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Nathan McDougal

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  1. Racing can at times be brutal for new racers. The ideas we have about how our races will go, often don’t match the reality of where we are as drivers. Almost everybody is going to picture themselves up near the front and battling for position. We imagine making quick, clean passes and taking positions from other drivers. This is not always going to be the case however. The truth is, as you get better every position on track gets harder and harder to take. And yes, you will have to TAKE them most of the time. As you move your way up the field the margins get smaller and smaller. The laps get closer and closer. You’ll find that even passing one car can be quite a challenge. This is where learning more about the racing line can help. The Racing Line The racing line may seem like a pretty simple thing. It’s something we all learn about when we first start racing or even when watching other people race. The racing line represents the fastest way around the track. Tight apex into corners, wide line on straights to setup the next braking zone. There are even tactics involving late apex which can at times allow for better exit speed from the corner. The line can vary depending on the driver, but for most it is the same line around the track. The racing line is great when practicing or qualifying but sadly, just knowing where you’re the fastest won’t make you a complete driver. To become a complete driver, you must know how to use all of the track. The Rest of the Track To compete with other drivers, you have to be able to do a lot more than qualify. You have to know how to race side by side with other cars, also known as Wheel to Wheel racing or W2W for short. In some motorsports, such as oval racing, this is common and less difficult. What we are talking about is road racing however, and there it can be dangerous (at least in the real world) if you’re not prepared. To prepare yourself you need to know all of the track you are racing. This is something you can only learn by practicing off the racing line. Things like driving inside into a hard-braking zone instead of outside, entering a chicane from the wrong side of the track and taking long slow corners around the outside of the track amongst other unconventional moves will get you ready for side by side racing. You won’t be able to just blow past people when racing in a competitive class. This means you must know how to battle. If you have sufficiently practiced driving off the racing line, then you will be better prepared to battle. Being prepared will give you an advantage over a large portion of the field. At this point you just have to hope that your opponent will either yield, or that they too are comfortable racing a tightened line. Sadly, a lot of drivers cannot handle racing off the line and this can lead to accidents. All the more reason for you to be fully prepared. This kind of preparation leads to rewarding racing. It will allow you to have some of the most epic battles of your racing career. Most of all, it’ll make you a fully competent driver who is ready for whatever his opponents throw at him. Take some time to learn whatever track you are racing next. Then once you have it down, mix things up and experiment off the racing line. See how fast you can be while not in prime position. This will make you a better driver as you’ll be better prepared to make up for any lost time when an opponent pushes you off your line.
  2. Maybe you’re just getting started as a sim racer, or maybe you’ve been away from racing for a while and you’ve just come back. Maybe you’ve simply fallen into a rut you can’t pull yourself out of. Consider that you may be racing in the wrong series before giving up. We all have our favorite motorsports and the types of racing we love most. Maybe you love real F1 so you want to race F1 right off the bat. Maybe it’s GT3, Indy, or Prototype cars. Let’s look at “where we want to be” vs “where we actually are”. Where we want to be We all want to drive the fastest cars possible. We first got our new wheel and pedals. We don’t fire up American Truck Simulator (most of us anyway). Instead you jump straight into racing. We want to feel the rush of fast corners and high speed braking zones. We want to fly through the gears while making passes and eating up somebody’s slipstream. The thing we don’t envision is puttering around a track in slow and mostly unexciting track-day cars or worse, turning painfully long laps while trying to gain seconds with a car that seemingly won’t move. The problem is as a newer driver, you probably aren’t ready for the top class of cars. You’d be doing well to turn decent laps in a high-downforce, high-performance car. After all, the racing that you are simulating requires the best drivers in the world. Why would a simulation of that be good for beginners? But, even if you can run the laps to keep up you are not a seasoned driver yet. To compete against other drivers or AI you have to know how to attack, how to stay off of somebody’s rear bumper, how to pass cleanly, and follow the basic rules of racing. Let’s say you’re racing an F1 car, a Prototype, or an Indy car. That means you have to make all the judgements and decisions of a respectful racing driver in a fraction of the time allotted in slower cars. You are trying to learn the most extreme type of racing in the world without even knowing how to drive like that yet. The truth is, you’d be better suited to stay in a “beginner’s class” while learning how to race. Yes, it seems less fun at first. Yes, it’s less speed and less impressive cars. But trust me, it can be just as rewarding as the higher classes. The hours spent driving in these cars allow for you to learn racing lines, learn how to pass properly, how to follow the track’s limitations, and even how to follow a pit strategy. This will make you a better driver later in your career. If you skip this part you may never learn a lot of the finer points to racing. If you put in the time to learn how to be a good, clean competitor, then you will be able to slowly move your way up the racing ladder. But be warned, you may fall in love with some of the slower classes of racing. They are ultra competitive and offer some of the best close racing you’ll find anywhere. Where we actually are It can be tough to swallow the fact that you just aren’t cut out for your favorite type of racing yet. What you have to remember is that the guys who race in real life had to move their way up too. There are very few people who can fly up the flag pole to the top of Motorsport. Have an honest conversation with yourself and do some testing. Run some slower classes of cars and see how you like them. You’re most likely going to land in a class that trains newer drivers how to race. We were all there at some point. Some of us never moved on from the slower classes of racing. You never know, you might find a new favorite class or even type of motorsport such as rally, drift, drag and so on. I’m a big fan of the lower level formula cars; open wheelers that are less aero dependent, and a lot slower, but still offer quick-twitch racing. Give them a try. Tons of drivers run the MX-5 cars in iRacing and other sims. They are a great entry point for new racers. My point is: find a level of racing where you can learn as you go. If you dive into the deep end, it can be overwhelming and can take the fun out of racing.
