You’re set up with a console, controller, and a game – you’re ready to start sim racing! If you want to get a serious, or at least be fast, there are healthy ways to practice and lame ways that develop bad driving habits. I’m going to guide you through some good methods and get you started on the right path to being competitive.
Pick a balanced, grippy practice car
The car you want to practice in isn’t an oversteering brute, but something easy to pedal around the track while being quick enough to grow into. Car control comes just a little bit later. First, we get into a GT3 car. In any sim, they will be easy to drive, handle well, and are pretty relevant to most competitive sim racing. In Forza 7 I go with the #45 Flying Lizard 911 RSR, in Gran Turismo Sport I enjoy the Nissan GT-R N24, and on Assetto Corsa: the McLaren 650S GT3 is my go-to competitive car.
Pick an easy, memorable track to lap
Every track is different, and takes a different skill set from your driving. All of the tracks will take something from you as a driver, but some teach you how to drive better than others. Every single lap. You should master, or at least memorize, one track. This is so you can have a reference point for any setup changes, car changes, or just how you’re performing on a given day. For this purpose I recommend practicing on either Circuit de Catalunya-Barcelona or Weathertech Raceway Laguna Seca.
These tracks are great because they’re in all three of the major beginner simulators, and have an excellent combination of corners that teach you various driving skills. Catalunya has every sort of corner, and is a finicky circuit to get right, demanding plenty of the driver, while making mistakes obvious. Laguna Seca has great elevation change, a good flow, and is cambered (how tilted the track is) heavily in many sections. Both of these circuits have the core fundamentals of most circuits you’ll encounter in simulators, and they’ll prepare you for them.
Resist bad practice
A trap beginners and even experienced sim racers fall into is bad practice. Quitting a race after spinning, resetting after a spin, or not taking long enough practice sessions are all pretty common. You need to push through, and make sure to try the track out for a decent number of laps, and learn how the car evolves as the tires warm up. Most importantly, this is the only way to train consistency to keep hammering laps out, and learning the all important mark.
“Hitting your marks” is a term used in racing to refer to reference points around the track relating to braking, and where to start turning. Every race track has distance boards on the outside of the turn to give you a mark. Anything works for a mark, whether it’s the end of the rumble strips, a bush, a tree, or even a fencepost. Make sure you have your marks for every turn, as it’s crucial to being consistent.
There’s your two main takeaways: practice for several laps at a time, as long as possible, and dedicate that practice time to finding and hitting those marks I talked about.
Once you have marks and can hit them consistently, and lap your favorite track fairly consistently, don’t be afraid to try more tracks out! The skills you learn at one track travel with you, and become part of your personal driving signature. It’s important to have fun every step of the way, and it gets much more fun once you settle into your style. Being aggressive and attacking like Senna, or clean and calculating like Prost, is where it gets really fun. Your strengths will come out once you start racing against others, and you will find the real gems in sim racing.
Get out on the virtual track and enjoy it! You should aim to be consistent, quick, and clean with your lap times. Once you get there, you should be able to race in any lobby. No matter what, we’re all here to have fun, whether it’s through competition or just being able to drive hard.