Let’s hit a topic that attracts many opinions and has big relevance in the world of driver development / preparation.
Simulators; love them or hate them they have sky rocketed in popularity over recent years, race teams and facilities are spending thousands (even millions) of pounds/euros/dollars on creating a driving experience that helps give an alternative for the lack of track time we get.
They offer a controllable environment for drivers to prepare for each race and test so why wouldn’t they be the perfect tool to use?
Well that’s what this blog is about, to expose the truths about driving simulators and the way drivers are using them. The main goal for this blog is to unearth whether you personally are wasting your time when on a simulator.
Yes many drivers are wasting their time on simulators.
Simulators are great tools for self-improvement but as with every tool they must to be used in the correct way. This is where many drivers and simulator operators screw up.
I can’t tell you the amount of times I have asked a driver how their Sim session went and they answer with something like - “Yeah it went well, I managed to do a quicker lap time than my team mate”.
Did you really just say that?
That’s like beating Tiger Woods on a golf simulator down the pub and this causing you to believe that you can win this year’s U.S Open. Come on get real.
If you find yourself stroking your ego like this then maybe it’s time you got a reality check and started racing against the top boys on iRacing. You will be doing well if you can get within 2 seconds of their lap times, and yes most of the top online racers have never driven a real race car, figure that.
This is when you need to be more intelligent when using a simulator, you must face that they are not going to be a perfect representation of reality. Lap time should never be your main goal or your only way of judging if it was a good Sim session or not.
The truths about simulators.
To make sure that you are fully using a simulator to help you improve then you need to be clear on the following facts. You need to really understand the plus and minus sides in terms of realism.
Once you have done this you can build a training program that helps you become better and prepare more effectively for the race weekend ahead.
Here are the facts about simulators…
On the Realistic / Plus side:
1) It costs less to turn laps in a Sim compared to your real car
2) You can test as much as you like
3) It is very good at helping you learn a new track
4) You can teach yourself race car setups and what certain adjustments do
5) It can be used as a great tool to prepare for race weekends if done correctly
6) Personal mental weaknesses that you get in the real car often show up in a Sim
On the Unrealistic / Minus side:
1) You cannot really be injured when crashing (yes this is a minus point because it takes away consequence and one of driver’s main fears)
2) There can be a lack of immersion
3) The G force is not created correctly
4) The feel is different to your real race car
5) The tyre wear is different
6) The driving style can differ to your car
7) It’s less physical
8) The ambience is not quite right
9) The aggressiveness is toned down
10) The circuit models (corner angles, kerbs, cambers, tarmac, references, etc) are hit and miss
11) The brake pedal and steering will usually feel different to your car
I bet you can mention more but let’s leave it at that for now.
So, if you take all the above into account, a) I think you can see it’s pointless to have lap times as your main goal and b) just take the time to ask yourself ‘With all this in mind how can I best use a simulator to help me improve?’
This is where we get to the heart of the truth. This is where simulators are so damn valuable and if done correctly they can transform your on-track results.
What answers do you come up with?
Just take the time to note some answers down because you will come up with something I haven’t even thought of.
How to make simulators a valuable tool!
Let me share with you how I use simulators with my drivers and how I have heard others use them as a real training tool.
First off get clear on what you can train on a simulator, here is another list:
1) How to control your emotions when driving
2) How to do a quick lap on demand
3) How to recover your pace/concentration after making mistakes
4) Accessing your personal performance zone
5) Your vision
6) Dealing with pressure from behind if in a race format
8) Getting up to speed quickly
9) Performing directly in front of people if in a crowded room
10) Ability to receive instruction whilst driving
11) Learning how to overcome frustration
12) How to drive without braking references
13) How to control under and oversteer (if on a good Sim)
14) To practice radio points with your engineer
15) To learn how to work with a new engineer
16) How to take certain corners (if model is perfect)
17) Help distinguish the most important corners for lap time
18) Practicing long runs
19) Tyre warming process (just the procedure)
20) Practice driver changes, being immediately on pace after driver change
…..to mention a few.
If you take a look at that list I am sure there are a few areas which you could be better at when in a test or race event.
If so then a simulator is perfect for setting up realistic drills that focus solely on those areas.
Make sure you have a good operator / coach.
If you are going to a simulator facility then insist on having an operator / coach who understands what your personal goals are. They must be the type of person who can create the right environment and help you work on what is important to you.
Do not let them get carried away with the lap time and comparing data too much because that can often hurt you and again waste time on things that may not translate to reality.
By all means if you are on a cutting edge simulator then data may be useful but if you are not and you know for sure that the corners are wrong then be careful with data.
Use your imagination.
You know what simulators are good and not so good at replicating so with these features you must sit down and think of ways in which you could use them for helping you become a better driver, a better performer on track.
Maybe you could schedule Sim sessions that match the strange timetable that your next race has, for example a week or so before your 24hour endurance race you could test what it’s like to drive your 1AM to 4AM night stint, even with the race format set to a night time race. I know it is a small thing but at least you’ve then done it before you go to the 24hour race weekend.
Or even better if you notice that your performance levels drop after lunch make sure that you go on the Sim every day after lunch to figure out how you can best overcome that issue. Whether it is mental, what you eat for lunch or how you can otherwise stimulate the body to keep focused.
I have found that simulators are a vital tool to help you make up for the lack of track time you get and if you use one that is set up well it can allow you to make huge leaps in your mental game.
On the set up side you just need to get the car to react in a similar way to your real race car, you need it to sound similar and make sure it is not trying to kill you every time you touch a kerb.
Use your imagination, create realistic environments and you can really use simulators to make a difference.