2.4: Ergonomics

Written with the expert advice from driver coach Martti Pietilä.

ergErgonomics is one of the most overlooked subjects in sim racing, but it can help your performance a lot. While simracing is physically less demanding than real life racing, you must still control the car with your body. Make sure you’re comfortable, and in top shape.

Here, we’ll cover the positioning of your seat, monitors, wheel and pedals.

Seat
Clamping a wheel to your desk and sitting behind it on an office chair is disastrous, and if you’ve ever tried this you can probably concur. Your chair, on its wheels, is going to move all over the place, putting your joints in unwanted positions and distracting you from the racing itself. You want your seat to be fixed. If you can’t do this with your office chair, the cheapest fix is a folding chair for campsites, and the most expensive option is a dedicated race seat in a full blown rig.

We’d recommend the GT-style seating position, which is more upright than a Formula 1 style positioning. The latter may seem comfortable, but it’s not. Your back and neck will be very curved, creating undesired strain. In F1 racing, the manufacturers want to have the center of gravity as low as possible, but that’s not relevant in sim racing.

Wheel (arms)
For office work you want to have your keyboard and mouse just above your waist level, so your forearms are parallel to the floor, but with a wheel you don’t want that. Your shoulders and the top of your wheel should be at the same height. The angle of your wheel should ideally be such that it points directly at your shoulders.

Your wheel should be as close as possible. A way to measure is stretching your arms over the wheel. The top of the steering wheel should be at around the middle of your forearms, or at maximum your wrists. At first, this will seem just a bit too close, but try practice the new posture in the sim.

For your elbows: you need to comfortably bend them. Your elbows should be sunk a little bit below your wrists when holding the steering wheel in the 3′ and 9′ o-clock position. Try to aim for an angle of 90 to 120 degrees in your elbows. The distance should still allow you to turn the wheel 180 degrees to the left from the center, and 180 degrees to the right from the center, without taking any hand of the wheel.

Just like a real racecar, the top of your wheel should be as high as your shoulders.

Wheel (hands)
There should be no debate. Your hands should be at 3′ and 9′ o’clock. It’s there that your hands will have the best ‘feel’ for what the car is doing. Take your middle finger as a reference point.

It’s good to realize that when you’re turning, the hand on top of your wheel, is the hand with most sensitivity, vice versa. Keep both hands on the wheel. When turning, your top hand is doing the main job and has the strength and finesse that will make you go faster. The bottom hand has more of a supporting role. This means, if you’re turning left, push with your right hand; if you are turning right, push with the left hand.

Pedals
The angle of your knees itself isn’t so important, unless they’re too bent that they give you knee strain, and as long as they’re not hitting your wheel. Try to keep your legs as straight and comfortable as possible, but never fully straight. Your pedals shouldn’t be so far that you’re fully stretching your leg to hit full throttle. This is the position your legs will be in for the majority of the lap. Yet, when your feet aren’t pushing the pedals, they should be equally comfortable.

Use the ball of your feet to apply pressure on the pedals. Especially if you’re using heavy load cells, you should be using the big muscles in your legs, not the muscles in your feet. This will prevent fatigue and offers greater sensitivity.
On the matter of pedal ‘heaviness’: heavier pedals are preferred to feather-light ones. If your pedals have a load cell, adjust them to be heavier, especially the brake pedal. Don’t put the pedals at their heaviest setting immediately, it might be too big a change, but instead gradually increase the heaviness a few percent each week. Heavier brakes will help you build what they call ‘muscle memory’, and it’ll be easier to brake consistently and accurately.

Always rest your feet on the pedals. Calibrate dead zones on your pedals appropriately, so that if you are just resting your feet on the pedals, the sim does not record any pedal inputs. If you’re using the clutch pedal, rest your left foot there. Otherwise, rest your left foot on the brake. Your heels would typically be firmly “planted” onto the ground or metal baseplate of your pedals set. Then you’d just pivot your feet around the heel to change between pedals to apply depress the pedals. Some people prefer to “slide” their heels forward and backwards and that isn’t a bad thing, it’s just a matter of comfort and positioning of the pedals.
Like your chair (and wheel for that matter), the base of your pedals should not be moving in the slightest during racing. Make sure they’re fixed solid in position (again, a dedicated simracing rig is the best option).

