Posted by: drracing | April 2, 2015

Should Motorsport revise the drivers “career path”?

Hi Everybody!
Just a short article today, about something less technical than usual, but that I found very interesting.

I am very pleased to note how more and more “sim racers” are getting access to real race cars, at least for a try and, sometimes, for the most lucky ones, for a real career chance.

Beside the now well known GT Academy (Sony and Nissan) that had “created” some professional racers taking them among the winners of the GTx series online championships, there are more and more examples of drivers starting their career with driving simulation and then moving up to real race cars.

This is the latest article i found about this topic, describing the adventure of a young but fast guy (17 years old) with no real motorsport experience, who have won a lot in IRacing Nascar online championships and then have moved for a test into a real car, impressing the team and opening himself the door for another chance.
As the article say, the budget is of course the main obstacle for such a path.

Nonetheless, all these cases prove how driving simulation could really prepare and build up a driver, at least mentally and technically (of course, there is then all what is connected to body training: g forces are still impossible to simulate properly, at any level). Commercial driving simulation software has become (some more, some less) very accurate and can replicate a race car physics behavior in a very realistic way. It is no surprise that some “sim racers” could really have learnt or improved their skills and attitude enough to race a real car, if they got a chance.

On the other side, a race car simulator is more and more recognized as one of the most effective training tools also for professional drivers (above all when budget or rules restrictions impose limits to testing), even when using commercial software.
Beside the high tech systems used since years in formula 1 (and not only for driver training), more and more simulation centers are popping up (see for example this and this), offering hours at the simulator and allowing the driver to learn or train a certain track (the accuracy of track models is another very sensitive topic, but let’s keep it out of the discussion for the time being), but also to improve their skills, train their reactions, try different techniques.
Beside this, more and more professional teams are building up their own simulator, to offer to their drivers a further tool to prepare an event and also learn how to work with the team, in particular with their race engineer.

As we had many occasions to discuss here, these simulations normally allow the use of professional data analysis software, like Motec I2 pro, something the drivers are normally familiar with and need to understand in order to effectively work with the team.

Also from a budget perspective, building a proper professional simulator (without motion systems) is still expensive for a private human being, but would probably cost no more than one or two testing days for a professional team.
Many team managers are probably still reluctant to invest so much money in such a tool and would probably be happier to spend them for one testing day more, if allowed. I can understand their point, but, to be honest, they probably don’t see the long term benefit (and, on the other hand, they would then probably make the fortune of private simulation centers that are growing everywhere).

This is also the reason why more and more drivers built or bought their own simulation rig at home or are already active Sim Racer too. Some examples are Rubens Barrichello, Stefano Comini, Rene Rast, Marco Bonanomi, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Adrian Quaife Hobbs, Benoit Treluyer.

At the risk of being not objective here, it is also no surprise for me that most of these professional simulators (or centers) are using rFactor. As I had the chance to prove myself (and probably to somebody reading here), when you know how to properly build your models, rFactor is producing very accurate results, at a very low cost.

Another thing that I find very interesting about driving simulations as an engineer, is that they could also be used a tool by race and data engineers to improve their understanding of both the driver work and the car behavior. Moreover, they could use them as a chance to learn the “tricks” of their work, for example trying what the driver reaction could be to certain setup changes, training their working strategy and the communication with their driver, improving their data analysis skills.

“Condicio sine qua non” is of course that the model is accurate and can produce reliable results. But, as I said, I proved myself how accurate they could be, when properly built.

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