Sim Racing

If the last round of lockdowns didn’t convince you; then maybe checking the long term forecast will change your mind. Snow is here, among many of the reasons to stay inside. In case you haven’t watched the 1st Episode of this season’s podcast let me remind you Ontario people: pulling your handbrake in the snow now definitely counts as reckless driving! Maybe it did before, but surely any type of parking lot or drifty drift in the white stuff is not worth the risk of impounding your car and losing your licence. So what’s the alternative to all this doom and gloom?

Simple, simulator racing. For the third season running I’ve been hosting my own Milk4coffee Sim ‘Beer League’ of sorts. Why do I simplify its description as a beer league? Because it is simple, easy and cheap. Oh and a lot of participants choose to race inebriated in one way or another. Which I remind you is completely legal! Unlike in real life. In case you couldn’t tell, the goal is fun. This essence is the goal of every single simulator out there, no matter how serious they take themselves.

On the level of professional to arcade-y the order of “games” goes something like this:

(1)  ARCADISHSIMULATORISH (10)

(1) Forza Horizon (2) Forza Motorsport (3) Formula 1 

(4) Gran Turismo (5) Project Cars 

(9) Assetto Corsa (10) iRacing

The last two there are interchangeable and arguable, there are also many other racing titles. But this is your most basic summary of the most popular titles out there. The difference is that an arcade style game is more easy to play and a little less realistic in it’s driving dynamics to achieve a more fun play style and atmosphere. Where the simulator is meant to be as close to the real thing as possible. Your understanding of a simulator being never as good as the real thing is a must. Get over yourself, it never will be “real”.

Enter the money game. The more realistic you want it to be, you are most likely going to end up paying more money. As with anything in life you get what you pay for. Better pedal and wheel setups versus better consoles or computers. It’s all relative. So be prepared for that. 

Next we need to talk about competition. The range of skill is just like anything else. Some people can’t swing a hammer. Others can barely hit a nail. Others wield a hammer like Thor. So keep in mind there’s lots to learn and don’t get frustrated if you’re not the best out there right off the mark. The learning curve is just like a track day, continual! There’s always room for improvement. Once you go racing in online multiplayer there is literally a whole world of people to race with and against! I’m going to take a moment and thank the nearly 20 different people who joined my league this year because we’re only a few races in and it’s already been an absolute blast. It truly is arguable that just hopping online with your friends is better than popping down to tims and standing around in the cold drinking coffee and staring at cars. Simply because it’s the same comradery but with some playful competition. I’m sure every single person would agree.

Let’s talk shop. HOW MUCH $$$?  As a baseline I’m going to use my “beer league” as an example. We play Forza 7, a game which is now a few years old and costs <$40 to play in most cases. You can play on PC or an Xbox One X, all things that are more easy to come by because they are not the latest generation. Plus you can race with a controller or a wheel. So that’s wide open. But let’s get back to the costs. Setting yourself up on a used seat and used Logitech G27 wheel which is also a couple years old will be in and around the $500 dollar mark altogether. So if you get everything used including the game, you’re looking at $500 – $800 for the console, seat, pedals and wheel to get you going. Anything less than that and you’ve got a bargain or something that might just be made with 2x4s and wood screws (yes it’s out there). The price goes up from there. The skynet, I mean metaverse, I mean sky….is the limit.

Now here’s the main thing. For that relatively marginal amount of money you can drive any car in the world on almost any track in the world, with almost anyone in the world. For that, you have to admit it’s a pretty good deal. Not a bad way to travel the world and brush up on some apex basics locked in the comfort of your own home.

 

Yours,

David Balazic

@milk4coffee 

Well, perhaps the term adults should be loosely applied when talking about this group. In body? Sure, but in maturity? Questionable at times. But I think that’s the point. We all need something that lets us forget normal adult life and be kid for a few hours. With the lockdowns of 2020, some of the outlets we had came to a halt. Pick-up basketball, soccer leagues, restaurants, traveling or even the trip to the gym were no longer options. Enter the world of online racing.

 

As soon as they announced measures in spring 2020, I knew I needed something to keep me busy at home. My usual routine of track days and car meets on the weekends didn’t look promising as the summer approached. Similarly, my Thursday basketball pick-up games weren’t likely to return anytime soon. A race simulator chair was on the top of my list, and with an unnamed website with repeating syllables and starts with a ‘k’; I secured a pair of great race seats to build my simulator setup. A few online orders for the wheel and pedals and I was ready to race. Surprisingly, racing the computer wasn’t filling that void and Forza 7 for xbox was surprisingly difficult with the assists off. Wasn’t as easy as it first looked. Slowly I got better in the next few weeks with nothing to do, but it wasn’t very social and beating the computer got old fast. Of course there are many arguably better simulators such as Asetto Corsa or iRacing, let’s focus on the ease and low cost of entry for most gamers that Forza Motorsport or Gran Turismo allows.

 

Through some common friends in the BMW community here in the Toronto area, I was extended an invitation to play Forza 7 online with a group organized by “@Milk4coffee” eventually evolving to the self titled Milk4Coffee Championship. I showed up my first week thinking I’d do great, afterall, I could easily beat the computer on the “highly skilled” setting. I had no idea what I was stepping into. A few last place finishes humbled me properly my first night. Clearly I was the newb in the room. Soon I find many people are race instructors or do time attack events, so this wasn’t a group that wouldn’t be easy to win against. I was out of my league when I joined for sure. I could figure the basic racing line of when to brake and an approximate apex, and I thought I knew about the setup of the car, but I didn’t realize the learning curve.

 

The format for the championship worked perfectly for me to learn. We got several days notice for all the car divisions and tracks for the week, so we could setup and practice in advance. Each week featured a main race taking approximately 40 minutes and with a qualifying session. We even had scheduled break times, as the night runs about 2 and a half hours long for all the races. It was exhausting testing again and again in the days leading up to the race to fine tune tire pressures and damping rates. The  challenge and focus I missed playing basketball every week I found online through difficult circumstances through an xbox of all places. Along the way the group has turned into a social circle, and we’ve grown to 25 drivers. We talk most days online, and in a world where a lot of us now work remotely, I can’t think of a better time to be involved in something like this, where I’m sure most of us are borderline postal on a good day. We need these connections with others where we don’t talk about work or parenting. Perhaps even avoid politics for a few hours too. Testing has stretched to 5 days sometimes, with us holding small practice sessions online to learn each others’ lines and try new cars or settings. We post our times so that everyone knows the approximate pace to catch. This really helped me to feel the car better and to have more dynamic solutions to car setup. Sometimes it’s just the littlest change. Who knew that softening the suspension to let the car roll a little makes it corner better sometimes?! Sure, xbox can’t perfectly simulate driving a real car, but Forza 7 is as close as I’d need.I understand cars better when it’s time to step back into my car. Consistent testing allowed me to understand all the suspension settings that I knew in theory, but was still working towards building a car to behave more neutrally. With damage, fuel and tire wear to manage during the course of the endurance race, I also learned a lot about how to be consistent without overworking the car or taking unnecessary risks. I can’t think of anything I need more on a real track day.. I’m much faster now than I was last spring; finally competing closer to the front, although still a fair way off the leaders. But isn’t that the point? Don’t we all need challenges? I also found a great substitute for some of those other things I haven’t been able to do this year. I don’t know what I would have done without it.

 

So is it a video game for adults? I hope not; adult life usually isn’t this entertaining. Instead I’ll embrace being a kid a few days a week and give myself something to work towards… I’m all the way up to 8th these days…

 

Written by:

Shawn Powell

Enthusiast