In most ways, the ergonomics in sim racing are identical to real life racing.

Monitors
The center of the monitor should be at the level of your eyes. Try to put your monitor(s) as close as possible behind the wheel, without it causing eye strain. The distances should be measured and used in (use a measuring tape or something simular), iRacing’s Field of View calculator. Avoid changing the generated FOV, simply because you want to see your mirrors or your wheels. It will hurt your performance. The FOV is important because when properly set it mimics the real life scale in the virtual world, to which you see into. Correctly set, the simulator will position things in your sight where your brain expects them to be. When that’s off, so is your performance.

Don’t be bothered by your wheel blocking the bottom of your screen. iRacing’s HUD isn’t there, and as long as you can see what’s in front of your car, you’re fine.

Posture
For your full body posture, there’s just one thing you need to do: relax. If you’re too tense, it’ll translate to your racing. Don’t ‘deathgrip’ the wheel, as it’ll give you wrist or elbow pain and will decrease the sensitivity in your hands. Relax with your whole posture, but begin with your jaw. It sounds weird, but try it. Don’t clamp your teeth together, loosen up the jaw and your body will follow.

Up to you:

Get behind your rig and try it! Race around for a few laps, and see if improved comfort can improve your performance.

2.2: Your first test session

mazda

You can try any car, but for road you’ll need the Pontiac Solstice or Global Mazda MX-5 in order to progress from Rookie license to license class D. We recommend the Global Mazda MX-5 Cup car. The Mazda is light and low-powered, so maintaining cornering speed is key. This is perfect for learning.

Recommended practice tracks are Lime Rock Park, Summit Point Raceway and Okayama Short. The Mazda goes really well on these circuits, plus they’re short so you’ll learn them more quickly. Alternatively, you can check which weekly track the Global MX-5 Cup series races at, and load that for your private test session.
It’s important to join a private test session first, before joining a public session, let alone a race. A simulator isn’t something you can just jump into, plus there are some things you need to learn about iRacing. We recommend you spend a good portion of the week in a private session. (We’ll talk more about this in scheduling)

And make sure you select Default Weather.

Default Weather explained
iRacing sessions can be held in outside temperatures from 18 to 32 degrees Celsius (65 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit), which greatly affects the performance of your tires and thus your laptime. It’s best to use Default Weather to allow better comparison with future laptimes and to then compare with other telemetry data, or VRS data packs which are always driven in Default Weather also.

Three steps to get here: click the orange 'Test' button, click 'Adjust weather', and click the blue 'use iRacing Defaults'.

 

Load the sim, set your video settings to what your computer can handle and calibrate your wheel and pedals. Then, set the Field of View via the calculator in-sim in graphics options. YouTuber KrazyDan explains it in this video.

Field of View explained
The FOV is very important to get right, otherwise your screen won’t display accurate real-world proportions for your view of the cockpit, track and your perception of distance and speed. If your FOV is off, your judgement and reactions will likely be off as well. Avoid choosing a wider view because you want to see your mirrors or your wheels, it’ll likely hurt your performance.

In the graphics menu, you can find your FOV settings. Measure your monitor and your distance from it, and let iRacing calculate your FOV. Single monitor users may find it necessary to compromise with a slightly higher value than calculated, but you can reduce the need for this by having the monitor as close as possible.
Going around
Don’t worry about the actual setup of the car itself, there’s no need to ever change the setup of the car if you’re not racing at the limit (and we’re not expecting you to do so right off the bat!). Just drive the track, get a feel for the weight and responsiveness of the car and, if new to “hardcore” simulations, you’ll likely realise this is unlike any other game you’ve ever driven.