  3. When you enter a race, you don’t plan on crashing. You don’t expect to do it to anybody else and you don’t expect them to do it to you. But there’s a pretty good chance that it’s going to happen. We’ve all been taken out in turn 1 at some point or another, by some overly eager driver who tried to out-brake everybody. We’ve all been wrecked by passes that were either too aggressive, or made in a bad part of the track. Crashing is a part of racing to some extent. Sadly, in sim racing it’s far more common than real racing. People face no physical harm and no repercussions so they feel much more invincible. Crashing, a lot of times happens simply by accident. Maybe you’re making a pass and accidentally clip the car you’re passing. Maybe you don’t brake at the proper time and rammed into the back of someone. These and many other kinds of mistakes can happen at any time. We’re going to talk about what you should do and how you should act when it’s your fault. This is a really big problem in Sim Racing. Drivers these days never seem to feel that an accident is their fault. They put the blame on another car/driver. We see this from time to time in posts online where the person is berating the other driver when the footage shared actually shows they were at fault. Humility is the key to Learning Drivers who can’t ever see their own faults will never learn from them. To be a good racing driver you need to be humble, just like a good athlete needs to be coachable. Now I know what you’re thinking: ”racing driver and humble don’t really go together” and sadly in many cases you are right. Sim Racing is a one-man sport. There’s not even a crew chief to call you out when you’re wrong. It’s on all of us to look at our own driving with an unbiased eye. Even the best drivers make mistakes and we need to be aware that we are not above causing problems for other drivers. If you do take somebody or even everybody down with you in a crash, there will be some angry people to be sure. However, your reaction to the situation will largely determine how they react. If you’re trying to vehemently defend your mistake it’s going to get ugly. If you directly admit that it was your fault and apologize most drivers will understand. They’ve been “that guy” before too. When looking back at a scenario where there was a crash don’t look at it to see where you were right. Instead, look at it and see what you could have done better. There is always room for improvement and as a racing driver, even if it wasn’t totally your fault you can still learn something from it. As drivers we should all be learning to be better as we go. We should never feel like “I know what I’m doing” and close ourselves off to becoming better at what we do. Even the most seasoned racing drivers of all time continued to learn as they went. Sim racers are no different. When you cause an accident, as hard as it may be, admit your mistake straight away. Apologize to the other drivers involved and use this as a learning experience. If you need help with being humble, then by all means share the footage social media groups and they’ll all bring you down a notch or two if necessary. One of the best things about online groups is that there are always a lot of honest opinions waiting to be shared. Tips from fellow drivers: Re-watch a race (especially if there was a crash you were involved in) in other drivers’ perspectives and ask yourself “What would I have done differently if anything in their shoes? What could I have done differently that would have changed the outcome?” If you take a car out and it’s your fault, you wait and let him ahead again, if the car is still drivable. You just make up for your mistake. Don’t push so hard through a crash up ahead – things could change in an instant and you may end up as part of it. Instead, ease off a bit and try to avoid it as smoothly as possible. Drivers don’t have eyes in the back of their head or sometimes simply aren’t using their mirrors. If you can’t get around someone right away wait, think, plan and attack at the right time.
