by Katier Scott on November 15th, 2012
So you’ve always wanted to be a racing driver, you’ve decided to turn your back on arcade games and concentrate on one of the most inexpensive forms of full-on motorsport: iRacing.com. But you’ve never raced against other sim-racers before. The question running around your head, therefore, is just when should you actually line-up on a grid and go racing?
The straight answer is sooner than you might think. But before you even join a practice session it’s worth doing some preparation.
1) Read the Sporting Code paying attention to the sections on communication, protests and most importantly iRating and Safety Racing (SR).
2) Watch ALL of the driving school videos.
3) Turn off voice completely.
4) Turn off text chat in races – both of these options are in the setup options in-sim so you will do this when you first enter the sim.
5) Understand the series and how they work. The Rookie classes are fixed setup to help make things easier to get into but even once you move to class D or some Class C setups are pretty universal, track to track.
Now practice! Join a practice session using the relevant option for the series you want to run (Mazda MX5 on road and Street Stock on Ovals) then practice until you’re able to string full race distances together with minimal incidents (one or two for every 10 laps is fine at this stage) and no spins while maintaining a consistent laptime. At Lime Rock for starters, lap times in the 1:02 is fine as long as all your laps in a race distance run are within 1-1.5s.
Consistency is the key at this point. If you’re consistent and putting in solid times then you’re ready to race . . . and you may as well race sooner rather than later because right now you’re learning. Ratings, race wins and being simply fast don’t matter anything like as much as actually learning to race!
If you read the forums, and once you get in races, you’ll see people saying “I’ll just let you past” or “I’m here for SR.” IMO both of these are pointless. It’s iRacing not iCruising or iHotlapping, and as such the only way you can properly improve is to race!!
Firstly run a qualifying session and set a time. Given you’re not a front runner this may seem weird, but the trickiest corner on any race track is Turn 1 on Lap One and by qualifying you reduce the chances of being involved in someone else’s mistake.
Another thing you’ll see is drivers being advised to start from the pits. While there is some logic to that, again it’s just not worth it. The only way you can get used to the starts of races . . . is to start races!!
Now it’s obvious that early on you’ll make mistakes, spin under pressure, crash during passing moves or make any number of other mistakes. This is where you need to separate yourself from emotion and also be prepared to analyse. Should you crash your car (or be taken out) in Rookie and Class D, you are eligible to get a new car. Always take advantage of this by using Shift-R to tow to the pits. Then complete the race; if you keep the rest of the race clean you’ll probably gain Safety Rating.
The forums are your friend at this stage as more experienced racers will be more than willing to advise where you went wrong should you be involved in an incident. Use their advice, take it on board and improve your driving because of it. Remember to save replays after each online race so you can cuts bits out and attach them to forum posts.
At this stage you shouldn’t be thinking about advancing to the next license levels, although a few fairly clean (4-5 inc/race maximum) complete races will soon get you a D-Licence. My advice is to focus on learning your trade a bit longer before moving up. The other thing that will happen if you’re consistently finishing races is that you’ll soon find yourself in higher splits.
On the road side especially this will mean that you will not be able to rely on people falling off to improve your finishing position. In your initial races you will probably have finished mid-pack or higher, simply by being able to run consistent, clean races. As soon as you hit higher splits this happens less frequently and the fact you have been practicing racing means you have a better chance of achieving good results in these higher splits.
Before we get that far, however, it’s worth at least understanding some basic theory.
Early on, most of your overtaking will be simply taking advantage of other drivers’ mistakes. Thus most of your early involvement in passing moves is likely on the receiving end. Initially, just concentrate on sticking to your racing lines; later on as your situational awareness improves you’ll start looking at more advanced lines and then my article on http://www.iracing.com/inracingnews/iracing-news/the-art-of-racecraft is vital reading.
Sticking to your racing lines is also important if you’re being lapped. Lapping is a unique form of being overtaken (or overtaking) and the best way of handling it is to let the car lapping you ‘make the move’ – once it’s clear the driver is looking to overtake then you can brake a touch early or lift slightly to aid them in the move. But don’t move off line unless you can telegraph the move early. As such, for a beginner just drive your own race and stick to your lines. Don’t worry about the other drivers. Force them to work around you.
When you do want to make a move on a slower driver, then patience can be useful. But the key is understanding how to overtake. Overtaking in a pass for position is a complex beast, but in simple terms it can be broken down into before, mid-corner and post-corner.
Before a corner is when you’ve had a run on a driver, maybe in the form of a slight tow, moved offline and braked later than your competitor. This form of overtaking is known as ‘out braking’ and should always be basically completed at the point of turn-in. If you force an overlap after turn-in, it’s most likely a divebomb – see the art of racecraft for more information on that . . .
Mid-corner passes can and do happen, usually when a driver has missed an apex, run wide and given the following driver room. Or when two drivers have gone in side-by-side and the overtaking driver makes a move around the outside.
Post-corner usually occurs when the overtaking driver gets an overspeed through the corner and makes a move under acceleration — sometimes assisted by a draft. As such it is the simplest form of making a passing move.
As you gain experience you’ll start to learn that while overtaking is based on the above, it can be a lot more complex, a beast, in fact. It’s common for closely matched drivers to execute passes that take several corners. Situational awareness and a cool head – make that two cool heads — is the key to those “multi-corner” overtaking maneuvers.
This is one of the most vital skills in all of racing, as without it you cannot pull-off overtakes, work-out strategies and adjust your driving to changing events.
There are two parts to situational awareness. Both are equally important, but one is much harder to achieve well compared to the other.
The first part is the overall race position. Are you gaining/losing time with respect to the cars ahead and behind? Where is the leader? Is the leader likely to lap you?
You only need to worry about these questions once a lap – or even less than that if things are changing more slowly. F3 allows you to get an ‘overall’ view of the cars on track but I generally run with F2 as my main blackbox view as I prefer its information. F3 is then flicked up on the tracks longest straight to see if I need to worry about other cars.
The second part is more immediate awareness and, again, this is a skill you can only fine-tune in racing situations. One of the most important tools is your spotter, as he will call when a car has an overlap and which side the overlap is.
In addition, use your mirrors. If a car moves through your mirror in a forwards direction then the assumption must be that they have an overlap. As such give the car space on that side of the track.
This kind of awareness is an art and not something a newbie will instantly pick-up. But it is something to be aware of and this ‘local’ situational awareness is the biggest skill any driver needs to learn once they know how to drive the car consistently.
A quick point about spotters: There are now two types of spotter, the automatic spotter is the one that has always been in iRacing and ‘calls’ slow cars, lap times and cars which have an overlap. It should always be enabled as it is a crucial element of close hard racing.
Human spotters were enabled in the latest build (November 2012 ) but should be treated in a strategic sense, rather than for instant, real time decisions: the lag caused by the Internet means that overlapping and similar calls are just not fast enough to be practical. This is purely the result of the technological limitations of the internet as a whole, and would be the same if the spotter was using something like Teamspeak instead.
As such human spotters should be used to give pitting information (although the auto-spotter does call leader pitting), incidents such as major pileups a corner or two ahead, how many laps drivers have done on tyres and other useful but ‘slower’ information.
As you can see racing is a complex beast and the fact is drivers make mistakes throughout their career. Even world champions make mistakes, so anyone who is a rookie will make mistakes. But the important thing is to not be scared, try to drive smoothly and concentrate on consistent laps before you worry about matching the times of drivers who have 1000s of laps under their belts.
Above all get out and race and have fun!