Saturday, 31 May 2014

Finding speed at Okayama in the Ruf C-Spec

What a difference a day makes.

I had put the mid corner oversteer in the Ruf C-Spec at Okayama down to my driving: too much trail braking up to certain corners leading to not having enough traction on the rear tyres when I tried to accelerate.

I had gone through all of the setup options I thought would help, but after reading through some forum posts it appeared adjusting brake balance forward might also help with it. And in fact on using the maximum front balance allowed - 54.3% - the car was transformed. Instead of being hesitant mid corner with throttle application I became much more confident. The 1.33.5 that seemed distant from the current personal best of 1.34.5 became a 1.32.9.

And that time is with practically race fuel, and without having pushed it to the limit, also without having a feel for the width of the car yet. With more experience and a low fuel tank I'm confident of a 1.31.5 time.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Don't ask what telemetry can do for you, ask what you can do for telemetry

We've all seen race engineers hunched over displays, gazing intently at traces that spike and trough in ways that are thoroughly unintelligible for the uninitiated. What they're doing is attempting to discover and identify issues with the car being analysed.

Now I have no great understanding of this science. When I was working on the C-Spec setup at Okayama earlier in the season I was doing it based on feel. I tried the lowest value then the highest and compared the feel of the two. From there I went to a third value in between them, biased towards the better feeling, and adjusted downwards or upwards from there.

After spending some time researching telemetry I've come to the conclusion that in fact that might be the best solution. At least the best primary source for adjustments.

I re-installed Motec after having messed around with Atlas. I say "messed around" because Atlas is not particularly user friendly, to the point I didn't even know what unit of measure it was using. Motec right out of the box with a default setup has the required information right there, to the point I went straight to the suspension histogram - I didn't even know what it was called from my fumblings with Atlas.

I can see how it's worth experimenting with the bump and rebound on three of the four wheels. I want to see how the car handles with them being more symmetrical. And tyre temperatures on the outer sections are much cooler. That suggests camber changes to improve the amount of tyre in contact with the road.

The latter I could see from wear in the garage. And with iRacing wear is most likely the most reliable measurement for camber.

But, having made those adjustments I will still go by feel, and won't be afraid to discard whatever shock changes the Motec histogram suggests. Though I am likely to see how garage tyre wear and the Motec temperature telemetry compare.

Perhaps the most important thing about analysing telemetry is that it makes you think about the science behind how these cars actually work out on the track.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

The right here and right now drivers

This is an example of the downside of sim racing. The driver on the inside is clearly not alongside, and as you can see from the angle of the steering wheel at bottom left the car on the outside is already turning in, at the proper turn in point.

The common mantra - and it's not specific to iRacing - is that it's the responsibility of the overtaking driver to ensure a safe pass. The best way to do that is to be alongside in the braking zone. An attempt to pass later than that increases the danger with each foot of ground covered.

The second pass I made last week into the second chicane at Oulton Park was about as late as I'd want to take it. I was alongside at the turn in point. Those passes look dramatic, but it requires compliance on the driver being passed to do it without incident.

When a driver dives down the inside at the turn in point that is not a safe pass. The overtaking driver deserves to have the door shut firmly in their face. It's what is popularly known as a dive bomb.

The overtaking driver in this case will most likely struggle to handle the apex at that speed, which increases the risk of collision mid corner even if the car on the outside isn't turning into th actual apex.

This is what I call the "right here, right now" approach, which is sadly prevalent on iRacing. There is actually a very long straight two corners away, but the overtaking driver wants to make the pass on a fast right hand corner, rather than even look down the inside into a slow hairpin leading onto the straight.

This is racecraft. But in the culture of hotlapping at iRacing that's a difficult thing to preach. You are more likely to hear Senna quoted, which given the medium we're working with, and the lack of bodily and structural risk, is not conducive to good, clean racing.

But as you drive you do make note of who you can race with, who you can trust, and who you need to close the door to, nice and early. And, unforuntately, who you just need to let go so they can ruin someone elses race.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Working on lap times and lap quality at Laguna Seca

So I have a 1.39.5 at Laguna Seca so far this week. The fastest time I have seen so far in iSpeed is a 1.37.5, whereas previously I would expect to see 1.36's, so the track is slower this season. At a guess I would estimate I need to be about 1.39.1 to equal my personal best pace here.

That said I need to work on tidying up my laps. It's an issue I have with every other track - not being precise enough, creeping off the kerb on entry in particular.

The plan to race on Tuesday, Thursday and also Saturday must come second to spending what little practise time I have today to neaten up my laps and hopefully thereby increase corner entry speeds, and thereby lower lap times, and make them consistent.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Farewell to Oulton Park

That's it for Oulton Park this week.