  4. When we think about racing we mostly think about turning fast laps, qualifying well, and then finishing it all off with a podium finish or a win. The sad reality is that’s just not how racing works. The truth can often be much harder to swallow. It can even be frustrating. Let’s talk briefly about frustration in racing and having realistic expectations. Causes of Frustration When racing, there are all kinds of things that can get in the way of a top finish. Lack of practice, bad qualifying stint, or even just getting tangled up in traffic. Maybe your setup just isn’t where it should be for this race. Maybe your pit strategy isn’t great for this race. Maybe your nerves got the better of you and you’ve run off the track. Or maybe it’s as simple as being stuck behind a slower car who is heavily defending. Whatever the reasons, frustration can ruin your race. Allowing yourself to become angry or frustrated only compounds the problems you’re already having. As hard as it may be you must try to stay focused and calm. Things may have already gotten off to a less than great start so now it’s time to focus on your race pace and make up as much as you can.If you’re stuck in heavy traffic, then keeping your cool is very important. Taking somebody else out because you’re pushing too hard is unacceptable. You should never ruin somebody else’s race because you were frustrated. Keep your head. Keep digging and try to safely improve your situation. Realistic Expectations What you expect going into a race is going to largely affect how your race goes. If you were slow in practice and slow in qualifying, I’ve got some bad news for you. You’re probably going to be slow in the race too. Qualifying mid pack and trying to pass 10 cars with a dive bomb is not real racing. It’s a bad attempt to make up positions on cars that are probably faster than you. Diving into the inside on turn 1 causes more crashes than anything else in racing. If you’re a real racing driver and you believe at all in respectful racing, you don’t do this. Instead try to be positive about where you are starting. If you’re mid pack, then focus on racing your race and see if you can make up some spots. Some of the best racing you’ll ever have in your racing career (real or sim) will be mid pack. Good battles for positions happen all through the field, not just up front. Focus on what you can salvage through good races instead of resorting to desperate racing Racing beyond your limits will result in crashes, runoffs, and even a DNF (did not finish). A DNF is the worst-case scenario here. Instead of losing everything because you were frustrated, try to make the best out of the situation. As a long-time sim racer, some of the best battles I’ve ever experienced were in the middle or even the back of the pack. Focus on what’s good and let the rest go. You’ll have a much more fulfilling experience and much less stressful racing career.
  5. Passing Every racing movie ever made shows the hero blow past his competitor in the final laps of a race. An amazing pass that usually seems like the driver is willing his car to be faster than his rival by pushing the pedal a little harder or shifting in some dramatic fashion. Unfortunately, in real racing or sim racing there is no such thing as being able to “will” your way past someone. To pass, you must be faster. As the passing driver, it is your responsibility to make sure that the pass is completed safely and without incident. You are the one who is bringing on the action, so you are responsible for doing so properly. Sadly, a lot of drivers believe that out-braking your opponent into a hard corner is the best way to pass, but it isn’t. There are several types of passes you can use to get past the car in front. Diving down the inside in a braking zone is the one that causes the most accidents, so you’ll want to avoid it if you can. If you are truly faster than the car in front, then you need to figure out why and where on the track you are faster. Let’s say you are quicker through turns 2 and 3, then you can set him up and get a run on him through these corners. This will allow you to use your faster corner exit to catch and pass the car in front without a dramatic confrontation before turn 4. At the very least you’ll be able to get alongside him to set your spot for the next corner. Using the exit speed out of the corner is much easier than trying to pass in a braking zone and is more likely to be a clean pass. If you are racing oval this still applies. Combined with using the draft/slipstream you can get driver ahead before you approach the next turn. Using the draft or slipstream down the longest stretch is another way to get past the other car. If you’re faster, then you will be their reach. Stay close and set yourself up for a run down the longest straight. Give yourself a little room so that you can gain speed and make your move without running into the back their car. And yes, lastly you can try to take them in the braking zone. This is a good way to pass if both drivers are respectful of each other. The whole debate of “I was alongside by this much” comes into play here though, and that can get really messy. We could write a whole book on the rules and regulations of various motor sports about what is considered “alongside”. For this section we will simply say that you need to establish position before the corner. This means you are truly up beside the other car before attempting the move. Diving into a gap that opens, while tempting, often leads to accidents because you’ve given the other driver no time to respond or react. He is simply going to turn into you, especially if you are unknowingly in their blind spot. Instead wait until you can establish your position and take the corner away. The inability of the car being passed to reach the apex will slow their car allowing you to finish the pass on corner exit. Whatever type of pass you choose to make remember, it’s on you to do so cleanly. Defending This is a tricky subject because there are a lot of drivers who are better at qualifying than they are at racing. Race pace is much different than being able to put down a fast lap. Many drivers qualify up front, but then find themselves defending because they aren’t truly faster than the cars behind. While you have the position, you need to ask yourself “am I faster than this car that’s all over me?”