By Trace 3 Comments
Day 67: July 30th, 2013
Here we go.
Sure, I’ve driven a Miata for a while now, but that was a simple four-week season with mostly inexperienced drivers. Now I’m in a series full of competitors who have proven they can survive a simple Miata and each other, driving a car that demands calm driving under pressure, and it’s a twelve-week season. By the time I’m finished with my first Skip Barber season, I will be 30 years old and in the middle of an early-onset mid-life crisis/emotional breakdown.
Never mind that last part. Allow me to set aside this build-up for a moment and break into a tangent.
I want to take a moment to thank all of you, most notably those that have commented on my blogs and YouTube videos with advice and praise. It’s been helpful, even the times where you seem aghast over my driving skills. I rarely reply, just because it feels somewhat awkward to do so (especially on YouTube), but I read every comment, and it’s uplifting as hell.
Last week, I mentioned that I wasn’t lifting while shifting up with auto clutch, leading to an ugly-sounding shift as I banged against the rev limiter. This was discussed by Drew during his iRacing quick look, but more importantly, a single comment opened my eyes with a basic statement: Shifting up without a clutch is possible, so long as you remove load from the transmission.
Basically, lift off the gas when upshifting, and blip the throttle on downshift. It’s almost the same as shifting in real life, only in a reality where transmission damage doesn’t exist to deter a potential gearbox-shredding technique through shunning a clutch. Naturally, I had to try this out myself.
With auto clutch ticked off, I calibrated my clutch pedal, and then prepared to swiftly ignore it for anything outside of launches. At this point, I’m feeling nervous. Ticking off an assist for the first time feels a whole lot like selecting a difficulty level above your normal comfort zone in just about any other video game, except instead of enemies that soak up more damage or less ammo, a part of the world that was previously ignored is unveiled. Troubles and terrors that were previously unknown rear their heads, and it brings about a realization that, no matter how much of the simulation you had under control, you were being helped more than you realized. Your hand was held, and now it’s gone, and you’re on your own.
I pulled out of pit lane slowly in first, proceeded to accelerate, and at the top of my torque curve, I lifted off the gas, clicked the flappy paddle up, and got back on the gas. Second gear. No rev limiter, no grinding, no engine exploding into a crowd of locals.
Well, shit. This seems doable.
It only took about ten laps of driving before lifting off the gas for a clutch-free shift felt normal. I’m amazed how little it differs from what I’m already used to in sim racers, so even if transmission damage is eventually modeled, I’ll be able to retrain myself without much hassle. I’m not really blipping the throttle much when downshifting, though. It’s kind of reminiscent of how little I touch the throttle when decelerating in real life.
Haven’t blown an engine yet. We’ll see if that lasts.
Now that auto clutch is a thing of the past, it’s time for me to start practicing for this week’s race. My Skip Barber debut is at Summit Point, a track I’m extremely familiar with now. I know its nuances, so I can start off attacking the track in all but a few turns.
…then I remember I’m driving an entirely different car, one that doesn’t care for being forced back on line harshly. Smooth input pays off, and when I’m rolling through turns in an almost care-free fashion, I end up gaining time. This isn’t to say I’m being slow, just smooth when I take the proper driving line.
Practicing online in open session isn’t a necessity, but I’ve found it’s a good indicator of how my current lap times are stacking up against my potential opponents. Anybody can throw down one good lap, but to repeatedly run a fast time takes a bit more focus and skill. In this case, I’m running consistent 1:23s in my laps, and while that’s about middle of the pack for best times, only one or two drivers were catching me at a frightening pace. I consider this a minor victory for my first major practice.
When drivers pull out of the pits right in front of a group of cars, though, open practices can be a little annoying. There’s no risk to safety rating, thankfully, and I do need the practice running alongside other cars, so I tolerate the repetition of cars pulling out, spinning in front of me, and resetting to the pits to do it all over again. It’s a little bit of object avoidance, if you will.
Speaking of object avoidance, this seems like a familiar position for me at Summit Point. Damn it all.
With my first night of practice complete, my best lap time of 1:23.304 is about two seconds off of the lead pack, and one second behind what I would be comfortable running during a race. We’ll see if I get there as I keep working on my racing line and tuning my car.
…and by tuning my car, I mean ripping off the setups of faster drivers.
I’m saving my usual video plugs for the end here, since they don’t really relate to my current practices. If you watched the iRacing quick look and wondered what my perspective looked like as I pulled away from Drew, I’ll give you a hint: It was cars pulling away from me.
With the new season, tech tracks were introduced to iRacing. These are cheaper, unfinished tracks, and don’t currently merit much beyond a passing mention. Long Beach is the only offering thus far, and I ran a few laps around it for fun. This won’t surprise any of my Forza rivals, but I think more obvious braking markers would have helped immensely.