6.4: “If only”

“If only I had more time to practise. If only I had a good setup. If only I had nailed that last corner. If only I was within a top team. If only I had more experience. If only that idiot had not bumped into me. If only I had triple monitors. If only I had better pedals, and a direct-drive wheel.”

Well, if all those stars would have aligned — you tell yourself — well, then I could qualify on pole. Then I could nail the start, then I would know how many stops to make and exactly how much to refuel. Then I would be able to push on the limit every lap. Then I could really show the world on a Racespot live broadcast just how great I am.

But it’s wrong to think that way. When you’re trying to do something difficult really well — whether it’s writing a book or winning a race — every stage will throw a ‘what if’ at you. It’s so easy to listen to that voice inside you, and quickly you’ll tell yourself ‘yes you did enough, it’s not your fault you didn’t do better’. It’s so extremely easy to let yourself off the hook, and while it’s understandable, you must not give into that if you wish to improve.

See, we only see our own struggles, and forget others have them too. You may look at Martin Krönke or Greger Huttu and think they’ve won the DNA lottery, and that that would explain their pace, but you have no visibility into the endless hours. A much fairer definition of talent is ‘willingness to learn’, and Krönke and Huttu are such greats of simracing since they’ve overcome their obstacles (although they still have plenty). Or take Glenn McGee, who qualified for the Global Mazda MX-5 cup with a Logitech G25 and a 4:3 monitor. He was not held back by low quality feedback from his steering wheel and pedals, low graphics and low FPS.

Take the situation of another driver running into you, wrecking both your races. It’s likely you tell yourself you did nothing wrong, and it was all the other driver’s fault. While this may be true, it’s still the wrong approach, because this way you’ll learn nothing. A more productive approach is to look what you could have done different to avoid contact. I know this instinctively feels ridiculous when someone divebombed you — but even when something is not your fault, you can still take responsibility over your own race. So don’t be a victim, and instead try to identify potentially dangerous drivers and avoid contact. Especially in races in which the pool of drivers changes every race, it’s not worth having an avoidable crash with an overaggressive opponent, simply to make a point. So instead of being right and being wrecked, try to reach the finish line, as that’s a much higher priority than the two of them combined. (I work in Amsterdam, and if I want I can cycle into a tourist every day, but that’s not the point of getting from A to B.)

One of the most influential pieces of advice I ever read was written on a World of Warcraft forum, when people whined about a certain class being overpowered. It certainly provided me with a life lesson. The comment was simple: “All is fine, learn to play.”

While VRS does address many of the obstacles listed in the first paragraph, one of the biggest obstacle of becoming better is often within your mind. And if winning a top split race in iRacing seems difficult to you, well — that’s because it is damn difficult. You either go through the struggle or you quit. But stop telling yourself ‘if only’. Take control!

6.3: The science behind how practice makes you better

In the book ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’, behavioural psychologist Daniel Kahneman describes how our brains work. Two points in particular make interesting lessons for simracing practice (or any practice, for that matter), namely the two systems that take care for our thinking, as well as the energy they need.

Daniel Kahneman

Two systems
Kahneman describes the two systems that drive our brains, which he names ‘System 1’ and ‘System 2’. System 1 is fast, intuitive, emotional and requires little energy. It’s our auto-pilot. System 2 is its opposite; slow, more deliberate, logical and algorithmic.

Since System 2 is more energy consuming, it causes mental strain. It’s thus our natural tendency to be in System 1, which is more comfortable. This is why we like familiar things and the cognitive ease that comes with them. When we see something we can’t solve intuitively, like a difficult question or a surprise, System 2 is triggered. But both systems supplement each other, and we often draw back and forth between them.

A mental energy budget
Another interesting part of the book is how our brains work on mental energy. There is both an energy budget and energy capacity. Keep in mind that System 2 is a heavy energy consumer.

Imagine you’re walking with a friend. Walking is mostly done on auto-pilot, although it still uses some mental energy. Your friend gives you either a difficult question or shocking news. It’s likely you’ll stop your walk to take in the question or the news and try to answer it. Even though walking is intuitive and covered by System 1, and even though it consumes only a tiny bit of energy, your intuition is still to stop walking to allocate additional energy for your brain, mostly System 2.

System 2 can be so energy consuming that other senses stop working. When we’re immersed in tasks, we forget about time and space and everything else. This is especially true for simracing; ever fought a tense-battle in which you felt like you stopped breathing or thinking about anything else?

The oppositie is also true. Since System 2 is so energy consuming, it’s mentally draining. When you started with simracing, were you mentally tired after an hour of practice? Or ever had troubles trying to memorise which MGU-K setting to use at which corner, especially when you’re pushing near the limit? Or had an accident when you wondered if you left the oven on?

Relating to simracing
Kahneman explains something that relates extremely well to simracing practice:
“As you become skilled in a task, its demand for energy diminishes. Studies of the brain have shown that the pattern of activity associated with an action changes as skill increases, with fewer brain regions involved. Talent has similar effect. Highly intelligent individuals also need less effort to solve the same problems.”

As you practise racing the car at its limit, specific things that require your System 2 to engage, such as finding the braking point, become a second habit, thus moving into the intuitive System 1. They then less energy consuming. This allows more mental capacity for other tasks and taking in more detail.

Ever heard stories of how Michael Schumacher could still discuss strategies during the races? Or how Fernando Alonso often has a good idea of where his rivals are compared to him? Having this extra mental capacity increases all aspects of racing; consistency, mental endurance, the ability to cope with changes.

Damon Hill, in ‘Watching the Wheels’ also sheds light on this phenomena: “The first-ever lap you do at Monaco seems to last for thirty seconds, but by the time you do the last lap of the race, it seems to take half an hour. Your brain has expanded its consciousness to the point where speed seems to slow and the track seems massive, which is exactly the state of mind you want to be in.”

