The ninth episode of The Simpsons’ twelfth season sees our bumbling middle-aged protagonist discover a crayon has taken a permanent residence inside the frontal lobe of his brain for almost four decades, and after a brief stop at the Springfield hospital to rectify the obvious problem, Homer morphs into a phenomenally competent cartoon father almost overnight – though he soon discovers he misses his classic personality thanks to the burden intelligence eventually brings him. However, during his everyday adventures without the obvious mental handicap of a Crayola missile lodged up his nose, one pivotal scene sees Homer “accidentally” prove the non-existence of our Lord and Savior to his devout Christian neighbor Ned Flanders, a conclusion he claims was the result of merely trying to do his taxes. And in writing this article, I feel as if I identify with this alternative version of Homer. I merely set out to win a hot-lapping competition in our comments section, and accidentally found major flaws in Assetto Corsa’s tire model.
I’m sure you can tell by the title where this is going, but part of the fun in these articles is discovering how we got there.
It’s a pretty easy story to follow, so let’s bring everybody up to speed. Last week, I penned a quick article detailing the adventures of an anonymous iRacing member who had configured his Direct Drive wheel in such a poor manner, the expensive toy steering wheel literally snapped around during a wreck and fucked his arm up pretty badly. I mean, the guy admitted to bragging to his co-workers about his injury, and using it to show off how hardcore the racing simulators he plays are, rather than use it as a wake-up call that fucking up your arm in the pursuit of immersion is beyond ridiculous. So I did my thing where I basically called everyone to point and laugh at the guy, because legitimately driving your ass to the doctor after an iRacing wreck of all things makes us all look like pathetic nerds who are unable to give up on their dream of driving a real race car. I thought we were going to stop at the whole Hero Card thing, but I guess not.
Anyways, activity in the comments section exploded as predicted. Some people sided with me and joined in on ridiculing those who invest thousands into a toy steering wheel to play games whose technology can’t make use of these products to their full potential, others implied I was just jealous that I couldn’t afford this expensive piece of hardware, and a handful of sim racers indifferent to the topic at hand simply pulled up with a big bag of popcorn to watch the show.
But there was this one guy by the name of Anindobaj who, to his credit, actually bothered to step up to the plate and challenge how I felt about Direct Drive wheels. He claimed they really were worth the money, and his lap times supposedly were proof that the pricey equipment upgrade paid off with on-track results – something I’ve long contested here at PRC.net. I always make Direct Drive wheel owners out to be the Gear Snobs of the sim racing world, but here was a guy who put his reputation on the line and wanted to settle things on the track – away from the trolls labeling me insane, psychotic, or holding an irrational vendetta. The guy gave me a list of times to knock off, and more or less took the stance of “my Direct Drive wheel is responsible for these lightning quick times, and your plastic wheel will never give you the level of control that I have.”
There are a lot of combinations he suggested in the above quotes, so I took aim at the car I knew I’d feel the most comfortable with, and therefore waste the least amount of time with considering it was the Friday before a race weekend, and I would need to leave for my bro’s house in a few hours. Until that day, I’d never driven the Ferrari 488 GT3. Hell, I hadn’t even bought the Red Pack yet; it’s no secret that I don’t give Assetto Corsa a lot of playtime when I’m not shitting up the world with PRC.net entries. But I love my bland and soulless GT3 stuff because they’re fun as hell at the limit in RaceRoom, so that was first on the list.
Anindobaj set the bar quite high with a 6:43.8xx using the default setup with only minor tweaks, but to my surprise, my first lap on the board blew him out with a 6:40.xxx. I was extremely disappointed. Here was this guy promising he could put up a fight against me, carrying the flag for the army of Direct Drive wheel users against the evil PRC.net, and it was over in six minutes. I went and bought the Red Pack just for this little shit-flinging session in the comments of one of my articles, I installed the newest version of the RSR Live Timing application, got all my graphics configured properly, fought with my piece of shit plastic wheel for an hour because the degrees of rotation wouldn’t change to 900 for Assetto Corsa, and in the first fucking lap, put his ass on the trailer by three seconds. That whole thing was just too anti-climactic for me.
So I got a text from my bro, and he told me to come by his house a little later than usual that night so we could crash at his place and cut the length of the drive in half on Saturday, and I then realized I had about four hours to myself – four hours I didn’t exactly expect to have when I got off work. I glanced at the RSR Leaderboard box sitting at the top of the screen, and noticed the world record was only five seconds ahead of the 6:40 I laid down with the default setup.
