Competitive cheerleader, GT Academy finalist and pro sim racer Simon Feigl

Competitive cheerleader, GT Academy finalist, and driver and marketing manager of Evolution Racing Australia. There’s plenty of stuff to tell about the thirty-one year old Simon Feigl, who, despite his German name, is fully Australian. Living in Melbourne with wife and daughter, we ask the sim racer to tell his own story.

So, what do you do during the day?
I work at Oracle Marketing Cloud as a Team Lead of Professional Services division, specialising in data-driven marketing campaigns and programs. I love all sports, but most of them competitive cheerleading, cricket, and tennis.

… and racing?
Yes. I’ve always been into cars, and I think Australia also has a strong racing culture, with V8 Supercars. As a kid living in Melbourne, I was fascinated by Formula One. With the time difference, I’d stay up late on Sunday’s to watch the race in the middle of the night. That 90’s and 00’s era with the V10’s was amazing. At first I was just a spectator, but later I did some public-hire karting myself but I’ve always been into racing games and simulators. My dad runs a computer business, so being surrounded by computers made that easy. I started with Geoff Crammond’s Grand Prix games on the Amiga, and from there I progressed to the most realistic games I could get my hands on. At one stage that was Gran Turismo and then other sims, but I was kinda on-and-off with iRacing, until I made the commitment to dive into the sim racing realm. Now it’s something my dad and I share together. He has an insanely detailed and realistic airplane simulator rig, and I’m doing the same but with racing. So it becomes quite clear where I get my simulation passion from.

How was Gran Turismo as one of their top drivers?
Well, I mostly played solo or with friends, and I knew I was pretty quick, but when in 2010 the GT Academy competition started I really got competitive. Once I saw the top laptimes of the competition, it was intense as I could see how good the competition was. I’d practise one or two hours every night during time trials finishing second in Australia, but Australia only had one spot for the Academy that year and I missed out. In 2015 though, there were six spots for Australia, and I progressed to the final qualifying fourth quickest. The national phase of the Academy then consisted of multiple subjects, such as real and simulator racing, but also fitness and PR. And sure enough, I went through that phase too!

How did the next phase go?
The finals were at Silverstone, in England. Before then, I had only done a single track day in my completely standard commuter, a Hyundai Excel. It certainly isn’t a racing car! It turned into a three-wheel car at every corner with insane amounts of weight transfer. At Silverstone I did well on the track being one of the quickest from Team Australia, but I was eliminated in the Gymkhana knockout round. It was pretty tough, I had never done anything remotely similar to Gymkhana, not even in my own car, and it’s a unique skill that being quick on a track can’t prepare you for. In the end I was knocked out by Matt Simmons who went on to become the overall winner and race in the Blancpain Endurance Series in 2016.

How does Gran Turismo, I mean the game, or simulator if you want to call it, compare to iRacing?
It’s different in a lot of ways. Gran Turismo is almost two-dimensional, whereas iRacing is three-dimensional. I mean that in a sense of depth. In Gran Turismo, the car characteristics are minimal, and you can barely notice setup changes, while in iRacing, you can tell the different dynamics between the cars, and notice the difference between spring or anti-roll-bar changes. Another big difference is the braking. Gran Turismo taught me some bad braking habits, which I had to unlearn in iRacing.

How are you finding iRacing? And VRS?
While at Silverstone having recently been eliminated from GT Academy, I was contacted by Evolution Racing Australia (ERA), who asked if I wanted to race with them on iRacing. I’d been very infreqent with iRacing before, but once I committed to iRacing, I started to improve but I had a long way to go compared to my new ERA teammates. I improved through working with my new team, and in late 2016 I started coaching sessions with Rens (Broekman) to further improve. Those sessions had one clear goal: qualifying for the iRacing Blancpain GT World Championship Series. I knew I could do OK, but wasn’t going to improve with just seat time alone, especially within the timeframe. I missed that extra little bit of edge with speed. Instantly we noticed that my braking was an issue, especially trail-braking, the intensity and the way I put the brakes on. I’d actually had similar feedback at GT Academy from the instructors there, so clearly had some bad habits to resolve. Later, Rens also taught me about race strategies. When I arrived at ERA, nobody in the team used VRS, but now all twenty odd drivers are. We’ve gained a lot of benefit from it, especially for those who want to collaborate and learn from the fastest in the team at that time. But even then, the fastest people are also learning and finding ways to improve.

