One of the most interesting things in sim racing and real racing is getting to experience different tracks all over the world. However, learning a new track can be painful and frustrating in real life. It is extremely costly due to accommodation, transportation, fuel, tires, and the risk of crashing all loom over the driver’s wallet. In the sim racing world, the cost of learning a new track is negligible and thus, many drivers are utilizing a sim in order to learn the basics of the track first. Sim racing is lots of fun until you take your favorite car to a brand new track and struggle to keep it on track. This article will touch on how to learn a new track in the sim by relating to some of my personal experiences in iRacing

This part of the article is focused on learning a new track in your preferred sim and will be drawing from a lot of personal experience as well as a consensus of opinion among the Axon Endurance Team (AET). The first thing and arguably the MOST important thing in learning a new track is TURN THE RACING LINE OFF. We will happily further explore this controversial opinion in the comments however, turn the line off and keep it off – you will thank us later. Secondly, identify the most ideal line to the best of your knowledge, you are unlikely to know the actual ideal racing line as you are new to the track but in this section, all you need to do is to find a racing line that you are comfortable with, for the uninitiated, the racing line is the fastest way to get through the corner. While considering a line, please take into account our tip #3 down below which is to prioritize a late apex and focus on corner exit.

After finding a line that you are comfortable with, find recognizable and easy to spot braking markers such as meter boards, lines on the ground, start/end of curbs, etc, use these lines and see how effective they are for the corner you are taking. Do laps until you are consistently keeping the car on the track and following your own line and braking markers without spinning, locking up or crashing. 

Now it is time to push and get up to speed, first determine if your braking markers are still sufficient, if not, adjust accordingly and do laps until you are posting consistent times and have your optimal and best laps be within 0.5s of each other. Next comes experimentation, the initial line that you were taking was just to the best of your knowledge, there is probably a better line that works better for your car track combo and now it’s the perfect time to experiment, have the delta bar up and see how your mini sector times compare to your benchmark “safe” laps you did earlier.

Figure 1: Lines for a hairpin.

Let’s use what we just learned and apply it to Figure 1, let us assume that the best line to your knowledge is the yellow, “normal” apex line where the apex is in the middle of the corner and it gives you the least distance around the corner, this would be the line you want to use before experimenting so you can feel comfortable in the heavy braking zone (A) and as well as aim for consistent lap times to properly get a handle of the track. Once you are consistent and can make it around the track without issues, comes experimentation. This is where you experiment with different lines (green/red). Speaking from experience, the green late apex where you take less entry speed and sacrifice for the straight would be the best for lap time, HOWEVER, if the following straight is extremely short such as Rivage at Spa, try apexing early and adopting a double apex.

We have a few tips that can help you get comfortable faster:

  1. Identify the apex of each corner by driving very slowly on track.
  2. Brake early and progressively brake later instead of going all out instantly, this helps you mentally by not making you crash every lap but critically you gain an understanding of how the corner works if there are cars in front of you and you are forced to brake earlier than usual. 
  3. Prioritize the corner exit with a late entry, especially if there is a long acceleration zone afterward, it is often better to compromise the entry for the exit and slowly trim the corner down for an optimal exit.
  4. Leave the shifting alone, it is not worth fussing over the optimal gear to be using when you are just learning the track instead, focus all of your attention on the brakes, turn in, apex, and exit. Another point here is that sometimes you will feel compelled to downshift to stay in the powerband for the corner but it may be better to leave it in a gear higher in order to preserve the momentum you were carrying into the corner.
  5. Somewhat controversially, do not be afraid to crash! NOTE: This only applies in sim racing! We are protected virtually and there are no penalties to crashing in a test session and by doing so it is much easier to find the limits and get up to speed faster. This does NOT apply in real life and please do not go around crashing your car in order to learn a track. 

Let us know if you want a real-life version of this! Would you want to see a professional coach give you the rundown as to how to approach a new track in real life? See how some aspects of sim racing can transfer and some will be strictly limited to the virtual world.