Monday, 17 November 2014

iRacing: New week, new challenge

So I have a bit of a problem with iRacing, it's nothing too serious, but they change the track that I'm eligible to race on every week. As a rookie I only have the option to race one track and one vehicle in competition. I can drive on any track and any circuit in a practise session, but to be eligible for points, it has to be an official race. So that means each week I have to learn a whole new circuit, thankfully the car remains the same, so at least I'm familiar with how the Mazda MX5 handles now.

The problem I have is that I don't have the time to sit down and play the game every day. So just as I get comfortable with a track, it changes and I have to start all over again. Soon it will loop back to the start, and hopefully then I'll be able to compete slightly more competently. I'm not sure how many tracks there are in total, but eventually they will all come back around.

This weeks circuit is Lime Rock Park, it's the shortest circuit I've raced on so far at just 1.5 miles. But it has perhaps the trickiest section of turns to negotiate that I've seen. The first three corners I've found particularly tough to master. I just can't get a line I feel comfortable and fast with.

Lime Rock Park
So anyway, Lime Rock Park is a fairly simple track on the whole, there's very little braking needed for the majority of it. The second half of the track are just small taps of the brake peddle, or slight lifts.

Turn 5 called "The Uphill" is a superb corner, coming off the apex, you accelerate up a hill. It's imperative to get the car in a straight line before you hit the crest. As you do, the balance of the car shifts dramatically, the car goes light and if you don't have the wheels pointing forwards when the grip returns. It's going to want to swap ends on you! Flooring the gas coming out of that turn takes a lot of courage... I can only imagine what that would be like in real life.

Anyway, this week I got my best result. I managed to finish 2nd in a race of attrition. By just staying on the track and taking advantage of other peoples mistakes I made my way through the field. I had a couple of wobbly moments, making contact at turn 3 on the first lap was disappointing, but there was nothing I could do to avoid it. Well I guess I could have had a better start and not been behind the crash in the first place.

The results, proof that I got my second place finish!
To see my other seat of the pants moments, you can watch the whole race in this replay video below.  Hope you like it, I'll be back with more soon!

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

iRacing: F*"$ing turn 9


I'm writing this post directly after my last race, I'm still absolutely furious with myself... and that bloody turn 9!

So here's what happened, I went back for another race, I started in 9th out of 11 people. I didn't qualify, but when that happens (as I understand it) is, those who did qualify go ahead based on their times. Those that didn't are placed on the grid according to their iRating.

So, the lights go green, I get a great start and manage to jump a couple of cars at the first corner by taking a wide line thus giving me the inside line on the next corner which leads onto a nice straight. So far so good, there are (unusually) no big incidents at the first corner, I think I saw one person spin off at the second turn, but otherwise it was a clean get away.

We all settle into our positions, I think by now I was up into 7th. I just try to take it easy, avoid any trouble and get myself into a rhythm. As the next couple of laps unfold, a couple more drivers lose control giving me some free positions. Up to 5th and other than my good start, I haven't really had to do anything other than stay on the track!

I'm now following another car, and I'm pretty close. I'm trying to keep a safe distance, but it's clear that I am faster than he is. The thing is, we're racing for position, and he doesn't want to give it up without a fight... I'm not really ready for a fight this early in the race so I just hold my position.

On a couple of corners he's a lot slower than I am and as a result I have to hit my brakes pretty hard to avoid rear ending him. I keep it clean though, and just sit behind him. My presence is obviously starting to make him nervous and he's getting a bit wild on his exits. The thing is, I'm equally as nervous behind him!

Eventually he goes wide on a corner and I am able to sail past to take 4th place, now I'm getting REALLY nervous! I've never been so far up the field before... 3rd position isn't too far away and now that I'm clear of the previous car I'm able to close the gap over the next lap and a half. By this point it feels like I've been racing for hours, but a glance at my OSD shows it's only lap 5 of 10.

Now I'm sat behind third and my pulse is really racing, I don't want to screw this up! I've also got the guy I overtook before in my rear view mirror. Again, I don't want to do anything stupid, I just sit behind him and stay safe.