What Hill means is due familiarisations, System 1 takes over tasks from System 2, such as knowing which corner comes next, where to hit the brakes and apex. Due time spent at simracing, simracing becomes second nature. It lowers the required mental energy and frees up capacity in System 2, which can be used to take in more detail.

And this is how practising helps. While this understanding probably won’t make you faster, it may help to be more appreciative and understanding of why practice matters, and that might ultimately make you a faster and better driving. By practising, more tasks will covered by System 1, which is intuitive and fast and less energy consuming, while System 2 is free to take in more detail and take on more straining tasks, such as strategies for overtaking or pitstops.

Brendon Leigh on getting to the top in the F1 Esport Series

To avid simracers, he’ll need no introduction, but just to remind you; he’s an e-Race of Champions competitor, a champion in the top league for the Codemasters’ F1 series; the Apex Online Racing, and the champion of the inargural F1 Esports Series; Brendon Leigh.

So we know about your simracing results, but what’s your background?
I’m from Reading in England, and some time ago I worked as a chef, but I found that was very difficult to combine with competitive simracing, as I was often working from 06:00 to 21:00. So I stopped that, and now I’m focussing on becoming a full-time simracer.

How did you get into simracing?
In 2008 I started racing on classic games such as EA’s F1 2002, and in 2010 I started with the Codemasters series on Xbox360 and PS3. With F1 2014 I became more competitive, but still it was a spontaneous thing to do, as there weren’t any big prizes at stake.

That changed in August 2017, when the official F1 eSport series was announced. I got the game as soon as possible and changed my approach. I really upped my game and focussed on improving my driving skills from day one. It was more structured, how I practised, how I got my setups and racing lines dialled in, analysing opponents and try to gain time on every part of the track. I knew I would have to, and that a single tenth of a second is the difference between P1 and P7.

The final itself was one of the most thrilling races in motorsport I’ve seen. How did you handle that pressure?
I felt a lot of pressure before the race, but not so much during the race. I had to win the race for the championship and was leading after turn one, but then the crash with Sven (Zurner) put me out of contention, really. From then on it was a race to lose for Fabrizio (Donoso Delgado). There were three laps left when he had a big lead, so I felt no pressure and I was driving to the limit but still very relaxed. I think Fabrizio felt a lot of nerves, because he gave away a lead he shouldn’t have given away. But there was still no pressure for me on the final lap, when I attempted the overtake into the chicane, I was P2 and if the overtake wouldn’t work I’d still be P2. But I’m glad it did work.

How did people in your immediate surrounding react to you winning the race?
It’s funny, because many people didn’t know what had happened. I never told many people about me doing simracing, it has always been a thing for myself, how I’d spend my Friday and Saturday nights instead of going to a party. And so when they saw me on Sky, they wondered how I had gotten there. They congratulated and encouraged me a lot of course, even people who I hadn’t heard from in many years!

- F1 eSport Series

From your Twitter account I know that you’ve tested in iRacing. How do you think it compares to Codemasters’ F1?
Well, iRacing is debatably the best simulator out there, in almost every single way. It’s much more realistic of course, and I think that’s great to challenge yourself. I’d love to try the 24 Hours of Le Mans in iRacing too, but my main focus remains the F1 eSport series.

Do you think iRacing will ever become mainstream? Is it too technical for that, maybe?
It’s not too technical, I think people want that. I feel the main barrier is costs, because to do your first full season, it might cost you a few hundred British Pounds. And I also think it could grow much bigger once it starts to do offline events, such as the Vegas e-Race and the F1 eSport series, so it’s at a location and a bit more intense.

What about the team you’re in, ESPORTS+CARS, how’s that structured?
It’s pretty much a virtual version of a real team. There’s Darren Cox, who also set up the GT Academy and the F1 eSport series, runs the team, and there’s Simon, who’s my mental and fitness coach. Since December he has helped me to drop 11 kilo’s, and also improve my mental approach. As for the other drivers, we help each other out, including setups and strategies, and the team is split into platforms such as Project Cars, Forza and Codemasters’ F1.

- Brendon Leigh

What changes would you like to see for simracing?
The biggest thing I’d love to be improved is the connection, really. When you’re playing Call of Duty online, it’s OK to have some minor lag, but in racing you can break a your frontwheel or lose a tyre. Also I hope the realism will improve on many platforms.

What are your plans for the future?
I’d love to do some endurance racing in iRacing, and see if I can get into the e-Race of the Champions again. And as I said, I’d love to be a full-time professional simracer. But my main plan and objective is the F1 eSport series.

What is your advice to simracers who want to reach the top of simracing?
Stay focussed. It sounds simple, but I’ve seen many talents in simracing who don’t focus in practise. I also sometimes think practise is a bit boring, but the best way to learn is to focus and push your limits on every lap. It has to become a subconscious adaptation to the track, car and the tyres, because they change every lap.

Another advice I’d give is that when you have a bad race, you have to look back and learn from it. Even if a mistake hurts so much, you still have to go back and view it a many times over, so you take something from it. You can even enjoy it. Yeah, maybe my biggest advice is that while you can’t win every race, you can finish each race with a smile.

Pablo López se une como entrenador de VRS

Saluda a Pablo ‘GoPro’ López, quien se une a Virtual Racing School como su último entrenador. Pablo se centrará en los paquetes de datos para el Ford GT GTE y el Ferrari 488 GTE en el Campeonato IMSA SportsCar, también para el McLaren MP4-12C GT3 de la serie VRS GT. Además, Pablo proporcionará sesiones privadas y clases grupales, tanto en inglés como en español.

