iRacing is rightfully getting an amazing amount of buzz right now. It’s bringing many of the world’s best drivers online and keeping the racing action moving even though the cars themselves are sitting idle. But the best part of iRacing is that you can get out there and race yourself — if you know where to begin. As the latest entry in our series on getting started — including how toand the best — I reached out to a number of literal pros to see just what advice they had for you in getting started.
Mack Bakkum is a professional sim racer for Coanda Simsport and Virtual Racing School. He’s one of the winningest road iRacers, with an iRating of over 9,000, and recently won last month’s iRacing 12 Hours of Sebring.
Parker Kligerman races with BK eSports in the sim world, while in the real world has raced in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and Gander Outdoors Truck series. He’s frequently seen on TV, either trackside or on NBC Sports’ Proving Grounds. Parker got his start sim racing back in the early ’00s with iconic titles like NASCAR Racing 2003. He’s @pkligerman on the socials.
Patrick Long is best known for his role as a Porsche factory racing driver, where he’s racked up multiple class wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but has also had stints in NASCAR, Australian V8 Supercars and even rallycross. Long before that, Patrick got his start on Atari’s 1989 classic, Hard Drivin’. He’s @plmotorsport.
Nicki Thiim is an Aston Martin factory driver, 24 Hours of Le Mans class winner, FIA WEC World Champion and long-time race simmer, as you can tell from his YouTube channel and Twitch stream, both of which are @NickiThiim.
Now, on with the tips.
A lot of people, particularly experienced drivers, hop into driving sims and are immediately frustrated by crashing into the first wall they see. Any tips for complete newbies who might be discouraged?
MB: Keep at it! A sim can definitely take a while to get used to, iRacing definitely has some cars that are unforgiving. If it’s not working on a [given] day, it’s not a bad thing to have some patience and retry the next. Once you get a bit further, analyze your data. I was definitely one of the guys at first that just did endless of laps without progression. It’s a whole lot easier to improve when you are aware of what’s going on in your driving.
PK: Start simple. Although you immediately want to go drive cup cars at Daytona or F1 cars at Monaco. There is a reason iRacing set up the license progression system and why they have the lower-level series. These, just like in real life, are the best training grounds for people new to racing. Also, in the road racing side of things, the Mazda MX-5 series and Skip Barber are still some of the most popular series for very experienced racers because the cars are so much fun to drive and race. Personally, when I want to have an awesome road racing fix, I go race the Mazda MX-5; it’s damn fun.
PL: Start slow, realize that the visual and audio references are going to have more stock in what sense you are leaning on for feedback, more so than “seat of the pants.” Treat it like real life, not a video game. This will curve your aggression, and have you work up to pace rather than throwing caution to the wind. Like everything, proper practice is needed.
NT: For the newbies, there is a lot of content online to learn from. But patience is very important, and learning by doing. Takes many hours getting up to speed.
What’s the most important aspect when it comes to learning how to ‘feel’ a car through sim racing?
MB: A good wheel definitely helps! Even entry-level wheels nowadays are very good compared to what [they were] a few years ago. Play with the settings of the wheel a bit until you’re comfortable with what you feel through your hands. With a high-end, direct-drive wheel like the DirectForce Pro, it’s a lot easier because there is much more detail in the force feedback.
PK: The two most important things in sim racing are visual and audio cues. Unlike real life, you can’t “feel” the car obviously, so learning the visual and audio cues of what the car is doing is what separates the good sim racers from the struggling. Most sim racing wheels have a form of force feedback, where the wheel actually will attempt to provide feeling and fight you like a real car. But this is really a personal preference in terms of what you want to feel through the wheel and how much you allow it to “fight” you. I suggest working on learning audio and visual cues with a basic easy setting on force-feedback and eventually tweaking that force feedback setting per car as you move through the ranks. (I have been known to tweak those settings per track at times!)
PL: Feel is relative and not the main aspect of how I drive a sim. Visual reference points are key — and timing. Listen to hear what the software may be providing in feedback of wheel slip or engine note. Unless you have proper force feedback in your steering hardware or an accurate high-quality full-motion sim, your eyes and ears will be doing most of the “feeling.” In a real racing car, the visual game is very, very key, so that part is a good cross over. What we miss is that “seat of the pants” g-sensor that your butt helps with.
NT: Most important thing is, again, patience. Since sim racing is only visual it takes more time in my opinion learning it. I know there are motion simulators out there, but I’m still not convinced [they’re] doing the job.
