The power of using a simulator (Sim) to advance a driver’s skills is no longer a secret thanks to iRacing, Assetto Corsa, R Factor, and other programs. Whether you compete in High-Performance Driver Education track days, Autocross, or club racing you can benefit from Sim racing. But you need to use the tool the right way.
We have seen Sim racing all too often lead race car drivers to form bad habits on the racetrack. These bad habits are not centered around aggressive racecraft as a result of having a reset button. They extend into driving fundamentals such as lines, turn in speed, brake application, and throttle application.
Real-life drivers have to decide if they want to use Sim racing as entertainment or use it as a tool to get better. They can do both, but they need the discipline to separate those modes in their mind.
If you are a driver looking to use Sim racing as a tool let’s dive into some different ways you can use it.
Start With Your Mindset!
Sim racing’s biggest advantage is helping drivers train their minds. It is very mentally demanding. For some, it’s even more mentally demanding than real-life driving. To understand how to use it, we will first break down each of our mental states while driving.
At Blayze we believe the mental challenge of racing is far superior to the physical challenge. As drivers, we need to focus on improving our mental intensity and mental endurance.
Picture mental intensity as your qualifying mindset, very intense on perfecting the lap but is typically not sustainable for a long time.
Mental endurance is where consistency comes in. Being able to not only go fast but do so every lap without mistakes.
We can work on both on the Sim, but we want to focus on one or the other to create the best-practice scenario.
Improving Mental Intensity on the Sim
Setting yourself up to practice improving mental intensity on the Sim is very similar to practicing qualifying. In this mode, we want to keep our runs and the entire practice on the shorter side initially. To start, even going for a 2-lap run can test us mentally.
- Getting up to speed quickly
- Going after the “perfect lap”
- Keeping up with correct driving fundamentals
To practice this mindset, we want to do “reps” of qualifying. We set the car up to be low fuel and a session should last between 8 - 15 minutes. We hope to do at least 3 reps of these qualifying sessions.
The great thing about the simulator is that you can use it to get immediate responses for biofeedback training. Every driver performs their best in different mindsets. I want to calm myself down and focus on my breathing to find that “zone.” To start I fully recommend experimenting with different ways to find your zone, but I believe for the vast majority of drivers focusing in on your breath and calming your mind will be the best answer.
While you are experimenting with different ways to find that zone you will be able to get immediate results with your qualifying times. During your qualifying run consider the best overall lap time, how fast you were able to come up to speed, and then how close your next laps were to your fastest lap.
You will most likely make many mistakes. During these practice sessions, we expect you to become very mentally tired and make more mistakes the more sessions you do. That is expected and the moment you become tired mentally is when you are training your mind the most. Over time these mistakes will become less, and your consistency will improve as your fastest laps improve too.
Mental Endurance Training
We want to combine that mental intensity in short-term driver mental training with a longer duration session where we focus on consistency and limiting mental errors.
The focus of this session should be:
- Limiting mental errors
- Consistent lap times
- Consistently executing on driving fundamentals
To set this up we want to have a car pretty full of fuel to allow for a session that lasts 30 minutes to start. Eventually, you can bring this up to last as long as you want! Our goal here isn’t fast lap times.
We want to finish the race distance with no mistakes and take a look at the gap from the fastest lap to the slowest lap and work on reducing this. Depending on the car, trying to get this within 3 tenths of a second or so ideally.
Combining the Two Together
As the driver starts to build a solid foundation and is starting to see some improvement, we then will want to build a program that combines the two mental states. Let’s face it the best drivers are those that can have a higher level of mental intensity and maintain that for longer periods of time.
That is a trainable skill, but we want to master the basics first and find the mental state that the driver performs best. When we get to this stage, we want to keep the length of the mental endurance training.
We now want to focus on building in some speed and maximizing that fast lap in the stint, while continuing to focus on the gap between the slowest lap and the fastest. This is real-life race training at this point!
Depending on the car, as we progress, we should be able to take full advantage of the peak of the tire, then see our lap times come down and near the end of the fuel, stint see them pick up slightly again.
You want to constantly check in on the mind and body and ask yourself are you thinking about what you should be? Taking breaths on the straights, relaxing your hands, and checking in on that mental chatter are all things you can incorporate into your real-life racing.
Focus on Skills Over Lap Time
As simulators get better and better this last topic will become less and less necessary, but as of now it still needs to be mentioned. If you are using the simulator as a tool, make sure you are driving with the purpose to correct your real-life driving techniques and not just going for a fast lap time on the sim.
Even on the best of Sims the best lap time on the simulator is often generated by using slightly different lines or techniques than what we do in real life.
You can practice nearly all the skills you are working on in real life on the Sim. It is a fantastic place to work on things like:
- Trail braking
- Early but slower turn ins
- Delaying initial throttle application spot
- Keeping eyes looking far enough forwards
- Timing of downshifts correctly
- Reducing maintenance throttle
Learn More With Blaze!
The secret to mastering any skill is practice! Are you looking to start your racing journey? Could you use direct feedback from a professional coach on how to improve your racing and motorsport skills?
At Blayze we give you a personalized coaching session from the very best coaches in the world. For a truly unique and personalized feedback experience, submit your performance video to one of Blayze’s highly qualified coaches. The custom-developed coaching session can help you improve your on-track, so you are performing at your very best in every race. One easy click here will take you to more details on our coaching sessions.
Want to learn more about the topics you can practice on iRacing, assetto corsa and other racing simulators? Here are some links to more great free articles at Blayze:
Remember to have fun with all of this as that is what we are here to do!