Are We Losing The Magic Touch?

Marc Cohn On July 30, 2014
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I have heard all of this talk about auto clutch, traction control, anti-lock brakes, and various other driving aids being used in sim racing. Considering the fact that I have seen at least one of these tools allowed in virtually every league I have been involved in, this makes me wonder if we are losing the ability to truly drive a car how it should be driven?

I first starting thinking about this subject when I ran an IMSA GTP race at Sonoma in the MNRL series at Race2Play. These GTP cars were very aerodynamic dependent, but, the series did not allow the use of traction control, stability control or anti-lock brakes. It did allow auto-clutch for sim racers that did not have one but the mod was made to include clutch slippage if you didn't lift the gas on upshifts as well as transmission lurch if you decided not to blip the throttle on downshifts. Considering that I have been left-foot braking for many years since it is typically faster than using the right foot, the blipping was not as much of an issue as getting used to pressing the clutch on upshifts in order to assure that it wouldn't slip and lose me a lot of time. 

In the race itself, I noticed that virtually every driver (myself included) struggled with at least once instance of clutch slip due to this new realism add-on. This fact alone made me wonder if the advent of auto-clutch, auto-blip, and auto-lift in various sims has been coddling sim racers and allowing them to get away with not knowing techniques such as heel-toeing or double-clutching? 

This brings me to the point of the dreaded paddle shifters. Long story short, I hate paddle shifters! They have a place in open wheelers and prototype racing, don't get me wrong, but, there's something about an h-pattern transmission or sequential shifter that I feel is just right. It may be a bit more inconvenient to deal with because you have to reach your hands off the wheel in order to make a gear-change, but, it is easy to argue that it is more immersive than simply clicking a mechanism on the side of the steering wheel. Frankly, while I do not have a proper mounting point for a sequential shifter on my racing setup, I pride myself on using an h-pattern shifter as much as possible even if I left-foot brake. The one I have chosen is the now-discontinued SST Lightning Shifter, but, it is undeniable that there is still a market considering that just about sim racing company offers a sequential or h-pattern shifter for those that want to use it. 

The problem in the shifting category though lies in that the cheapest racing wheel available new with a clutch and h-pattern shifter is the Logitech G27 at around $220-250. Considering this is the low-end of this market, it is still beyond the market of racers that have a budget under the $200 mark. Even 
so, it is possible to blip the throttle on downshifts as well as lift on upshifts, so why in the world should a driver feel the need to use these options?

The answer? It is faster. Most racers these days seem to use paddle shifters, auto-clutch, and seemingly every other driving aid in the search for speed and to win. For instance, take a look at traction control. There are drivers that use it so that they can get on the gas as early as possible without any fear of slipping the rear tires and risking spin-inducing wheelspin, but, what these speed seekers don't see is that the aid has a couple of flaws. Firstly, it can induce understeer in high-speed bends due to the fact that any bump or minor slide will cause traction control to limit power response. Secondly, the fact that traction control limits how much power is being put to the rear wheels means that while you won't spin, you might not necessarily be getting the maximum amount of acceleration in a situation such as exiting a corner. It takes quite a bit of practice to be able to modulate the correct amount of power to use, but, I am a firm believer that a well-trained right foot can be faster nine times out of ten versus using traction control. A similar principle applies to the concept of anti-lock brakes as well. It is considered much easier to use them as you can slam the brakes when needed without completely locking them. 

However, that reoccurring chirping noise that can be heard while the ABS is activated is actually minor lockups that occur as the system tries to stop a car effectively. While these lockups will not necessarily lead to the dreaded flat-spots that ultimately limit the effectiveness of a tire drastically, they still create wear. In fact, these chirps make what could be argued as a fraction more tire wear than a driver that is able to use threshold braking in order to decelerate properly with zero tire lockup. 

In conclusion, there are a plentiful amount of driver's aids available to make their life as easy as possible out on the track. But, what is the reward in this? Isn't the point of sim racing to be immersing yourself behind the wheel of a virtual car to try and recreate a true motor racing experience?

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Dr Nys On 2014-08-30 10:58:33
Dr Nys

I think you over-estimate it though. I don't use any aids, besides the ideal line the first 15 laps if the track is new to me. I heel&to;ê which is in my case more a left side / right of my foot and i've been in the fastest split all the time in the advanced mazda's and there are lots of others who do the same.

But i had a conversation online with a real life driver who uses stepless fully adjustable TC and adjustable ABS and he did made me rethink the whole (real life) progress "we" made. I wasn't a TC/ABS fan at all. He pointed out that it isn't hard, but much easier to do quick laps with modern cars, even with limited track knowledge it's possible to go fast way quicker than before. But, and here's what i never realised, he said; It's way harder to drive the modern cars on the edge, meaning the last 1%, the really fastest laps are way more difficult. Everything's there to help you these days but if you wan't to go to the limit, were the modern stuff has also his limit of keeping the car under control, it becomes very difficult. They're not like safety aids that are there to retake control, modern racing aids are there to bring you to the limit, but once you are close to the limit it is you who needs to do the driving.

I hope i kinda typed that out in a comprehensable way because i'm not english schooled or from english toungue.


John G. Hill On 2014-08-04 16:44:05
John G. Hill

I think some cars on iRacing now have a limited traction control option, but only on the race cars where the real version has traction control.  Can't say that for a fact though, because I haven't driven those cars yet.  Just something I read.


