Friday, 20 February 2015

iRacing: More gear and more of an idea

It's been a while since the last iRacing update, but that's not because I've given up. In fact it's the opposite, I tend to spend most of my spare time playing the game. When I think about writing a post I decide it would be more fun to turn a few laps instead! I'm also not really sure who I'm writing this for, or why. I'm not convinced anyone really reads these posts, it feels like blogs died out a few years ago.

In the last post I said I wasn't going to concentrate on getting a promotion. Well I didn't, but I got one anyway! I guess I've progressed fairly quickly, I've become a lot better at keeping the car on the track and therefore not picking up silly penalties for off-tracks and loss of control. It was rare for me to hit people before anyway, so with my driving improving, my Safety Rating (SR) started to rise quite quickly. Normally you need to get above a SR of 3.5 at which point you will get a promotion at the end of the season. That's not for another 2 weeks yet, but there is a way to get promoted instantly, and that's to get you SR above a 4.0. So, about a week ago, that's exactly what happened. After a run of very low incident points I got my Class C license in road racing!

This of course means I've now got even more cars and series available to race in. So that opens up the Radical Racing Challenge, Grand Prix Legends in a Lotus 49, the Corvette Challenge, the Advanced Mazda Cup, the Star Mazda Championship, the iRacing V8 Supercars Series and finally the Ruf Cup.

The thing is, I honestly haven't touched any of that stuff yet. I'm perfectly happy honing my skills in the little Mazda MX-5 Roadster. When the season ends in a couple of weeks I think I might include the Spec Racer Ford Challenge in the next season.

Just to show how much I have improved, my record on the track is starting to speak for itself. I've now clocked up a total of 6 wins and I've got 41 top 5 finishes. This translates to a win percentage of 6.9% and a top 5 finish percentage of 47.13%. I'm really happy with that, I think I can improve on my top 5 percentage, but having 6 wins so early makes me very happy.

Click to enlarge
On top of that, I've been working harder on my iRating. When you sign up, you start with an iRating of 1300, you gain or lose points based on your results. Generally speaking, if you finish in the top half you gain points and if you finish in the bottom half you lose points. How may points depends on the iRatings of those you are racing against. In simple terms you take points off drivers you beat and lose them to drivers who beat you... but I think that only happens if the drivers you are beaten by have a lower iRating than you do. As the points are always shared out, it means the average iRating will always be 1300. So, for the first time since I signed up for the iRacing service I have an iRating above my starting point of 1300! I'm now sitting on 1350.... I'm officially above average (just).... YAY!

Click to enlarge
As you can see from the graph above, I started on 1300 and lost a lot of points quite quickly when I started playing. Not really a surprise, most people go through this phase as they learn the ropes in the Rookie series. After that I just sort of bobbed along for a couple of months, I hit my low point around the middle of January. I had a run of bad luck and results. I decided to buck my ideas up and really concentrate on finishing the races, I started a steady rise and then had a slight setback for a week on a course that I just didn't do well on. But this week is a really strong course for me and I've managed to really shoot up. The question is, when we move to a new track next week, will I be able to hold on to those points?

The title of this blog is "more gear and more of an idea", well I've covered the latter part of it, but what about the more gear bit. Well, I've installed an upgrade to my pedals, the brake pedal to be exact. The Thrustmaster T500RS comes with a fairly nice set of pedals, they are well constructed. The problem is that the brake pedal is a potentiometer-based sensor, so the further you push the pedal, the harder you brake. This sounds okay, but it's not very realistic. What I've installed is a load-cell sensor, this means that the harder you push the pedal, the harder you brake. It's a subtle difference, but it makes everything so much more realistic. The brake pedal actually feels like a brake pedal now, you can really stand on it. Before it was just a spring and the force required was the same throughout its travel. With a load-cell sensor it's much easier to be consistent with the brake because it's easier to feel how much pressure you apply compared to how far your foot travels. As a result, lap times come down and my consistency has improved. I took a lot of photos when I installed it, so I might make a separate post on this at some point. But here's just one photo to show what it looks like.

Installing the load-cell sensor with pedals stripped down.
If you want to know more about this mod it's called the Ricmotech Load-Cell Upgragde Kit, click on the link to find out more.

Having installed the mod I found that driving full races was pretty hard on my feet. The metal pedals and the added pressure needed to brake left my feet feeling sore. I started to wear slippers when racing, and that helped a lot, but my slippers are quite big and are the slip-on style. This meant it was far from ideal for driving in! So I started to think about buying another pair of slippers, but then I saw a pair of racing boots, with a nice rubber sole. So they would protect my feet, but still give a good feel for the pedals, something normal shoes with thick soles don't allow.

As the price of the racing boots was more or less the same as a new pair of slippers, I went with that option.... and here they are:

My racing boots with the upgraded brake pedal (it looks the same)
So yes, I'm now one of those sad sim-racers who wears the gear. I've not gone so far as to buy gloves and a helmet... yet. The thing is though, I can actually see the advantage of wearing gloves in longer races. I'm not competing in those yet, but if I ever do I would have no problems getting some. As for the helmet, well I'll draw the line at that one!

Think that's all for this update, I'm sure I'll be back with more soon.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

iRacing: Promotion

Now that I have my new PC gaming rig setup and running (You can read about that in this post: PC Build - It's done), I have been able to get back to the important task of gaming. More importantly, iRacing!

