As sim-racing technology expands, widens, and deepens the experience of what it is like to build, tune, and compete in a simulated car, issues of real world application begin to surface. A cross reference from one world to the other starts to take shape allowing certain questions to be asked, and repeatable tests to take place that can validate or invalidate our assumptions in both worlds.
Take for example the area of tuning. In the real world of racing, tuning is an endless array of always changing fine variables. The perfect setup is the goal, but in real racing is never truly achieved. Tuning is a long list of compromises and error corrections that is part engineering and part feeling. No two car tunes (or track conditions) are exactly alike, even when carefully prepared to be exactly alike. In the sim-racing world however, cars can be carbon copied as perfect clones of one another. Tuning can be identical. And conditions can be exactly the same each test. Because of this non-varied precision, simulated cars lack a certain animated inconsistency that real cars have in spades. Due to their consistency, simulated cars are easier to come to grips with as a somewhat static model.
For some, tuning a simulated car has only marginal positive affects, while others are convinced that their hours of careful tuning is a massive help they couldn’t possibly do without. Console simulators like Forza and Gran Turismo are never going to have the fanatic attention to tuning detail of PC based sims like iRacing, but, they will continue to step closer with each new version. Yes, it’s true that console sim makers have gone to great lengths to avoid making their games “too hardcore” and in favor of lasting broader appeal, but, as they improve, technical details sharpen. No matter how much you try to dumb things down, eventually technology will necessarily free up more options for you to play with.
Each year simulations become more detailed and accessible to the average person to the point that comparisons can be legitimately drawn between real and the unreal. As these lines are blurred, they are blurred more for some, and less for others, especially on the console side. An often over heard phrase is, “If I had a good tune for this car, I’d be just as fast as [fill name in here].” Those with experience know this is seldom ever the case. They know that driving skill is more important than having the perfect tune. Skill set trumps all, and if you can add a nice tune that fits the driver, you’ve maximized his potential. Compared to the real world, it’s very much the opposite. Tuning is everything, because the talent of the driver pool is so close, and the tuning variables unlimited.
NASCAR has perhaps the most restricted and limited set of rules for their cars as any in racing, resulting in a format that is basically a high-end spec series. The idea is to make the cars equal, and place the burden of the win on the driver’s shoulders. Instead, it has turned out to be a battle of tuning and teamwork. How can this be? Because tuning a real race car is where the most variables exist for improvement. This is entirely unlike simulation racing. In sim-racing, it is the driver that is the most inconsistent and not the tune of the car.
We’ve discovered in the sim-racing world that drivers tend to adapt to cars more, –and in real racing, cars are made to fit the drivers. This is why we see some sim-drivers who are extremely good at driving untuned cars. These are drivers who have honed their skills driving a certain type of tune known as a stock setup. Stock setups have little to no adjustments made to them and are as is. Stock tuned drivers are not helped all that much from tuning springs, shocks, sway bars, camber, and the like. They are used to driving cars the way they come, and don’t need many adjustments outside of a final drive gear ratio.
What’s interesting about all of this is the false perceptions it has created in the sim-racing console community. Tuning a console sim-racing car does not have the same impact as tuning a real race car or even an iRacing car.
Another myth is that many people think that if they enter a limited tune or stock tune event they will have their best chances to compete because no tuning will be allowed and driver skill will prevail. What they don’t understand is that stock unturned cars do have a tune on them all their own from the “factory”, and that this “stock tune” just happens to naturally fit the skill set of some very fast drivers who specialize in driving these stock tuned cars. As a result drivers who are not used to driving un-tuned cars are at an extreme disadvantage and far from being on equal footing.
The false perception by a lot of drivers is that being in a series where tuning is allowed places them at a greater disadvantage. They think this way because they place too much weight on the value of tuning and not enough on driver skill. Average drivers often fear that the fast guys have a, special top secret “glitch tune” that makes their car so much better than theirs. What they don’t see is that these same fast drivers would be just as superior if not more so in a stock tuned car. They also don’t see that if they are allowed to tune the car to better suit their own driving style they will maximize their own performance, — rather than being hamstrung by a set tune they cannot change to suit them, while up against drivers who are experts at driving stock tuned cars.
So, the next time you want to blame your car (and we all do), or envy the fastest guys tune, don’t think about tuning your car, take a step back and tune your thinking instead.