autocross -mike-lawson-at-the-track



Question: Regarding “binary throttle inputs”, instead of hitting the accelerator hard and fast, even without wheel spin, a slightly more gradual application is better?

Mike: The progressive application should happen before the moment that the tires can handle full throttle. I catch myself nailing the throttle a lot more often than I would like, but I’ve started focusing on this recently. It’s the small portion of time, before the tire can handle full throttle, that I want to put to good use.

I should also note that while wheel spin is an instant indication of too much throttle, it’s not the only one. There’s a direct relationship between turning radius and speed. Accelerating out of a turn will increase your speed and your exit arc. If the projected arc gets too big for what comes after the turn, you will need to lift or, even worse, brush the brake pedal. Anytime I find myself getting on the throttle twice in the same corner exit, I know I’m losing time. If this double-input precedes a long straight, it usually costs a lot of time by the next braking zone. 

Question: How would you describe your own driving technique particularly under braking?

Mike: With respect to braking, I try to use a “zone” rather than a single “point” to define where and how I brake. I want to visualize a point where maximum braking should be applied, then back up from that point some distance, (sometimes only a single car-length), designate that point as the start of the zone, and spread the weight-transfer over that space. Sim time trials allow for a lot of trial and error to clearly define these zones, but for most other situations, I use the spot where I think I’ll want full braking and remind myself that I need to already have applied some baking force just before that point. The goal is to “take the edge off” the weight-transfer to the front contact patches, while still getting as much work out of them as possible.

Question: Please tell us about your home setup.

Mike: Sure. Here’s my current setup.

CPU: AMD Ryzen 3800X / H115i cooler
GPU: EVGA GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Black
RAM: 16GB G.SKILL Trident Z @3800 CL 15-16-116-33 (w/ tuned subtimings)
PSU: Corsair RM 1000i
MB: MSI X570 Pro Carbon
CASE: Corsair Obsidian 500D
STORAGE: WD Black SN750 500GB NVMe (OS/PC2/OBS/other sim software)
Digifast Ace 1TB NVMe (everything else)

HMD: Oculust Rift (CV1)

WHEEL: Fanatec CSL Elite / P1
PEDALS: Fanatec Clubsport Pedals V3
SHIFTER: Fanatec Clubsport Shifter SQ V1.5
COCKPIT: GTR Racing Simulator GTA-F

TRANSDUCER SETUP: 4X Dayton Audio BST-1, 2X FX Audio FX252A, Simhub in corner mode
STREAMING PC: Dell Optiplex 9020 (stock, using NDI for capture)

Question: There are many questions I could ask regarding your setup Mike, but I’m going to push on for now as there’s still lots I want to cover. May I ask, on your wheel, what are your FFB settings?

Mike: I re-adjusted my FFB after I setup my transducers. Most of my information comes from those.

My current FFB is:
Flavor: Raw
Volume and tone both at 50
FX: 80
Menu spring 0.20

Question: Interesting. In my research for this interview I watched a video of you racing at Monza short in the Ginetta GT5 car. I must say, you’re very active at the wheel. Is this “abundance of activity” something that you’d recommend? Are us mere mortals trying to be too smooth?

Mike: That’s probably the aftermath of mistakes on my part. My twitch stuff is currently comprised of only wheel-to-wheel racing stuff with Panther Racing Division (PRD) My race craft is still very basic. (Weak is probably a more accurate description.) My streams are full of instances where the ideal line is either threatened or outright taken away and I’m left to compensate. I find myself being overly-optimistic in many instances and trying to hold too much speed. In an underpowered car like the GT5, I think I’m hesitant to lift as I want to keep the revs up and the rear tires loaded. Left-foot braking would be a better way of dealing with excess speed in corners, but I have yet to learn that skill, so I find myself sawing at the wheel all too often.

Question: Yes, I noted you were braking with your right foot.

Mike: I only recently got decent at heel-toe. Left-foot braking is on my list (for some day, maybe).

Question: I thoroughly enjoyed watching the races you uploaded to your Twitch channel. Can we expect more content from you in 2020 and beyond?

Mike: I intend to race with PRD some more. They are a great group that makes for fun races.

Question: I’m all in favour of fun. You mentioned Panther Racing Division – what do they have planned for the first half of this year?

Mike: PRD has a PC2 greatest hits tour:

March 28 Saturday – Daytona 500 (Nascar)
April 4 Saturday – 1965 Belgian Grand Prix (Lotus 25)
April 11 Saturday – VLN Nordschliefe 24h (GTE)
April 18 Saturday – Monaco Grand Prix (FA)
April 25 Saturday – Le Mans 24h (LMP2)
May 2 Saturday – Indianapolis 500 (Indycar)

I think the Lotus, Daytona and Monaco (Azure Circuit) are the only three things I’m familiar with in that lineup so there shouldn’t be any boring streams of me leading for most of the race. I will probably have a lot of action in front of me for people to watch;)

Question: Noted for future reference. You have over 800 Time Trial records on PC2, however, there must be someone whose lap times you simply can’t beat. Who do you see as your main rivals?

Mike: BlackWolf has taken the few oval track records I had and I have yet to figure out a way to get them back. At the moment I’m just glad I didn’t have a lot of oval records to lose. There are a few other names, recognizable to people who watch the leaderboards, that I know will be a challenge when I see them.

