Q: “I started with sim racing in March last year. I hit a plateau after a while and – by sheer luck – got into telemetry, where I am able to compare my lap to a reference from an eSports professional. This improved my driving, as I got to see and feel closer than ever before, what makes a car go fast. So, here is my question: if I want to spend two hours a week on consciously improving my driving style and technique – instead of just practicing for my next league race – what kind of drills or exercises would you recommend?”
A: I’ve created a resource precisely for this type of situation. It’s called the Sim Race Academy, and besides having a huge library of information to help sim racers be even better, there are specific practice drills. Hopefully I won’t be giving away all the secrets… but here are a few, with brief descriptions.
Fast-fast: Many drivers – especially track drivers – take way too long to get up to speed. They go on track, take 3 laps to warm up their tires, another 2 or 3 to get their mind engaged, and then they begin to push harder. So, it’s about 6 laps into the session before they really begin to learn, and then it takes another 3 or 4 to get the maximum out of the tires and really learn what the track conditions are like. The best drivers have a pre-drive routine to ensure that their minds are ready the second they leave pit lane. So, learning how to get fast, fast is critical. I have drivers get on the sim (with no tire blankets, so the tires are cold), do 5 laps, with laps 3-5 at maximum. Then they stand up, walk around, do something else, and then get back on the sim and do the same thing. Then again. And again. The goal is to be able to sit in the sim and be at maximum pace by your 3rd lap, every time. It’s mostly about your mindset and mental prep – and practicing it over and over again.
Braking: Spend 20-30 minutes in each practice session solely focused on braking. Explaining every detail of this would take an hour of typing, but I would spend X number of laps focused on looking ahead for what I call the End-of-Braking (EoB) point – that point where your foot has finally come off the brake pedal – and try making it earlier or later in different corners. Then I’d focus on experimenting with the timing and rate of release of the brakes. You can begin releasing the brakes early but slow; early but fast; late but slow; late but fast. Each of these timings and rates of release of the pedal will make the car respond differently. If you consciously and deliberately experiment with this, you’ll get better at adapting to what the car needs in different corners. I’d also spend X number of laps just making sure the initial application of the pedal was hard enough, and then the release was timed just right to keep the tires at their limit.
Corner Exit: Spend 20 minutes where all you do is focus on doing whatever it takes to get to full power sooner. It’s not when you initially begin to apply the throttle that matters most; it’s when you get to full throttle that matters most (most times). If you begin to apply the throttle early, but then have to hesitate or even ease up on the throttle to stay on the track at the exit, you probably should have delayed that initial application for a fraction of a second. That would probably mean you get to full throttle sooner exiting the corner. So, practice that.
Focus: The best drivers in the world lose their focus as much as anyone else. The difference is they regain it faster than most. They have a trigger/word/phrase (whether they realize it or not) that helps them regain it. So, drive as many laps as you can in row without losing focus, and then when you do lose it – because you will if you’re human – use a phrase like “eyes up – look ahead” to bring your focus back on what’s coming up (rather than on what your mind focused on, like the mistake you made in that past corner, or how you’re doing in comparison to others). In other words, practice regaining your focus.
Consistency: If your best lap is a 1:30.00, then drive for 30 minutes at 1:31.00. The idea is to drive as many laps as you can about one second off your ultimate fast lap time. You should be able to drive 20 laps or so within half a second of that 1:31.00. A funny thing will often happen after doing this: you’ll find that your new fast lap is now a 1:29.50.
Min speed: Spend 20-30 minutes solely focused on rolling more minimum speed through every corner (but focus on no more than 3 corners at first). You’ve been told that slow in, fast out is the best way to drive, right? And that getting to throttle early is the best thing to do. Well, one way of getting to full throttle early in a corner is to enter it at 1 MPH! You could turn in and immediately go to full throttle, but you’d be slow because you’d be starting from too low a speed. Of course, if you carry too much min speed through a corner, it will delay when you can get back to full throttle. But spend time over-driving that min speed – carrying too much speed. Then you’ll be better at determining when you’re over-driving and under-driving the car.
Vision: Due to the limitations of screens and even VR glasses, some sim racers develop a habit of not looking far enough ahead, and especially not turning their head enough when turning into corners. Spend 15 minutes on a regular basis just focused on looking farther ahead, and turning your head. Then spend time moving your vision around, scanning ahead, using your peripheral, etc.
Sensory Input Sessions: Spend 15 minutes with all your attention on soaking up more auditory information; then 15 minutes soaking up more visual information; then 15 minutes soaking up more kinesthetic information. Obviously, with most sims, you’re not getting much kinesthetic feedback, but usually there is some amount of feedback through speakers and the steering wheel. The more you focus just on these senses, one at a time, the more sensitive you’ll be to the limits of your car.
Okay, that should give you a good start. Again, I didn’t go into great detail on each drill, but I think you have enough to figure out how to do them. From here, you could write up a practice program, such as Monday you do this and that; then Tuesday, you do these two drills; and so on. The fact that you’re thinking about a practice strategy/plan will put you miles ahead of most who simply practice by racing, right?