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, 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.
“You can’t win a race in the first corner, but you can lose it in the first corner” is one of the oldest racing adages (another being ‘To finish First, you first have to finish’). And it’s one of the most valuable (and least adhered) lessons, as merely surviving the first lap can ensure a points finish, especially in the lower splits of road racing. But does first-corner-survival come down to mere luck, or is there some skill or strategy involved? We catch up with some of the VRS coaches.
“The most important thing about starting a race (and the first corner) is also one of the most fundamental concepts of racing overall: look where you want to go. When driving alone, this is quite natural, and most of the time we just need to think about how far we look, at either the apex or the exit. However, at a start there’s so much going on around us, we tend to forget this very basic requirement, and start to look at the cars around us. Especially if there’s a crash in front of us, we get so fixated on that and continue to plow in to the mess, even though there was plenty of time to avoid. The key here is to be aware of whats happening around you, not just looking at the cars around.
Lastly, if possible, I try to stay away from the middle of the track, so that an ‘escape’ plan is available if things go wrong!”
“The best way is to think of all possible scenarios during the approach of the first turn, different racing lines and how you’ll have to position the car. This will help anticipating what will happen and will allow you to react in due time. A second thing is; don’t do anything unpredictable because that will increase the chances to be hit. Other than that, there’s no magic for this and with experience, you’ll learn when and how to react, and it’ll come naturally.”
Olli Pahkala: “Keep up situational awareness, stay sharp and smart and try to avoid any sudden movements in a steady flow of cars.”
“Heh, the easiest thing is just to qualify on pole. Less issues then! But still you can’t really prevent people running into the back of you. Perhaps if you notice in time that someone is going to overshoot the corner, you may prevent contact by not turning in. But if someone is messing up real bad, chances are you can’t do much at all. So really, if you’re in the pack, just expect the worst and be ready to react. Be prepared to brake and not run into the carnage. If the worst case doesn’t happen, good. If it happens, at least be prepared for it.”
“Regardless of where you start, your initial focus should always be on having a clean, disciplined launch. If you’re on the front row, try not to be distracted by drivers behind you. Be prepared to defend into turn 1 if necessary, and try and visualise the line you wish to carry through the corner before you get there. However, if you find yourself starting in the middle of the pack, it’s important to realise that you must give yourself the opportunity to react to, or take advantage of situations which will change and develop quickly. Be willing to brake much earlier than normal if closely following another car, as it’s likely they’ll be reacting to cars ahead and the pack will be backed up. Avoid erratic or aggressive inputs which may catch other drivers unaware, potentially causing a collision with you. At the same time however, be ready and aware of opportunities which may present themselves to you, and remember how much later you can brake if you choose a line with no cars immediately ahead.
One more thing, I consciously balance risk versus reward on tracks where it’s hard to overtake, or for sprint races compared to endurance races. But it’s also important to be aware that the rest of the grid are more likely to take extra risks as well, and to make allowance for mistakes from others to be made and ultimately capitalise on.”
One of sim racing’s veterans, expert on both race and vehicle dynamics, driver for Coanda Simsport, and one of the VRS coaches: David Williams from Southampton, United Kingdom. We catch up to talk about what it’s like to coach sim racing online.
First of all, how did you get into sim racing and this role?
From as early as I can remember I’ve loved cars and racing. I watched a kart race in person as a small child, and it captivated me. Most of my toys were planes, helicopters or cars. Basically anything with an engine. I dreamt of becoming a Concord pilot, and later a Formula One driver. Growing up on the small Channel Island of Alderney, karting was non-existent, so racing games became my hobby.
My first proper sim was Live for Speed in 2006, where I joined the team of Clownpaint Gaming. We did quite well and won championships, and shortly after the teamed changed it’s name to My3id Gaming where we had further success. iRacing then came onto the scene and most of the competition moved there so we followed suit. Again, the team performed very well, ultimately taking the iWCS title with Hugo Luis and continued to evolve as a whole, later becoming 3id Motorsports.
At this time, wishing to pursue real motorsport, I entered GT Academy in 2011, where I made it to the national finals in person at Brands Hatch, but was beaten badly in the gaming element where random cars and tracks were chosen for three lap races. In 2012, I prepared much better, and made it through to the European final at Silverstone. This to date was the best experience of my life, pushing awesome machinery to the limit under the eyes of current and ex F1 drivers. At the end of the week I lost the chance for the final shootout for the overall win through the judge’s decision, but I have no regrets.
Later, 3id Motorsport’s team founder, Jack Basford, parted ways and took the name with him, and so a new team known as Coanda Simsport was formed from the remaining members. Taking a back seat from sim racing, I entered two more racing competitions, Want2Race and the Team HARD VW scholarship, both of which would prove valuable learning experiences with professional on-track tuition.