Pablo: “Tengo muchas ganas de ayudar a los simracers a aprender y mejorar, y me complace poder devolverle a la comunidad el compartir mi conocimiento y experiencia, especialmente porque se hace a través del gran sistema de VRS, donde puedes analizar todo lo que está pasando en el coche, sin la dificultad de un programa de telemetría para ingenieros. Todo dentro de un sitio web atractivo, combinando telemetría por vuelta y referencias en vídeo de pilotos top“.

Pablo ha estado compitiendo seriamente desde 2010, ganando varios campeonatos nacionales e internacionales, además de ser finalista en la Nissan GT Academy 2012, y fue seleccionado por iRacing para el Mazda Road to 24 2016 (foto abajo).

Para solicitar una sesión con Pablo, haga clic aquí.

Pablo López joins as VRS coach

Say hello to Pablo ‘GoPro‘ López, who joins Virtual Racing School as its latest coach. Pablo will be focusing on datapacks for the Ford GT GTE & Ferrari 488 GTE in the IMSA SportsCar Championship — as well as the McLaren MP4-12C GT3 in the VRS GT Series. Additionally, Pablo will provide private coaching and group classes, both in English and Spanish.

Pablo: “I am looking forward to help people learn and improve, and I’m happy to give back to the community in sharing my knowledge and experience, especially as it’s done through the epic VRS system, where you can analyse every bit of what’s happening with the car, without the difficulty of a engineers’ telemetry program. All in and in a good looking website, combining that with lap telemetry and video references from top drivers.”

Pablo has been competitively simracing since 2010, winning several national and international championships — as well as being a finalist in the 2012 Nissan Gran Turismo Academy, and was selected by iRacing for the 2016 Mazda Road to 24 (photo below).

To request a session with Pablo, click here.

Madison Down on iRacing’s V8 Supercars

Multiple iRacing V8 Supercar champion Madison Down is a twenty-three year old driver for Trans Tasman Racing, a VRS coach, and when he’s not racing he’s likely working a as a retail manager at Supercheap Auto (the brand which you may know from the barriers at the Bathurst Esses). We catch up with him.

So how did you get into simracing, iRacing and Trans Tasman Racing?
My dad was a hobby sim racer back in the nineties, and got me started on games such as Need for Speed and the Geoff Crammond’s Grand Prix. From there I moved to consoles and eventually found online racing on Gran Turismo 5 Prologue competing in competitions on GTPlanet. This is where Trans Tasman Racing begun. It was originally a bunch of mates that just enjoyed clean racing together, which is hard to find on consoles. From there, we moved to rFactor on PC and began league racing in a competition called Adrenalin Factor. As iRacing began to add more Australian content, we moved to iRacing in 2010, which is where we still race. Even though many team members have come and gone over the years, Trans Tasman’s core values are still held by the drivers today and the cool thing is that we still have retained some original members like myself, Tony Autridge and Michael Healey.

TTR’s Virtual Racing School Ferrari 488 GT3 during the 6 Hours of Bathurst

Okay, so you won ten top tier titles in the V8 Supercars. It’s astonishing, but it also begs the question; how? And why? You never thought, ‘Okay, now’s enough’?
From 2010 to 2017, I have basically only drove the V8 Supercar on iRacing. My first title was 2011 Season 2 and from there I had a very successful run all the way until my 9th official series title in 2014 Season 1. I really enjoyed the racing in the V8 and none of the titles were ever easy to win. The competition was also close and every win had to be earned, and that’s what kept me coming back. I did take 2012 Season 1 off in that period to rejuvinate my motivation as racing forty-eight weeks a year at a top level can really take its toll. It’s tough to turn around week in week out, and develop a setup and practice to win races. As I said, it was never a simple cruise to victory, it was always tough. In 2015 the V8 Supercars Online Premier Series was developed has now taken the role as the undisputed top tier series in Australia. Since the series has started, I’ve been lucky enough to never finish outside the top two and to actually win the title in 2016, despite only winning a single race. The competition is stronger than ever and that desire to win is still certainly there!

Outside of the V8 Supercar, I had a short stint a few times in Formula 1 to try and go for the Pro series in 2011 and 2012, but the time zone difference complicated it for me. The SOF races were at 3:15 AM on Monday mornings. But in the last few years we as a team have also competed in the Blancpain GT Series, which has been a nice new challenge! The first year we finished eighth in the championship, last year we had a shocker and only just re-qualified being just inside the top twenty-five. But in 2018 we’d certainly like to have more of a focus on the Blancpain GT Series as a team and really take it to the big boys as an ‘underdog Aussie team’.

So what do you love about V8 supercars? Compared to let’s say open wheelers?
I love tin tops! For me, touring cars or GT cars are more enjoyable to race. Open wheelers are certainly great fun to hotlap and really push the limits, but I find them less enjoyable to race. A lot less passing and less tyre wear, it’s pretty much fully down to pit strategy. Whereas tin tops you race door to door, and you don’t have to worry about aero push when following. You often drive so close to each other, you bump, rub panels, slide, pass easily. They are just so much more enjoyable to race. Heavy car, high centre of gravity, not much aero and 650hp+ to the rear wheels. They are certainly a handful to drive but that’s what makes the racing so great. Being from Australia is also a big factor, it is the biggest form of Motorsport down under by a distant margin. When you talk about motorsport here, you talk Supercars!

What are the biggest physical differences between open wheel and closed wheel racing?
The aero. Closed wheel racing you can follow other cars closely and generally speaking it makes the racing more interesting. In open wheel cars, it’s tough to follow and you also need to be super accurate when it comes to overtaking. Any slight contact and your race is over. For me the closed wheel racing is more enjoyable for those reasons. I also enjoy the tyre wear aspect, Supercars really burn up the tyres and as a result the strategy in races is super important. When someone comes out on five lap newer tyres than you, the pace difference is huge and often creates grandstand finish situations!

