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  • Atharva Desai

eSports Racing VCO

This past Wednesday 14th September 2022, I competed in my first Virtual Competition Organisation (VCO) eSports race. The single race was part of the ERL Fall Cup where multiple different professional teams came and competed within the races.

The race was a fixed setup and the car was predetermined. It was an iR-04 formula car with a custom VCO setup required by all drivers to use. The track however was not announced until one day before race day. On this occasion, the race was held at Fuji International Raceway in Oyama, Japan.

iRacing Fuji International Raceway

I raced under my eSports racing team (mCon LG UltraGear) along with 2 other drivers to compete in this race. To get familiar with the car before the race, my teammates and I decided to practice on a track with a combination of unique low, mid, and high-speed corners. Ultimately we decided to practice on Okayama International circuit in Okayama, Japan. It's pretty funny how our team was able to practice on the wrong circuit but in the correct country. We chose Okayama because the elevation changes along with the different low and high-speed turns were great practices to feel the car.

Okayama International Circuit

iR-04 Practice Session

Before the session even started, I was confident that I could get used to both the car and the track. I had memorized this track when I first started my iRacing journey. As a rookie, this was my favorite track to race on. I had won multiple races on this map and with a pace faster than anyone else on the grid. The iR-04 was also one of my favorite cars as I moved into my D license. The car was a blast to drive in the early days and the competition then was incredibly enjoyable. However, those memories of a great car and a phenomenal track were immediately shattered the moment I used VCO’s required iR-04 setup. There was absolutely no downforce on the car. I had no rear stability, nor did I have the ability to sharply take turns. This however is understandable, reduce wing speed for more straight-line speed; however, this wasn’t the worst of it. The engine braking was extremely strong in these cars which would give any driver a huge snap-oversteer mid-corner. The entry differential stiffness was decent enough, but the mid and exit corner differential stiffness was subpar. After quite some laps to amend my driving style, I was able to get the hang of it and started going for hot laps. After some more practice, I started cutting down on my sector times constantly getting purple sectors. I shifted my attention away from practicing the W12 Formula 1 car and started consistently practicing the iR-04 Formula car. After more than 100 laps in the first session, I got off and I started practicing again the next day.

The next day, I clocked more than 150 laps on Okayama and I brought my time down a second and started to look over the data. The optimal time for the track was 1.28.5 whereas my personal best was 1.28.7. I analyzed the data with my race team and compared the 2 data:

Turn 1- Atharva: white, Reference: red

As determined by the data, I braked around 10m later and exit with around the same/slightly less exit speed compared to the reference. Through turn 2, the delta was static, but coming into turn 3 changed the timings.

Turn 3 right-hander

In turn 3, I carry around 12kph through the corner by braking later and match the exit speed after the turn with the reference. In this case, I gain around another tenth. In the next sector, I lose a load of momentum and therefore time.

Turn 4

Towards turn 4, I was able to brake 10 meters later and successfully get the car turned. I carry more speed and momentum out of the right-hand hairpin and get a good run towards turn 5. However, turn 5 through 6 is where all that momentum was lost.

Turn 4-5

On the entry of turn 5, I end up braking and cutting off my momentum. In turn, I lose around 10 kph from turn 4 till turn 5 up until the end of the sector on the back straight. Here, I lose around 3 tenths on my lap time.

Turn 6-7

Entry towards turn 7, I brake later again by 10 meters and the rest of the lap was equal towards the start/finish straight. The biggest takeaway is that I brake extremely well and my exit was also decent; however, the sector with turns 4 and 5 is where I lost the most time. In retrospect, I am cutting off my gained momentum. I was experimenting with this turn as it was very difficult to master.

Remember how I mentioned that the car had a ton of snap oversteer mid-corner? Well, turn 4 was the immediate result of this. I kept spinning out of turn 5 as I try to control the minimum speed of the car. I then determined that it was easier to brake before the turn and trail brake to keep the car slowed down and add more steering angle early corner. Turn 5 is a downhill left-hander with a small exit road. This means that the car is accelerating mid-corner while there is less road for the car to go.

I tried many different techniques, but the engine braking was extremely aggressive, and the amount of grip needed wasn’t there most of the time. As I kept trying different techniques, I slowly started to get a better hang of the car.

iR-04 Formula Car in iRacing

Suddenly, my team got an email saying the setup that VCO sent us was incorrect and that they had messed up a part of their setup before sending it off. My teammates and I were especially upset because we had already gotten used to the different setup, and now it will be amended. But on second thought, we were pretty happy that VCO was able to see how undrivable the car was. After we updated our setups, the car felt that much better. The engine braking was still strong, but the rear stability under braking and accelerating was an incredible change. I ended up improving my lap time by 2 tenths, but we had no time to recheck the data as the 2 tracks on the voting were announced.

Day Before the Race

The track was determined by a voting system. Between 2 tracks: Fuji International Speedway or Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (CTMP). Obviously, I believe Fuji was a much better track and so did 84% of the vote.

Tweet by VCO on what track to compete on

A day before the race, I had no chance to practice the track for more than 30 minutes. I was out on an important last-minute trip most of the day. I came back home at 10pm and work up at 6.00 AM to start practicing up until the race at 12 PM. My personal best was a 1.40.1 at the end of my practice on Fuji while the average lap time was a 1.39.5. I went in with full awareness that I might not be able to get on the top grid, though I was very confident about my start.

The Race

After my heat was announced, I qualified near the midfield and was awaiting the green light. On the standing start, I was praying for a great start. My focus was 100% on the race and all the tension rose up like a flash flood. After the lights went off, it was like someone pulled the drain in a bathtub full of tension. I got a great start and moved up 2 places. After a few crashes by the other drivers, I immediately inherited a top minefield position. On the last sector, I started going wheel to wheel with another driver, I was able to overtake him, but he stayed close to my rear. I had an opportunity to go wheel to wheel with the next person. As I was about to overtake him around the outside, I got hit in the side of my car. The person behind me crashed into me and damaged my side bodywork and my rear axle. I ended up getting spun around all the way to last place. My aero was damaged and my wheels were misaligned. I was unable to take turns as fast as I could. I had to compromise speed to bring the car home. I was unable to score points, and my team wasn’t able to reach the 2nd heat split. However, this was a great experience working alongside a team and racing against big names like Williams, Apex Predators, Sim sports, etc. We were able to be ahead of a few teams, but unable to reach the final cut.

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