And did you qualify for the World Championship?
Yes! We finished fifth in the qualifying series, while the first twenty-eight in the standings qualify. As for our car, the #726: Zachary Hanlin ran the final stint that secured our spot. Andrew Kahl is an exceptional talent, and he does a lot of real life Formula Ford racing too. Also Tim Ryan an off-karter national champion (yes, off-road karting is a thing here) and he’s awesome when it comes to car setups. As a group of four we gelled really well, improving the car each week. ERA already had one team in the World Championship in 2016, but with my car we now have two cars in the world championship. With both teams running the same car, there are eight drivers sharing telemetry with each other this year, so that’s going to be great.

What are your goals, looking forward?
Initially to retain our World Championship status is our goal, but second to that, I’d like to finish top fifteen, maybe top ten, in the championship. There are fifty cars in the series and everyone is competitive, but we did finish fifth in the qualifiers so if we can improve our qualifying pace we might achieve our stretch target. When in the race, our pace was always excellent, and our strategies bang-on. So I think we can do it.

3.1: Fundamentals: The traction circle

untitled-3Welcome to season two of the VRS Academy — let’s dive into racing on a more technical level. We’ll start off with the traction circle, which is a key element used to understand the grip available from the tyres.

Back in article 2.4 Driving basics, we summarised how the optimal lap is a combination of carrying the maximum speed on the best racing line. The best drivers can achieve this by understanding how to fully exploit the grip available at all times during a lap.

The traction circle
Tyres are responsible for providing a connection between the car and tarmac, and it’s through this connection that the driver is able to accelerate, brake and corner. The most important thing to recognise is that there is a finite limit to the amount of grip or force which can be produced in any direction.

To define this, we can visualise a diagram called the traction circle.


The axes represent g-forces experienced in the car as a result of tyre grip in a single direction. At rest and when coasting in a straight line, the resultant forces are effectively zero and thus we are in the centre of the traction circle. During acceleration, the tyres produce grip in a forward direction, translating into a rearward g-force and propelling us along, whilst the opposite happens under braking when the tyres produce rearward grip, slowing us down. It’s a similar story when cornering, and this is when we see the tyres produce lateral (side) forces.

The limit of force the tyres can produce is defined by the red circle in the diagram which represents 100% of grip available. It is the goal of a racing driver to operate as close to this as possible, but to never attempt to go beyond it.

Looking at the circle, it’s very easy to understand that wheelspin in a Formula 1 car is caused by reaching the red line in the acceleration direction. It’s also easy to see how braking too hard would cause the wheels to lock up trying to exceed the red line, and finally obvious to visualise how going too fast for a given corner would cause us to demand more than 100% from the tyres in a lateral direction and cause understeer or a slide.

It’s more difficult however to understand when on track how the combined relationship between braking or acceleration, and cornering at the same time works, and this is where the traction circle helps us.

Using the full traction circle in all directions
Again back in 2.4 Driving basics, we recommended that the beginner driver entirely separates their braking, steering and throttle inputs. Whilst this is a good approach for the novice, it is clear that this driving style does not fully exploit the full limits of the traction circle and the diagram instead will look more like the following.


We can see here that the driver reaches the outer limit under braking, but then comes off the brake fully before then steering, once again reaching the outer limit but this time laterally.

A driver can better exploit the grip available at the tyres by combining braking, steering and acceleration, however first picture the following scenario. You’re approaching a right-hand corner, and you’re braking to 100% of the available grip, on the edge of the circle. You begin to turn into the corner whilst maintaining the same brake pressure, the front tyres then lock up and you immediately begin to run wide.



Looking at the diagram, we can see that since you were already on the red line in the braking direction, as soon as you turned the wheel you tried to demand some lateral force from the tyres, which would put your car outside the circle (if it were possible).


The correct technique is to reduce braking pressure as you begin to steer, so that you remain inside the outer extent of the red line. As you reach the apex (middle) of the corner, you should be using 100% of the lateral grip available with little to no pedal input. From this point onwards you can feed in the throttle so you remain on the outer circle up until you reach full throttle (and are no longer limited by the grip available).


Using telemetry within the VRS software
The driving analyzer on the app includes a traction circle which can be displayed by choosing the “driving style” tab, which reveals the following diagram:

This diagram represents “g force” in the direction in which the driver feels it. Braking is at the top, acceleration at the bottom and lateral g force at the sides. The above data is from turn 4 at Okayama with the MX-5, and we can see that the full extent of the grip available is well used throughout braking, transitioning to cornering, and finally acceleration – until full throttle. The MX-5 only has 2 driven wheels and isn’t very powerful which is why the car has so much more braking potential when compared to acceleration.

Up to you

Continue reading with 3.2, where we explain the ideal racing line, which you can combine with your knowledge of the traction circle!