Are V8 cars more dependent on setups?
I would say most of the time found in V8 Supercars comes down to driving technique. Setup is still important, but it will only find you the last five tenths per lap or so. They are certainly less sensitive than open wheelers, but any time you are competing in a top level series, setup is often the difference between winning and losing. The V8 is a weird car because you can get the setup decent, but it’s hard to get it perfect. The setup window is extremely narrow and you can be so close to that window and not even know it! It is certainly very frustrating. As a team, we actually find GT3 cars easier to setup than the V8 Supercar in fact despite the added effects of aero.

What do you look for most with V8 supercars in terms of telemetry?
From a driving perspective, you look for smoothness. You need to be super smooth with your pedals inputs and steering inputs. You need to focus on what the strengths of the car are, it is good under brakes and talented in the straight bits. So you want to spend as little time cornering as possible, so what you’ll find in telemetry is that you will often carry low mid corner speed so you can straighten your exits to lengthen the straights. The other main thing I look for is to make sure you don’t ‘paddle’ the throttle, only apply the throttle once, don’t come back off it. It should be a nice smooth 45 degree angle line from 0 to 100% throttle.

From a setup perspective, we only really focus on shock and damper setup. We try to make sure that we have even percentages in the damper histograms. Having the shock setup correct makes quite a big difference to the ride control across bumps and kerbs which is important in this car, as you can really attack kerbs in this car.

V8 Supercars Online Premier Series 2017

What specifics for V8 Supercars cars are covered in VRS group coach classes?
We tend to mainly focus on driving technique. So we really stress the smoothness element. Often we see that students are a bit messy with their inputs and the lines I spoke about earlier aren’t smooth with both pedals and steering. This is often due to overdriving. People have the mindset that driving ten tenths at the limit is the way you are fast, not necessarily the case with the V8 Supercar. To be fast, it feels like you are driving beneath the limit. It is all about using all the track and driving smoothly and straight.

During a coaching class, we look at students data compared to the datapack (or a coach’s individual data) and compare the driving lines and inputs. Through the VRS software you are able to pin point exactly where the time gains and losses occur, and then evaluate each and every problem area. The other handy feature is the driving line analysis. It makes it super easy to show and explain driving lines and why the time gain or loss occurs. It is great software to use and really simple once you know how to use it. We do run through it with students using a screen share software so that they can also see exactly how the software works and learn more about telemetry analysis.

How does V8 Supercars as a series compare to F1 in Australia? What’s the motorracing scene like?
V8 Supercars is our biggest motorsport series by far. Yes, Formula 1 is popular, but I would say more Australians watch the Supercars series both at the track and on TV. Australia has always been a touring car country for as long as I can remember and I don’t see that changing any time soon!

Anything you look forward to in the future?
The future of eSports! Having been in the competitive scene now since 2009, the growth has been massive. When I first started I was amazed that I could race other people around the world! These days, times have changed a lot and we very much take that for granted. I would’ve never dreamed that eSports would have got as big as it has got in recent years. The professional streams, events, sponsorship and leagues these days are just awesome and I hope it continues to grow! I think that sim racing is now truly becoming a gateway to real motorsport, the amount of real world contacts that I now have as a result of sim racing is just amazing. Even inside of Trans Tasman Racing, we are sponsored by mainly real world sponsors like MOMO Australia, Harrop Engineering and Apex Replicas. All of these sponsors actually sponsor real world Supercars teams which from a sim racing perspective is really awesome that they are interested in eSports!

Thanks Madison!

The TTR Holdens

Interview with Andretti’s lead engineer Graham Quinn, on winning the Global Rallycross title and his role in iRacing’s Rallycross

We sit down with Irishman Graham Quinn, lead engineer at Andretti Autosport’s Global Rallycross team, the team that has now won the Global Rallycross championship three times in a row, with Scott Speed behind the wheel. Graham sheds his light on iRacing’s Global Rallycross and his role preparing it, as well as his experience as an engineer on both sides of the Pond.

Graham, how did you get into racing?
My whole life has been about racing. My dad owned a motorsport business, and before I was ten I was racing in karts. I spend my college years running a karting team all over Europe. My younger brother, Niall, also started karting and eventually got picked up by Red Bull as part of the junior team.

After karting, I rallied on a national level, but in 2007 I quit racing, and got a job as an Engineer in Prodrive’s WRC team, who were racing Subaru’s. I thought I was good, but when I joined a team like Prodrive, I got to see how a team like that works, and the level of skill of their drivers. I noticed they had completely different skills than I had.

I competed at the top national level of rallying, but no way I could compete with drivers like that. So I think it was a relief, the disappointment of not racing anymore became a closed book very quickly.

In 2012 I moved to a private team in Belgium called First Motorsport, who ran some Mini Cooper’s and Subaru WRC’s from ProDrive, which were then driven by Stephane Sarrazin and Robert Kubica. My role was much broader there, engineer as well as assistant team manager. Which showed me the other side of motorsport as well, how difficult it is to get logistics and finance in order. There’s an incredible amount of stress involved when you’re trying to raise money to go rallying. Then in 2014 I made the jump to the US with Andretti when the Volkswagen Rallycross program kicked off.

You’ve had the driving as well as engineering experience. Which one is more nerve wracking?
I think as a race engineer I’m even more nervous, because you’re just waiting for something that you had control over to go wrong. Even when your driver is leading by ten seconds, you’re always thinking about what could break down. As a driver in the car, you know what you have to do. But as an engineer it’s out of your hands.

