Unlike most RPGs, stats don’t mean a thing in motorsports. A high horse power supercharged V8 won’t win you any races if your rear is constantly going out in the corners. Winning relies on you taking whatever it is you’re given to work with and pushing it to its full potential, and that’s also where the excitement comes from for me.
It’s understandable that the realism can be frustrating, and I get why people find arcade racers much more entertaining. Sucking isn’t fun, but I personally get much more gratification out of seeing myself get better with time and practice. I certainly do prefer it over the artificial experience you get from other games. Oddly enough, I mostly only feel this way with games like Gran Turismo and Forza.
To quell your frustration, I felt it was my duty to try and help those who just don’t “get it”. There’s only so much that the game manuals can teach you. With Gran Turismo 5 and Forza 3 in the works, I thought it was decent timing for a guide. That, and the fact that you can buy the top simulation racers on both PS3 and XBOX 360 for under $20.
I’ll explain some basic racing terms as friendly as possible, teach you how to deal with those nasty turns, and I’ll also lay down a few pointers on tuning all in a two part community blog.
Let us start with the basics; “Racing Theory”.
Now, the first thing you’d really want to do is…well, go! You’d think it would be as simple as slamming on the throttle, but things are never this easy in real life. Remember that we’re trying to squeeze as much speed as possible, so every little thing counts. Traction Control System or not, simply smashing the throttle will most likely give you far too much tire slip than you’d want. It’s nice to keep yourself in a safe zone, which means you’ll have to keep the revs low enough that you’ll get as little slip as possible, and high enough so that you wont pull out too slowly. Keep your eye on the tachometer and experiment because every car will react differently depending on many variables.
Lamentably, getting the perfect launch isn’t done uniformly. You’ll have to figure out your perfect start by trial and error, but as long as you don’t overdo your throttling or aren‘t too slow, you should do a well enough job.
Traction Control System (TCS)
- “Developed to minimize wheel slippage through turns and low grip surfaces, Traction Control works by using the ABS wheel sensors to detect if any of the wheels is spinning uncontrollably and individually brake it or even reduce engine power until the grip is restored.
Anti-lock Brake System (ABS)
- “The ABS prevents wheel lock-up during braking maneuvers by using sensors which can determine if any wheel is slowing down more than the others and computer-controlled valves which can limit the pressure delivered to each brake cylinder on demand. The whole system is controlled via a master ECU (Electronic Control Unit).
- “A single revolution of a vehicle's engine (informal) (usually plural).
- “A device used to determine speed of rotation, typically of a vehicle's crankshaft, usually measured in revolutions per minute.
There’s a very simple concept a lot of us “petrol heads” like to use when explaining the basics of sports driving. “Slow in -- fast out.” I know, I know. It sounds obvious and I’m not being condescending. This is just laying down the groundwork. Actually doing it is a whole other story.
I can‘t stress enough the goal we‘re trying achieve here. Track racing is about taking turns as efficiently as possible, and to do that, you’re going to need a lesson in braking. It’s quite possibly the most important thing you must do throughout a race. Fouling that up sets up a domino effect of failure.
A lot of newcomers always make the mistake of braking far too late, or have been brainwashed by arcade racers into thinking that it’s OK to do the majority of your braking while turning. Tires currently don’t have the level of traction to do that efficiently. It’s a good thing, too. At those speeds you’d probably lose your head
(skip to 5:30) .
If you begin to brake during a turn you’re dividing the tire’s grip in half between turning and braking. This eventually leads to understeer, which will more than likely have you missing the turn’s apex and quite possibly send you head-on into a wall.
- “Understeer is the condition in which the vehicle does not follow the trajectory the driver is trying to impose while taking the corner because the effective slip angle at the front is larger than that at the rear, instead following a less curved trajectory.
- “The apex is often but not always, the geometric center of the turn. Hitting the apex allows the vehicle to take the straightest line and maintain the highest speed through that specific corner. It is also the tightest part of a corner.
