the F2000 style cars with wings. They run a regional race series on the east coast. The cars they use are somewhat dated, probably the oldest of all schools listed here. There is no damage liability on the introductory programs (up to 3 day), and their advanced programs have a maximum damage liability lower then many other schools.

Bridgestone Racing Academy - I've heard good things about this school, but Mosport(located in Ontario, Canada) is too far for me to start there. They also have an interesting mechanics program that also includes track time, which I might cover at a later date. Prices are about the same as Skip Barber at the current exchange rates. They also have new (2008) F2000 Van Dieman cars.

Jim Russell Racing Drivers School (sonoma) - They use new composite chassis F3 style cars (most advanced cars of any school), there racing series has had some successful recent graduates that have progressed up the ladder, but they are one of the most expensive.

Jim Russell Racing Drivers School (Mont Tremblant) - They're pretty pricey, they use 2002 F2000 Van Diemans and their website hasn't been updated with any 2009 dates.

Bondourant Racing School of High Performance Driving - I know the least about this school, located at Firebird Raceway in Arizona. They only offer a 4 day program instead of 5 like the other schools, and they are pretty pricey as well. The cars look older.

Some school offer other programs in other cars (close wheeled) or karts, but I'm focusing on open wheel here.

I look forward to reviewing both schools I'll be attending. If all goes well, I'm considering doing a few more lapping sessions later in the year, And maybe races in a school series in 2010.

01/08/2009: Junior Formula 101

Category: General
Posted by: Mike
It took me a while to understand the racing ladder - all the series' that were out there and were they all stack up. Further complicating things - some series' come and go every few years. This blog - Junior Open Wheel Talent is running a series of articles covering the current significant series' in the American open wheel formula racing ladder. There is a good deal of information on each series, including history and an estimate of the budget required. Also check the rest of the blog out - it covers all the news on the American scene, and some of the European news as well.

01/05/2009: indoor karting

Category: Indoor Karting
Posted by: Mike
I've been indoor karting for a little over a year at my local track: Allsports Grand Prix. Before I actually tried it, I thought that it wouldn't be serious enough for me. I was wrong. The racing karts used at these places require some real skill to hustle around the track quickly, and everything I've heard is that these skills will translate at least somewhat to other racing.

I recently started running an indoor league at my local track and it has been awesome. The competition is great and it is really pushing me to improve my skills.

There are a few downsides to indoor karting. Since the karts are used by the public by basically anyone who pays 20 bucks, they are crashed and beat on, and some karts can be significantly better then others. Also, as far as I know, ballasting drivers for weight equalization is not common in indoor racing leagues, I believe for logistical reasons. It's great being light, but its be nice to see how things play out on a level field.

Overall, indoor karting is by far one of the most accessible and best values in racing. Sure, it might not be as cool looking as racing your BMW on the track, but it is much cheaper and probably much more competitive.

check out Indoor Karting News for a track directory.
Category: General
Posted by: Mike
There are currently several opportunities that could help you move up the racing ladder:

2009 Jetta TDI Cup - A really promising series for up and coming drivers. The prize for the championship winner is $100,000 towards a professional ride. My understanding is that they pick 100-120 finalists and evaluate them in a multi day test. However, to attend the test, you have to post $25,000 of the $45,000 full season bill, which is then returned if you aren't selected as one of the 30 final drivers.

Rally Drive USA - Essentially you pay $700 for two days of rally driving school (this usually costs several thousand dollars according to the retail price listed on their website), they then pick the top 32 drivers to advance to the next rounds, and everything is free from there! The winner gets a ride in a 2009 SCCA rally.

Setup season 3 - Reality show competition on SpeedTV. I believe the winner in the past has gotten a ride in grand-am cup/koni challenge. I read the winner of season 3 will get $250,000 for a ride. As far as I know, there are no costs for the contestants besides travel and lodging. The application is still up on the site, but I'm not clear if the selections are complete, or if and when the filming will take place.

Skip Barber Karting Shootout - An annual contest and the winner(s) get a full season in the Skip Barber National Championship. Of course, you have little chance of getting selected as one of the 50 finalists unless you've been karting at a top level for years. Currently, the 2008-2009 shootout has just been completed.

Some of these have different requirements, for example, maximum age. Follow the links for more information on each.