Category: Racing Simulators
Posted by: Mike
The GT Academy is a competition which selects the best gamer (in Gran Turismo) to be a real life professional racecar driver. The competition has selected several drivers over the past few years in Europe, and last year, an American version was held as well.

For 2012 the competition returns and is open in something like 16 different countries. In the US, you need to be in the top 32 to move on to the national finals. The exact format is a bit confusing. The contest started on May 1st and lasts 8 weeks. However, all of the early rounds are essentially just practice and do nothing to get you in the top 32. The top 32 are selected from just the final round, which isn't open until the final two weeks of the contest. The exact rules and registration haven't even been released yet. This means if you haven't started yet, you aren't missing out on anything and you can still get in and get some practice before the final round.

In terms of Gran Turismo I can't say I'm really that impressed with it. Clearly it's a just a somewhat realistic game and not a simulator. That's not to say the game is totally worthless as a training tool; it rewards being on exactly the right line, being smooth and precise and looking far ahead. But the vehicle dynamics are just not that realistic. Realistic weight transfer is not there. Stomp on the brakes and turn in at the same time no problem. Out of the corner, throttle doesn't want to squat the rear. Instead the rear just wants to slide out in power oversteer, but not like a realistic step out you would expect from a radial tire on pavement, rather more like a smooth drift as if you were on dirt.

I also don't feel the contest is set up in the best way to find the best drivers. If you've played Gran Turismo, each round is like a test for the racing licenses in the game. You get unlimited retries over the period of weeks. You can also ghost other's best times. So basically, if you have the time to do 100,000 retries over the last 2 weeks of the competition and can mimic the fastest ghost replay, you might be able to get in the top 32 in the country. I'm sure you'll have to position your car perfectly in every corner, i.e. half a car off here, 5 inches over the curb here, within an inch of the cone there etc. to get a top 32 lap. Somehow, that doesn't sound all that close to real racing. Some of the early rounds (hopefully not the final round that matters) even have A.I. cars to balk you that run the exact same path every time! Seriously?? Are we supposed to expect repeating the same exact passes thousands of times is supposed to teach us passing a real driver on a real track??

However, despite the frustrations, the opportunity presented here by Nissan and Sony Playstation is a huge one and worthwhile one. We are talking about a fair shot at a pro ride for just the cost of a playstation ($250) if you don't already have one (the GT Academy is a free download). Where else can you get this opportunity?? I only wish I wasn't working 50-60 hours a week and had more time to practice!
Category: Racing Simulators
Posted by: Mike
Greger Huttu has dominated sim racing over the past decade. He held the number one rank in GPL Rank years ago, won 87 times in 93 road racing starts in iRacing, and clinched the 2010 iRacing Drivers World Championship Road Racing, winning, I beleive 15 of 16 races and the $10,000 prize.

What else has his dominance gotten him? A free Star Mazda test, apparently, for a story in Top Gear Magazine. The article states Huttu, who claims he has never driven on a real racetrack before, did a lap of 1:24.8 at Road Atlanta on just his 4th lap! That is only some 4 seconds off the pole time from this years Pro Star Mazda race this year, and would have put him 13th of 18th on the grid. I find magazine articles like this tend to exaggerate things, but if that's anything close to the truth it's amazing. Huttu's biggest problem was dealing with the physical forces, as the article states he throw up in his helmet and only made it 15 laps. It doesn't mention any other details of the test or if he had any other sessions.

Here is a copy of the article.
Category: Racing Simulators
Posted by: Mike
I'm at my Mom's this weekend and was bored so I decided to take a quick crack at Grand Prix Legends. Grand Prix Legends is a racing sim from 1998, simulating the 1967 F1 Season. It was highly regarded at the time and had a huge following in the sim racing community.

