Environment Canada told us it would be a balmy thirty six degrees centigrade for Saturday’s event at Penticton Speedway, but out on the tarmac, things easily shot up into the mid forties. Chugging water like it was going out of style, and strategically positioning yourself under the pit tent to both keep out of the sunlight, as well as capitalize on any gentle breeze that may pass through the bowl, the southern British Columbia resort town had turned into an impromptu sauna. Track management wisely decided to push back practice – and the event itself – until well into the evening to avoid obvious health problems that may arise, but the effects of the heat were apparent shortly after unloading. Crew members across multiple classes were dropping like flies; the pit area a comical array of those who had doused themselves with water and looking like they’d just come back from a summer concert, in contrast with others slumped against vehicles in a desperate attempt to avoid the sunshine.
This is the environment in which I’d willingly be donning an all-black fire suit and jumping into a race car with no internal airflow for my first late model start. With the gremlins of the previous two race weekends now fully ironed out thanks to Dustin busting his ass, we were now going to dive head first into an exhibition event against some of the best stock car drivers British Columbia has to offer – drivers who had made the journey to Penticton Speedway with the sole intention of beating the shit out of each other and putting on a show for the fans. These were not guys with outdated race cars that had sat in a garage for five years and were merely trying to shake off the cobwebs; brands like Lordco – the same group that sponsored DJ Kennington’s Daytona 500 entry earlier this year – adorned the side of trailers that towered over our relatively grassroots operation.
Was it a recipe for complete and utter embarrassment at the hands of BC’s finest? Absolutely. I was not going to win, nor was I going to finish in the top three. I think that’s a given.
However, if we were able to merely hang with the pack, not piss anyone off, and not be a rolling hazard on the race track for others to scream at in the pits afterwards, just getting through the night would be an accomplishment unto itself. Late model stock car racing is the ultimate goal for any Saturday night short track racer, and most people only get there after years upon years of dedication to the sport – with the majority of my competitors for the evening driving these cars longer than I’ve been alive. I, on the other hand, was coming into the event with about a year’s worth of driving hornets of all things, and a whole bunch of sim racing experience on top of that – most of which taking place within simulators that are largely work-in-progress projects, where even the developers are unsure of their own product’s authenticity.
If we could hold our own among this group with such little experience aside from “lol video games”, it would be pretty ridiculous.
Just three tenths separated the pole sitter from last place in open qualifying – and we weren’t last. Though the car was tight through the center of the corner and needed more rear brake so it would actually rotate, I brought home sixth in qualifying; tying K&N Series driver Sarah Cornett-Ching’s father Joe, and going quicker than my teammate Steve Lengert, a former Northwest Tour driver from the 1980’s. Again, the entire field was covered by only three tenths – roughly a single car length gap at the start finish line, if not less. We weren’t embarrassingly off-pace, nor a cheeky marketing gimmick that everyone wished would shit up another track, but instead quick enough to be worthy of a spot on the grid. Furthermore, a gap that small is meaningless in traffic, indicating there was the potential for us to bring home a decent finish at some point during the evening, whether it be during the preliminary heat race, or later during the forty lap main event.
Seemingly absent of nerves that traditionally overwhelm inexperienced drivers, I took the lead about halfway through the first heat, and then slugged it out with Mark Berriau, who eventually got by me on the outside. His car is more or less an engine and tire swap away from being a full-on super late model, whereas we were down about 40 horsepower due to running our backup motor for the evening, so it was a huge confidence boost just to battle door to door with a driver of that caliber, being fully aware of how much money is in the car next to you, and your absolute underdog status.
As the pack behind me applied pressure, I simply applied more throttle and got up on the wheel when I needed to. The downright ridiculous shots you see littered throughout this article are the work of Ian Plasch, a name many iRacers will be familiar with due to his extensive involvement with the service both as a Twitch streamer, YouTube personality, event organizer, and commentator. Ian is up here for the summer following us around for his upcoming indie documentary, so what you’re seeing right now are merely teasers for something much, much bigger than just another PRC article.
Knowing how outclassed we were by the competition, it was pretty gratifying to come home with second place in our first scored session against other cars, but the biggest shock of them all arrived when consulting Speedhive for the official results. Down on power and driving experience compared to the rest of the grid, yours truly clicked off the fastest lap of the session. Judging by some of the pictures and video clips on Ian’s SD card, I most likely did it sideways, too. Now for veteran teams this wouldn’t be much to write home about – you’re not given points or extra cash for going into purple on the timing display – but given the metaphorical Mount Everest we’re trying to climb with this whole venture of throwing a sim racer into a high horsepower stock car with only minimal prior driving experience, it’s a major victory in itself. We’re not out here trying to win races; we’re instead trying to prove we belong, and that consumer racing simulators can absolutely prepare you for the real thing.