How important is a good car setup? Should newbies just stick with baselines, or immediately start fiddling around?
MB: Setup is definitely important, but it’s not the be-all-end-all! If someone has technical knowledge of a car and setup, I think playing with the setup is definitely OK to do. But if you have none, it’s probably easiest to focus on driving first. Comparing your data to people faster than you and see how they treat corners differently is the best way to gain time, I find.
PK: It depends on what sim you are in and what racing you are doing. In iRacing on the oval side, the fixed setup stuff is so popular, you could race for years without ever touching a setup button (like me). On the road course side, the series tends to lean towards the open setup stuff. Lastly, if you want to make it to the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series or the Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup series and become a pro sim racer, you will need to understand the setups.
PL: Baselines and fixed setup races are the way in my opinion.
NT: Car setup on especially iRacing is key. We talk seconds. There are lots of good platforms out there providing good setups.
What’s the best car or series in iRacing for a new driver to start with?
MB: I think iRacing has a very decent ladder system in place. The “slower” cars like the Mazda MX-5 and Skip Barber are up first, and they teach you all of the essentials about car control, etc.
PK: Mazda MX-5 Cup!
How will someone know when they’re ready to try a race online?
MB: When you are not able to improve your lap time every five minutes anymore and can run consistent laps, then you’re probably good to go!
PK: In iRacing, after a couple test sessions where you can safely make it around the track with in a comfortable speed of the midpack. With the license system in iRacing, it will let you know quickly how you stack up and where you need to improve or drive more safely.
PL: Join some open practices and see where you stack up. If your pace of repetitive laps seems to be holding up against the back of the grid, mistake free, enter some beginner races. Just know that there isn’t a reset button and that the rest of the field are real people who expect you to know where the brake pedal is. The great part about iRacing is that there is a licensing policy. Plus, crashing and contact will keep you humble and respectful.
NT: Everyone is ready! Just get in there and have fun. It’s just a game so having fun is no. 1 priority.
What’s the most important thing for someone to do in qualifying?
MB: Try to stay calm — what you do in qualifying is no different than what you do in practice.
PK: Considering that at the Pro Invitational Races I’ve screwed up two of the three qualifying sessions. I’d say don’t screw up! But in all seriousness, qualifying is about preparation. Making sure you can drive the track in your head point by point, and it will make it far easier to hit that great lap. On the contrary, if you just wing it in qualifying as I’ve been known to do, you get a two-thirds miss rate!
PL: Go fast. Know where the peak of the tire is.
NT: Low fuel, and “go hard or go home.”
What’s your best tip for the race itself?
MB: Don’t try to win the race on the opening lap, you have multiple laps to make your moves on people.
PK: Really depends on what you are racing and where, but the biggest thing in most racing series is to balance speed vs. saving your tires. In sim racing it’s incredibly hard to feel that you’re abusing the tires. This will mostly be from visual and audio cues, but over a long stint, it can be the difference between a large amount of time.
PL: It’s the same as in nonsim racing: don’t crash, log laps. The old racing maxim still holds true: To finish first, first you need to finish.
NT: Keep it clean and send it!
What is your wheel/pedal setup?
MB: I’m using the DirectForce Pro wheel and the VRS DirectForce Pro pedals. With a high-end direct-drive wheel like the VRS DirectForce Pro, it’s a lot easier because there is much more detail in the force feedback.
PK: I have a Next Level F-GT cockpit, Fanatec CSW BMW wheel and Ricmotech pedals.
PL: I am currently using a Fanatec direct-drive wheel and some custom hydraulic pedals. Just ordered a screen with a faster refresh rate (144).
NT: I use a Simlab rig with Augury/Simucube wheelbase. My wheel is Augury, and I have some Heusingwelt pedals. I would say this is more in the “serious” end of sim racing equipment.
What’s one thing about sim racing you wish you could bring into the world of real racing?
MB: The equal playing field for all people. In sim racing you generally drive the same car, or have the opportunity to do so. So if i’m not winning I know it’s up to me to improve somewhere!
PK: Cost! The reason I have been such a big supporter of sim racing is [that] I believe motorsports has the most to gain from this explosion of esports over any other sport. Historically motorsports have the largest barrier to entry because of the ingrained high cost of doing it. Now that simulations have become incredibly realistic for a low cost and the technology to run these sims has become so affordable. Building halo series like the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series could potentially be offering motorsports a pipeline to the top levels that previously wasn’t possible.
PL: A lower cost of entry.
NT: Reset/Esc button.