Small speed advantages often come down to lots of simple changes. Some of them are technique based, some technical, some strategic and others purely mental. In the next few weeks, I intend to cover some of these topics. Here is my first tip to improve your sim racing pace.
Tip 1: The throttle and brake are merely an extension of the cars’ steering
As I’ve spoken about previously, the relationship between your hands and feet, in my opinion, are inseparable. The rubber band analogy was posited as an explanation back in the first article I wrote about how this all works together.
Imagine if you will that you have an ideal setup: Balanced, agile, with stability and instability at the times when you need it most.
Now what that means to the individual is a subjective matter. Drivers have different interpretations of ‘Balanced’. Personally, I like a car that understeers slightly with a stable rear end – until I get aggressive on the throttle. It’s a window to be aggressive - big enough to provide me the confidence to push to the limit (and sometimes past it) or drive within my comfort zone. Basically, I could shift the car balance when I need to, which is a very handy skill to have up ones’ sleeve – given how a cars’ balance will shift as a race goes on.
We recently raced the F138 Ferrari at Hockenheim in Assetto Corsa, in our online Formula One championship, where I would consider the stadium section the most tricky to navigate of that circuit. The last few turns, in particular, require patience on the throttle. My setup felt perfect to me: A slight touch of understeer (entering the 2nd last turn in 4th gear) for stability, with the ability to pick up the throttle slightly early mid-way through the last turn and cause the rears to spin up if I so desired, tipping the balance from slight understeer to slight oversteer. Notice I said ‘slightly’ early on the throttle caused ‘slight’ oversteer. It’s a relative term, not an absolute, but safe to say the car was doing as I expected based on my own perception of how aggressive I was driving it.
This may seem like a foreign concept to some sim drivers, but I assure you, mastering the art of setup and marrying that with your own driving style will make you lethal. It’s like being able to adjust your setup on the fly - simply by changing your approach. But how do you get there if you don’t know how to set up a car? Well, the two are interlinked to some extent, but I’ll do my best to decode the two from one another for you.
It’s important to understand what you like or expect from a car, and what you don’t like. If you cannot differentiate car handling from your own (perhaps, overly aggressive or clumsy) driving style, this could make matters more difficult to discern the two from one another, but it’s not impossible.
I see other drivers often attacking their steering aggressively in replays, likely because they haven’t mastered their pedals enough, and so they end up making lots of unnecessary corrections. Whether your setup is ideal or not, there is a simple technique to get closer to understanding the ultimate question: Is the bigger issue poor car handling or my own inputs?
Try this exercise:
Smooth out all of your steering inputs to the point of exaggeration and resolve to build speed gradually, pushing more and more every lap, avoiding all sharp steering movements (where possible). The more you move the steering, the more you risk scrubbing off speed, so it’s vital that you keep all steering inputs as slow as possible. The smoother the better! It’s also important to adhere strongly to the racing line (watch/study faster drivers if you don’t know what the best line is).
This will hopefully highlight a few things to you:
- Whether the car balance is changing as expected
- If your expectations of the car cornering performance are realistic
- A combination of the above two points
If the line you want to take a turn is observed as ‘correct’, but the car resists turning in time due to the amount of throttle you apply (resulting in mid-corner or turn-in understeer), adjust your throttle input amount and see if a change occurs immediately and exactly as you would expect (relative to your inputs). If the change happens too quickly or unexpectedly, such as off-throttle snap oversteer, then your setup is likely a major culprit. You must address this as best as you are able.
Generally speaking: If you apply throttle or brake input that causes the car to deviate from the racing line at any point throughout a lap, and backing off fixes the handling problem in your expected time frame, then you can logically conclude that your driving approach is working within the bounds of that setup.
However, if you find you are still relatively slow compared to fast drivers, you can make an educated assumption that your setup is limiting your ability to go faster. Not an easy fix without some setup knowledge - but you can at least blame the car (for now!) Unfortunately, some setup knowledge is a non-negotiable component to getting faster and so always read the descriptions in setup menus - read between the lines.
For example, I am experiencing too much oversteer when exiting fast turns when riding over bumps, but I am generally happy with my setup elsewhere. I may turn to the damper section of my setup menu for tweaks and read through the descriptions, looking carefully for sentences that describe the behaviour I am experiencing - or indeed the exact opposite behaviour (if I increase or decrease a value).
In the above case, increasing the rear FST Bump value appears to produce more of the behavior I don’t want to experience. Lowering that value seems like a logical choice, given I am experiencing instability at the rear over bumps. The numbers don’t matter so much as your personal experience driving the car, so it’s important to test and confirm your intended setup direction. You’ll know what to do next time you experience this behavior and get progressively better at setting up the car.
What’s interesting is that, as you gain skill as a driver and more setup experience, your expectations of the car change. Why? Your ability to push harder with a more unstable car increases. The challenge then becomes: How can I get the car to do the impossible? That’s when you really start to explore the outer limits of the car and your own abilities. You begin to deliberately persuade the car because you have the skill to head off every attack before it happens, reading it’s every move and countering it, like a graceful dance on the tarmac. Pretty soon what others see from the outside is a fast driver who hardly ever second guesses a braking or turn-in point, who is smooth on the steering and throttle, and always seems in command of their car (and not the other way around). In reality, you will have mastered driving to the limit of your setup and have the muscle coordination to do just about anything – including driving with a less than ideal setup. You’re not working harder, necessarily, just smarter - more efficient.
Which brings me back to that ‘rubber band’ analogy: If you follow my advice and limit your steering movements to essential moves only, you’ll begin to understand this relationship between hands and feet, and how they work in tandem together to help you steer and direct the car. By limiting the steering to smooth inputs, you leave fewer questions as to what to do with your feet to adapt the car to the racing line. You may also conclude that a lower or higher gear is a better option, based on the rev range it occupies, and how that affects the cars’ handling responsiveness.
I believe improvement comes from self-development, creating those hand & feet connections, in parallel with becoming better and more discerning of setup changes - becoming more comfortable with instability.
If you have good footwork skills and unwaveringly-smooth steering inputs, you will be fast. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with making small steering corrections, such as when exploring grip limits, but those moments should be brief and decisive – like an artist drawing a circle.
Is it better to draw in one decisive and measured stroke or multiple (inaccurate) strokes?
The choice is yours, but I can attest that the former approach is always more efficient (and faster!)