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The art of sim-racing
A lot of people quickly realise when they start playing hardcore sim-racing games, that they are often out of their depth, or are struggling to keep the car on track, never mind drive fast and keep on beating their own Personal Bests.
In most 'normal' games, like FPSs, RPGs or RTSs, it is relatively easy to learn the basics of the game, but will take a long time to master. Sim-racing games are a little different.
Firstly, like with everything unfortunately, it requires a lot of time and a lot of practice, and some patience because the chances are you'll have to learn a lot of new stuff too. The reason for this is that sim-racing games (and simulations of any sort), the bar is set quite high just for starting out.
What I hope to cover in some detail (although not fully as such a topic can never be truly fully covered) is the basics of sim-racing. Bear in mind that a lot of this (indeed practically all of it) is transferable to real-world racing. The same is also true of the reverse - the majority of sim-racing concepts are borrowed from real-world racing. This is hardly surprising considering sim-racing is attempting to model the real thing as closely as possible.
The racing line
This is the very basics of driving fast. On any track, there will be generally a single line which will get you around the track in the shortest possible time. It will allow you to maximise the amount of time on the throttle and accelerating, and minimise the amount of time on the brakes and decelerating (negative acceleration). Thus mastering the racing line is the most important thing to do before anything else.
The racing line aims to straighten out a corner, and the track in general, as much as possible. What this means is that a corner can be attacked at higher speed. This is because a straighter line through the corners means that less steering needs to be done, and the power can be put down onto the road. The grip of the tyres spends its time pushing the car forward, rather than around corners, and hence you're using your car at its possible best.
An important thing to note here is something where a lot of people can get confused. The racing line through a corner is the line that gives you the highest speed through the corner. It is not the shortest line through the corner in terms of distance. The two are rarely related, and often the shortest line around the corner is the twistiest and not the fastest. This is an important distinction to make.
In some games, you can turn on a racing line guide, which will give you an accurate overlay onto the track which you can follow. However, it is a good idea to getting used to finding the racing line by yourself, and it is generally quite an easy process once you get used to the idea.
Generally with every corner there is an apex to the corner that needs to be hit. Doing so guarantees that you are taking the widest, and therefore the straightest (and thus fastest), line out of the corner. By straightening out the corner, the edges of the corner must be used. In order to position the car for the apex, when coming up to the corner, most corners demand you be on the outside part of the straight, in order to use the least effort turning into the corner and clip the apex. If the car stayed on the inside leading up to the apex, far more steering would need to be done, and the line wouldn't be as straight, and thus the car would not be putting as much power down onto the road as it could be.
The racing line is a fundamental principal to going fast, and really makes the difference. As acceleration is a rate of change and not a constant value, a big difference can be made to an overall lap time when acceleration is begun by the driver fractionally earlier or later.
To see this, consider the following example. Say a driver is exiting a corner, and his initial speed at the moment he exits the corner is 30 metres per second. In one case, he manages to get the power on immediately. Another driver manages to get the power on after just 1 second. This means that after just 10 equal seconds from the exit of the corner, driver one is doing 40 metres per second, but driver 2 is doing just 39 metres per second. After 10 seconds they will doing a difference of around 2 mph in top speed. After 20 seconds this will have increased to 3 mph. Although this seems very small, it means that driver 1 will be able to brake sooner for the next corner because of his higher speed. This deceleration will further increase the gap in time, even if the driver behind thenceforth drives bang on the same times as driver 1. The difference he lost near the start will be hard to gain back unless he drives quicker than driver 1.
The balance of the car
Once you have mastered the basic racing line of the track, and have gone as fast as you think you can go with the default setup of the car, its time to begin tinkering with some of the cars settings. This means playing around with things like tyre pressures, brake bias, cambers, springs, wing settings etc.
Now, although this is always a point of contention, It is important to note here that setup changes will not necessarily make you faster. It will only better suit the car to your driving style. However, the degree to which a setup change will change the car, or just make it plain faster is a bit blurred. Things like top speed and so forth can be changed in the setup of the car, and thus make your car physically faster. However, for the purposes of this hub we will stick to just balance changes.
There are two terms that need to be understood here then as a result, Understeer and Oversteer. Understeer is when the car drifts towards the outside of a track, and no matter how much turning of the steering wheel is done, the car will keep drifting outwards. Generally, the only way to combat this is lift off the throttle whilst still turning, to try to give the front end of the car more grip than the back.
Oversteer is the opposite, where the front end of the car has more grip than the rear end of the car. The balance of the car needs to be addressed in order to try and regain neutral balance.
The ways of solving issues to do with car balance are far beyond the scope of this hub, but there are numerous guides and tips on the internet that tell you exactly what changing tyre pressures or cambers will do to your car. It is also worth bearing in mind that setting up a car is different depending on whether it is a road-course or oval-course car.