Following on from our previous article considering whether the experience gained from Forza 7 was transferable to real-life racing, we have another perspective, this time with the much more in-depth simulation offered by iRacing.
The author, Kirk Myhre, is a talented driver – an endurance racer, he has been racing for four years, and currently races for several different teams, as well as providing some excellent trackside photography (a selection of which we have shared at the end of this article).
In our previous comparison, we found that Forza 7 did genuinely provide transferable skills and valuable insights to what to expect on the track, but not without some limitations. The question now is, will the more accurate physics and handling modelling on iRacing help to fill in any of those gaps left by the comparatively simple ‘sim-light’ Forza 7?
Kirk has provided some very interesting insights, and for anyone considering making the move into real-world competition, it’s a compelling read.
Are racing SIMs tools, or toys?
“I grew up in an era when video games were rudimentary at best and, at worst, laughable by today’s standards. The concept of accurate physics modelling was a couple of decades or so off. At home, or in the arcade, Pole Position was about as good as it got. It was fun and it had to do with race cars so that’s really all that mattered.
If you wanted to learn how to actually drive a race car, you had to be born into it, have family or friends that raced or you had to make yourself valuable at a local race shop, cleaning parts and doing anything of value so they’d take you to the race track with them (with the off chance that you might get to SIT in the race car). If that last example seems oddly specific, it is. As a teenager with aspirations of speed in the early 80s, I’d do anything to be around race cars. Every once in a while, I’d get to tag along with friends’ teams to the local road course and sometimes, even get behind the wheel. Lucky for me, I was naturally fast but also had a healthy respect for the fact that I couldn’t afford to wreck anything. Some bench-coaching, lead/follow and test laps on an open track were about as far as my racing career was going to go.
Fast-forward 30 years through a career in art and design, a wife, two kids, 3 houses, and several performance cars. Through a friend, I was given the chance to pit crew for a low-budget endurance race team at a local road course. Of course, the answer was a resounding “Yes!”. After a couple of wins with the team, it was clear that this was a group of racers with the right idea about amateur racing. I approached one of the team principals with a rather loaded question. “What would it take to get in the left seat?” A rough plan was outlined but the opportunity would be dependent on my capabilities and I wouldn’t be able to test in their car.
Image courtesy of 4 the Riders
Fortuitously, at an early-season race at Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey California, I was exercising my camera in the turn 4-5 area when the team lead-off driver, Tom Pritchett, made an expertly calculated pass, enlisting an unsuspecting Miata as a pick heading up the hill. I captured the entire sequence from setup to completion. Later in the day, Tom, owner and chief instructor at Turn2 Lapping, off-handedly said, “You know I want those images.” Jokingly, but with my best serious look, I replied: “What’s it worth to you?” Somewhat under his breath, he mumbled: “I’ll coach you.” The words were still hanging in the air like a cartoon speech bubble as I yelled: “SOLD!”
The “deal” that we worked out was I would photograph Tom’s lapping events as a bonus to his customers and, if time permitted, we’d jump in one of his retired ASA stock cars or his championship-winning FR500s Ford Mustang factory race car and do some 1 on 1 coaching. Super simple, right? I’d driven some high-horsepower cars before and I’d studied the in-car cameras from Senna to Petty to Haywood so I thought I’d be fine. This was nothing like what I’d imagined. The greats made it look so effortless. A little oversteer… a slight adjustment. A little slide… some fancy footwork and a bit of wheel and it’s all good. Right? Um…no.
I’d ride right seat with Tom in one of the stock cars trying to process what he was doing enabling him to carry that kind of speed through this left-hand corner and get back to throttle that quickly on a decreasing apex right-hand turn. All this while my inner monologue was screaming at me “You can’t do that! How does he do that?!?” In real-life, with real consequences, I couldn’t make myself aggressively rotate the car and get back to the throttle hard while maintaining the 7-15 degree slip angle where the Hoosier slicks are at their best. If I was going to actually drive the race car and compete, not just ride around and call myself a race car driver, I had to quickly figure out a way to practice these techniques without the possibility of damaging a car that can’t be replaced. That is where iRacing came in.
I picked up a used wheel/pedal set, attached it to some plywood and clamped the whole lot to my desk. My rolly-wheeled desk chair would just have to suffice for now. I got my subscription to iRacing up and running as well as I could on my older PC. Once I opened it up, the options were astounding. I picked a track that I’d seen on TV. iRacing doesn’t have my local tracks. I picked a race car similar to what I’d be using in real life, a 2011 NASCAR Nationwide Ford Focus. I set the time to mid-morning, the best time for grip. Then ‘here we go’, I thought “First gear, accelerate slowly’. Second gear, get into it a bi-‘, straight into the outside wall. ‘What the hell was that?’
Big realization: I drive with my butt. My eyes were only reacting to the sensory motion inputs instead of the other way around. I was going to have to learn to see what the car was doing rather than simply feeling it move under and around me. I was without the primary input I’d relied on to drive fast my entire life. This was going to be hard.
Over the next couple of weeks, I’d run thousands of laps on tracks I’d never heard of or seen. I’d master one combination only to wreck the next lap trying to get that extra tenth of a second out of it. Getting pretty frustrated, I decided, instead of just randomly running laps, I’d work on one technique per session to see if I could improve my times through a particular section rather than focusing on overall lap times. First mission, rotate the car in high-speed corners enabling me to point the car and get back to throttle earlier and more deliberately. Lime Rock Park race track should work. Quick laps and two beautiful right-hand sweeping turns to finish off each lap.
