The lack of excuses!

When I look at the lap records for a given track, I am usually in the top quarter, quite often in the top ten percent. Yet the gap to the top drivers seems positively cavernous and, quite simply, unachievable, even if I sold the wife and kids and devoted the remainder of my life to sim racing!

I am prompted to write this article having just set a personal best at Watkins Glen Boot in the Skippy. Suitably encouraged, I decided to look up the fast times and was dismayed to see Luke McLean heading the time sheets, more than two seconds faster. Now two seconds seems an eternity in top-class race series in identical cars. Think of Luca Badoer, two seconds off team mate Kimi Raikkonen’s pace in last year’s F1 Ferrari, and you get the idea.

Can't keep up with Luke McLean?  Don't worry, you've got lots of company!

Can't keep up with Luke McLean? Don't worry, you've got lots of company!

Yet to add some perspective, Badoer was the 1992 F3000 champion, beating F1 winners David Coulthard, Rubens Barrichello and Olivier Panis in doing so. He may not have been true F1 world class material, but his career was pretty unkind to him and his big chance was probably doomed to be a very public failure. Even Badoer’s replacement Giancarlo Fisichella hardly shined, which suggests seat time in the F60 may have been a real issue. For Badoer to have achieved what he did is significant.

This example does help to add some perspective though; if an F3000 champion is as far off the pace of the world class drivers as I am off the pace of the world class sim racers, then maybe those of us staring glumly at the time sheets should take some encouragement.

As we move down the classes, the gaps between drivers becomes much greater. An SCCA Spec Racer qualifying session can see the grid separated by up to ten seconds from front to back, evenly spread too. In spite of the name, all Spec Racers aren’t equal. Cars with old engines and used tires will be at a disadvantage, and, of course, some drivers can afford to risk repairs more than others. There will always be some rationale for grid placement beyond simple talent.

In sim racing, we may look at our racing equipment as an explanation, and of course some wheels and pedals, or other controllers, are a liability. However, many of the world’s best sim racers run with very standard equipment. Paying for top end equipment can increase the enjoyment, but it isn’t a prerequisite for being at the front of the grid as it is in many real-world series.

Instead, talent and practice are the key requirements to be a top sim racer, and it seems the more talented need less practice. For an England Club race at Sebring, we were joined by Pro Series champion Richard Towler in the Skip Barber car. Richard hadn’t driven the Skippy for ages and never at Sebring. We all watched as he put in his practice times, enthralled to see we were competitive with him for the first two laps. Then he lit up the time sheet, and we all shook our heads!

It didn't take Richard Towler long to make the rest of the field look pretty average at Sebring.

It didn't take Richard Towler long to make the rest of the field look pretty average at Sebring.

Accepting that people are more talented than we are is tough, and it rather goes against the make-up of a racer, but equally we shouldn’t beat ourselves up about it. We don’t have the excuses that some real-world race drivers have, but if we recognise that the Huttus, Towlers and McLeans of the online racing world are at the very highest level, we can gain some perspective of our own performance and enjoy our personal achievements all the more.

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Nice article Tony.

alex ulleri
July 19th, 2010 at 7:24 pm

What sucks is when you’re capable of matching those top times with 500 laps of practice… and then you don’t have time for 500 laps of practice each week. That is what I hate most. I can run those lap times, but I need absurd amounts of practice time developing muscle memory to do it. What makes things worse is I can’t do anything else in the meantime because it’ll cause me to take a step back on my other car/track combo.

This is why I really like the world tour events. I can dedicate a lot of time to a single car/track and the results for it are more satisfying than practicing all week in the Skip Barber at Watkins Glen and ending up with a top 5 finish.

So Dear iRacing,

Please give us an oval and road “world tour du fun” bi-weekly event! 2 6 month seasons!

Ryan Terpstra
July 19th, 2010 at 9:54 pm

Very nicely written Tony, great read!!

July 20th, 2010 at 11:49 am

Spot on. It’s strange isn’t it? Most of us would probably be OK with finding out we weren’t all that good at ballroom dancing or particle physics, but finding out that we are not god’s gift to racing can be a tough process, psychologically speaking. Better to do it sooner than later though!

Jason Noble
July 21st, 2010 at 7:49 am

How funny! It absolutely nails the fragile ego element us sim-racers have: I can live with the fact I am not going to be able to kick a ball like Beckham, but tell me that I will never be able to match a Towler lap time and I go into denial…

Mark A Warmington
August 7th, 2010 at 6:46 pm

Great read. If you spend enough time at this, especially in one car, you will get better. I’m realistic enough to know
that I’ll never match the top guys, though I keep trying to narrow the gap. I set my goal to besting my previous season’s statistics and that keeps thing more enjoyable.

Gary Teall
September 16th, 2010 at 12:23 pm

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