When you’re just learning the ropes of sim racing it can be a daunting, frustrating process. Here are 10 tips that I recommend that will hopefully help you get up to speed(literally) as quickly as possible.
1. One Car, One Track
It’s really tempting to jump straight into a GTE, an LMP1, or maybe a Formula 1 and… quickly send it straight into the barricades at full speeds! These sort of cars are hard to drive and you’ll quickly figure that out.
Instead, hop into something that you might consider “boring”. I always recommend the Skip Barber or the Mazda MX-5 if they’re available in your sim of choice. If they’re not, any small, light, low-powered RWD car will do the trick.
Next pick one track. A small one that has plenty of different types of turns and is in the 1:20:00 – 1:40:00 lap times. I really like jumping into Brands Hatch or Tsukuba with the type of cars that I just mentioned.
2. Turn Off The Assists
I know that it’s tempting to keep the brake assists on, or the auto clutch, or especially the driving line, but trust me on this one… turn them all off.
Having your assists on is a comfort, nothing more. There’s no advantage to having them on and it’s only going to make you rely on something that will make you slower.
There are people that will argue to keep the driving line on when you’re learning a track.
Don’t listen to them.
The braking zones and the racing line that they show are generally not the fastest or what the rest of the field will necessarily take and if you’re braking 10m before everyone else in the field, you’re gonna have a bad time.
There are also sims out there that don’t have any assists enabled when you race, so you have no choice but to go without.
Again, assists are nothing more than comfort. Learn to drive without them from the start and you’ll have a much better time. Learning to go without them later is much harder than not using them from the start.
3. Go Slow
“Slow!? But I thought we were meant to go fast!”
Yes, that’s the end goal, but it’s not how you get there! In order to be a fast racer, you have to go slow.
There is a couple of different meanings to this one, actually.
Number 1: Learn a new track slowly. Literally start at a snail’s pace on your first couple of laps, mapping the track out in your head and seeing what the possible racing lines are. Increase your speed up until you’re pushing race pace, but start out very slow when you’re on a new car/track combo.
Number 2: Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast. When you’re watching the fast drivers race, they don’t look fast.. why is that? It’s because they’re smooth. If you’re going into corners at full speed, slamming on the brakes, locking up, jerking on the wheel and scrubbing tires, you’re going to be losing a lot of speed through the corners.
Take it slow and smooth when you race. The smoother you are the faster you’ll be.
4. Don’t Race
Don’t jump straight into an online race where you’re racing against real people. The last thing you want to do is wipe out the field on turn one because you didn’t know the track, the car, or both.
Instead, practice. Practice, practice, practice. When you think you’ve practised enough, practice some more.
After that, jump into A.I races and see how you go there. If you can keep it clean for the duration of the race, then you might be ready for a real race.
For a lot of racers (especially those on iRacing), they may only get one race a night/week. If you go in there and ruin it for them purely because of your lack of knowledge on the car/track then you’ll be on the receiving end of a lot of shouting. You really don’t want that.
Practice until you can keep it clean for the duration of the race, check out A.I races, and then you’ll be ready to start racing that same car/track combo.
To this day I still do a huge amount of practice on the car/track combo that I plan on racing that week. Typically, for general iRacing public lobbies that I’m unfamiliar with, I’ll spend 3/4 of the week in practice session with only the last 1/4 of the week being races.
5. Manual Transmission Only
I know it’s tempting to stick with the automatic transmission, but it’s not realistic and it’s going to hold you back substantially.
In fact, most sims default to whatever the transmission of the car is in real life, and for most race cars it’s going to be manual of some description.
You’ll also gain a lot more control over the car. Being able to shift when you want in order to brake harder, save fuel, accelerate, and just generally use the revs to your advantage will make you much faster, especially through the corners.
6. Learn From The Pros
Watch how the top tier racers do things by watching their replays. Watch their racing lines, and watch when they’re shifting and braking.
Watch YouTube and Twitch if you can as well. YouTube has a lot of good content from professional sim racers, real-life professionals, and just generally really quick sim racers. You’ll get a huge amount of information from just watching races from these guys perspectives and from their commentary.
Twitch (and also YouTube) has a lot of live-streamed events. These come with commentators, multiple camera angles, instant replays, driver interviews, etc. Some are even on live TV now as well. Impressive!
Watching these events is a good way of seeing how the top of the top race in a seriously competitive environment (racing for up to $100,000 sometimes). I always recommend new sim racers check these out at least once as it gives them a good idea of what the best of the best sim racing looks like.
7. Set Your Field-of-View Correctly
This is something that even some seasoned sim racers seem to neglect. Setting your field-of-View (FoV) correctly is one of the most important things to get right in sim racing. If I could only recommend one tip out of this article, it would be this one.
You can use a calculator to get some rough numbers for the correct FoV for your setup. Most games will also have their own FoV calculator in them as well that you can take advantage of. Either way, you’ll want to make sure that the required measurements that they’re asking for are as accurate as possible.
Usually, you’ll be asked for monitor width, triples or singles, angles of the side monitors if triples, and distance between you and the screen.
The correct FoV will feel weird to you. You’ll probably feel like you’re looking through a tiny porthole out of your car and you’ll feel like you can’t see anything. Trust the process and stick with it for a while. If it’s absolutely unbearable after a good chunk of testing then you can adjust it slightly, but don’t stray from the numbers that the game/calculators gave you too much.
If you’re racing in VR you won’t have to worry about this as it will all be set automatically.
This is one that I don’t often see mentioned, but I’m going to mention it anyway. Posture and just your general seating position can make night and day difference to your racing.
Ideally, you’d have a designated cockpit but I know a lot of people don’t and that’s perfectly fine. I didn’t have my first cockpit until last year.
Either way, whether you’re on a desk or a cockpit, you’ll need to make sure that your posture is in check and that you’re comfortable. Make sure that your seat, wheel and pedals are all in the right places. That you’re not hunched over or on an uncomfortable chair. Make sure that your monitors are correctly placed based on where you’re sitting.
You’ll generally be in a race from anywhere from 15 minutes to a couple of hours and the last thing you want to be is uncomfortable. You’ll inevitably end up trying to adjust something mid-race and crash.
9. Force Feedback Settings
You’ll want to make sure that your force feedback settings are correct as well. Too little and you’ll have trouble controlling the car and feeling what’s happening. Too high and you’ll be clipping. Clipping is where the force feedback sends no detail through as it’s hit its maximum threshold.
You’ll want to look up guides and settings for your individual game and individual wheel as they’ll all be different.
Take the time to get this right as it’s your only physical connection to the car and the only way that you’re going to get any sort of sense as to what is going on with the car. You’ll be a faster, more consistent, and a better racer if you nail the correct force feedback settings.
10. Make Mistakes
Learn from your mistakes!
Crash. A lot.
Take that one corner way too faster and see what happens. Take it too slow and see what happens. Slam your brakes on, brake later, brake too early. Learn how to get control of the car when it is out of control.
Learning is all about making mistakes and in sim racing you’re going to be making a lot of them. It’s important to know the limitations of the car and the track. All the top racers in the world are driving right on the limits of their cars and the tracks. It’s important that you figure out where those limits are and the only way you’re going to figure out where they are is by pushing and breaking them.
One of the best things about sim racing is that there’s always a reset button to try again!
Hopefully, these tips have been helpful to you and can lead you on the way to becoming a better sim racer.
There are a lot of different tips to give beginner sim racers, but I think the 10 in this article will give a solid foundation for anyone that is looking to improve.