The good news is, I've managed to get promoted out of the Rookie class and I now hold a Class D license. It was achieved through a few more races, just keeping things clean, not worrying too much about my finishing position, but just keeping my incident points low. That seemed to be the key for me, getting the safety rating high and not worrying about trying to go fast. That's not to say I finished every race last, I had a couple of third place finishes, but the goal was to get out of the Rookie class and worry about iRatings later. You see, once you're out of Rookies, you can't get relegated back down. Now I have a D class license I can't get any lower, that's not true of the next tier, C class can be relegated back down to D if your safety rating drops too far.

So now I've progressed I have more options open to me, I can race an open wheel class in the Skip Barber, the SCCA Spec Racer Ford a Pontiac Solstice or Cadillac CTS-V. There's also the Mazda MX 5 too, which I actually really enjoy driving now that I have a grasp on the handling.

The other cars all have their own advantages and disadvantages. The Skip Barber is great fun, but is a nightmare to handle on cold tyres. The Cadillac has lots of power, but is a real handful. Then of course I have a load more courses available to race on, so if I thought I didn't have enough time to get to grips with things before, I'm really swamped now. You need to choose a series to specialise in really, or you'll just be very mediocre in them all.
Skip Barber - iRacing

I would love to get into the open wheel cars, so that would mean driving the Skip Barber. But I don't have the skill yet, so for now I'm sticking with the Mazda. I think I need to get to grips with the tracks in the slower cars before progressing onto the Skippy.

What that means is that I'm racing in races that don't qualify me to get another promotion. The Mazda is below my MPR (Minimum Participation Requirement), but that's not really something I'm concerned with at the moment. Getting into Class C would be a nice achievement, but really if I just concentrated on that I'd be doing myself no favours. I'd be progressing too quickly for my true ability, that wouldn't be fair on other people racing either. I don't want to start becoming a hazard to other drivers on the track!

Very respectable 2nd place (click to enlarge)
But the Mazda can be a lot of fun and it's suprising how much better I am driving it now. I have far less trouble keeping it on the track (thought that's not always true), and my times are more competitive. When people aren't ramming into me or I'm going cross country because I forgot to brake early enough, I can keep pace with the front runners for most of the time. The one thing I do still struggle with a little is my consistency and managing to complete 20 laps without making mistakes.

The good news is that I am quite good at not hitting other people, but the downside to that is I'm probably being a bit too conservative when it comes to overtaking. If I'm faster than the car in front, I generally just drive slower rather than risk a contact by trying to overtake them.

What's more annoying is being hit by other people, I had a race last night where I started 3rd on the grid with a field of about 19 cars. Into the first corner I was hit from behind and pushed off the track, I re-entered in about 10th. Then at the end of the lap going back onto the start/finish straight, the car ahead of me just spun in front of me, I had nowhere to go so ended up hitting his out of control vehicle. Very frustrating, but no real damage as I had managed to brake enough to make it a relatively light contact. But this meant that other cars behind me carrying speed on the straight cruised right by me. By now I was back to about 15th, so a huge number of places lost on the first lap, and all through no fault of my own.

From here though, things only got worse. I had already picked up 8 incident points thanks to the two contacts that I really had no fault in. But on the next lap coming up to a tight left turn, I started to brake at my normal braking point, but the car behind me had carried too much speed through the previous turn, he lost control and spun his car right into the back of mine. Another 4 incident points bringing my total up to 12, and enough damage that I had to get towed back to the pits. After this I was very disappointed, I didn't want to continue. I retired from the race and lost about .22 points off my safety rating, that's a huge hit for barely completing two laps and not actually having any fault!

There was another race where I was actually in 3rd after about 9 laps in a 20 lap race. Myself, 1st and 2nd were all within 2 seconds of each other so it was a close race. Then we came up on a back marker who was being difficult and not moving out of the way. The leader got sick of being held up and tapped the slow car from behind, a good driver would have been able to control that, but this person was obviously not that good as A) their pace would have been quicker and B) they would have pulled over and let us through. Subsequently, as a result of the nudge the driver lost control, 1st and 2nd got through, but then the car lurched across the track and hit my offside rear just as I was going past. Sometimes it just feels like the iRacing Gods have got it in for me!

My car took some damage and my pace suffered as a result, fortunately our pace at the front had been good enough that I was able to lose time on each lap, it meant that the leaders got away from me, but I was still able to nurse my car to the end and finish in 5th, only losing 2 places over the remaining 10 laps.

I'm not terrible after all! (click to enlarge)
It's not all bad news, I have had my first win... YAY! I was still in the rookie class, I started in first and got a good start to keep out of any first corner nastiness. I led the whole race and even had the fastest average lap time to validate my win and prove that I wasn't just holding everyone else up! I did miss out on setting the fastest lap time by around 3/10ths which was a bit annoying, but you can't have everything.

The timing sheet proves it! 1st place. (click to enlarge)
So, my iRacing career is having its ups and downs, but I'm settling in, finding my feet and getting to grips with the vehicles. I hate to be one of those "like driving on ice" people, but it really does feel like that when you have no experience driving these cars. Without the feedback in the seat of your pants from the cars grip and relying solely on the wheel and sound makes it very difficult. But once you've spent time with them, you start to find the limits and can pick up on the indications better. I'm still a long way off being what I would consider to be "good", but with time and practise I hope to get there.

I'll be back with another update when I have something to share.