How Real Life Drivers Can Use Sim Racing To Improve

The power of using a simulator to advance a drivers skills is no longer a secret thanks to iRacing, Assetto Corsa, R Factor and other programs popularity rise.  Whether you compete in High-Performance Driver Education track days, Autocross, or club racing you can immensely benefit from sim racing.  But, you need to use the tool correctly, we have seen sim racing all too often lead race car drivers to form bad habits on the race track.

These bad habits are not just centered around over aggressive race craft as a result of having a reset button.  They extend into driving fundamentals such as lines, turn in speed, brake application, and throttle application.  

Real life drivers have to decide if they want to use sim racing as entertainment or use it as a tool to get better in real life.  They can do both, but they need the discipline to separate those modes in their mind. So, if you are a driver looking to use sim racing as a tool lets dive into some different ways you can use it.

Where Do We Start?  Mindset!

Sim racing’s biggest advantage is helping drivers train their minds.  It is very mentally demanding, for some, it’s even more mentally demanding than real life driving.  To understand how to use it, we will first breakdown each of our mental states while driving.

At Racers360 we believe the mental challenge of racing is far superior to the physical challenge.  As drivers, we really need to focus on improving our mental intensity and mental endurance.

Picture mental intensity as your qualifying mindset, very intense on perfecting the lap but is typically not sustainable for a long period of time.

Mental endurance is where consistency comes in.  Being able to not only go fast but do so every lap without mistakes.

We can work on both on the sim but we want to focus on one or the other to create the best practice scenario.

Improving Mental Intensity On The Sim

Setting yourself up to practice improving mental intensity on the sim is very similar to practicing qualifying.  In this mode, we want to keep our runs and the entire practice on the shorter side initially. To start even going for a 2 lap outing will work.

What do we want to focus on here:

  • Getting up to speed quickly
  • Going after the “perfect lap”
  • Keeping up with correct driving fundamentals

To practice this mindset we want to do “reps” of qualifying.  We set the car up to be low fuel and a session should last between 8 - 15 minutes, we hope to do at least 3 reps of these qualifying sessions.

The great thing about the simulator is that you can use it to get immediate responses for biofeedback training.  Every driver performs their best in different mindsets. Personally, I want to calm myself down and focus on my breathing to find that “zone.”  To start I fully recommend experimenting with different ways to find your zone, but I believe for the vast majority of drivers focusing in on your breath and calming your mind will be the best answer.

While you are experimenting with different ways to find that zone you will be able to get immediate results with your qualifying times.  During your qualifying run take into account the best overall lap time, how fast you were able to come up to speed and then how close your next laps were to your fastest lap.

Initially, you will most likely make a very high amount of mistakes so be prepared for that and push on.  During these practice sessions, we expect for you to become very mentally tired and make more mistakes the more sessions you do.  That is expected and the moment you become tired mentally is when you are training your mind the most. Over time these mistakes will become less and less and your consistency will improve as your fastest laps improve too.  

Mental Endurance Training

We want to combine that mental intensity short term driver mental training with a longer duration session where we focus on consistency and limiting mental errors.  

The focus of this session should be:

  • Limiting mental errors
  • Consistent lap times
  • Consistently executing on driving fundamentals

To set this up we want to have a car pretty full on fuel to allow for a session that lasts 30 minutes to start.  Eventually, you can bring this up to last as long as you want! Our goal here isn’t fast lap times here to start, in fact, in the beginning, you should not care at all about what your fast lap is.

We want to finish the race distance with no mistakes and take a look at the gap from the fastest lap to the slowest lap and work on reducing this way down.  Depending on the car trying to get this within 3 tenths of a second or so ideally.

Combining The Two Together

As the driver starts to build a solid foundation and is starting to see some improvement we then will want to build in a program that combines the two mental states together.  Let’s face it the best drivers are those that can have a higher level of mental intensity and maintain that for longer periods of times.

That is a skill that is absolutely trainable, but we want to master the basics first and find the mental state that the driver performs best in first.  When we get to this stage we want to keep the length of the mental endurance training.

We now want to focus on building in some speed and maximizing that fast lap in the stint, while continuing to focus on the gap between the slowest lap and the fastest.  This is real life race training at this point!

Depending on the car, as we progress we should be able to take full advantage of the peak of the tire, then see our lap times come down and near the end of the fuel, stint see them pick up slightly again.  

We want to constantly check in on the mind and body and ask yourself are you thinking about what you should be?  Taking breathes on the straights, relaxing the hands and checking in on that mental chatter are all things you can incorporate into your real life racing.

Focus On Skills Over Lap Time

As simulators get better and better this last topic will become less and less necessary, but as of now it still needs to be mentioned.  If you are using the simulator for a tool, make sure you are driving with the purpose to correct your real life driving techniques and not just going for a fast lap time on the sim.  

Even on the best of sims the best lap time on the simulator is often generated by using slightly different lines or techniques than what we do in real life.  

You can absolutely practice nearly all the skills you are working on in real life on the sim.  It is a fantastic place to work on things like:

  • Trail braking
  • Early but slower turn ins
  • Delaying initial throttle application spot
  • Keeping eyes looking far enough forwards
  • Timing of downshifts correctly
  • Reducing maintenance throttle

That is just some of the things you can work on, the list can keep going.  So, just have the right mentality if you want to use the sim for a tool.

Want to learn more about the topics you can practice on iRacing, assetto corsa and other racing simulators?  Here are some links to more great free articles at Racers360:

Reducing Maintenance Throttle - Why Is It Important?

What Is Trail Braking & How To Trail Brake 

Does An Earlier Throttle Application Mean A Better Exit? 

Where To Look On The Race Track 

Does A Late Apex Mean A Late Turn In? 

Remember to have fun with all of this as that is what we are here to do!