Braking is done before the turn, and not necessarily during it, though it is understandable that you’ll sometimes overshoot it. In that case, don’t panic and slam on the brakes. Turning will shave off some speed, so while you may miss the intended apex, you’ll at least make it through without smashing into the outside wall or run off the track. Applying gentle pressure to the brakes (this is why face buttons on controllers are no good) so that you shift some weight up to the front and get a bit more grip from those tires (more on weight transfer soon) is mighty wise too.
That very same logic should be applied towards acceleration. Stepping on the throttle during a turn is a big no-no. You’ll get the worst of both worlds that way. So, just like major braking needs to be done before a turn, acceleration should be done right after you hit that apex. Just remember not to slam down on the throttle too hard. You’re still exiting a turn. Depending on what car you’re in, this could lead to some bad understeer or oversteer. Ease into it. Baby it.
- “Oversteer is a phenomenon that can occur in an automobile while attempting to corner or while already cornering. The car is said to oversteer when the rear wheels do not track behind the front wheels but instead slide out toward the outside of the turn. Oversteer can throw the car into a spin. The effect is opposite to that of understeer.
If you do get into a situation where you’re a victim to heavy oversteer and your rear is slipping far too much, shift your tires in the opposite direction (countersteer) to catch the rear. You’ll royally screw up the turn, but at least you’re not spinning out.
After you’ve got your timing right on braking, turning properly is just a matter of positioning. Always enter a turn from the outside and then squeeze on down into the inside of the turn (the apex) as best as possible. Right after you’ve reached the apex (or close to it if you‘ve missed it), move to the outside of the turn.
Here’s where weight transfer comes in. When in acceleration, your car will have most of the weight on the rear tires. When braking, your car will have most of the weight up front. More weight on the rear tires means better traction for speeding up, and more weight on the front tires means you get better traction for turns.
This is where things get tricky. Trying to gauge when to release your brakes is difficult. While you don’t want to divide up your tire’s traction so much that you lose grip for turning, sometimes it’s OK to apply a light bit of pressure to your brakes. It just takes practice, and like I said before, you normally wouldn’t do that. Sometimes you just end up breaking even and all that extra effort went to waste. With practice, you’ll begin to witness your car’s potential (try doing a few laps and check if your time improves with each method).
The amount of weight transfer when coasting, speeding up, and braking varies between different cars and their different engine placements and drive train types. This is why I say that it may or may not be so effective.
We’ve got three different types of engine placements and three different drive train types. We’ve got front-engine, mid-engine, and rear-engine (though only Porsche’s really have that). And we’ve also got front-wheel drive (FWD), rear-wheel drive (RWD), and all-wheel drive (AWD) drive train types. Either difference will have a dramatic effect on a vehicle.
Two AWD Lancer Evolution cars
Engine placements affect the car’s balance heavily. Most Front-engine cars will carry a lot of weight up front unless something was done to keep the rear as heavy. Mid-engine cars strive for a perfect fifty-fifty balance, which is found in most super cars. Rear-engine cars try and keep the rear down, giving the vehicle great traction under acceleration, but this may mean that you’ve sacrificed some traction up front when turning.
Equally important to know are the different drive train types.
FWD vehicles give you a bit more stability, but have trouble handling speed. Because the vehicles run with the front tires, using the weight transfer logic means the tires you’re accelerating under have less traction (they‘re in the front -- most of the weight is on the rear).
RWD vehicles do take advantage of weight transfer when it comes to acceleration. As the weight shifts to the rear, those tires get more grip. Unfortunately, this aid in acceleration comes with a price; oversteer. You give up stability for speed.
AWD vehicles come with the best and worst of both worlds. Since all tires work towards acceleration, you’ll have the advantage when taking off. You gain around one hundred percent more grip when pulling off the start line. Sadly, like FWD vehicles, you’re going to learn how to deal with some heavy under steer, or quite possibly tune it so that torque is distributed appropriately
- “force that causes twisting or turning, e.g. the force generated by an internal-combustion engine to turn a vehicle's drive shaft.
So there you have it! The basics of sports driving!
Part two will focus on tuning your car, as well as a few other miscellaneous bits of information. I do understand it was a lot to swallow, but if you’ve read this much you have no idea how happy you’ve made me. Hopefully you’ll have learned something new, or perhaps you’ve gained some new respect for the genre.
See you out on the virtual race track!
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