Another lap goes by and a couple of opportunities arise where I get better exits and could challenge for the next corner. I don't, because I'm a chicken. As every corner goes by, I'm getting more and more nervous. I really don't want to mess up now, this is going to be an awesome finish for me at this stage, there are 4 laps to go. Just take it easy!

Then, third place gets loose on his exit of turn 7 and I get a clean one, I've got better acceleration and before I know it I'm right along side him with the inside line into turn 8. Unless I brake hard and give it up, there's no way he can keep his position. So I take the corner and he does the sensible thing and falls in behind me.


Turn 9...

This is the turn that screwed me over in the last race...

Now I'm off line on my exit from turn 8, but I'm in 3rd! THIRD PLACE... While my mind is whirling with a mixture of excitement, nerves and adrenaline I miss my braking point and totally lose it in turn 9! Before I can blink my car is into the wall again.


Unlike the last time, the car is totally wrecked, I can't limp back. I have to call for a tow back to the pits. This takes about 2 minutes even though I'm just a few hundred yards away. Then I have to wait for the crew to fix the damage, another couple of minutes!

Finally I'm released, and now in 9th position (10th and 11th had obviously quit earlier due to having their races ruined). All that good work is lost and in my anger I manage to forget the pit lane speed limit. So I'm duly given a 15s stop/go penalty for that infringement. The temptation to rage quit at this point is very strong. I'm sure I've ruined my safety rating due to my crash and I have no hope of catching anyone. But I figure I might as well finish the race, the practise is all good.

So there it is, I had what could have been the most amazing and exciting blog post about how I finished 3rd! As it is, it's a tale of woe and I'm left feeling really annoyed with myself.

The thing that has struck me the most though, is how genuinely nervous I got racing that far up the pack. I rarely experience nerves, but this meant something. If I'd held that position, which I'm sure I would have done had I not got my line wrong from the overtake. If I'd just got out of turn 9 cleanly, I could have carried on racing at a reasonably comfortable pace for me and been faster than the cars behind me. I really could have had a third place finish!


iRacing: Got my first result!

I found out today that the tracks on iRacing rotate, I don't know how often, but today I logged in to put in a few more laps around Summit Point, which I really felt I'd started to get nailed. My lap times had come down and I was more or less able to keep the car on the track unless I tried to push things.

I thought I'd be able to start racing and begin to build up my safety rating after my first couple of outings resulted in disaster! The problem is, going around the track in a practise session is a totally different ball game to when you have other cars around you in a race. I pretty much knew my way around Summit Point following the racing line, but when you get someone who is faster than you, you can't really get in their way. So that means getting off the line to let them pass. The problem with that is you have to adjust your braking and turn in points accordingly. But when you've spent the whole time practising just the one line, that's easier said than done. Anyway, I digress.

The point is, today I logged in and the course listed for me was the Okayama circuit. Bugger! I'd have to start from scratch and learn a whole new track. I was a little disappointed at first, all the time and effort I'd put in to learn Summit Point was now useless to me. At least until the next time it comes around, by which time I'll have likely forgotten it :-)

Okayama International Circuit
My feelings soon turned a corner though when I had completed my first few tentative laps around Okayama. This circuit suited me a lot more than Summit Point had. Now this probably has a lot to do with the amount of time I'd already spent driving the Mazda MX-5 so I was already fairly comfortable with its handling. But I really got the hang of Okayama much faster than I did Summit Point. In fact, I'd become so comfortable with it after just an hour or so of practise that I decided to bite the bullet and enter a race.

Now in hindsight that was probably a stupid thing to do, I'm sure I wasn't really ready to race this unfamiliar circuit. But my patience had worn out, I'd been waiting to race at Summit Point and now I'd missed that opportunity. Okayama seemed a far less technical course, with just a couple of tricky corners. Sure I wouldn't be fast, but I figured I could at least be safe and not cause a danger to any other racers.

The Mazda MX-5
I didn't qualify because I wanted to start at the back anyway, there'd be no point if I managed to somehow get a mid-field position. I'd just end up causing a collision at the first corner because I'd probably be slower than everyone else around me. Better to start at the back, take it easy and avoid trouble. Then get myself into a grove, stay on the track and try not to finish last!

I almost managed to hit all my objectives too...

