Getting Ready to Race

After calculating the championship standings after 7 rounds and an especially bad race at Interlagos I knew I’d have to dig deep if I wanted to beat Jason, Derek and Dan. I wanted to beat them so there was only one choice – get off my arse and work.

Here’s my diary of preparation the week before the 60 minute race at Le Mans and the final round of our championship.

Tuesday 9th, Day 1

I started preparation with 4 or 5 laps before work. The idea was to just get some laps in and get familar with the track. Although I’ve driven it a few times before I’ve never really worked on it. I started to think about which parts would benefit from the most work. Using the RSS tyre I had a best time of 4:00.096.

Over lunchtime I printed out a track map from Race Optimal and had a look at their suggested line for a GT3 car. I also watched the track guide made by Kie25 which was nice and short. Some of the track guides ramble on for ages but he managed to get through it quickly.

Later that evening I watched the video again and made some notes on my track map – specifically braking points that I might have missed otherwise – like the kerning at the start of the Mulsanne kink and the green astroturf on the start of the Porsche curves. At this point I also added all of the GT Sport sectors too. This would allow me to match my times against the map and hopefully allow me to see which corners I was losing speed in. Looking at the map I decided that Mulsanne corner was the best place to start hard work: on the end of a long straight and at the start of another it was obviously going to be key to a good lap time.

During my early laps I also decided that I wanted to concentrate on improving my braking. I’d noticed from the display screen that I was braking to hard and losing traction. Braking earlier and in a more controlled way would allow me to carry more speed through the corners than stamping on the pedals!As I was starting a new track I also set the brake balance back to 0 and the traction control to 1.

After some chores I sat down again and using the Time Trial mode I banged in about 10 laps – initally they were pretty bad – in the region of 4:10 but after working hard at Mulsanne and carrying speed through the two chicanes I got it down to 4:01.483 with an optimal time of 3:59.060. I recorded of the sector times for the best and optimal laps in a spreadsheet so I could track progress over the week.

I wanted to get an idea of which tyre would be better on race day too. I knew I could usually get about 22 minutes out of a tank of fuel in the Corvette and there was no way I could get a set of super softs to last that long! I tried a lobby late in the evening and only managed to get 4 laps in before I needed fuel – 16 minutes! The soft tyres were still in good condition though so I went out again with a set of super softs and this time tried to adjust the fuel burn as I was driving in the slower parts of the track. I (just) managed to get 5 laps out of them – I coasted into the pits. I’m confident that with practice I can pull this off so it looks like I’m going to go for a 2 stop strategy on the super softs with fuel saving.

While in the lobby I also learn that the track limit penalties were very severe. It wasn’t until the 2nd stint that I got a clean lap in – that’s definitely something to practice more of. The track was also a lot more slippery off the normal “road” sections.

After the first days work I was fairly happy and decided that I wanted to concentrate on the Porsche curves and saving fuel tomorrow as well as general consistency. The Porsche curves are an area where I’m particularly weak and there’s a lot of time to be found. The fuel burn will allow me to save time from an extra stop.

Wednesday 10th, Day 2

The classic La Sarthe photo opportunity

I kicked off the day with a quick 5 laps around the track, back on the super soft I was much quicker than yesterday with a best lap of 4:00.6. I was much better through the Porsche curves – starting to get the hang of the ryhthm although still struggling getting everything hooked up for Maison Blanche where I often run wide. Reflecting on the laps I decided I wanted to stay in 5th after crossing the start line for the Dunlop curve and following chicane. I was also losing time going wide into Terte Route and the Esses

In the evening while I had a pint of Camden Hells I did around 20 laps. First of all in a group of 4 and then 2 stints of 5. I had a quick break and then banged in another 5 laps. I still need to practice fuel saving – the knobs in the wrong place on the wheel but I can get the hang of it by Monday and if it saves me a stop then its definitely worth while. For the last stint I had an average lap time of 4:04 and an optimal of 4:01. I really need to get the average down to 4:01 if I’m to stand any chance of beating Dan and Jason on Monday. In the last stint I was especially happy as I managed to avoid collecting any track limit penalties which plagued me for the first 15 laps.

I’m now quite a lot smoother on brakes and can start to apply them later and harder. I’ve moved by braking points for both L’Archie and La Florandiere chicanes up by a few meters. I’m getting more confident at Mulsanne corner but still not 100% consistent and it’s very easy to spin the rear out on the exit. I adjust the brake balance to -2 to help me a bit here.