I hadn't played it at all since I started playing iRacing over a year ago. I used my old non force feedback Logitech Wingman Formula GP wheel. I played this game for six or seven years, and although it was pretty sparingly and I never put in that many hours or raced competitively online, I thought I still had a grasp of it. I was wondering if I could improve my times since between iRacing and real world racing, I have a much greater understanding of what the hell I am doing now. But I was in for a surprise! I crashed the Lotus 100 feet after pulling out of the pits at Watkins Glen! It was a challenge to just drive straight down the straightaway! The handling is very touchy, especially with the non force feedback wheel and cheap pedals.

After a few laps and a few crashes, I did actually start to get a hang of it though. But after running 26 laps, my best time in the Lotus at Watkins Glen was 1:08.5, over 1.7 seconds off my personal best of 1:06.77 I set in May 2007. I don't think I'll ever improve on my GPL Rank again. Although I think I could improve it I put in ALOT of time, it's just not worth it anymore. Looks like my dreams of a negative handicap are done!
Category: Racing Simulators
Posted by: Mike
Here's clips of decent (for me) laps around VIR in iRacing and in the real world.

And a few notes:

In iRacing the track, car and tires are always in the exact same condition. In real life, the track could be green or rubbered in, or slippery or grippy due to temperature and change in the same day. On top of that, there could be dust or even oil or something else slippery on parts of the track. The cars are matched performance wise pretty closely before each race weekend relative to each other, but not necessarily relative to other weekends and certainly not years ago. The tires could be full treads or more worn down, and I heard different tires are used in the summer series vs. winter (southern) series. All this means comparing lap times is much less meaningful in real life then in iRacing.

For the record though, the iRacing world record in the Skip Barber Formula 2000 car at VIR is just under 2:09 while my best time there is 2:11.8, 2.8 seconds off the world record. The real world lap record is 2:08.5, but the fastest laps of the sessions last weekend were mostly in the 2:13 to 2:14 range. In my best sessions I was about 4.6 seconds off the fastest times of those sessions.

For the track conditions and baseline the cars were tuned to last weekend, the cars seemed to have less grip and longer braking distances then in iRacing. The grip levels in iRacing seem closer to those with the national series tires from the videos I've seen. I also noticed the gear ratios in real car are a bit lower. Second gear comes a bit after 50mph, while in iRacing it comes close to 60mph. I heard the national series tire diameters are different from the regional series. This, in combination with the higher grip levels makes me think maybe the iRacing car is modeled after the national series tire, although the tire has full treads in the graphics like the regional series street tire.

Obviously the real car is more physical to drive, although I wouldn't consider this the main factor holding a sim racer back driving the real car. The G forces in the Skip Barber car are not that great (around 1.5g according to the accelerometer), so extreme neck strength is not required, although you can certainly feel the force. The forces required to turn and hold the steering wheel, press the brake and pull and push the shifter are all significantly higher then any sim setup I've played, although not so much as to require top physical condition to drive. And obviously, most people don't sim race in extreme heat, which can make a significant difference in terms of fatigue.

The brake pedal on cheap pedal sets is obviously not realistic. This makes it hard to practice releasing brake pressure, which is a major key of driving race cars fast, particularly a car like the Skip Barber F2000. The muscle memory of pushing down a pedal that requires much less force and moves more linearly with heavier braking does not help you that much for the real life scenario. Further, if you left foot brake in the sim but not in real life (the steering shaft is in the way on the real car and makes it difficult or impossible to left foot brake with adult sized feet), the technique for coming off the brake in onto the throttle is further irrelevant. I didn't find it hurt me; where the muscle memory I developed playing the sim didn't help at all. I'm thinking about investing in a more expensive brake pedal to practice this more realistically.

The sensation of speed is obviously something that you can only get more comfortable with more real life seat time. The fear of crashing (whether crashing and doing bodily harm or crashing and having to pay for damage) is real and keeps you in check.

I would say the physics of the car are well simulated. The effects of braking and throttle inputs on front to rear weight transfer feel very similar to real life – enough so that the sim and real life require similar techniques to drive. I think this is evident comparing the videos. You obviously can't develop the seat of the pants feel though.

