Hawaiian Steven Diem, a strong contender in the iRacing Mazda MX-5 Cup championship, is a very characteristic chap for the Aloha state. I had the pleasure of sitting down and asking Mr. Diem a few questions about his sim racing career and his approach to the iRacing.com Mazda MX-5 Cup . . .
How did you hear about iRacing and what made you join the service?
I heard about iRacing back in 2007 I believe it was, then later joined in 2010. I would’ve joined earlier but I was really committed to another sim’s Formula 1 league. What made me join the service was the level of competition, the graphics, and most of all the online multiplayer structure, which I still think is the best out there among any other sim.
What inspired you to run the the Mazda Cup this season?
What inspired me to join the Mazda Cup this season (and last season) was the chance to participate and hopefully win the annual Mazda Club Racer Shootout. My dream is to become a professional racecar driver and living in Hawaii there are pretty much no opportunities to race. So when I heard about this Mazda Shootout I jumped at the opportunity and have dedicated a great deal of time and energy into trying to win it.
How do you prepare yourself before a critical race? Maybe a pre-race snack or a focus moment?
This summer in Hawaii it has been consistently 90 degrees with around 70% humidity and low winds so I like to have a big cup of ice water within reach of my left hand and cold wet bandana wrapped around my head.
Mentally, I try to do some form of meditative breathing to just stay calm in the moments leading up to a race. I’ve been sim racing for about 16 years and some of my most stressful moments have been just before a critical race in the Mazda Cup series this season. When I’m in a heated battle, or I’m in the lead I try to trick my mind into thinking the race is meaningless and I’m just practicing offline. I like to recall what it felt like when I was just practicing by myself and it usually helps to loosen me up and not be so stiff when racing in stressful situations.
What are your practice methods?
Basically I just go out there and do a bunch of laps with the aid of the lap time delta feature to see where I can improve, corner by corner. With fixed setups the key is finding those final thousandths of a second through a lot of trial and error and a strengthening of your muscle memory.
Once I feel like I’m at my limit I then focus on hitting consistent lap times for a race distance. I like to pick a lap time that for me is unacceptable, then make an effort to stay under it during a race distance. I keep practicing until I no longer hit that unacceptable lap time over the course of a race.
Do you have any tips for a new driver looking to race MX-5s?
Stay with it. Don’t be discouraged if you are off the pace. Even for me when I first started driving the MX-5 I was way off the pace but I stuck with it and figured out what made the fast guys as fast as they are. Also focus on hitting every apex. I know that sounds so basic but when I watch replays of a lot of novice drivers I notice they aren’t hitting the apexes at all and if they focused on hitting them they could drop a lot of time off their personal best laps.
What is your favorite track on the iRacing Mazda Cup schedule?
My favorite track on the Mazda Cup schedule is Laguna Seca, and it just so happens to be one of my favorite tracks of all time. I’m not very fast at this track but it is by far the most challenging track on the calendar. There are a lot of moments that require you to manage the weight transfer in order to get a fast lap. If you get it wrong it’s so easy to lose time and position on track.
Why the MX-5 over any other car on the service?
I’m driving the MX-5 this season because of the Mazda Shootout prize but I can honestly say that this car provides the most exciting racing out of any other car I’ve driven in iRacing. In fact I already joined an MX-5 league and will be racing after this season of the Mazda Cup is done. The racing is that good.
What is your greatest sim racing achievement to the date?
If I win the chance to participate in the Mazda Shootout then that would be my greatest sim-racing achievement because it wasn’t a hot lap competition; it was intense head-to-head races with some really talented drivers for 12 weeks.
Aside from that I can think of two others, one being making it to the final 16 at Silverstone through the GT Academy program, and the second would be beating Atze Kerkhof in a legitimate head-to-head race in an F1 mod on an rFactor-based sim. I should qualify that by saying he was in the middle of fighting for the DWC here in iRacing so I’m sure he didn’t practice much . . . but I’m still proud of it considering Atze is one of the greatest sim racers of all time.