I tried something last spring when COVID-19 started to cause havoc on life. I wasn't sure it would work but I started offering virtual coaching sessions on iRacing and other popular simulators to real-world drivers preparing for future events or looking for some general input. How does one coach someone on a "video game"?
My idea was simple and I do not believe the first of its kind. I don't consider myself a "pro" at sim racing nor do I pretend to make you a faster sim racer. The goal of my program is to use data and visual feedback to work on your real-world racing and driving habits. A lot of our inputs are from our real-world habits such as trail braking, throttle input, etc. It's easy to even mixup habits from both genres of the sport. Let's be honest, some moves you do in a simulator will not translate well into the real-world. So the mindset has to be 100% focussed on your actual driving habits, not just setting the fastest lap in a simulator.
One of my first clients was a driver out of the UK racing a BMW in a club series and wanted a day of coaching at Brands Hatch. I of course said I would be happy to provide my services. I have never been to Brands Hatch but that doesn't necessarily matter, sure a local driver with hundreds of laps may have the secrets of every bump and pothole but he was looking to improve on primarily braking and throttle application.
It's pretty simple. I host a session on iRacing, a Zoom meeting or whatever service you like to screen share data, the client joins, and we started with some data laps. I ask for ten fairly quick laps to get started unless they have zero idea where the circuit goes, I watch, then I get the data file. The client I am using as an example actually didn't even have me set a target lap because that wasn't really the primary purpose of our session.
After we have some laps logged from the driver I can upload that into (in this case AiM) and I can look at every single piece of data I would ever need to see. The beauty of this system is the "car" is virtual and has a sensor for everything, so it's not dependent on the system you use in real life. For example, if we were only using an AiM Solo we could not see actual throttle or brake pressures. Just a fun fact you can even see the computer's CPU usage on the data! Even cooler, if you have a real AiM dash, the newest models are USB compatible to be used as a legitimate dash on your sim rig.
After around five hours of driving, we went through a lot of data and a lot of laps. Once again the main focus was not lap times but vehicle dynamics, mainly from driver inputs. The end result was dropping well over four seconds in the simulator. Once he made it to Brands Hatch? He managed to shave over 1.5 seconds off his previous fastest lap in real life. The most time was made up under braking and getting the car to rotate properly to get back to power. The driver had a bad habit of braking, then easing up pressure towards turn in, before adding a tiny amount again, and then releasing. A lot of this was fixed by working on hitting reference points and not braking early. The other bit was giving him that same bit of trail brake pressure but consistent throughout the entire corner entry and then getting back to throttle smoothly. He also had a tendnacy to release the brakes too quickly sometimes. I had him also send a bit of video and date from a real-life event at another circuit and noticed very much the same footwork.
It's important to note one major thing that can control the outcome of this though. The simulator the client is using has to be of good quality and realistic. Meaning a brake pedal with practically no weight is not going to be receiving the same input you would give a real-world brake. The same goes for throttle and to an extent steering. Naturally, we will adjust our driving habits a touch on a simulator to go faster on the simulator while some of those adjustments will not translate to the real world, and in some cases, if they did they could be catastrophic. So the ideal setup is a true dedicated rig with a nice pedal and wheel setup. Such as something from Fanatec. Depending on the driver the use of either VR or triple monitors is also a big plus, especially if you are newer to simulators as the lack of vision with a single monitor can throw you off.
Overall, I have been excited to see those I have worked with actually improve real world lap times from virtual simulator coaching. While we have definitely praised the use of a simulator for cheap and almost limitless laps at home, it seems the time is arriving where you can also implement a coach into this as well at a much lower daily rate and chose from people worldwide, not based on a geographical location.
If you're interested in trying out some virtual coaching, contact me! I would be happy to answer any questions and see if I can be of help!