. If you’re not, then you should let him go most of the time. If he’s faster than you then maybe you can get behind him and gain some speed by copying what he’s doing. This can be a tricky subject though because letting somebody pass you is a lot different on lap 2 than it is on the last lap. If you are late in the race then it’s a lot more understandable for you to defend your position, but make sure you’re doing so properly. Driving in your mirrors and blocking constantly is not good driving at all. You are going to be even slower while driving this way and you’re more likely to end up in an accident. Most types of racing dictate that the lead driver should make one blocking move and then hold his line. Weaving back and forth on a long straight to block is just bad sportsmanship. To defend cleanly, you need to do so early and often. Let the driver behind know that you are taking the inside away long before you reach the corner. Position your car properly in and out of every turn to defend. If he still gets alongside you then he’s just too fast and you need to let him go. Defending to the point of wrecking your car is a horrible way to end a race and it’s just not good racing at all. In the end, we all want to be the one passing and not the one getting passed, but even the fastest drivers have their bad days. If you are smart and remain disciplined, then you will finish the race cleanly and that is what’s most important
  6. Ok. So, you’ve practiced (hopefully long stints like we previously talked about), you’ve set up your car and you’ve qualified for a position on the grid. It’s finally time for the actual race. There’s a lot that can go right, and there’s a lot that can go wrong. Here are some tips to run a clean and strong race. 1) The Start This is where most racers get it wrong and I don’t just mean sim racers either. No matter where they are starting, they feel like they’ve got to win lap 1. If you’re in the front you’ve got to get out ahead. If you’re in the middle you’ve got to make up for subpar qualifying. If you’re in the back.... look at all these people I can pass with a divebomb!!! The start of the race is full of anxiety and tight racing. The first few and last few laps are where most crashes happen. Don’t be the guy who divebombs and takes out 4 other cars. Stay calm and run your race like you practiced. You must learn to not let the moment be too big for you. You already know your pace if you’ve been practicing properly. You know the track. You must remain calm and let the people who don’t crash around you. Sometimes getting caught up in lap 1 crashes is unavoidable no matter what you do but focus on not being the one who causes the wreck. Getting out of the first couple laps cleanly is your goal. 2) Settle as fast as you can So, you’ve survived lap 1. Now it’s time to get to your race pace. Setting consistent laps is your main goal here. They don’t have to be blazing fast but try and keep your times consistent. There are going to be others who are faster than you who will make mistakes that you can take advantage of. There will also be people who are slower than you who will beat you if you make mistakes. Keep it clean and get into your pace. Once you’re settled the race will come to you. 3) Remain calm and be realistic Now you’re in the middle of the race. Let’s say you qualified 7th and you’re running 7th. Be realistic. With this car on this track 7th might be a great finish for you here. Only one person wins every race and there are plenty other finishes. Be real about where you are and where you want to be. You’ve survived the hardest part of the race already. Trying to push so hard that you crash or destroy your tires is going to end badly. This is where you figure out your goal for the end. Keep calm and keeping digging. It’ll be the end before you know it. 4) Finish strong Finishing strong doesn’t mean “pass a bunch of cars”. If you have the opportunity to pass some other drivers in the later stages of the race then go for it, but don’t abandon your clean racing tactics just to gain a spot. This is where a lot of people lose focus and mess things all up. If they’re running 2nd and 1st is within reach, they feel like they must push harder and obtain 1st. While this may work, it often leads to dirty racing or ugly passes. This is how we get those “whose fault is it” videos. Remember that finishing in the place you’re in is better than not finishing at all. Never abandon the whole race just to make a desperate pass on somebody who’s got better pace than you. Now, you’re at the end. You’ve gotten to this point in one piece. It’s time to bring it home! Maybe you’re milking worn tires to the finish or maybe you’ve collected some damage along the way. Either way, you’re going to finish as long as you don’t do anything stupid, so keep your head. 5) Review your race This is something that a lot of people don’t do, but it’s a great learning tool. Save your replays, go back and watch your race. You can use either the onboard camera you were racing in (hopefully cockpit view) or you can use the “TV cameras” that will allow you to see what kind of lines you were taking. This is very helpful when learning Racecraft because it teaches you to be critical of yourself. Learn to pick apart your own passes or your own defenses. Remember, that even the pros make mistakes. The difference between a good driver and a great driver is not IF they make mistakes but how they learn from them. If you learn to see where improvements can be made and implement a change to circumvent previous mistakes, you’ll be a better driver for the next race!