As evident in the videos I posted earlier, the draft is huge in the real life skippy car, worth maybe 1-2 seconds a lap at a track like VIR. This means in the real car you can keep up with faster drivers by staying in their draft, pass more easily and adds additional elements of racecraft to the racing.

The track as I mentioned before is in my opinion awesomely recreated. The elevation changes do feel more dramatic in real life.

Do I think iRacing helped me last weekend? Certainly. Can all sim racers expect to be as fast as they are in the sim their first time in a real car? Certainly not.
Category: Racing Simulators
Posted by: Mike
I wrote before about the ability of top sim racers in real life racing, but what about the other way around?

Unlike other games, iRacing displays your full name instead of some "gamertag" and there are quite a few real life pro racers who have accounts and race. In fact, I've raced against at least a few dozen names I recognized from a pro racing series, although few that have ever raced at the top levels.

So how good are the real life pros? From my experience it varies. Some real life pros are among the top rated iRacers. However, other pro racers have quite disappointing iRacing results. Some also seem to get in an above average amount of incidents.

So what does this mean? Who knows. Are the mediocre iRacers also mediocre real life racers? Are their lack of skills hidden by good equipment and/or a smaller pool of drivers in real physical world racing? Or do some real life racers just not take the game seriously? After all, they race for real, why take a game seriously? Are they used to having the real life "seat of the pants" feel and thus struggle without it? Are the guys that crash a lot just taking advantage of the comparably minimal repercussions? Or is it a result of real life racers racing more aggressively and competitively? I guess can't say I'll ever know unless I race against them in real life.

If you're an iRacing member, you can search for other members by name using the driver lookup feature under the myRacing->myRacers menu.

12/19/2009: iRacing review

Category: Racing Simulators
Posted by: Mike
I first tried iRacing at the demo trailer during the Grand Am weekend at VIR. I was impressed enough to buy a subscription there and have been playing now for over 6 months.

To get started, you'll need a decent amount of computing power to play iRacing. A pretty new system (year or two old) with most importantly a dedicated video card should be enough. A lower spec system may work but you'll have to deal with a choppy frame rate and also set the graphics detail much lower so that visual references around the track are more difficult to spot. You'll also need a wheel and pedal set as iRacing won't even function without analog inputs. Logitech and Fanatec produce the post popular models which cost $250-$300 or so, but some cheaper options are available. Considering the service costs $7.50 - $14.00 a month depending on the length of plan you choose, tracks cost $12-$15, cars $12 (there are a few cars and tracks that come with the subscription), It could easily cost a thousand bucks plus if you need to buy everything. Pretty steep for a game, especially considering competitors such as rFactor require a one time $40 purchase and much less hardware to run. Still, I think iRacing can definitely be worth it.

Having driven on several configurations at VIR in real life as well as the virtual iRacing version, I can confirm one of the highlights of iRacing is the hyper realistic models of real world tracks, which are unmatched by any sim. Not only are the dimensions of the track near prefect, so are the subtle elevation and camber changes, as well as the type and heights of curbing. Realistic tracks not only make iRacing a better tool for learning real world tracks, but also help in learning the skill of learning new tracks, as well as add to the challenge of sim racing.

Another aspect of iRacing I really like is the well organized hosting and racing structure. Although privately hosted events and leagues are now allowed, iRacing hosts their own official series for each car, which are generally well participated. iRacing also has a ranking system for both performance/results (iRating) and safety(safety rating). The safety rating generally keeps the intentional crashers/wreckers out much better then other sims. The iRating provides a good (although not perfect) way to group similarly skilled racers together and award championship points fairly through a strength of field formula even if many competitors never compete directly with each other in the same race. All this means it's much easier and I think less time consuming and more fun to race competitively versus other systems in which you have to find an individual league, join it, and manage your time to make all specific events.