Laps 1 through I don’t know how many were a blurred combination of pushing into the dirt on exit or careening off one wall or another, or both. Then…with a light touch of the brake while still on the downhill, a subtle turn-in and a smooth application of maintenance throttle as the car pointed neatly towards the apex, it rotated. I quickly went to full-throttle, brushing the exit curb ever so slightly and powered down the main straight. ‘It did it! It did it! Its exactly like it looks in the car. What did I do?’ Now the challenge was to do IT over and over again until it was natural and repeatable without thinking about it.
Image courtesy Seth Restaino
I got into the stock car with Tom the next weekend and seconds magically disappeared from my lap times. Corners that had perplexed me were smoother and faster. I was being proactive with my eyes. I could put the car exactly where it needed to be and see what it was doing before I had to “catch” it. Once I had the motion of the car to reinforce what I was seeing, it was almost easy. A month later, Tom and I ran an entire session of lead/follow in two similar stock cars and he couldn’t leave me. Its almost embarrassing to say, as a fully-grown man, how proud I was of that moment.
Fast-forward another three race seasons. I’ve driven for two different race teams with two of the three series championships between them. I was asked by another team principal if I was interested in driving for his team at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in their highly modified Ecotec swapped Miata. Again, the words were still hanging in the air when I said “Absolutely!” I’d never driven a Miata in competition and I’d never driven WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. I’m pretty sure you can guess my solution. “To the simulator!!”
In iRacing, I set up the virtual car as close as I could to what I knew about the car I was going to drive. I purposely picked a car that I would have to really drive to hit the lap times of its fastest regular driver from the previous season. I studied his in-car video of Laguna Seca Raceway, noted his gear selections/shift points, set my RPM limit to what he ran and turned off my anti-lock braking system. Keeping in mind that this is also an endurance series (we’d be racing for 15 hours) I needed to be able to run a fast, consistent lap time without burning the car down and destroying brakes/tires. Every day, I was able to do an entire fuel/tire run with all of those target parameters in mind. After a couple of sessions, I was able to smooth the car into the stint, run competitive lap times for two hours within a second of my early laps on light fuel load and worn tires.
Probably the best thing I did as the event approached was run hour-long “wrong line” sessions. I knew I was going to be on track with 40+ other cars, most of which were going to be slower. I was going to have to know where and how I could pass cars in every possible situation. I ran every wrong line I could think of in every corner. Enter way too low. Exit way outside. Back the corner way up and accelerate out hard. Pinch corner exit. Throw it in, let it float over the crest and get back on throttle way too hard, and then immediately cross-track to be off-line for entry. It was exceptionally hard to run “wrong” that much and for that long. That said, it was hugely beneficial. I felt like I knew as much as I possibly could about every nuance of the Laguna Seca surface. Try doing that during a track day and see how long you last before they kick your butt out and request that you never come back.
Then it was race day! We experienced computer problems the entire first day so we started dead last for the start of day two. I was to be in the car second so I was intently studying the lap times of our lead-off driver. They were right in the range that I’d been practicing on iRacing so it looked like I was on target. Unfortunately, we broke a shifter on lap 4. That cost us 4 laps to fix. We were out of the running for a win but maybe, with some good luck and strategy, we could get to the top 10.
The car came in from the first stint and I wedged my 6-foot frame into the tiny cockpit of the little green Miata. I carefully monitored pit lane speed as I got my belts tightened for the last time and did the last comms check. Then, on track, full-throttle. Entry to turn three, I can brake later. Turn four, lift at 2, maintenance throttle, turn-in and let it rotate, back to throttle hard, use all of the exit curb. Perfect, just like iRacing. Everything I did to make speed in the virtual world worked on the real-life track. I was rotating and floating the car in one motion over the off-camber turn 6 like I’d been racing there my entire life. At one point, I got so comfortable in the car, I found myself wanting to reach for the soda that I always keep on the desk when I’m on the simulator. After about 20 laps, I had to remind myself that this wasn’t the SIM and I should really focus on what I was doing.
Before you finish reading this and think that I didn’t consider the toy aspect of racing SIMs, nothing could be farther from the truth. According to my kids, I’m just an oversized 12-year-old so I’ve definitely taken advantage of the “fun” that can be had, even in a serious product like iRacing. One of my favorite things to do in iRacing is run tracks that I know like the back of my hand backwards. First, it’s great training for the eyes but it’s also just fun. Coming up the famous Corkscrew at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca at light speed and making the right at the top is a trip. As is coming uphill through the S‘s at Sonoma. I’m also a fan of what ‘Dinner with Racers’ is doing with their iRacing series. I happened to catch a virtual race they staged on a 3/8ths mile track consisting of vintage F1, winged sprint cars, trophy trucks, and Porsche Cup Cars. Now that’s good, all American fun right there.
I asked, at the beginning of this article, if racing SIMs were tools or toys. In real life, I ran within a couple of tenths of what I ran in iRacing on a track I’d never driven in real life. The service was an invaluable tool for me in getting up to speed getting back into a race car and, more specifically, preparing for this race. Its also a blast to be able to practice the way I want to, even if that means going reverse course. So, I guess racing SIMs are whatever you want them to be.”
Kirk Myhre – Endurance racing driver,
Principal – MyhreCreative Motorsports Imaging and Design,
Brand ambassador – REC Watches
Kirk Myhre can be found on his social media channels:
And the team he races for, here:
Race Invaders Facebook: @shinygoldtooth
All of the excellent track day photography is used under license from Kirk Myhre @ MyhreCreative – Motorsport Imaging & Design
© MyhreCreative. All rights reserved
Any copying, editing, distribution or unlicensed use of these images is strictly prohibited.
You can find more of his work at https://myhrecreative.com
Image courtesy of Dakota Snow
Son of Andre Mustang: Image courtesy of Dakota Snow
Spiral Out Racing Mustang: Image courtesy of Drew Shepardson
UBoot Rennenwerks Porsche
AR Motorsports BMW