Shawn Purdy On 2014-08-02 16:44:59
Shawn Purdy

Not to meantion with ABS in the situation you describe would also increase the braking distance. I've always avoided cars or leagues that allow aid's that the car doesn't have. Only exception to that would be auto clutch as it's unreasonable to think everyone should have a clutch. I've always avoided traction control cars for two reasons. One I find it really mind numbingly boring. and I've worked years on refineing my foot control that I lose some of my advantage compared to others. An Advantage that requires a lot of practice and skill. That for me is just dumbing down the sim in order to please the instant gratification crowd. To me allowing aid's is no different than fixed setups. It's another way for lazy people to "try" to be comptetitive when they aren't. Although it rarely makes any difference in the end.  The result is usually more boring and less enjoyable racing for everyone.

I've always enjoyed racing with a H Pattern but it's unfortuate that in most sims you either can't use it because it's way slower. So all it takes is 1 person to not use it and than everyone else won't either. Or you use it so unrealistically it's not really much fun. Really I haven't seen any sim model this correctly yet.So while it does add immersion to some extent. If your a person looking to gain any bit of time possible all the sims allow you to get away with things that are just not possible with this kind of transmission. I think if a sim company can come out with a model thats A) somewhat realistic. and b) have an option to force the shifting controls into an H-Patterned mode. Than we could have leagues with H-Pattern only. The only issue with this is people could technically program 6 buttons to be 1st through 6th. To get around having an acutal H-Pattern. Whatever you do there is always ways around it with the technology we have today. It's even possible to setup macros to auto shift for you in the optiomal shifting points. I consider it cheating, but there is people that use these kinds of things and think it's okay. It's a realty of sim-racing.

Tero Dahlberg On 2014-08-04 07:30:00
Tero Dahlberg

One thing iRacing does well, or at least better than others, is Traction Control. Most (all?) other titles offer TC as a driving aid setting, iRacing doesn't doesn't. But also the TC it has isn't like an over-protective parent that yelss you to back off from the throttle as soon as you give it a bit more throttle. It can be, if you set it higher, but it's not at lower levels. At lower levels you can still even spin the car with TC on. It helps you in controlling rear wheel slip/spin while not really taking much power away from you.iR also doesn't have TC as "a driving aid setting", it's part of the car setup options if the real car has it. In rFactor and rFactor 2 TC and ABS are only available as driving aids with just a couple/few different strengths/levels and it's quite intrusive as it really cuts down on the power output when it engages. It's super-safe. I'd imagine it's more like a road car TC and ABS where iR's is TC and ABS for race cars. One apporach is solely for safety where the other tries to give tools to control tire wear and overheating etc. while not hindering the cars ability to go fast.Haven't really played/experimented with Accetto Corsa and its AC and TC that much. But it also has, or at least had, TC and ABS as car settings if the real car has it as well as driving aids. But that's pretty much all I know about that.


Tim Chitwood On 2014-07-30 17:10:39
Tim Chitwood

I took some time off after reading this article and after some consideration I have to say "Yes" and "No." Let me explain, yes those that can race without any aids should do that. Those of us that for a variety of reasons, from physically to financially can not, it makes us more dangerous to race with. I race using the interior view and can not see around my car as well as I would like so I drive over cautiously. That will be fixed this Winter when I can finally upgrade to triple screens. However, I will still be at a disadvantage for medical reasons. Others will be limited for financial reasons. There is also the point of whether or not these vehicles have any aids built into them. The newer ones do have advanced electronics and some have abs and traction control built in. Does using them really slow you down if without them you could lose control? In conclusion, I think you raise a valid point that each of us should ask ourselves, can I drive with less aids? Should I? Can I do it safely?


Tero Dahlberg On 2014-07-30 15:31:08
Tero Dahlberg

But, what is the reward in this? Isn't the point of sim racing to be immersing yourself behind the wheel of a virtual car to try and recreate a true motor racing experience?

In one word, I'd have to answer: no. But it's not that simple in my opinion. Even though I would consider myself a hobbyist when it comes to sim racing - I still think the biggest reward of playing video games is enjoying yourself. How exactly you get that enjoyment out of a racing sim is up to you. And luckily sim racing is quite unique as you can have different approaches to it. Some want to recreate and relive all the actions the driver had to go through driving a real 1967 F1 car. Heel 'n' toe, H-shifter etc. Others just want to drive the virtual version of said car as fast as possible around a track. Left foot braking, aids, using all the surface the game allows for and so on. Whatever it takes.There's no right or wrong way to really enjoy a game. I mean excluding cheating and breaking agreements you've agreed to. But as there are different ways to approach sim racing, some people see the way others approach it as doing it wrong. I've certainly done that, and that wasn't even too long a go! And I'm sure it won't be the last time. But I'm trying to learn to be more patient and understand things better from different perspectives.So...
Isn't the point of sim racing to be immersing yourself behind the wheel of a virtual car to try and recreate a true motor racing experience?

It can be. And it is for some. But not for everyone. And no-one should try to force that on others.Need to end on a happier note :D Sim racing is a great hobby! Remember to have fun with your chosen title(s) and if you find yourself not having fun anymore, try another title. It's easy to focus on just one title and forget the others ;)


Ray Mattison On 2014-07-30 02:56:18
Ray Mattison

I agree-ish. I think you lose something with TC, ABS, and paddle shifters, buuuut... The race cars we are simulating are trending this way also. I've always loved British and American cars because they lack the gadgetry of , say a GTR or an Aventador. What they gain is charecter. 

UNFORTUNATELY even the new C7R is paddle-shifty, and gadgety. If you want to simulate that car, and I do, you have to live with aids. (Ummm the computer assisted kind, not the uhh.. Never mind). 

Even the the supposed stick shift on the new C7 Vette has some crazy trickery to make it not really fully manual. 


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