The first bit of good news is that I actually finished the race, the other two I'd been in at Summit Point had ended up with me getting disqualified for racking up too many penalty points. Mainly for going off the track or losing control. I am able to avoid contact for the most part, except for the chaos of the first couple of corners. So, yay for me actually seeing the chequered flag. That's progress right?

My plan was working well at the start, I let the pack go and let myself take it easy through the first few corners. I even managed to pass a couple of other cars who had made contact with each other and spun off. Things had started well, I just had to keep going for 10 laps!

The first couple of laps went mostly without incident, a couple of minor "off track" infringements, but I wasn't too worried about that. I'd kept the car pointing forwards and when I had gone off track, it was only when I'd gone slightly wide at the corner. The one minor gripe I have with iRacing is that it's pretty harsh with "off track" penalties, you really only have to go slightly over the white line to get one. But I was happy that I hadn't gone mad.

After a couple of laps one of the cars that had gone off at the start caught me up, it was clear he was a faster driver than me. Rather than risk both our races I picked a suitable spot and just let him pass me, I'm not skilled enough to fight for the position, and he was clearly better than me. What's the point in getting myself out of my depth and ruin both our races?

As the laps continued I picked up another couple of places due to other drivers spinning off or crashing out. Then right around lap 5 or 6 out of 10, DISASTER! I over-cooked it going into turn 9 and missed my braking point, under-steered onto the grass and spun the car. Now having lost control of the vehicle there was nothing I could do but sit there helplessly and watch the car spin back across the track and hit the wall! Bugger...

The car was too damaged to continue racing, but luckily I had managed to crash just a few hundred yards away from the pit entrance. I limped back to the pits and sat there for a minute or two while the crew repaired the damage. When I rejoined the race I had some cars behind me coming up to lap me, so I just let them by and continued on my way. After that, it was more or less plain sailing, I finished the last 3 or 4 laps without incident.

In the end I managed to finish up 7th out of the 11 starters, and I was only one lap down. I think I'd have stayed un-lapped if I hadn't had to pit for repairs. So overall, I was happy, I technically only finished one car ahead because the other drivers dropped out or were disqualified. But that was because they had wrecked their cars... which I hadn't. My safety rating improved just slightly, which means that overall this was a huge success! I'm going to go and try another race now and this time I'll attempt to stay on the track for the whole race.

Results table - click to enlarge

Monday, 3 November 2014

iRacing: All the gear and no idea!

I love motorsport, it's about the only sport that really interests me to be honest. I follow the misfortunes of my local football club Brighton & Hove Albion, but I'm not a true fan of football. I also play a little bit of Snooker (badly). But I'm not a sporty person at all.

I love my cars though, and I love to watch a race! There's something about the control the drivers have over their machines that fascinates me. I've been a fan of Formula 1 for more years than I can remember. I make regular visits to my local-ish circuit Brands Hatch to watch various races from the now defunct A1-GP, the BTCC, the legends series and most recently truck racing! I also love going to Goodwood for the Revival and Festival of Speed.

It's fair to say I have more than a passing interest in the sport, though I would never think I could actually get in a car and survive even one lap without killing myself! That's where my other love comes in to it, video games...

I've played racing games for as long as they've been around, from arcade classics like Outrun to home console revelations such as Virtua Racing and Gran Turismo. On the whole though, I've been a PC gamer for the most part. I remember starting out with "Grand Prix Circuit" which ran in MS-DOS and moved on to other classic racing games like Geoff Crammond's Grand Prix 2. More recently I've enjoyed the new Dirt rally and F1 games from Codemasters, the Forza games and Assetto Corsa.

To enhance my enjoyment I've used various racing wheels over the years. I started with the old MS sidewinder FF wheel and when the 360 came along I picked up the official wheel for that too. I've also had the slightly less spectacular Nintendo Wii "wheel" accessory for the Wiimote, the less said about that the better!

The MS sidewinder FF wheel was great in its day, but the cheep plastic pedals and lack of a clutch and gear stick left me wanting more. So a few months ago I splashed out and treated myself to a slightly more high-end offering. I bought a Thrustmaster T500RS with pedals and the TH8RS gear stick to accompany it. This wasn't cheap, but having researched the alternatives, namely the Logitech G27 and Fanatec Clubsport range. I decided that in terms of bang for the buck, the Thrustmaster was the only option.

