With the Ginetta x Project CARS Esports Cup less than a month away, Ginetta factory drivers Mike Simpson and Charlie Robertson took time off their busy schedules—they’re on their way to China as you read this—to explain how they use Project CARS for training, and how best to drive the Ginetta GT3 and GT4 in competition.
Mike, can we start with a chat about how to avoid flying doors?
Mike: Yeah, and unfortunately the door in question belonged to another Ginetta, too! The pit garages at Brands Hatch are really tight, you know, so a lot of teams take the doors off to work on their cars between sessions, and it must have been lunchtime or something, because this GT4 team, they put the door in place, but forgot to put the pins in. Meanwhile, we’d had a terrible qualifying and started 18th on the grid, and I had just done the BMW for third—we were on lap nine, or 10—and honestly, I wasn’t paying a lot of attention on the straight, doing probably 150mph when suddenly there was this huge door coming at me! I’m really thankful it hit it the bonnet first, vertically, and not horizontally, or it would have gone through the bloody windscreen. I was a lucky boy. And I was on such a good run, too, the car was hooked-up in the race, so I wasn’t best pleased when that happened. I could see the door bouncing toward me and I was like—what is that doing there?
As professional drivers, you guys both use Project CARS for training. Can you elaborate a little on the benefits?
Mike—I’m older and at a different point of my career than Charlie, so I use Project CARS to learn circuits, especially those I haven’t been to. An example is Zhuhai. I’ve never been to that track and it’s where we’ll be racing next week, so I’ve been training on that circuit—about 10-15 hours, I’d say—in different cars online and in differing communities, racing around Zhuhai. I’m not just learning the racing line, but I’m looking at areas such as—if you overtake on one corner, what will be the effect on the next part of the circuit? For instance, I’ve learnt that if I overtake on the last corner, I will get a poor exit onto the pit-straight, and I could lose one or even two places going down there.
When you’re racing online, are you competitive?
Mike—No, I struggle. Charlie is actually better than me. I always finish top three, but I can never win, which is very frustrating! There are some quick guys out there, some of them are fantastic drivers.
Charlie—I agree with Mike, Project CARS really is useful to learning new tracks. Neither of us has raced a lot outside of Europe, so this is an important tool for us at a place like Zhuhai. I tend to race mostly online while training, often with Mike–
Mike–He wins all the time–
Charlie–Yeah, it usually ends up with Mike trying to bin me, actually. But it’s a good game, good fun, there’s always a lobby with lots of people in it, and a lot of handy drivers, which is important. You really can’t just march in and expect to win, it’s a lot harder than you think. It’s also a lot cheaper than racing a real car, which means sim racers can spend hours fine-tuning their cars and technique, so when you jump into an online race, you meet people who have loads of experience. As speed ultimately comes from experience, you can learn a lot from these guys.
Mike—I’m seeing a lot more older drivers beginning to use simulators as well. For instance, Colin White [Ginetta GT4 Supercup winner—ed] is an engineer and successful businessman who is well into his 50s, and he has seen the value of going onto a simulator before he turns up for races; he takes time out of his busy diary to go and learn circuits. Project CARS can definitely speed-up this process, as well as helping you develop as a driver. As we say at Ginetta, you can get into any of our cars and we will teach you how to drive, how to understand what happens to the car underneath you, and you can get that from Project CARS, for sure. Some of the racing in different lobbies is very realistic … and then you get guys where you know before the start that there’s no way you’re going to make it through the first corner. But as I explained earlier, I have prepared for Zhuhai on Project CARS, and I know that, if I pass into the final turn, I may lose one, even two positions on the following straight, and I learnt that from the game, so it’s definitely useful. I have two children, and I preach this to my wife every night when I want to go onto the PlayStation. …
Charlie–Project CARS does give you more experience. I always tend to use it before a race weekend because it helps you dial into a circuit faster. If you’ve done two or three hours beforehand in the sim, you feel like you’ve already done a shakedown. That doesn’t mean you’re ready to jump into the car and run a qualifying session, but you will know your reference points and your marker points, so whatever the track, it isn’t a completely alien environment. It improves you as a driver, too, and I’m sure every young driver uses it before turning up at a new circuit because racing is all about fine margins, and everyone is just so close. Look at the Ginetta Junior Championships; there’s usually less than half-a-second between the top 20, so even a small advantage will pay off big-time.
Mike—In every sport, you’re trying to find an edge, and motor racing is no different. The days of the James Hunts, guys who would turn up with a few women after a few drinks the night before, you can’t do that anymore, you can’t get away with that. You have to be prepared, so you want to take advantage of any edge you can find, otherwise you get left behind. Our time is fairly limited—as Ginetta factory drivers, Charlie and I have a lot of commitments during the week outside of the race car—and so being able to train in your own time in your living room offers us a lot of benefits. The standard package of Project CARS that you can buy off the shelf is as good as many professional simulators I have been on. In the last five years, I’ve been on specialist simulators all over the country and yes, you get to sit in a car, but the platform they’re using isn’t as good as Project CARS in terms of modelling. Another thing about Project CARS is, it’s great for selling this sport: I know it doesn’t sell cars or parts, but it brings motor racing into the living room of so many people, and that’s important for motorsport, to help grow the sport.