Then in 2016, Virtual Racing School became Coanda’s title sponsor and partner, and Rens (Broekman), Martti (Pietilä), Martin (Krönke), and me took it on ourselves to become driving coaches, which was new to us all. I was confident in my knowledge of vehicle dynamics and racecraft, I knew the theory of going fast and dissecting that thought process, and wanted to share that with other people. I also had a good idea about race coaching, through the professional instruction in the various competitions I’d entered. The only thing holding me back was that I didn’t feel like presenting to people was a strength of mine, so I saw this as an opportunity to develop that.
What’s it like to teach someone online? I mean, you’re not in the same room with that person. Can you connect?
The benefit of real life race coaching is that you can be in the car with someone, so you can get a better feel for how they’re driving and how the car is reacting. But despite that, providing feedback while the student is driving can actually do as much harm as it does good. The advice maybe be good but it may also prove to be distracting. So in that sense, I think the format of coaching we provide is actually really good, because there’s enough time to carry out a very thorough analysis for which the student can take one or two key thoughts back out onto the track and manage at their pace. In addition, the VRS software is a hugely powerful tool, which is essentially an x-ray of the students driving, meaning nothing can be missed.
At what level should you look into coaching?
Many people have the preconception they need to reach a certain level before they can get coaching. But I believe that when you first start sim racing, that’s the best time to get coaching, before you’ve had a chance to enforce any bad techniques. The longer you continue with bad habits, the more difficult it will be to unlearn them. So my answer is; straight away!
Who would you like to teach?
Someone who is eager and willing to improve, and will do what it takes even if it requires a struggle. Many people write themselves off as not having enough “talent” before giving it a proper go, or make excuses for themselves such as blaming the setup. I also have friends who have a similar attitude which is very frustrating.
If you’ve learned the telemetry software, then why could you not go from there and learn yourself?
Yes, that’s very true. It’s worth saying I always try to make my student proficient with the software so they can analyse their own driving without me. However, it’s impossible to pass on everything there is to know about racing in one session, especially with regards to car dynamics and technique. I’ve had students who’ve had over ten sessions, and we still have plenty to talk about. Sometimes you just need a second pair of eyes in case you’ve missed something, and although you might be able to see where you’re slower, you might not understand why. Most of us coaches on VRS now have more than an year of experience, so we’ve already seen many different patterns and repeated traits among our various students, meaning we can more efficiently assist new students better than ever before.
What’s the most common area your students need to work on?
Since most are already quite quick and within a second of the datapacks, most laptime is typically found during the transition from braking to steering, or put otherwise; the period from when you start to release the brake, turn in and reach the apex. For good drivers, that’s where lots of time can be lost or gained. It’s a very challenging part to get right which is why it separates quick drivers from the best, and I always emphasise this in our video tutorials.
If you can analyse everything with VRS, then why isn’t everyone at the limit?
It’s difficult to say. First of all, it’s impossible to define a limit. There’s a physical and somewhat more unknown mental limitation to everybody, which I wrote about here. This limit is the last tiny bit of ability which separates the best, but I also think it’s true that 99.99% of drivers never reach their own personal limit. So if you want to go faster, you must just assume that you have what it takes. The moment you say to yourself; ‘I can’t beat Martin Krönke’, your failure to do so is guaranteed.. But if you say; ‘I reckon I can beat Martin, I’ll put in the hours and do what it takes’, then it just might happen. The problem for most people is that they don’t have that attitude. It’s a lot easier to just say ‘well, he’s just better’, and give yourself that excuse. Martin is relentlessly determined, and that’s the main reason why he’s so near the limit.
So even though we can measure and analyse everything, the single biggest component of getting better is being relentlessly determined. If you want to call that talent, then sure. I think that mindset is true for anyone who’s successful, regardless of which field its in. And the brain is a curious thing. Clearly not everyone is physically cut out to be a top level 100m sprinter, but our mental limitations are way more flexible than we can imagine. For example, I learned to juggle when I was twenty, even though before that I believed only certain people could pick it up. I learned it in over three painful weeks, during which I was constantly dropping balls after just a couple of throws. Eventually my brain rewired itself to the point where I went from focussing like mad on each throw to now being able to have a conversation with you while juggling. It’s now a fully subconscious skill. Driving fast is a skill which can be learned in a similar way.
Do all of your students improve after coaching?
This one is actually difficult to answer because not all of my students are immediately faster the next time they drive having had a session with me. Most of them do find time straight away, but for many it’s more about setting them onto a longer term process with the right ideas and goals for how to eventually become a much better driver. I think it’s very important to appreciate that knowing why you’re losing time, and understanding how to be better doesn’t guarantee an immediate improvement. Sometimes deeply ingrained techniques and bad habits must be unlearned and replaced with better ones, which take time and concentration, and will often temporarily worsen laptimes. The important thing is that my students attempt to apply the changes we discuss, because in fixing the fundamental technique, the laptime will come later.
Being an online racing coach is a relatively new job. What would be your advice to people who also want to become an online coach?