Do you miss racing? And is that were iRacing comes in?
No, I’m not really one of those former drivers trying to get back into the car, proving I’m also quick behind the wheel. I got as much pleasure winning rallies and championships, as an engineer, as I would have as a driver, maybe even more.

That said, iRacing is a lot of fun. Last month, Scott and me did a Blancpain race, and we won! But on Saturday my brother and an ex-Champcar driver did another race, and I was supporting them from my basement, checking their fuel consumption and tyre strategy, and they also won. I enjoyed that just as much. So yeah IRacing gives me something, but it’s not just the driving, I enjoy the setups, strategy, everything.

Maybe some people think I’m strange that I take my work home, spend another two hours in the sim, but it’s just an addiction really.

As an engineer, do you understand Scott better now that you’re sharing the car in iRacing?
Well yeah, I can see his skill levels for sure. Whatever I do, I can’t really get close to what he does. And he’s exactly the same in the sim as in real life. From the first lap he gets it, he doesn’t overdrive, and it seems to come so easy to him. And I enjoy driving with him, it’s also bonding between an engineer and a driver.

What was your role in iRacing Global Rallycross?
It started over a year ago, and it’s been almost a daily involvement. Even today I corresponded with them again. It just blew me away how closely they model the car. They have a great model for the chassis with many kinematic points. We worked on weight distribution, the centre of gravity, damping. And we used our real life data to match that in the sim, matching torque levels with acceleration rates, turbo response, all of that.

It’s so close now that I could even send them a few request to make modifications in the sim so we can test them for real life racing. I believe iRacing has that service for Nascar teams too. It’s just like an F1 sim, really.

What makes Global Rallycross unique in your view?
The variation of surface really. It’s basically a rally car chassis like in the WRC, with perhaps differentials and transmission a little less sophisticated, but a better, more powerful engine. And then you’re trying to make it work like a touring car at some parts of the track. So it’s a balance on which parts of the track you want to be fast.

That’s a balance and you’ve got to get through it quickly, because in race weekends there’s just one hour of practise before you go into qualifying. That’s why we do a lot of simulations, so before the track we know what the base setup is going to be like.

Scott said mainly the differential is important, the rest isn’t so much. Do you agree with that?
He has a point. Even in a WRC car, the first thing you look at is the wheel speed and how the differentials are working. The second thing is dampers, they play a massive part as well. You’re looking for traction on dirt, and support on tarmac. Very difficult to make a damper do both. But I do think we have a really good damper package. But diff’s are something Scott is very sensitive to, he can feel the difference between 5Nm of preload. But after the differential and dampers, the rest of the setup comes quite easy.

So now with iRacing Global Rallycross, you’re driving your own car. What surprised you?
Not anything in particular. I watched so much videos and data so I think I was already aware of the limits of the car. And those limits are way below than what most people would think! To be efficient in this car, you need point to point driving, and I think that’ll surprise everybody. It’s just a car that’s really really difficult to drive, well, easy to drive but difficult to be fast.

Our car has evolved that way from a typical rally car, into a more touring car. I think it’s mainly because of Scott’s input, even though our other driver, Tanner Foust, has a rally background. But we always improved the car on the tarmac section, so it’s a really efficient car, but not easy to manipulate. It takes a specific driving style, and you have to learn it, basically by copying what Scott does. He has really set the standard in rallycross, he has changed the way people drive. It even crossed over to FiA rallycross now, I mean Mattias Ekström and Kristofferson, Solberg etc are now doing the same thing: driving straight from curb to curb, not sliding anymore. Just searching for that limit of grip.

What do you think VRS will be most useful for?
Driver inputs. To see when Scott brakes, when he’s going back on the gas, when he’s sliding and feathering the throttle. The interesting thing is that on most tracks, it’s less than ten percent full throttle for the full lap. That’s how much is coasting and feathering. That’s where you see a lot of Rallycross cars smoking their tyres, and after after three laps they’re just finished.

Actually, VRS might give away too much in this! What might be difficult is to see the state of the gravel or dirt, because that changes every lap, so you can’t compare your laps one-to-one because you can’t tell what the condition of dirt was in at that time. But you can still see how tidy and efficient good drivers are.

How comparable is VRS to real life data and telemetry?
And VRS is quite comparable. VRS is a little bit simpler, and I really like the interface and layout. You don’t have to be a data engineer to be able to read it, but you still got everything there you need, even on the very first page. You can see where you’re losing time, and it’s easy to alt-tab out of iRacing, check and try again. It’s a really useful tool, and I think you can’t do without it, if you’re taking iRacing serious.

What makes a good engineer in motorsport? 
In my experience the best ones are very hands-on, they think quickly on their feet, and don’t rely too much on only their education.

I usually find that some of the interns we have gotten over the years are very green when they come out of the university. They only think about looking at the data, physics or electronics, but being an engineer is also about working together with the driver. Maybe the motorsport specific education is the problem, it really puts blinkers on young talents.

As an engineer, if you can’t interpret or communicate with the driver, understand what he’s talking about — well, it doesn’t take very long for the driver to lose his respect. As soon as that happens, you’re done.

But do you mean drivers are very difficult to work with?
Yes, and the truth is that the better they are, the more difficult they are to work with. I’ve worked with some of the best rally drivers and F1 race winners, and they’re different characters than what we’re used to be dealing with day to day.

Do you mean ego behaviour?
No no, they’re just very passionate. Their mind is so much focussed on what they’re doing, that they don’t have any bandwidth left to think of something out of that box. Sometimes you hear a driver and engineer argue with each other, and you’d think they’re going to hit each other. But then two minutes later, they settle on what they’re going to do, and it’s all fine. But you need that, you need the engineer to be as passionate about it as the driver. And to be assertive, that’s when you work well together. But like I said, if a young engineer comes in and doesn’t know how to handle that, it’s easy to lose respect.

