Top 5 Mental Approach to Sim-Racing and its benefits

Shawn Purdy On May 4, 2014
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I would like to start this blog post to introduce myself to people that don't know me very well. I have been in Sim-Racing for more than 15 Years. I've raced at the highest level of sim-racing in iRacing's Road Course World Championships. My last season was in 2011. I finished 4th in 2010. One of the questions I get quite often from people is how did I get so fast. Some of those are from people who don't really know me. Others know where I've come from and that I wasn't always "an Alien" What I found made the biggest difference and allowed me to grow as a driver was my mental approach to sim-racing. I'm a very opinionated and stubborn person. That means my ego gets the best of me at times. So this isn't going to be my life story on sim-racing, but will be a bit more of a guide on realizing your full potential as a driver.  
So to get back to the question. How did I get so fast? Well people want a simple answer, like I changed my wheel settings or I bought a new computer. Something tangible that's within reach. Unfortunately it's not that simple. A lot of people answer this question when asked with "Just practice more" my problem with this is if you’re practicing the wrong thing. It doesn't matter if you run 1 or 5 million laps you've just practice the wrong thing for a long time, or a short time. Knowing what to practice is the hard thing. Depending on who you are as a person this can really affect how you approach this. It's a very personal thing. I highlighted in the first paragraph some of my weakness in terms of driving. Knowing that my stubborn and egoistical nature can get in the way at times. I have strengths as well. The only reason I highlighted these is because they have a negative effect on improving my driving. Having any kind of Ego while trying to get better is counterproductive, and my stubbornness can compound that ego. As well as if I’m doing something I think is better. It could take months before I realize it’s actually slowing me down. So that leads me to #1.
#1 Be Honest with yourself.

I see a wide array of drivers that either think. A) They suck and they have just accepted it. Or B) They are amazing and everyone else must know some "trick" or "cheat". This isn’t being honest with yourself. This is either accepting defeat, or convincing yourself that you have nothing to learn. That doesn’t mean tomorrow you publicly make it clear to everyone that you’re honest with yourself. It’s just an internal thing. “Where do I really stand” Who do I look up to as a driver, that’s within my “current reach” Once you have found someone that you want to be able to beat that’s within a realistic goal. You can start to begin your journey to becoming the best you can be.

Accept your strong and weak points for what they are, and learn to change how you drive around them. Being honest doesn’t mean being negative. It means find both the good and the bad things, and truly understand yourself. For example I love a challenge. This is a huge positive, because it keeps me motivated.

To give you another example of how you can be honest with yourself. Sometimes some drivers will have some good speed in them. Just natural speed. They’re personality makes it so they drive extremely fast no matter what. But they have a tendency to crash often. This is where being honest with yourself and saying I’m going faster than my “current” ability I should slow down a little. Someone in this position might find that very difficult to do because they don’t see the value in going slower. The best description I can come up with is it’s like a building with half a foundation. It will fall down eventually but may make it through the day. By driving slower but slightly above where you feel 100% comfortable. You build your driving foundation. So driving even faster later will feel more comfortable than it did before. You’ll improve your reactions with positive reactions instead of negative reactions that will cause you to crash.  

What I mean by this is that when you get into a situation where you have a split second to decide what the right thing to do is. You will make more “correct” choices than “wrong” ones. The faster you go the harder it is to make the right choices in a shorter period of time. Those milliseconds can make all the difference. #1 is by far the most important aspect. It’s the best thing you can do for yourself. Now that you’re honest with yourself you are ready for #2.

#2 Set a couple of realistic goals

A Goal without knowing where you stand is useless. I suggest making a couple of goals. One might be to beat your current biggest rival on a regular basis. One might be to drive a race without an incident. Or to show improvement in lap time around a track you know you have trouble with. Set some small and some bigger goals. It’s important to not go too far with it. For example if your 5 seconds off Greger Huttu. Don’t set a goal to beat Greger Huttu. Most people watch Greger drive and don’t understand how he can get that speed. The reason is because you’re not close enough to him to understand it YET. I’ve heard and seen people scratch their heads over it. I’m actually saying this from experience as well. I’ve been in that position where I just didn’t understand it. I took a step back. Today I can say I see where he is better. I actually understand it. “That’s a big step for me personally” So set realistic goals. Once you beat those goals again repeat this process. If you follow this completely you may end up surprising yourself. Now that you have some goals set in your mind. Now you need to start working. Working yeah. It’s a job now smile
#3 Be Analytical and Critical but objective

This can be hard at times. If you’re like me and have any kind of ego this can be hard. Especially if you start having success with the changes you make. Success can bring back the “evil” ego that prevents you from progressing further. Always keep in the back of your mind that after a race or practice that you need to evaluate your performance and result. Even if it’s a practice session or qualifying. Anytime you take to the track save your replays and watch yourself drive from on board. When you’re driving you will not always see every mistake you make. If you do notice all your mistakes, I will cover this in #4. It’s also important to not be too hard on yourself either. It’s very important that you stay objective. What that means is, don’t let emotions effect how you think about yourself. If it makes you mad,sad or pissed off, and even Happy. It is okay to pat yourself on the back, but at the same time if you think “wow I’m awesome with what I just did there, that’s badass.” That’s your ego talking. So be proud of your achievements, but at the same time keep an objective view of your failures and successes.