The G27 seems to be a good entry level option, it has the wheel, pedals and gear stick all included and can be picked up for around £250. I'm sure if I'd bought it I'd have been happy enough, but one of the things that put me off my old MS Sidewinder was the size of the wheel. It was much smaller than a real steering wheel and the G27 was similar. It is also almost entirely made from plastic and has a gear driven force feedback system. Reviews suggested it was rather weak as a result.

The Fanatec is supposedly the holy grail of wheels, I'd have one of those every day if money was no object, but the reality is that money very much is the object that stops me getting one of these. The wheel base alone (no actual wheel with that, you buy it seperatly) is £450, the wheels start from £140. Then add on the cost of the pedals (£200) and the gear stick (£150), suddenly I'm looking at spending the best part of £1,000 on a wheel! HAHAHAHAHAHA... If I win the lottery I'll have one, but until then....

So, the T500RS from Thrustmaster was the choice for me, a £350 investment plus an extra £100 for the gear shifter. Less than half the price of the Rolls Royce listed above. It's a thing of beauty too, the wheel is big, the pedals have a fantastic build quality and feel superb. The feedback through the massive motor and belt is enough to rip the wheel from your hands when you have a big crash. It transforms the experience in ways you can only imagine until you've tried it.

Being able to feather the throttle with your right foot, or apply just a small amount of brake to nose in to a corner just can't be replicated with a controller. The feedback you get from the wheel gives you so much information, you can feel the cars grip!

After using the wheel for a while I wanted to take my virtual racing to the next level. I'd heard a lot about iRacing which sort of a bit like an MMORPG for racing. It's expensive, but then what MMORPG isn't? Fortunately I signed up during a half price sale and went for the full 2 years to maximise my savings. It's a big commitment given that I'd never played the game before!

The thing with iRacing is that it's a racing simulation, there's nothing arcade about it. This is all about real tracks, real vehicles and the most accurate physics you'll find! The graphics aren't the greatest, but frame rate is king here and they are more that adequate (I think it looks very nice). The people who play it take it very seriously too, each player has their own license with points attached. Your license level is what dictates which races and vehicles you can access. At the entry level (Rookie) you only have a couple of cars and tracks to choose from.

This seems harsh at first, but it's actually a good thing, as it forces you to get good with the limited access you have. Master the entry level Mazda MX-5 and Summit Point Raceway, then you can improve your safety rating and open up more of the game ... sorry, SIMULATION!

Having grown up playing lots of racing games, I thought I knew a thing or two about racing. Turns out I was wrong, as most rookies, I went into my first race not really knowing what to expect and not having practised enough. I went off the track a lot and got into a couple of crashes, that was my race over and my safety rating took a hammering.

It's all about your Safety Rating in iRacing and it's a brilliant idea. It's what allows you to "level-up". Stay out of trouble and have a clean race and your rating improves, but just going off the track will lead to a penalty. As will losing control and colliding with other cars, it forces you to race properly. You can't just floor it off the line and pile up in the first corner, you won't get anywhere doing that. It still happens at the Rookie level, but beyond that the players... sorry DRIVERS, take things a lot more seriously. You can't afford to crash for fear of losing your licence.

The key to success is practise, practise, practise. You can make as many mistakes as you like in practise sessions, it's only qualifying and racing that will actually effect your rating. So you have to pump in lap, after lap, after lap learning the braking points, turn in points, improving your speed but most importantly improving your consistency! You need to be able to do around 20 laps and not spin off or lose control, keep the wheels of your car between the white lines at all times before you contemplate actually racing. I learnt that the hard way and I'm still stuck in the Rookie class :-( I'm getting better though.

The game looks amazing on my system, I've added a picture of my setup just to show off a little bit. I'd actually love to get myself a racing cockpit for it all, but I just don't have the space for that, and my PC has to do more than just play racing games. Again, if I win the lottery I'll be picking one up just as soon as I can. I've also been tempted to buy some racing shoes, it's tough to do a full race with the pedals while wearing socks. I've tried using slippers but they just don't work