The places were I’m really suffering now are sector’s 5 and 6 – the Mulsanne corner to the Porsche curves. I’m losing time in two corners which is affecting the whole lap – the entrance to Indianapolis and the exit of Arnage. The two corners are separated by a short straight and I’m finding it hard to find a braking point for either while also finding it very slippery on the exit of Arnage. This is where I’ll be concentrating on tomorrow. Once I can do those two corners consistently I think I’ll be able to start concentrate on bringing down the overall speed and managing my fuel.

Later in the evening Dan and Jason joined the session and although they spent a lot of time driving around together their fastest laps were 13 seconds slower than me. I’m pretty sure they’ll find the speed by Monday though!

Thursday 11th, Day 3

I got 7 laps in before work – I quit the last one after making a mistake at Indianapolis and needing to get to work. None of them were especially good and the key thing I took away from the session was that I can’t allow my mind to wander while driving… that’s when I make mistakes. My optimal lap is so far away from the actual lap time though that I need to go back over the replay of the session and see what was special about each of those sectors.

Lap and sector times from the first session on Thursday morning

After some family time in the evening I did 3 more laps in Time Trial mode with a best time of 3:59.078. I was really happy to finally break the 4 minute barrier. I stopped for some water and rewatched the Kie25 video from Monday. I was especially interested in how he was driving around Indianapolis, Arnage and how he handled the end of the Porsche curves and Maison Blanche.

I got some good tips for trail braking into Indianapolis as well as a different, wider line using more Kerb into the Dunlop curve. I tried these out with another 3 laps and was immediately faster: 4:00.034, 3:58.975 and then a 3:58.001. I was gutted about the 0.001! I had a break for a bit more family time and a beer. After that I opened a lobby but the beer had taken its effect and good laps were gone.

My plan for tomorrow is to try and get the speed and consistency I need in a lobby while saving fuel. I’m not sure if I can do this by simply being quicker, short shifting or through the fuel settings but I definitely want to be doing 2 stops on Monday rather than 3.

Friday 12th, Day 4

On Friday morning I know I needed to work on fuel efficiency so rather than do some time trials I span up a lobby with the race settings and did some laps. After yesterdays personal bestI wasn’t great and had had best time of 4:04.x. Despite reducing the fuel burn to 2 between Dunlop and Tertre Rouge I still ran out of fuel at Maison Blanche…. so working out how to do that is my evening. After yesterdays work, I was happy to be consistent through Indianapolis again – downshifting to 5th just after the green astroturf on the right before the kink and then trail braking down to 3rd for the corner.

After tea I tried to do a few laps in the lobby, without playing with the fuel settings but for some reason it just wasn’t working for me. I was picking up track limit penalties everywhere and was dog slow. I decided to take a break and made a cup of tea. While I drank it I watched some of the excellent Driver61 ‘Drivers University’ videos on YouTube, the one about drivers vision was especially good and after drinking my tea I went back to the track.

Scott Mansell of Driver61 talks about the racing line

This time I was really focussed and managed to get 5 laps consistently in the 4:01 range without picking up errors. Rather than change the fuel burn to 2 I had it on 3 at the same places. I took a break and did it again. It wasn’t a fluke. I had to take a break then for some family time but I go back on it at about 21:30. This time I did a whole race distance – 3 20 minute, 5 lap stints without a break. It was hard work but I was able to complete it and again I had no fuel issues and the tyres were still in good shape at the end of each stint. It took a lot of practice to operate the little dial on the steering wheel to manipulate the fuel settings – at one point I sat in the pits and just practiced moving my right hand from the gear change to the wheel, turning it and then returning my hand.

There are still a few places I need to practice. Although I’m much more comfortable at Indianapolis now I still always feel lucky to get through Arnage. I can’t find a consistent braking point – so that’s something to work on for tomorrow. I also need to work on the end of the Porsche curves and Maison Blanche as I’m losing time here and often exceed the track limits. Tertre Rouge could also do with a bit of work so I can avoid collecting penalties.

Still struggling at Arnage

After the 1 hour session I was joined in the room by a few other drivers and we did some 5 lap races. I was pleased to see that I was competitive with them although once they’d kicked in, the 2 beers I’d had to celebrate my 1 hour marathon didn’t help. From watching them it was clear they were picking up a lot of penalties for track limits so being able to do consistently clean laps is going to be very useful.