So what would be your advice to young students?
I’ve told many students this. If you have the choice, you shouldn’t go to a F1 team, but rather to a F3 or even Formula Ford team. There you’ll be hands-on and actually working on the car, from building it in a workshop and getting it to the track, and doing the data and dealing with the driver. It’s a much broader range of tasks. Whereas if you go to an F1 team, you become an assistant’s assistant and you get the shitty jobs the engineer doesn’t want to do, and you won’t even overhear the conversation with the driver and engineer. So you’re getting no experience.

— Thanks Graham!

Read the interview with Graham’s other-half in racing, Scott Speed, here.

Scott Speed on iRacing’s Global Rallycross

Scott en route to victory in Atlantic City – Photo by Peter Minnig

He has driven in British Formula 3, GP2, A1 Grand Prix, NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Formula E and Formula One, and he’s now driving for the Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross team as a three-time Global Rallycross champion. His career consists of successes in nearly all forms of motor racing, be it on ovals or road, powered by petrol or electricity. Hence, it’s a great honour for us to sit down for a chat with Scott Speed.

Scott, first thing; you’ve raced in so many series and you’ve achieved success everywhere. What makes you such as versatile driver?
I don’t know, I think I’m a good driver. And the versatile aspect of my racing has more to do with my desire to try new things and the opportunities I got to try out lots of different types of race categories. But I think a driver who is very good, given the opportunities I had, would be just as successful.

But surely there’s the aspect of adaptability you are really good at?
Yes, but that’s something all the best drivers have — they’re good because they can adapt. That’s what racing is all about. I mean, tracks are always changing, cars are always changing — and drivers really have to learn how a particular car wants to be driven. That’s the key to being the best. You can obviously change a car to fit the driver, but at the highest level, your goal as a driver is to figure out how a car wants to be driven to go at its fastest. That requires adaptability.

Is this why you’re so successful in Global Rallycross? I mean, it’s a kind of combined form of racing.
Yes. I think I got lucky that my natural driving style fits very well in rallycross, apart from making one adjustment to driving on gravel. You know — when a rallycross car goes from tarmac onto gravel, to me it feels like it’s entering a whole different law of physics. Suddenly the car wants to be driven differently, and I had to adapt to that, and I was able to. Without that, you’re not going to be successful in rallycross. You really need to be able to drive very different styles to be fast overall.

So are there drivers that are only really fast on tarmac or gravel but not both?

Sliding in Seattle - Photo by Peter Minnig
Sliding in Seattle – Photo by Peter Minnig

So what makes driving on gravel so different. Is it that sliding is suddenly acceptable?
No, all the general principles of racing still apply, and sliding isn’t optimal. If you’re going sideways, you’re not going forward. That said, rallycross uses four wheel drive, and that presents a different aspect of motor racing, and you can slide a little bit more than “normal” on road.

Another thing is that a rallycross car brakes really well and it accelerates really well, but it just doesn’t corner really well. So you want to shorten the corner, and extend the braking zones and straights. So as a rule of thumb, you want to get the car to come off the corner a little narrower than normal, because it likes to go on throttle straight. So it’s a more ‘point and shoot’ kind of driving style.

What level of car contact is acceptable and “normal” in rallycross? Is rubbing doors OK?
Well, because of the 4WD nature of the cars, the racing is really tight and they run door-to-door really well. It’s a category that has to got a bit of contact. But obviously, if you hit someone out of the way to pass, they are going to hit you back or you’re going to get a penalty. So in the end of the day, racers govern themselves. Everybody has a reputation, and you are not going to have a good championship if other drivers don’t like you or don’t respect you. You know, eventually they’re gonna hit you back.

Serious airtime in LA – From @Scott_Speed Instagram

And then there’s the flying — is that how you think motorsport should be?
Well, motorsport needs to be entertaining, that’s the bottom line. So in the United States, nobody watches F1. People watch NASCAR, but that’s on a pretty steep decline right now, because it’s hard to pay attention a full four-hour race. Times are changing in motorsports, also with the introduction of electric racing. Within the next five years we’ll see a major shift in motorsports worldwide, as manufacturers start to develop electric cars and want to move into that direction.

Global Rallycross seems to be the motorsport with youngest demographic because it has short and exciting races. And it also seems to be the form of racing to which electric racing applies really well. With short races, lots of acceleration and deceleration, it fits really well. It’s much harder to make an electric car for Formula E, for example. It requires so much energy and batteries to run a formula car around for an hour. Whereas Global Rallycross events are roughly twenty minutes.

What was your role in iRacing’s Global Rallycross project?
My race engineer Graham Quinn and myself, we’d both drive the car in the sim and comment back and forth on what we thought. Graham from a technical perspective, me from a driving perspective. And we aimed to get everything as realistic as possible, driving on the gravel, the jump, basically the whole feeling. Graham used real-life data and lap times to match the car as well, so now especially around the Indy circuit it now matches up exactly.

iRacing has really hit it on the head as far as how the car feels and how you have to drive it. You notice right away that the car handles very differently on tarmac and gravel. You’ve to do very different things to it. It’s great that I can now show my family, my friends how a rallycross car drives, it’s very unique.

So now you can finally drive the competitor’s car? Can you tell the differences?
Well I don’t know how close the Fiesta feels to the real thing, I’ve never driven one. But ours, the Volkswagen Beetle, is really close. The Fiesta stops and accelerates really well. Point and shoot really, but it understeers on cornering a bit. Ours rolls into the corner a bit better, it behaves more like a sportscar so to say.