Unfortunately, the early success did not carry over into the main, but at the end of the day, that’s short track racing. Finding myself on the outside line from the very start, the 40-lap main event was spent being gradually shuffled to the back, with Dustin’s radio chatter consisting of “inside… inside… still inside… one more coming inside…” It’s obviously very frustrating as a driver to be placed in this situation, but very few short tracks feature enough banking where the high groove works; you’re instead trying to get a run on the car in front so you can either dive bomb them on entry, or stick your nose under them on corner exit. I was unable to do either; watching car after car slip past outside my window net.
The WESCAR tour events we’ll be participating in will at least allow me to try and fight back given their 100-lap race length, but considering this was only a 40 lap sprint, my only option was to fall in line behind somebody and click off laps while refining my line. It’s shitty that our finishing position doesn’t exactly indicate how well the night was going, but at least we know the speed is certainly there, and there’s only so much you can do when the pack dynamics take over. Not the first time this has happened to me; I was subjected to the same fate racing Hornets last weekend after trying to pass the leader on the outside and promptly getting freight trained.
With three to go, I got a little too comfortable with the front stretch wall after reeling somebody in, but the damage isn’t all that extensive; despite the wild footage Ian captured, I think I only sacrificed a shock – the door bar took most of the impact.
As I’ve touched on in previous entries, these cars aren’t difficult to drive – unlike what some sim racers may lead you to believe across various message boards. The challenge comes in dealing with the immense heat, the stale air inside the cockpit, the serious lack of visibility, the ridiculous engine noise, and what I’ll lump together as general cockpit G-Force effects – though that’s probably a subject that deserves more than just a footnote. In short, you’re getting thrown around a lot in the cockpit.
But from a pure physics and driving behavior standpoint, I have to re-iterate that real life feels very close to a hybrid between Grid: Autosport, and Project CARS 2. What these games both get right is in how they depict race cars to be ultra responsive and ultra-nimble no matter the situation. I’ve been in a late model for a combined total of three days – one test session, one event we failed to start due to a mechanical bug, and one full event – and powering out of a corner with the wheel pointed directly to the wall is so ridiculously easy to grasp, real life would be given a failing grade by all major simulation blogs.
What makes the driving aspect challenging – and therefore races into exciting back and forth competitions – is that unlike modern simulators, race cars are very sensitive to subtle attitude changes and racing surface irregularities. Now I’m not talking about G-Forces here, I’m talking about how the car itself responds to the track.
Most simulators – even ones that boast laser scanned content – feature track surfaces that are almost smooth as glass and are complimented with a simplified suspension model, meaning you can go out and click off ten or twenty identical laps using the same precision braking and turn-in points, which is why some guys seemingly possess robot-like qualities behind the toy steering wheel. This level of consistency is exponentially more difficult behind the wheel of a live car; entering the same corner ten times in a row, slightly to the left or slightly to the right with each lap, will warrant drastically different results – not uncontrollable or unpredictable, just different. You can get away with being a lazy slob in a simulator without much trouble, but the real world magnifies both outright mistakes, or less than ideal corner entries.
The one game I’ve felt is proceeding in the correct direction, would be Sector 3’s RaceRoom Racing Experience. It’s very difficult yet very satisfying in the Swedish-powered racing sim to hit your marks when pushing for a top time, and this is replicated in part by what Sector 3 have done with both their tires, as well as the suspension. However, where the title needs work, is in the intangible weight of the cars; they aren’t nimble enough through the progression of the corner. Whether this has something to do with simple tire behavior parameters, or the way their engine calculates weight, that’s something in my opinion they should look into. But the principle of what they’ve created – a sim in which hitting your marks lap after lap is difficult – I believe they’re onto something here; I just wish the cars were a bit more nimble, and it was instead the track geometry that made consistency difficult.
Developers who understand this element to race car driving will see competitive online races play out in a much more natural fashion, as the path to victory won’t be reached by running a very rigid line they must not deviate from at any costs, but simply by being consistent and capitalizing on the lack of consistency from other drivers. And of course, with consistency being more difficult to achieve, mistakes would be more prevalent, opening things up for natural passing opportunities rather than the hyper aggressive type of racing we’re seeing across many online leagues today.
With forest fires now popping up around central British Columbia, we’re unsure of whether next week’s event in Quesnel will be postponed by the club until a later date, though if it continues as originally scheduled, we’ll be at it again in just six days. July is extremely busy for us, but we’ll do our best to cover stories if something really intriguing lands in my inbox.