  7. We have all heard the same thing. Practice, practice, practice. Some racers spend a lot of time practicing, which can be really helpful, but it can also be a waste of your time and even detrimental. If you are going to practice, you’re probably doing so in preparation for a race. Why then do we go out guns blazing and run off the track? We’ve all done it. Sometimes we mistake practice for qualifying. We want to get faster and faster and FASTER! The problem is we never took the time to get good first. It’s impossible to be fast when you don’t really know the track and it’s even harder to be consistent when you don’t know the track at all. Instead of trying to mimic that hot lap video you saw on YouTube where the guy “ran a blistering 1:41” go out and run 10 smooth laps or more at a slower pace. Let the car and the tires settle in. You’ll get more comfortable and you’ll learn more that way than you will spinning off at every other turn. This type of practice prepares you for the actual race, where your tires are going to change, and you’re going to have to find a groove if you want to finish. In all types of racing across the globe there are guys who are qualifying champions. They lack consistency during the actual race, but they are great for 1 or 2 laps. That is not who you want to be. Sure, pole position gives you some advantage, but if you can’t string some laps together you’re going to finish in the middle of the pack anyway. Lengthen your practice runs to be close to the length of the actual race. Just get used to practicing that way. If you do it like that you’ll find you’re actually faster during qualifying when it’s time to crank up the heat.
  8. Alright boys and girls let’s get into some nitty gritty. Take a look at this race and tell me what I did wrong here. It’s a pretty clean race, but there are several things that can be tightened up for sure. I normally run a minimum of 20 laps in races like this, but for the sake of capturing I ran a sprint. It’s an older video, but it will work just fine for our purposes here. Racecraft 101. How about it all you veteran racers? If I was running 25 laps in this race instead of 4, what was I doing wrong? How good or bad were my interactions with the other cars? Key Points: • Pushed car off during first turn • Could have left more room taking 2nd • Raced at qualifying race – tires would be spent sooner in a longer race
  9. Attacking corners Today we need to talk about how to handle corners. I’ve seen a lot of new racers posting about “just got my first wheel and pedals” and so on. Let’s give them some help. The first thing you need to know is that slower, really is faster. If you are frantic into the corner and end up braking too hard and losing the balance of the car....you’re not going to have a good corner exit. You have to think about turns in two parts. Entry and exit. The better you enter the turn, the faster and smoother your exit will be. If you’re sliding or have pushed past the exit you’re not going to be able to exit properly. This scenario here (see pic) is one that happened to me. As you can see I am sitting at the apex of the turn where the other car pushed beyond it. Coming out of this corner I have a couple of options. 1) drive up alongside him and be on the outside in the next turn 2) if he blocks down then cross him over putting me on the inside for the next turn. What happened was he tried to move over in front of me which allowed me to easily cross over to his right. This also gave me the position to finish him off cleanly in the next corner. What about the rest of you guys? What tips do you have for newer drivers about “attacking corners”? Tips from fellow drivers: • Use the least amount of steering inputs possible. A car is always fastest when going straight. • Always try to complete your maximum breaking before beginning to turn in. Once you’ve got that down, begin to introduce Trail Braking – an advanced braking technique where you go from maximum braking to gradually letting off the brake as you gradually turn the steering wheel. • Record yourself doing some practice or qualifying laps, then watch them from different angles to see how close you actually were to a goal versus how close you thought you were. • Put off using an H-Pattern shifter (stick shift) until you can manage your brakes, acceleration and driving lines. • Look for Sim Racing YouTubers like Driver61, Empty Box, ViperConcept, SimRacing604, etc.
  10. The one thing I don’t think we talk about enough is racecraft. There’s a lot of new racers joining all the time or guys who are upgrading from a game pad and console......to a pc and a wheel. Especially right now being tax season. We need to help some of these guys with tips from the more seasoned drivers. I’ll kick it off: My first piece of advice for somebody who is new to Sim Racing is to practice/race long stints. Don’t just run 5 laps and tweak, 5 more laps and tweak again.... if you’re doing this, you aren’t setting yourself up for success in the longer races you’ll find either online or in career modes across the many sims that are out there. Instead run longer sessions. Learn to feel the tires change and feel the brakes change. Get used to finding yourself in “the zone” where you are turning laps with very little thought involved. This will make you a much more rhythmic driver and will make you more consistent! Anybody else got some tips for new drivers?
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