Do you think VRS will be a useful tool for Rallycross iRacers?
I really enjoy VRS. The fact that my real-life racing engineer is also my simracing partner is really fun, and Graham is quite fast in the sim. My whole life I’ve looked at telemetry data, but Graham has always worked with it. Between the two of us, we can really use VRS to a pretty big advantage between ourselves. It’s a real fun thing to do during the week. I just flew to Las Vegas for SEMA, and sent about three-hundred messages in our little iRacing team’s WhatsApp group, back and forth about the data and the car.

As for rallycross, I think it’ll be a big tool. Telemetry is so useful, especially for the wheel spin, it’s important to limit that. You can’t really see wheel spin from inside or outside the car, but the VRS software will make it visible what you’re doing with the pedals and what’s happening with the wheels. So it’ll fast-track a lot of people to get on pace with limiting that.

So wheel spin is more driver input or setup?
Driver input, for sure.

Then, how important is car setup for a rallycross car?
It’s very important. And because it’s a 4WD car, the setup relies heavily on the differentials, so making them work is key. But outside of the differentials, nothing is as important really.

Graham Quinn & Scott Speed.

What’s it like to finally share your car with your engineer?
Graham has never driven the car in real-life, but the funny thing is that in the sim he’d comment on things he thought were unrealistic. And I’d say ’No no, that’s exactly as it is in real life!’, and Graham would be hiding his face, ‘oh no!’. When I was back in the real car, I’d ask ‘Hey Graham, that big understeer you got in the sim, can you fix it now?’.

Graham is actually quite fast in the sim. We’re doing the Blancpain Endurance Championship, and we have fun doing it. It’s a very unique relationship, as he has been my engineer for the past three-and-a-half year. It’s just a really important relationship, and iRacing is a fun part of it.

Does it surprise you that the iRacing competition is so fierce?
Not really. Like anything, if you do something long enough, practice long enough, you’ll be good at it. And there are just lots of really good drivers out there.

Does iRacing relate well to real life racing?
Yes. If you can drive a car really well in a simulator, your brain is doing the same as in real life. You’re figuring out braking markers, braking pressures, limiting wheelspin, apexes, nothing different than real life, except maybe fear, adrenaline, nerves, etcetera.

For whatever reason, I’ve always been good at being able to control the emotion side of things. And my nerves never had effect on my decision making in a real race car. But I think part of it is also preparation. Whether it is iRacing, or any video game, or racing an RC car, I spend a lot of my day competing, with myself or someone else. My brain is very used to high levels of competition and high levels of stress. My whole life I’ve been putting myself in that kind of environment, and so when I get into a race car, I’m very relaxed.

So it’s professional fun?
Definitely. Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time on a bicycle, and I enjoy trying to race that. Relatively it’s the same thing as car racing, the differences are, that the food I eat is the fuel and my body is the engine. It’s not just about tuning the bike and making it lighter, it’s how I train and how well I sleep, all of that is my horsepower. And I really enjoy that aspect.

Then there’s also RC racing. I’ve just built a car and a racetrack, we race there quite often (Speed RC Raceway). Kinda like iRacing with real life physics. I think it still helps reflexes, concentration ability, eyesight. In this way the brain is no different than a muscle and I like to keep practicing it.

Thanks Scott!

Dr. Kathryn Richards from Mercedes AMG Petronas and Dare To Be Different on women in (sim)racing

At Virtual Racing School, we’re convinced that anyone who has the determination and access to training tools can be a successful racer, whether that’s on the track or in the simulator, whether they’re male or female. While men have dominated road racing since its inception, we think that simracing could and should be the big equaliser. Simracing has extremely low entry costs, and literally anyone can enter the competition from anywhere of the world. Yet why are there still effectively no women competing in simracing?

This is why we contacted Dr. Kathryn Richards, who’s a senior wind tunnel technician at the Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 team, as well as ambassador for Dare To Be Different, which is a non-profit organisation, spearheaded by Susie Wolff, to help to inspire, connect, showcase and develop women who either currently work in, or want to work in motorsports.

Kathryn Richards at the Mercedes AMG Petronas at Brackley, England — © Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team

Kathryn, why are we seeing so few women in racing? What’s the barrier?

I think it’s primarily a cultural barrier. The prevailing preconception was, and still is, that motorsport is something for boys. However since the formation of the D2BD community, I’ve realised just how many young girls there are out there, trying to get involved in many forms of motorracing and engineering. I just think that when these youngsters get older, that’s where the problems arise. Are there the opportunities? And are they overlooked in place of their male counterparts?

As it stands, I certainly see somewhat of a chance, and more success for female engineers then female drivers, but hopefully one day this will change.


Perceptions and prejudices are very difficult things to change. How do you do that?

We break perceptions down quietly, and without people really knowing about it. D2BD is a perfect platform to do this. We just need to help and encourage the younger generation to follow their dreams, and where possible provide the opportunities for them to realise them. In this way, more girls will start to filter through into all aspects of motorsport and engineering. The key is the reassure young girls that it’s OK to get into motorsport, and that actually the boys really don’t mind us being here.


Apart from perceptions and prejudices, are there things that need change for women to succeed? 

To be honest I don’t think there is. I believe in equal opportunities both ways. If you’re good enough and earn the right to be there, you will succeed.


F1 drivers are now using simulators at their factories. Do you think simulators can be a form of training at home? 

Obviously there is no substitute for reality, but practise helps. In Formula One, our simulator is an essential tool for preparing both driver and engineers for all the eventualities of a race. You see the same in other industries, for instance airline pilots and astronauts also use simulations as a vital part of their training.

While I’ve never myself used a simulator, I can only imagine that they’re good for training the reflexes, hand-to-eye co-ordination, as well as learning the track. If simulators give young girls the edge in racing, then so be it. I think as individual we should all do whatever we can do to improve ourselves and get ahead.