Eh, it’s practice for the race tomorrow. Why not give it a shot?
If there’s one car to convince me that GT3 entries are boring as hell to drive, it’s the Ferrari 488 GT3 in Assetto Corsa. Maybe it’s the way the simulator handles tire temperatures in relation to grip, or maybe these cars truly are just point and shoot automobiles – a vessel for the rich and naive to try there hand at major league auto racing – but this isn’t a fun car to drive by any means. It gets light over crests and plows through the center of the corner when you’re lazy with the throttle, but this thing is incredibly tame for a vehicle with roughly the same power to weight ratio of a Late Model Stock Car. Call me a fanboy (and it’s definitely justified here), but the same class of cars in RaceRoom are infinitely more fun to drive. You can actually get on the edge of the tire – and hold it there – in Sector 3’s product compared to what Kunos has created, which doesn’t exhibit any noticeable wiggle through the center or on exit as it should. This isn’t saying that Assetto Corsa in this situation is a kid’s game, you just can’t dance a bit with the car like you can in R3E.
I threw some setup tricks at it. I threw more setup tricks at it. I wasn’t sure how to enable tire blankets and didn’t bother asking anyone, so I frequently threw away minutes of my life on a useless warmup lap, but as the evening drew to a close and it was time for me to start packing my shit for the weekend, I managed to snatch the top spot on the RSR scoreboard by a tenth of a second. The final setup adjustment that did the job was dropping the tire pressures to a value that seemed a bit interesting in any other racing simulator, but according to the tire behavior box, it was the right call. I ended up not only grabbing the world record, but also beat the time Anindobaj had set in the La Ferrari hypercar by an entire second, a time that he claims had been set on a previous tire model.
But as PRC comments were beamed to my phone throughout the weekend, some of which discussed the results of this impromptu hot lap competition, I began thinking about certain setup techniques I used to secure the top spot, and more specifically, the tire pressures I had been using.
You see, back when I was really fucking active on the RSR Leaderboards – so the summer of 2014, when this was all there was to do in Assetto Corsa – our old pal Chris had actually done some research on the Michelin tires used in International GT3 championships, and found that the absolute minimum pressure you should be running in your slicks to ensure your own personal safety was 24 PSI. This is actually backed up on Pirelli’s website as well – there are explicit instructions on the page dedicated for racing slicks begging you to never hit the track with anything less than 1.6 bar (23 PSI) of air in your tires, and they go into pretty vivid details as to what happens if you plan on ignoring them.
I had a feeling that something was amiss – I was one or two PSI into the borderline-dangerous territory. I personally didn’t feel I should have gotten away with a World Record run when tire manufacturers were cautioning me about the exact values I was using.
And if you’re curious about what Michelin has to say about their recommended pressures as of 2016, they advise customers to start with a cold reading of 22 PSI (so their tires appear to have improved), though their descriptions of what happens when you intentionally set things below 19 PSI aren’t as vivid or hilarious. In either case, both companies more than hint at widespread destruction and carnage rather than a world record lap for the setup I put in my virtual car.
So on the outset, setup values that appeared to be experimental actually ended up being right in line with adjustments real-world teams were advised to make, meaning Assetto Corsa performs quite well in the process of transferring real setups to the computer screen – even if the values I personally used were more within the dangerous category rather than the safe zone. In this instance, I can forgive Kunos for being ever so slightly off – it’s damn close enough to satisfy my own needs.
However, this is PRC.net, and I wasn’t exactly done yet. I began to wonder what would happen if you just sort of kept dropping things, hoping I could recreate the carnage both Michelin and Pirelli had described.
Sev, Dustin, and I talked about this shit-flinging competition over Facebook for a bit, and Sev brought up something interesting from his time spent in last years RaceDepartment series for the BMW M235i. At one point in Assetto Corsa’s lifespan, like the camber glitch in Project CARS, dropping the tire pressures to the absolute minimum value allowed in the garage menu would grant sim racers with so much grip in the corners, it would negate the effects of reduced straight line speed almost entirely. Sev basically wondered if this still existed in some form, and suggested for me to try it out.
So I took things to the extreme, because you never know what results would possibly present themselves if I pushed the physics engine to the absolute limit. A quick google search found me a program to decrypt the data.acd file found in all official Kunos Simulazioni vehicles released for Assetto Corsa – including the recently released DLC cars – and I would use this as a way to deflate my tires beyond the minimum value allowed by the game, hitting the Nurburgring Nordschleife at maximum attack with four flat tires.