Saturday 13th, Day 5

Like the weekdays I did 5 laps in the morning. I was up before everyone else so I got some laps in before walking the dog. Nothing special this time, concentrating on changing the fuel map and getting clean laps.

I did a further 2 sets of 5 laps later in the afternoon. This time I was especially focussed on practicing the entry to Arnage, making sure I touched the inside kerb at the apex and Maison Blanche which remains the last corner I’m not happy with. Towards the end of the stint I tried shifting down to 4th for the second half of the Porsche curves and this seemed to balance the car much better for Maison Blanche.

Cutting it tight at the Ford chicane

I’m still finding the little dial that controls the fuel map awkward to use so I spent a while looking around some of the GT forums for advice on fuel saving. This article was particularly good and I intend to give some of the tips a try.

After we’d watched a film as a family, I did a full hour session – 15 laps with fuel saving with a best time of 4:01.6 but with to many penalties, all collected at Tertre Rouge and mostly for taking too much kerb on the inside.

Sunday 14th, Day 6

Todays goals were to increase my confidence around Maison Blanche, define a braking point for Arnage and finally crack Tertre Rouge. I started with an hour race simulation while everyone was still asleep. It wasn’t particularly good with a lot of errors – the Dunlop curve was especially poor. It was so bad I tried the last stint on the RS tyres just to see what happened and ended up setting my quickest lap of the session.

I watched this track guide to get a different take on lines and braking points which was useful. I found the discussion about brake balance and how it can help to turn a car in interesting and will try it this afternoon.

My initial test with the brake balance on +2 wasn’t very good but I came back to it later on in the afternoon and was much more successful. In truth I’d actually forgotten to reset it to 0 when I came back but I went out for a spin. To get some consistency I turned off the fuel burn and tyre degradation and on my third lap bagged a 1:58.9. I did two more in the 4:01 range and then turned on the fuel burn and tyre degradation again. I was nowhere near as quick as I had been but the car was definitely better.

It’s still touch and go through Tertre Rouge whether I pick up a penalty – usually caused by clipping to much of the kerb on the inside or not taking enough and running wide. I was also a lot better through the Dunlop curve after watching the Virtual Le Mans race and watching the lines taken, making sure that I used all of the track on the right hand side before the chicane. I had a similar experience through the Porsche kerbs, using a little bit of brake to balance the car.

Blasting down the Mulsanne straight, foot to the floor

I did about 15 more laps across a few stints at varying points in the evening, the best being the last one when Alan, Jason and Derek joined the lobby. Bored or chasing the clock, Derek asked for a race so we did a 5 lap sprint. I started in 3rd and quickly passed Alan through the Esses and chased Jason down. We fought down the Mulsanne straight, change places twice and were neck and neck into Indianapolis where I binned it and lost 6 seconds to him. I pulled them back quickly and was able to pass him on the Mulsanne straight at L’Archie chicane. From there I proceeded to pull out a 16 second lead banging in a pair of 4:01 laps and was on course for a 3:58 until I outbraved myself at the Porsche curves and ended up in the gravel. Almost all of my lead disappeared but I was able to pull out another one and crossed the line the following lap in 1st place with a 10 second lead. I was quite worried in the earlier stages as Jasons AMG is definitely quicker in a straight line than the Corvette but once I was out in the lead I was flying.

I put this down to earlier in the session I had a bit of a Eureka moment with the brake pedal where I realised that I had to push it really hard to get it on fully – it wasn’t looking at the pressure, just how much it moved. In order to make it feel like a real brake it’s very hard for the last 50% of the pedals travel and to use it I had to really stand on it. Once I did that, the car was much more stable through all 4 chicanes and Mulsanne corner and that’s where the speed and consistency came from. If I can find the time tomorrow, I’m pretty sure I can find a few month tenths.

This is what I’m hoping to see tomorrow!

Monday 15th, Race Day

After yesterday nights race and a weeks worth or work I thought that rather than play about in a lobby I’d go back to the beginning and do some time trial laps. I got 5 in with a best of 3:57.503 – I lost quite a bit of time in the second half of the lap against my session best otherwise I’d have dipped into the 3:56.

I couldn’t resist another go at lunchtime while I had the chance and while I was able to bang in a whole stream of 3.58s I couldn’t beat my earlier time, my best was 3:57.526. With another 20 minutes I’d have got there as I had the pace I just couldn’t string it together for one lap. It did make me to start to wonder what the absolute best time I could get out of the car with the BoP and no tuning would be.

For now I’m done – on to the race later this evening. You’ll be able to see how I do here.