Along those lines I also like iRacings detailed web based statistics and results displays. This allows you to lookup your competitors and your own detailed stats and past race results through a simple interface. One thing I would like to see added though is a data acquisition/analysis tool similar to what Live for Speed has, which allows you to view for your speed, steering, throttle, brake positions, g-forces, etc. graphs all overlayed against anyone else's lap. This is similar to data acquisition systems used in real world racing and would help drivers improve alot.

In terms of vehicle dynamics, I think iRacing does a good job, although I'm not sure if it's perfect. Although I have driven the Skip Barber F2000 car in real life as well as the iRacing version, it's hard to compare perfectly because I've only had a few days in the real life car, I was on different tires (the sim models the slicks used in the national series) and likely a different setup. The simulation is certainly close enough so that the techniques used to drive in the game are very close to those used in real life. In comparison with other sims, I think iRacing is at least on par with Live For Speed's excellent vehicle dynamics and modeling, and superior to rFactor.

There are certainly areas where iRacing can be improved. For example, the damage modeling is limited mostly to suspensions breaking or bending, and graphically the body panels don't damage realistically at all. The dirt/grass off the racing surface is not realistically modeled like the actual track surface. The gearbox modeling is primitive compared to Live For Speed; clutch slipping feels non existent and it allows flat shifting and downshifting without rev matching in situations that would not work in real life. However, the good thing is iRacing is under constant development, and there are constant improvements to the physics modeling in addition to new features and new cars and tracks.

Overall, I think iRacing is a great game, or simulator or whatever you want to call it. It's both a useful as a tool for real world racing as well as a lot of fun.
Category: Racing Simulators
Posted by: Mike
A few days ago I posted about a top sim racer, John Prather, who was given an opportunity to race as a guest driver in the Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cup courtesy of iRacing.

Here is a really neat interview with Prather about his experience.

The OpinionNation Episode 19

Prather talks a lot about getting in a race car for the first time, in what areas he feels sim racing experience helped him in real racing, what aspects of the sim are realistic, and a few aspects that might not be so realistic. There's also a review of the skip barber 3 day school Prather attended at Laguna Seca.

Although some may not believe it, Prather, like me, is convinced much of sim racing skills do translate to real racing, and sees the power of using the sims to find talent for real world racing.

Category: Racing Simulators
Posted by: Mike
John Prather, a top racer in the iRacing simulation, is one of the guest drivers in the VW TDI Cup race at Road America this weekend. Prather has never driven a race car on a track except for one racing school in preparation for this weekends race.

It will be interesting to see how Prather fairs in the race. In practice Friday, he was a bit off the pace, but so where the other 2 guest drivers, both who have racing experience.

Prather also has not raced the TDI cup car in iRacing, which just recently became available. As I noted earlier, the champion of the TDI cup series in the sim is supposed to win a ride in the 2010 TDI cup, pretty cool!

I'm convinced that racing sims do significantly help starting in "real life" racing, and believe they have helped me in the limited time on track I've had. Obviously though, the skill sets required, although they significantly overlap, also have significant differences, and real life racing adds new variables too. The best sim racers are not going to become the best real life racers overnight, but certainly many have potential.
Category: Racing Simulators
Posted by: Mike
Volkswagen recently announced a partnership with the iRacing simulator which includes an online competition in which the winners get the opportunity to race in the TDI Cup! wow! This is exactly the type of thing I mean when I talk about the future of racing and lowering the entry barriers.

Here are the details.

Props to Volkswagen for having the insight to do this! I can't emphasize how awesome I feel this is along with the whole TDI Cup. It's a relatively inexpensive series for new drivers with a green racing concept. Not only is that a much better sell for sponsors, but its something I truly believe in. No one else is doing this!

The iRacing simulator looks real good. I've only done a few laps at a demo, but the vehicle dynamics feel good, and what jumped out at me was the realism of the track - absolutely unmatched in any other sim I've played. Unfortunately, it won't run faster then 2 FPS on my laptop; I'll have to work on that.

More on both iRacing and the TDI Cup later...

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.