The dichotomy of hot lapping is that it has both an addicting natural attraction, and repulsion, for everyone who does it. Evidence of its attraction is, everyone hot laps, or has hot lapped at some time or another. Evidence for its repulsion is that not everyone enjoys hot lapping on a regular basis for very long. This can often be attributed to the psychological state of mind created when false mastery is perceived.
After as little as 25 laps in a row, most simulation drivers will reach their personal limit in which lap times no longer significantly fall, and inevitable boredom sets in. The deductive line of reasoning quickly becomes, “that’s as fast as it gets, and there is just no way to go any faster, it’s practically a perfect lap, no reason to try any harder.” Then when they see that many of their fellow competitors are not just a tenth or two faster, but 3-4sec a lap faster, major disbelief begins, and sporting paranoia sets in. They start to wonder if there is some kind of cheating going on even though everyone is in the same exact car. “Three seconds faster than my best most perfect lap, no way, impossible!” they say to themselves.
‘Pure Muscle!’ by Brocks the Converted on Flickr (Used under CC Licence)
People are quick to adopt one of three possibilities for what appears to be nearly the impossible. One is to allege some sort of cheating, or unfair hidden trick at the very least. The other more routine explanation for the impossible is metaphysical or supernatural affects. And the third is just, “dumb luck.”
Well, I won’t completely rule out cheating as a possibility, who knows what can be done with a, “moded” console, but to date, no known cheating can account for a #1 time on a hot lap leader board. It is well documented that the astronomically fast times reached by many of the worlds fastest hot lappers are for real, and repeatable. If anyone is cheating they have yet to figure out a way to be faster than the known fastest sim-drivers in the world. Though the lap times are god-like, I think we can rule out any heavenly help too. Then there is luck. Luck is a part of any game at some level, but it is often defined as too rare and unrepeatable to explain away consistently great performances. (Unless of course your name is Jimmy Johnson or Valentino Rossi. –lol)
So, if there is no cheating going on, or sim-racing gods to count on, and way more bad luck than good, then what gives? What’s the difference between an average to good driver throwing down some nice clean laps, and still being 3 seconds off the pace of the true masters of the sport?
Several factors contribute to “impossible” lap times. First and foremost perhaps is a special attitude. Dedicated hot lappers know and understand that perfection is a fleeting and relative term, and that improvements however small, are always there whether you can see them or not. This upholds the old adage, “records were made to be broken.” Hot lappers know there is always more even if they don’t easily see it. Their determination as a result becomes boundless, and only the passing of time becomes the limiting factor for them. Given enough time they will eventually find that extra tenth or hundredth of a second that inches them ever closer to the mythical perfect lap.
Another factor for supreme lap times is numbers of laps. Great hot lappers will run hundreds of laps if given the time because they know that there is a big difference between a quality lap on lap 75 vs. lap 275. They know they can rest assured more time can be cut with more laps no matter how fast their current lap is. Hot lappers are willing to pay the price or pay their dues if you will, by putting in the mega lap numbers required to manufacture a lap of perfected beauty. Like anything of value, this is hard work, and not everyone is ready to sacrifice to achieve it.
Raw skill is also important, but as with other sports it is not by itself the deciding factor. Only with hard work and practice does innate skill bring you over the top. When all things are equal, that’s when greater natural skill can make the difference, but, you still have to put the laps in first.
As far as actual technique goes and aside from loads of patience and stamina, smoother is always faster. Just like real racing, progressive steady braking and accelerating are in most cases the best way to go. To date console simulators don’t yet have the fine linear progression of a dedicated PC simulator, but it is there.
Many of the fastest drivers will use the racing line or at the very least the braking line. Even so they will go a step further and use these references to refine their optimum line.
Knowing specific braking markers on the track is essential. It is not enough to generally know when to slow down; you have to know exactly where on the track brakes should be applied so that you can increase your consistency. Guessing when to brake each lap just won’t cut it. You have to determine where each braking marker is by making note of some specific object or mark on the track in the braking zone. An easy way to learn this secret and many others is by watching the replays of the top 10 drivers. Each driver will be roughly the same, but each will do some things differently that you will pick up on, and compare, to what you do.
One of the things to look for is unusual lines on the race track. Generally speaking the wider approach to a corner entry the better; late apex, early exit on tight corners, and early apex, late exit on wider sweeping turns works best. In either case, it is critically important to run over the inside rumble strips and as close to catching a penalty as possible. Always cut the corners as close as possible, without incurring a penalty of course. This takes a certain fearless finesse because no one wants to ruin a perfect lap on the last corner by clipping it too close.
An over looked human area of optimum performance while hot lapping is driver fatigue, and pacing ones self. Not everyone can run lap after lap hour after hour for an entire evening. In order to perform your best and maximize your performance, better usually, is to take your track time in stints of not more than 30 laps at a time. Take a break, get something to drink, and then resume for another 30 laps. Keep your faculties fresh, so your concentration levels remain high, and you will see more gains.
Another area that needs scrutinizing is the approach to the track itself. Break it up into segments you can manage. Don’t try to run a whole perfect lap, try to run perfect segments, and once mastered move onto the next segment, until you have every segment mastered, and then you can go for a, “perfect lap.” This approach helps you see where you are strong and where you are weak on the track. By doing this you can spend more time on the segments of the track you are weakest on, while being confident about the areas you have mastered.
A neat trick to play on yourself psychologically is to purposely create a ghost that is substandard or flawed in one segment of the track, and very good in all the rest. By allowing your ghosted car to be somewhat slow in the first segment for example, this allows your solid car to take the lead through the first segment, giving you a clear view of the track, and real hope that you have a chance to stay ahead of the ghosted car for the rest of the lap. Doing this also allows you to place more of your concentration on problem areas of the track. Using different ghost cars helps break up the monotony and the rut of repeating the same mistakes over and over again, and feeling as if you can not make progress.
Love it or hate it, hot lapping has its rewards, and everyone does it a little. Personally I’m more into the thrill of racing, but if you want to be fast hot lapping is not an option, it’s a must.
So how does all this advanced advice and instruction work in actual competition? Not bad for this racer, enabling me to hover in the top 50 out of some 5,500 competitors in the current, “Road & Track” sponsored FM3 Time Trial. Hopefully with a bit more perseverance I can stay in the top 50. Look for “AAR GTDon” to see how I do with the 2010 Mini Cooper at Laguna Seca, and be sure to try it yourself.
Just remember to have fun, show some patience to pace yourself, be smooth, cut the corners, break the track down into segments, and know you can always, always, do better.