Part of being analytical is not just watching yourself, but watching your competition. Sometimes you can learn something off someone else without them even knowing it! They could be taking a corner faster than you. You might see they take this corner at 140MPH while your only going 125MPH. That might surprise you, but it happens often in Sim-Racing. The problem comes in when people see something like this. They go out and try to go 140mph. You may make it sometimes, but there is a better approach to doing this:

  1. You’re not used to going that fast through that corner.
  2. You’re car may not be setup to go that fast through that corner.
  3. You aren’t using the correct line.

You need to decide which it is. So what you should do is try 130mph. If everything is okay then go 135MPH. If the car gets loose or tight you may need to adjust the setup or adjust your racing line. This is important to recognize which you need to change.

A lot of times people will fiddle with the setup, when really all they had to do was brake a little earlier! Yes earlier, did I say earlier in racing? This is very common in fact. Sim-Racers have this brake as late as you can mentality, and it couldn’t be more wrong in so many ways. It can be faster to brake earlier. When you’re rolling off the brakes, you are taking load off the front wheels. This allows the car to turn better than if you had more load on the front end. That means 2 things.

  1. The car is more free. So you can turn in easier.
  2. You need less wheel input to actually turn the car.

Less wheel input means less speed scrub. So the car will feel more neutral in the center and off the corner.
The counter to this so you can understand why it can be bad to brake too late:

  1. The car doesn’t turn in well you may miss the apex often.
  2. You scrub off speed by turning the wheel so hard and so much to force the car into the corner.
  3. You wear out your tires faster.
  4. You actually lose time in the whole braking process as well, because you’re going from a fast speed to a slow speed, really fast. Where the guy braking earlier may be going slower sooner, but carry’s more speed during the approach into the corner. Completely taking away the few mph advantage by braking later. Also an overall better speed in the middle and off. A late braking driver will be left in the dust.

So noticing these things and teaching yourself what to look for is extremely important. The longer you work on being analytical and critical of your driving the harder it will get. Because in time you will find it harder and harder to find faults. But again this always goes back to #1. Be honest with yourself. If your over correcting for loose conditions or anything small. It’s something to work on, and it does make a difference!

#4 Noticing Mistakes and your reactions

This is extremely important. Sometimes racing drivers in general will get mad or really pissed behind the wheel. This is very counterproductive to good driving. If you make a mistake WHILE driving. Forget it completely. It never happened. Make this a habit to completely ignore mistakes you make while driving. Its okay to relax this a little during say practice, because it is practice and normally you shouldn’t get frustrated. However if you find yourself getting frustrated during practice. Don’t practice anymore. Go do something else and come back later. While you are racing don’t focus on the mistakes you make because it will eventually upset you, and this will have a compound effect on your driving. Making it worse the more angry you get. If you find you’re generally an aggressive personality outside the cockpit. You need to be a mellow dude inside the cockpit. Who you are inside the cockpit needs to be very Zen. It’s not a big deal when your race is over. You saved your replay from #3. Now is the time to view your mistakes from an objective point of view. This also includes other drivers. If someone almost crashed you out of the race. Forget it! Don’t even comment about it after the race. Watch the replay. Be Objective. If it’s your fault, again be honest with yourself. Admit it’s your fault. If you want, send them a PM message after your review of the replay. If it’s they’re fault. Then just forget about it. Don’t send any nasty messages. Most times you will find you always had some blame in the crash. If I went left instead of right. Or if I slowed down a bit more, I could have avoided it. This is a combined package you have to be as Zen as possible in every situation in order to keep yourself in a state of learning. Every driver in the world can learn something. Even the best of the best. This is a never ending process and you have to accept that.

#5 Learn to drive with your ears

I consider this a mental thing because a lot of drivers tend to drive by the visual screen or the force feedback wheel. You can ask any “Alien” almost all of them use very little Force Feedback, but this a mental thing you need to work on, because if you’ve been driving with your screen and Force feedback for years, it’s a bad habit you need to get out of. We don’t have “seat of the pants” feel in sim-racing. That’s a fact, and no force feedback on the planet will change that. The sounds are the closest thing we have to knowing what’s really going on. The screens refresh rates and input lag make it too slow to rely on. This is really just a backup to a situation where you reacted late to a situation. So driving by ears really consists of a few things. 1). Engine Pitch. 2) Tire Noise.

With the pitch of the engine you can not only tell when you shift but how fast you are going. You train your mind to hear a certain pitch for a certain corner. That allows you to know you are going the right speed. You don’t even have to look at your dash display. In fact I highly suggest you build a habit of not looking at it.