I have to say it's one of my favourite tracks in iRacing. It helps that it really does suit the Skip Barber car. It's a long track, but it doesn't have the really long straights that can become tiresome in a low powered car. I don't even mind the back-to-back chicanes. In fact it's been interesting working on those two sectors, as chicanes have always been an issue for me.

The brak pedal modification certainly helped. I'm much more confident in hard braking phases.

Three races with two podiums. The third was a stronger strength of field, and not being confident of my lap one performance I started from the pits. Two aggressive passes when I caught the field were undone with a spin in the first chicane. But I picked myself up for an eight place finish, which at least meant I didn't lose much iRating.

And improvements in both personal best, down to 1.52.4 and optimal time, down to 1.51.5. Thats a big gap, but on a long track like Oulton Park it's a challenge to be consistent through each sector. I did feel I was improving with that towards the end, but there are still a couple of things I needed to work on.

However that will have to wait for another time. Laguna Seca awaits, and that's a track I've consistently had problems with.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Logitech G25/27 pedal upgrades and threshold braking

They say in racing you can divide gaining time into three sections: the line; corner exit and "braking and entering".

Time gained from mastering each part, for each corner, is measured in that order. Seconds for the line and corner exit, and tenths for the braking phase and entering the corner.

The last part, even though the time gains are relatively small, are where the hardest improvements come from.

That's why the brake pedal becomes the most important of all three, though that importance with regard to lap times is often either underestimated or overlooked altogether.

What does that mean for a sim racer? It's quite common for drivers to upgrade their pedals. The Fanatec range with load cells are popular. But those are quite expensive.

An alternative is to mod the pedals that you already have. The Logitech G25/27 is a very popular wheel, shifter and pedal set. The problem with the brake pedal is that it's not progressive. The same amount of pressure is required all the way through its travel. But even with a potentiometer inside rather than a load cell it can be improved significantly.

The first upgrade for the pedals is a Bodnar cable. You can learn more about it and purchase one here. With this cable you connect the pedals directly to your computer through USB, no power required even from the USB port, and the pedals resolution increases from 256 to 1024. That's quite an improvement in resolution.

The second upgrade is to the aforemention brake pedal. This upgrade is a little more invasive and requires opening the pedals casing, which, therefore, may mean voiding the warranty. It's a simple procedure, though you should allow an hour to complete it.

There are many pedal upgrades available for the G25/27 pedals. The GTEye modification replaces the smple factory spring with a progressive spring. With that improvement it becomes easier to find the threshold braking point, making braking more consistent and efficient. You can learn more about the GTEye modification here. The benefit of using this brake pedal modification is that while pressure differs as brake pedal travel increases, the pedals don't have to be hard mounted. It's probably the most gentle of its type in that regard.

With that installed it's useful to "short calibrate" the brake pedal so that the threshold braking point is in a part of the brake travel range that feels good, and is therefore easier to replicate.

These simple and relatively inexpensive upgrades will not only improve your lap times, but they will also at least extend the usefulness of the pedals, and quite possibly satisfy your need for better pedals completely.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Testing with the Skip Barber at Oulton Park International

Taking a break from the Ruf C-Spec and work on setups. I expect to return to it in a couple of weeks, and at that time I will probably do more with telemetry. Although that alone is a huge subject.

The reason for the pause? The Skip Barber series is at Oulton Park this week, and Laguna Seca in one weeks time, and I want to complete an eight week season. I still have much to learn.

That said, I was quite pleased with the ninety minutes I spent at Oulton Park so far. Aside from the chicanes there are a couple of corners - the carousel and the second last turn - that I've struggled with previously. I handled them much better, almost without even having to think about them. With regard to the chicanes I went through both reasonably well.

There are still improvements to be made, but it's a better start than I expected.

Official practise and races start on Tuesday.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

iRacing Ruf C-Spec initial setup at Okayama

It's the end of a week where I spent most of what free time I have for sims with iRacing. And specifically the Ruf C-Spec at Okayama.

I'm not going to go into detail with iRacing in this update. That will have to wait for another time. Suffice to say at this point is that it promotes itself as a motorsports simulation.

I'm not driving the C-Spec this season, but I am preparing for next season, when I plan to concentrate on the Ruf Cup series, which is essentially a Porsche Cup, but with the Ruf substituting. That's the nature of licensing deals in the modern world.

The Ruf Cup is a C class series. I currently participate in the Skip Barber D class series, but I'm taking this week out of the twelve week series as a "drop week", and instead I've put time into developing a setup for the C-Spec.

Now this is the first time I've really put this amount of time and thought into a setup. I confess I'm still learning what does what and why. And perhaps that is an advantage in some ways. I'm just following the numbers at this point.