With an eye to the Ginetta x Cup, can you guys give our Cup runners some advice on the cars and tracks they’ll be competing on?
Charlie–The Ginetta models have been modelled very well in Project CARS. I’ve driven all three cars in a racing situation, both in real life, obviously, but also online, and I can say this with confidence—in the sim, they’re very similar. The Junior behaves similarly on the road tyres as the car in Project CARS does. The way it moves around, it’s not a car that you want to drive smoothly. You go through a fast corner and you feel the wheel moving around in your hand, that’s the way the car is in real life. The GT4 car has a little bit of front end “push”, and it’s the same in the game as well. The ABS in the GT3, you can feel that, you got our cars very well nailed, and that’s a good thing for us. We both use Logitech G29 wheels, they’re good budget wheels, and do a good job for us.
At Donington, the most vital corner is Coppice, the second-to-last corner. Getting a strong exit here is crucial, you don’t want to scrub too much exit speed. Donington is not a complex track, but that turn will buy you a lot of time if you take enough kerb going through. The GT4 doesn’t have loads of torque, so you run the engine all the way to red line. It has no ABS or traction control, either, so when you’re warming the tyres, it’s going to want to get loose at the rear, but once the temps are up and you’ve bedded yourself into it, you can run it hard. Getting clean, nice and smooth exits, and using all the revs you have, is key. The GT4 is an interesting car to drive, and Project CARS relates what we feel in real life very well.
Mike—In the GT4, the brakes are a little too good for the car, so it’s over-braked to a certain extent, and that means it’s easy to stop in a short distance. When you hit the brakes, all the weight goes to front wheels, and naturally you generate pitch in the car which makes it want to turn because the weight is on the front wheels. The frontal dynamic aero’ package, you don’t need all that pitch on the front, so Charlie and I will hit the brakes hard initially, but straight away try and come off the brake pedal to speed up the braking phase and roll more speed in the corner. It’s very easy in the GT4 car to overstop on entry, and then you can over- or understeer on exit.
All Ginetta products have a similar philosophy: Our cars are very light, are kind to the tyres, have good grip in corners, are very agile, but they are down on power, and none more so than GT3. We have good horsepower at peak RPM, but we have low torque too, so when you change gears at 8,200rpm, you have 560ish-hp, but when you change up a gear, you drop down to about 400hp. The engine is very cam-y, very peaky. What this means is that, with the GT3, it’s important to be hard and late on the brakes, you need to be the last of the late brakers. The way to get a lap time in this car, you need to brake really late on the nose. The default setup in the game has way too much brake bias on the rear for my liking. The Ginetta Cup runs fixed setups, but you can alter your brake bias in-car, and I found pushing the bias more toward the front until you get a good feel under brakes to be important, because once you get that right, it’s all about braking into the apex, and getting a clean exit.
Oulton Park is a stop-start circuit, so the key here is to get a good corner exit. What this means is that, in the GT3, you need to be really late on the brakes and work on getting a clean exit. If you imagine your data, what you want to see in your wheel-speed-over-distance trace is a very stop-start trace—there would be a lot of Vs in there, we call it ‘V off a corner’, where you brake all the way into apex, deep and hard all the way to apex, and then get a clean and straight exit. The GT3 is not like GT4 where you can come off the brakes and you can roll more speed in, you really have to nail it into the apex.
At Brands Hatch the Ginetta GT3 traditionally struggles compared to Oulton Park because of the hills and the flow of the track, so you have to maximize the brakes, especially into Druids. Again, you want to brake really deep and work your exit. In the GT3, you can be a lot more aggressive on the brakes, way more than the GT4 car. The GT3 has ABS, so it’s really about hitting the brakes and changing down. GT3 is a different beast altogether, you have to make the most use of the ABS and braking capacity, stop it very late, get into correct gear, and get out as soon as clean as possible.
Ginetta x Project CARS Esports Cup
The qualifying round for all drivers across all platforms will be run from 18th to 21st November. All registered drivers will be invited to compete in a time-trial-based qualifying format using the Ginetta G55 GT4 car at the Donington National Circuit. To emphasise the importance of driving skills and level the playing field, all car setups will be fixed.
The Top 15 qualifiers on each platform will then move on to the Final weekend which will feature two rounds of exciting, live, online racing. First come the Semi-Finals, which will decide which 8 drivers on each platform move on to the culminating round of the championship: The Ginetta x Project CARS Esports Cup Finals.
The Finals will each feature a 30-minute race with one mandatory pit-stop, and will see the best 8 drivers on each platform fight-it-out for the Championship trophy, and a share of the £5,000 prize. The Finals will be live-streamed and feature live, play-by-play commentary.
Entry to the Ginetta x Project CARS Esports Cup is free and open to drivers of all ages worldwide. Drivers must register for the event on or before November 17, 2016, at this link. Further details can be found at the same link.