Tire Noise. This one is much harder to master. Because it varies a lot from sim to sim. One sim may have a screeching sound when you turn the wheel, and that may be taken for “too much wheel input” or “too much sliding”. The truth is, this is exaggerated in sim-racing games, because it needs to be in order for you to actually drive the car. Turn your sound off completely and see how much it actually matters. I bet you’ll have a hard time driving without sound. But there is a difference between needing the sound to drive, and knowing you need the sound to drive. Once you make a mental change in your mind to rely on it. You can reap the benefits in doing so. So now it’s up to you to figure out what is too much tire noise. As I said it varies from sim to sim. So it’s up to you to figure this out. For iRacing for example you can actually have quite a lot of tire noise without losing any speed. This isn’t a bug, just that if the sound wasn’t exaggerated it would be almost impossible to find the limit of the car.

A lot of drivers in Sim-Racing drive reactively instead of predictively. You need to predict what will happen in order to go fast consistently. You do this based off experience, and by driving by sound you can learn to do this. Before you even turn into a corner you will know the car is going to understeer. Or it will get loose. I will miss the apex. You need to know this before it happens, not after it happens. The only way you can do this is by driving by sound. The visual display is not even real time. It’s milliseconds behind what is actually happening, and the force feedback is behind as well. The sound Is too. The only difference is that you can hear the tire noise from your braking and turn in point. Once you make that first action. Based off that sound you can determine the result. So you don’t have to wait to make your correction. You can start adjusting before it actually happens. Even if you have an Old CRT Computer Monitor the sound gives you an idea of what will happen before the actual event. So Even having a really good quality monitor will only make your backup plan "Visual" more acurate. No matter which way you cut it. Sound trumps any kind of force feedback or computer monitor. You may find yourself investing in a nice head set or speaker system once you find out that it really does matter!

This wraps up TheSimPit’s top5 Mental Approach to Sim-Racing. I hope you enjoyed reading!

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Billy Stanley On 2018-07-26 17:32:07
Billy Stanley

I plan on taking this advice.   Great page!


Rusty Alford On 2017-11-27 15:39:31
Rusty Alford

“Practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.” 
― Vince Lombardi Jr.


Raul Daniel On 2015-02-19 04:16:20
Raul Daniel

Good stuff smile


Phil Grooms On 2014-12-10 02:34:58
Phil Grooms

Thanx for taking the time to write this article.  I only have time to race occasionally, did a league for awhile and due to lack of practice time just do some co-op F1 stuff on the xbox.  I hope to get back into a league if time permits later on.  This article was very helpful and encouraging to me. The other technical one was good to review but I've known that stuff for years.  I seem to be stuck at a level where not only do I seem not to improve but I get frustrated to the point that racing isn't as fun anymore.  This is the kind of thing I needed to hear and I will put them to the test.  I seem to have a hard time staying focused for anything over 12 or 15 laps so I start making mistakes, getting mad then getting worse.  Nothing worse than being somewhat competitive then blowing it late in the race,, I will start applying some of these tactics and principles and setting small goals and will report back in a couple months to share my results, thanx again...Phil


Bob Phillips On 2014-06-01 06:22:08
Bob Phillips

Very interesting post and as a beginner probably the best thing I could find to start with.  Thank you and don't stop making more "how to think/act guides for racing" posts.


Mark Crooks On 2014-05-09 17:05:57
Mark Crooks

Great read, the worst part for me was progressing to A class too quickly and having a really good result one season then expecting the same level  of progression the following season. The reality is it only gets harder in the higher the levels as you progress and you have to practice and learn along the way.


Patrick Sciubak On 2014-05-07 15:26:02
Patrick Sciubak

Yup... very good read.
For me the best way to better my driving is with the ghost car... trying to beat myself lap after lap and trying new line for more speed and after I will try real opponents or the AI at max setting if possible LOL

Jack Roussy On 2014-05-07 16:53:58
Jack Roussy

Great read, excellent article Shawn.
I hope you are well.... LTNS smile
Take care
Regards:  >>>> CaTaPulT <<<< lol


Jake MacLeod On 2014-05-05 18:33:23
Jake MacLeod

Great piece for everyone from novice to advanced. I consider myself somewhere in the middle, still learning little things all the time from the faster guys that I run with. It's amazing that when I started sim racing I coundn't wrap my head around how the "aliens" were so fast. I was always forcing a poor setup to try and do what I wanted it to do. The better you get, you can really start to see why and where they are faster and begin to impliment their line and technique to your own craft. I still can't run with them quite yet but a podium here and there is huge step in the right direction. Great article, thanks for taking the time to write it.

Mark Bird On 2014-05-07 13:06:11
Mark Bird

Great read on the phychology of the self in racing and some absolute pearls of wisdom in here many thanks. Would love to see this kind of thing continued and exspanded on because it highlights the methodical way that one should aproach the task of getting faster.



Sam Compton On 2014-04-27 07:38:26
Sam Compton

very good read


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