The goal I have is to create a setup that behaves well in four cornering phases: straight line braking; turning in; mid corner; and corner exit. I want a setup that allows me to be back on the gas before or at the apex, without having to come back off it to compensate for oversteer.

I don't expect to have it finished this week. I'll continue improving it - hopefully - during future drop weeks. As of now I've worked on brake balance, spring perch offset, bump, rebound, bump stop, spring rate, ARB and toe - in that order. That's not to say those values are final. Far from it. I expect to go back and adjust everything when I've completed the initial setup.

It might be the setup or it might just be me, but I still don't have the confidence to be aggressive with the throttle at the apex. I'm easing it on as I roll out, whereas I'm lead to believe the Porsche is best driven with trail braking to the apex and then hard throttle - "the grip will be there". I find it oversteers into a wall.

Again, that might be me more than the setup. This is how it looks - work in progress - right now:

And below is a lap of Okayama with that setup. Why Okayama? Well, it's notorious for becoming a bit slippery, which means, at least to me, that if the setup does what I want it to there, then it should be pretty solid wherever I take it. And aside from minor changes per track I want this to be a solid base.

And that is mostly it for setup work in the C-Spec at Okayama for this week.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Opening thoughts on sims and how I got here and where I'm going

I'm an old school simmer. Back from when you had to wait for a sim to arrive in the post, and it came in a box, with a manual, and a keyboard overlay. And you felt disappointed if that was all you got.

At that time Microprose ruled the skies - and the seas, and the battlefields. You looked forward to a Micrprose release perhaps just as a previous generation waited eagerly for the next Beatles record. You knew you were in for something special when that big, heavy box hit your doormat. Not only did you have a great new game to play, you had a thick manual to read for weeks.

First sim of note? That would probably be F15 Strike Eagle. When I look at it now on Youtube I can't imagine how engrossing it could be, but it was. I still have vivid memories of timing drop tank release, and climbing at just the right rate to the best cruise altitude, but still not making it back to the carrier after a particularly long mission. I'm guessing that would have been Persian Gulf.

I think there were only three terrain colours; green, yellow or blue for the sea. You knew you were over your objective when you came upon a triangle. And whether you had to bomb or land on it, it was always a triangle.

And then there was Gunship. I still get tingles watching the Apache rise up on the loading screen. I can remember being at a friends house and watching that load for the first time. It was still very simplistic, but what stories it told, or helped you tell. Pushing the nose down, picking up speed, sprinting from hill to hill, then rising up and looking for targets. You'd see the word "target" flash up, then point the nose at the black speck, lock onto it to frame it, to get a wireframe BMP or whatever it was. Then the fizz of rockets or a missile at the aiming point or the buzz of the gun.

To this day one of the greatest sim memories I have is flying down a valley and suddenly having to autorotate for a hard landing, sitting there wondering what on earth had just happened, just as a Hind flew directly overhead from behind, evidently admiring its handiwork.

Another highlight would be standing in the newsagents and gazing at an advertisement for Silent Service on the back of C&VG magazine. Those were the days we bought actual physical magazines, too.

I sank - pardon the pun - a lot of time into that. As with many of these titles there came a point you just learned how to be good. A lot of that was just down to pure repetition. But even so I have fond memories of war patrols racking up huge tonnage. Night was particularly atmospheric.

The games were updated, the graphics improved. There were some things gained, some things lost. But there was a magic not just about those titles, but also that time. Perhaps part of it was the developers love of what they were doing. You didn't need huge budgets, huge teams. I'm sure as much as Sid Meier loved his income during those boom times he must have loved every minute of creating those games, too.

Of course those are not the only sims I played, from flight sims, subsims, to wargames. I covered the whole genre.

A part of that was also racing titles. I half remember one or two that were ahead of their time, held back by the technology of the day. But Geoff Crammond made a real success of racing sims. Again published by Microprose. I can't recall quite such detailed memories as with the previous titles, and I'm not sure I was all that good at it, but being a part of a racing season, building a story, that was the attraction.

Another big part of that time was wargames. I put quite a bit of time into the top down map oriented strategic titles, from the more simplisitic SSI titles - what a company they were, too, and sadly missed, but then discovered a new title under development by Big Time Software; a computer version of Squad Leader, the legendary boardgame.

The title was eventually released as Combat Mission, and the developers became Battlefront.

The first title was revolutionary. For a long time we had nothing but the demo, but what a demo it was. A 3D landscape with representations of infantry squads and individual vehicles, fighting through sunshine and rain. It was an impact BFC struggled with when they released the next generation of the title, but that should not be held against them too much. Combat Mission was the title you just had to have if you wargamed.

What do I sim now? Well, all will be revealed in future posts. But I hope that will provide a frame which will make subsequent comment, reviews, and general contributions more relevant.