Focus on driving clean laps, not going off-track, not locking wheels or getting all out of shape. Focus on hitting your apexes, finding the ideal line through the corners. Treat it like the real thing and try not to crash, as that will only demotivate you. Drive within your limits and slowly up the ante as you get more comfortable.

Going faster
Try to lap consistently within a second of your best lap. Don’t worry if it takes you a few hours to get to that level, it’s normal. As we said: sim racing is hard.

But once you reach that level of consistency, you can head over to YouTube and search for some hotlaps in your car and track combination, or check out one of the Virtual Racing School Data Packs. Take note of braking, turn-in, and apex points and the line taken through entry and exit.

limerock

Up to you:

Avoid rushing into a public practice session just yet. Practice in a private session! Before going ‘public’, consider reading up on ergonomics.

Javi Part 1: Love for racing, his iRacing progress, and being coached by David

thumbWe chat with Javi Utreras, an avid iRacer, a dedicated VRS user, and one of David Williams‘ recurring students.

Javi, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
“I’m an extremely big fan of racing. I’ve loved racing since I was born, maybe even before that! I now live in Florida, USA, but I have some real life racing experience in my home country Ecuador, where I raced in a Mazda 323 cup.”

How did you start with iRacing?
“When I found out about iRacing, I was really happy. It lets me do what I love, for a fraction of the cost of real life racing. I’m very impressed with what iRacing has done, the feeling of the cars is very lifelike.

I started in November last year, and figured I’d have somewhat of an advantage because of my real life racing experience, but in the beginning it was very tough. I got very serious in January, but got a bit frustrated because I saw no improvement. That was, until I found out about VRS.”

And then what?
“David is coaching me since April. Since then, my top 5 finishes have gone up from 23 to 28%. My incidents per race went down from 13 to 7, and my iRating has gone from 1500 to 3000. The impact was huge.”

javiiracing

How’s David?
“What speaks volumes is that David really wants me to succeed. He’s friendly and very knowledgeable about racing. He knows the up and downs, left and rights. David, and actually his whole team is incredible. I support Coanda Simsport team big time, even though I am thousands of miles away. These guys are just aliens and what they do is incredible.

I’ve played in many competitive sports before, and always had coaches who made me better. David is just like that. Sometimes coaches say things you may not like, but you need to follow through and you’ll be successful. Whatever David asks of me, I’ll do it.”

What are some of your improvements?
“The racing lines I’ve been working on with David are getting a lot better. But the car control and trail braking are probably the biggest improvements for me.”

What’s an area for improvement?
“I need to control my emotions. Sometimes I want to pass very quickly, but I’ve learned that that’s not always the best case. I need to learn to be more patient. David’s teaching me how, and where to pass, and how to trick others into making a mistake.”

Looking long-term, what’s on your mind?
“I have my short term goals and long term goals. I’m a very competitive guy and want to win. I almost see iRacing more as a career than a hobby. Especially long term, my goal is a Pro licence.

Yet I also understand this takes time. Definitely one of the things I need to understand, is that this is a proces. You want to become better, you want results overnight. But that doesn’t work, usually. But so far, I’m very happy. I’m already joking to David I’ll one day beat him.”

javi

1.5: Software

telUntitled-2There are a number of third party software tools that integrate with iRacing to improve your simracing experience or to aid you in your driving practice or racing. If you are part of a team, there are some nifty tools for team communication and sharing files such as setup or replays. And if you want to record your races and/or stream them on e.g. YouTube, there is software to help you with that as well. Let’s dive in.

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1.2: Arcade vs. simcade vs. simulators

nfsIn 1994, Playstation was introduced with the fantastic slogan: ‘Live in your world, play in ours’. And that’s true for any game we play, all built on escapism as we crave for carpe diem. We rescue princesses from castles, play as knights in worlds of fantasy and join armies of modern or futuristic soldiers.

There is no right or wrong. All racing games are equally fun, all equally a test of driving skills in their own context. But for the sake of this article, we’ve divided racing games into three categories of realism.

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