As you can see above, the World Record lap had been set with pressure values that were listed as extremely dangerous by the tire manufacturer themselves, but an intelligent reader on here could make the argument that I moved well away from the listed danger zone once I was able to generate a bit of heat in the tires. However, showing up to the Ring with, oh, I don’t know, 8 PSI in all four corners of the car should have caused major problems.
And it didn’t.
Still struggling to find the tire blanket option on my own, I began the daredevil test session by deflating the tires in my Ferrari like Jodi Arias, and hitting the cold & cloudy German mountain range with the pathetic value of 13 PSI on all four corners of the car. It was a bit of a balancing act; the reduced air pressure made the car sit much too low to the ground, and I needed a safe combination of suspension stiffness and ride height adjustments to make it through tech inspection. Once I found something that both passed tech and felt comfortable during the first sector of the circuit, driving this thing was fucking fun. The ultra-low PSI made the rear tires rapidly heat up during quick successions of corners, and as a driver, monitoring the tire performance application every 30 seconds or so was an enjoyable challenge that brought a new level of difficulty to a track I’d already memorized.
I would use the first lap to bring the tires to life and maintain a constant operating pressure, while lap two would be driven at maximum attack – carefully managing the life of the rear slicks. I want to go on record and say that this is the most fun I’ve ever had playing Assetto Corsa. It was like piloting a massive Go-Kart; the tires evolved in such a rapid state, there was finally a stategy to driving the world’s most difficult race track, rather sheer memorization of the line as if you’re playing the longest song in Guitar Hero.
I worked my way down to 10 PSI, and eventually 8 PSI, before the car finally had enough. At no point did the car violently spin out in the way you’d expect it to, nor did all four tires spontaneously blow apart in the way Pirelli described. If the car had a massive skid and bled off too much speed, I’d abandon the lap. Because I wasn’t just crawling around the track here; I was actively chasing the ghost of my World Record lap. Yes, on literal flat tires – so flat that I had to manually edit the Setup file to achieve such low PSI values in the first place – my ghost was always just a few car lengths in front of me on the fucking Nordschleife. Sure, the tire app turned into a neon dance party; switching from blue to green to orange to red in rapid succession, and back again, but I was still fucking flying.
On flat tires.
The final retard-tier setup I settled on had me using 13 PSI up front, and 15 PSI in the rear, with the suspension and ride height values sitting somewhere in the middle of the slider (not unrealistic by any means) so I could pass tech inspection and get out on the track in the first place. Believe it or not, I managed to stay directly on pace with my Ghost Car throughout the first minute of the lap; a tangible gap only manifesting itself after Flugplatz and beyond. No, I definitely wasn’t going to set a new World Record and ignite a week-long fanboy war with these bullshit tire pressure adjustments – the opposite of what happened with the camber exploit in Project CARS – but I definitely wasn’t slow, either.
Flat tires and a slight increase in suspension stiffness netted me fifth on the RSR charts, and to put the icing on the proverbial cake, I knocked off Anindobaj and his Direct Drive wheel by two seconds. Pirelli told me the tires would all simultaneously rip off the rims. A 6:41 at the Nurburgring Nordschleife begs to differ. Most sim racers can’t achieve this lap time with a proper setup.
So we get to that point of the article where it’s time to summarize my findings, and it’s extremely hard to do so in this instance without ripping into Kunos Simulazioni, because to be quite honest, this is truly embarrassing. In the three years sim racers have been purchasing and playing this game, Assetto Corsa has amassed a collection of eight different tire models, to the point where Kunos crew have neglected other aspects of the game in favor of perfecting what happens when virtual rubber meets the virtual road. Fans threw both figurative and literal tantrums on message boards far and wide, begging Kunos to finish the game and implement features that would turn the simulator into more than just a virtual Chris Harris experience, but time and time again patch notes would be full of technobabble discussing refinements to the tire behavior of cars people weren’t even interested in driving to begin with.
And this is the result. You can show up to the Nordschleife in a car capable of speeds over 270 km/h, deflate your tires far below pressures listed by the manufacturer as dangerous to your personal safety, and land fifth on the worldwide leaderboard with a car that’s actually quite enjoyable to drive and most certainly isn’t trying to kill you. For all the time they’ve spent boasting about having access to an abundance of real world data, and for all the tire model variations pushed on the users – each one supposedly more advanced than the one before it – this is just amateurish. As much as we joke about Simulation Value here, this is one of those moments where we have to stop giggling at the psychotic comments left by trolls, and say with a straight face that the simulation value is actually lacking in this aspect of the simulator.