I think it’s important to be a fast and accomplished racer before considering coaching, for two reasons. First, I think it’s good for your credibility, because why listen to advice from a slow driver? Secondly, you’ll be conscious of the struggles you personally go through, en route on becoming a great sim racer. So you can pass that knowledge on. To be a good coach, that self awareness and understanding is absolutely critical. So if you’re fast and you understand why you’re fast, well then there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to help others too.
The stereotype of oval racing is that racers just turn left, full throttle, and that therefore oval racing is easy. But there’s lots of skill involved in oval racing, especially with around forty cars with 725 horsepower fighting for the same piece of tarmac.
Whether you should pursue either oval or road racing (or both) is completely up to you. But here we dive into some of the differences here, as well as some of the similarities.
Differences in race procedures
In road racing, the car attempting to overtake should have its front tires up to the leading driver’s side before the corner, or else the corner is considered to belong to the leading car. On ovals, having any sort of bodywork next to the leading driver is enough to challenge the leading driver into the corner. This is because racing side by side is way more common on ovals, compared to road racing, where going side by side is potentially much more detrimental to each driver’s race.
Regarding pit strategy, road racing generally has very few, if any, full-course caution flag period in a race, which in turn allows the team to set one or two main strategies for the race. On ovals, because of the frequency of full-course cautions and how short the lap times are, strategies are often made on the go. Stopping for fuel, tyres, or both all depends on when the caution flies, who pits around you, and your track position.You’ll probably also go a lap down when pitting under green and be trapped a lap down if a yellow comes out directly afterwards. All these factors make oval racing strategies very diverse and improvisational.
All race starts on ovals are of the rolling kind, whereas road racing sometimes features standing starts.
In NASCAR oval racing, there is a ‘free pass’ or commonly known as ‘lucky dog’ rule. This means that the first car which is a lap down when a caution flag flies, gets to go around the track and regain a lap. Lapped cars can also receive a lap back if all lead-lap cars ahead of them pit and they don’t. This puts them directly behind the pace car, and they’re allowed to pass it and regain their lap on the last caution flag lap.
Oval racing is much more affected by dynamic track rubber buildup than road racing. Road racing usually has a fairly defined apex in each corner, and does not vary much throughout a race. On ovals, many of the turns have a wide radius, and some are extensively banked. This allows drivers to run the outside line. Due to ovals being usually much shorter in length than their twisty counterparts, this means that many more cars go over a certain groove on the track – and often. Races can consists of over 200 laps. This means more heat transfer onto the track, as well as rubber buildup. In NASCAR stock cars, more heat and rubber usually means a lower amount of grip. This causes drivers to ‘search’ around the track in the corners for more grip. Some will run the inside line, others the middle, and some may dare to go up by the wall if there is enough grip up there to compensate for the longer distance traveled.
Differences in setup approach
Since oval turns go in only one direction, the car is setup to be stiffer on the right side (because a left turn shifts weight to the right). On a road course, you would generally have a balanced (symmetrical) setup since you have left and right turns. On the ovals, the car is optimized to turn left. Everything in the car is made to turn in that direction. If you try a right turn with an oval setup, the car will not turn well at all.
Difference in skills required
One of the biggest differences between road and oval is the length of the turns. Road courses put more emphasis on hitting the apex, as more turns are short in comparison to ovals. On the oval side, turns are generally divided by the drivers into entry, center, and exit. When describing handling characteristics, the car may for example behave completely different at the entry of the turn compared to the exit. Drivers have to be able to split the turns of the track into different sections, and construct their setup for each phase of the corner. The driving skills required are fairly similar, but can have some key differences. The road side is more focused on quick reflexes and precise apexing, while the oval side centers on car control and adaptability to changing track conditions.
At the end of the day, whether road or oval, all drivers push their cars to the limit to try and beat everyone else on the track. Oval and road racing are more similar than they are different. Drivers have to find the grip limits of their respective cars, and maneuver around traffic in order to get to the checkered flag first. Many drivers can run both disciplines competitively, but few can do them at the top level. As similar as these two sides are, they still take a different mindset to compete in each, and at the core have different cultures attached to them. But with that being said, racing is racing, and a true race fan will enjoy anything on wheels that goes fast!
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.
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.
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.
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.
In the following series of blog posts we’re trying to shed some light on the various hardware parts you need to have or – for some parts – should have. To make the chunks of information a little smaller and easier to digest, this is split into the multiple posts. See also ‘the PC & screens‘, and the summary.
In the following series of blog posts we’re trying to shed some light on the various hardware parts you need to have or – for some parts – should have. To make the chunks of information a little smaller and easier to digest, this is split into the multiple posts. See also ‘steering wheel, pedals & rig‘, and a summary.
Simracing is brutal. You may think of yourself as a real racing driver, having raced in the likes of Gran Turismo or Forza Motorsport, only to be proven utterly wrong while racing on similar tracks in similar cars in a full-bred racing simulator. Here’s what help you can expect from us.