Dare To Be Different with Susie Wolff and a Williams FW36 at Knockhill, Scotland — © Dare To Be Different

You can read more about Dare To Be Different and their activities on their website, www.daretobedifferent.org.

Frederik, Jeremy and David on ‘offline’ racing at the SimRacing Expo

Last month, the world of simracing gathered at the SimRacing Expo at the Nürburgring, with some of the top of them competing in the 2017 ADAC SimRacing Trophy. With ten rigs from the organisation, forty gamers battled it out locally, with an audience at the venue, as well as viewers online. VRS coaches Jeremy Bouteloup and David Williams came second and third in the final, with Frederik Rasmussen of CoRe SimRacing taking the victory. We catch up with all three of them here.

Competitors ahead of the huge audience — © SimRacing Expo

Do you feel a different kind of tension when you’re racing in front of an audience and not in your own home? 
David: “You certainly feel the atmosphere, which is very audible while driving, even though we have headphones on. There were moments during the final when Jeremy was fending off Frederik where I could barely hear the car, such was the noise level of the crowd and the live commentary through the speakers above the stage. In addition you have cameras moving in and out of the rigs, sometimes in your face, which can be very distracting! I have to say though, the excitement is something you don’t get at home, which you can feed off to fuel your focus.”

Jeremy: “It’s definitely different. While at home it’s only you and your rig, on stage it really feels like you’re in an arena. You generally hear the crowd, the commentators, and that can be quite distracting if you’re not used to it. You really need to focus on what you’re doing because when you start thinking about who’s watching you, or see the cameraman trying to get good shots of you, then that really can lead to on track mistakes. But it’s a great experience if you’re performing well, because everything you feel is amplified as you can share it with the crowd!”

Frederik: “It was definitely different to race with everyone watching, but after a few laps I forgot about it and was able to focus on the driving only. Yet when a camera man comes over and films you it can be very distracting, making it hard to concentrate.”

Do you miss your own rig and the software you have installed at home? Or you just quickly learn cope with it?
Frederik: “I didn’t miss my rig, because it was the same for everyone. But I must say it was quite hard to have only a short time to get used to a brake pedal that’s twenty times harder than what I have at home, and the seat was moving a bit!”

David: “The software is exactly the same as at home, but the settings (no changes allowed) and hardware are very different. Fortunately I’ve got decent experience with unfamiliar rigs and so adapting wasn’t too much of an issue, however it’s always difficult and seemingly minor differences can throw people off what they’re comfortable with and what they have muscle memory with. This year, each rig had slightly different wheel and pedals, which made things even trickier, because after each heat you’re in a different one. Yet the format was great and forced everyone to adapt.”

Jeremy: “It depends on the rig that you have at the event. It’ll never be the same so you always need to adapt, but with experience you’re able to adapt quickly and perform decently with equipment you’re not familiar with. Depending on the event, that’s sometimes the key to a good performance because you have limited seat time to get accustomed to the rig you have to use.”

Rigs for the competitors
— © SimRacing Expo

How does it work with setups? Do you quickly make the changes you memorised? 
Jeremy: “In these events you generally have limited setup options available, as the difference is only supposed to be made on driving. For this competition, only the brake bias was available but that was a key one since the Porsche doesn’t have ABS. So setting this, I went on the safe side because I didn’t feel as confident with the equipment as at home.”

David: “As Jeremy said, the SimRacing Trophy event only allowed adjustments to the brake bias. If the setup was open, I’d probably bring a photo of the garage screen or a USB stick to copy settings across.”

You have your headphones on, but do you hear anything from the audience behind you or the commentators? Do you ever look to your left or right to see what other competitors are doing?
Jeremy: “Despite having headphones, you definitely hear what’s going on around you! You can hear the crowd applauding when there’s a nice overtake, the commentators shouting a drivers name, and so on. You can have a sideways look at other competitors, but there’s not really a point in doing so as you need to focus on your own race. Obviously, this is much harder to do in this type of environment because you have a lot more distractions than at home.”

David: “As Jeremy said, the noise levels are so loud at the event that it’s still difficult to hear the sim clearly at times, and cues such as tyre noise which we rely on at home can become very difficult to sense. Technically you can see the rigs immediately to the sides of you, but the best strategy really is to try and block out external distractions as much as you can.”

Frederik: “I could hear audience and commentators well, but I don’t really ‘listen’ to it. And yeah I tried to look to the persons next to me sometimes, but you couldn’t really see very clearly, heh.”

How’s the whole event? Does simracing need more local events?
Frederik: “The whole event was just epic, I wish there would be a lot more of these events to meet people and race with them.”

Jeremy: “The whole event is definitely a nice showcase for simracing. It’s great for the drivers, for the teams involved, and for the public. It’s a unique experience to see online racing being on-site and it makes it much more engaging for everyone. From a drivers’ perspective, it can be really stressful but also enjoyable to perform in front of a crowd. There aren’t so many events like this one and simracing being a rather small e-sport, it definitely helps bring more attention around it. It’s also a great opportunity to meet people you are racing with or against all year long and put faces to name.”

David: “I really love live events like this year’s SimExpo. It’s an awesome chance to put faces to the names you find yourself racing against online, not to mention friends and teammates you’ve gotten to know so well, and whom you get the chance to share drinks with in the evening (and early morning!). The atmosphere and passion you feel in person watching the races in my opinion surpasses even real racing, given how accessible the drivers are to spectators, and I really see this as being the best chance for simracing as an e-sport to grow. I’d love to see major online championships conclude with similar in-person live finals, as it warrants the kind of buzz and excitement such high level competition deserves.”

David, Frederik, Jeremy — © SimRacing Expo


The 2018 SimRacing Expo is again held at the Nürburgring boulevard, at 15 and 16 September 2018.