Simulant currently holds the most records and a 96% success rate. Every time I have battled with him there is always at least one point where I have to ask myself “how the heck did he do that?”

Oryzo has made me work really hard for a few down-force car records, but we gravitate toward different combos so we don’t cross paths much on the leader-board.

I have raced wheel-to-wheel with RomanGR in public lobbies a few times and lost to him every time. He’s also shot to the top of the WR top ten chart by winning highly-contested GT-3 combos. He may be the best all-round driver in PC2.

Then there are some lesser-known “sleepers” that are faster than their rankings imply.

MOTOJUNGLA is one of those drivers; incredibly quick and can give you fits when he decides to engage.

sel, too; he is often the fastest driver using a default setup whenever you see him, but also sits behind drivers with custom setups and gets lost in the shuffle. Any time I lose a record to him, I know I will have to work to get it back.

Question: A race between you guys could be arranged! I’m pulling up a front row seat in anticipation. I like to run classic cars at historic tracks. What’s your favourite car/track combo in PC2?

Mike: I wasn’t originally interested in Formula Rookie because the default setups are usually well off the pace of tuned setups, but once I started trying out setups, the car grew on me. I enjoy it on just about any of the tracks that I run, but Nurburgring is one of my favorites. Other Cars I enjoy are: my car (GT-86) at any track, GT5 at Long Beach, and the Ferrari 250GT Berlinetta almost anywhere.

Question: Ah, the Nordschleife. Surely that has to be on your bucket list at some time?

Mike: I checked that box in June of 2019! Last year, Tonda and I went on a European vacation with another Autocross couple, and we got some laps on the Nurburgring!

Not only was this my first time on the Nurburgring, it was my first track day, and PC2+VR turned out to be great practice for the real thing with some important caveats that I would like to mention first:

1) The forces pulling on you while driving at the limit can be surprising, distracting, and even disorienting. Some people get used to it quicker than others, but sims, even motion-rig sims, can’t reproduce the full effect. My real-life experience with driving and G-forces comes primarily from over a decade of autocrossing, but most of the autocross events I have driven lack serious elevation changes (usually by design).

2) Elevation changes add another layer of G-forces to the mix and the ring has a lot of them. VR helps bring this home visually, but still can’t recreate the full effect of the ground falling out from under you at high speed. My yearly pilgrimage to the Tail of the Dragon helped acclimatize me to the effect, but it still took a lap or two to get reacquainted with that sensation on the ‘ring.

Before I get to just how awesome I think PC2 is, I wanted to first point out that it’s not the real thing. I don’t want anyone who reads this to think that any amount of sim time, PC2 or otherwise, will fully prepare them to drive at the limit anywhere in real life, and certainly not at the Nurburgring.

Also, the ’86 we rented from Ring Garage came with upgraded brake pads for the track, so while I experienced no brake fade in PC2 or real life, I don’t know if PC2 accurately represents how the stock brakes hold up on the track.

Now that that’s out of the way….

With respect to the Nordschleife/GT-86 combination, Project Cars 2 is freaking AWESOME!

All the sketchy parts of the real-life Nordschleife matched the sketchy parts in PC2. Not just in where they were but how the ’86 responded to various inputs at those spots. It was uncanny. I wouldn’t recommend learning vehicle dynamics using only a sim, but the cause/effect relationship between the car, the track, and the driver’s inputs, is well simulated in PC2 with this combo.

I made it a point to avoid the curbs most of the time as a safety cushion, but I did sample the curbs a couple times just to see if they were accurately depicted in the game and they seem similar to real life. The one thing PC2 can’t convey is the mechanical empathy/guilt caused by using the curbs. In the sim, I don’t care, but in real life, I was thinking “I’m sorry car.” It just felt like shocks and alignment’s would suffer shorter lifespans if curb surfing was the norm.

I did 6 laps and there was always traffic. We got a yellow flag on 3 of the 6 laps and the first yellow shut the track down for a bike that had crashed. (I didn’t see any incidents for the second two yellows, but I assume the drivers were able to carry on before I arrived)

In the weeks leading up to the vacation, I practiced the ring in PC2 as if it were real. I stayed off of the curbs, and banned myself for the rest of the day if I ever did something that I thought might even get me looked at wrong at on the track (sliding off track, spinning etc). My real-life pace (in the absence of traffic) was about what my “pretend it’s real” practice in PC2 was.

Question: Very interesting how well Project Cars 2 simulates the real-life Nordschleife/GT-86 combo. This validation must have given you great trust in PC2 as a training tool for your real-life racing activities?

Mike: Indeed. I’m careful not to assume that the accuracy of this specific car/track combo is repeated across every car and track in the title, but this is the only combo I have had the opportunity to fully “test” and PC2 nailed it.

Question: I’m curious to know, what car do you drive in real life?

Mike: My SSC FRS is street-legal and we drive it to all our events, but I drive a full-size company van to work (not exciting, I know). We also have another FRS that’s an automatic and still stock. Tonda drives that to work. She actually has more seat time in an FRS than I do!

Question: You had better be careful Mike, or Tonda will be stealing your seat time in the sim! Besides visiting the Nordschleife, what do you do to kick back and relax?

Mike: I’m a gadget geek. I like building/refurbishing/upgrading computers. I’m also into car audio, home theater etc.

Question: Going back to Project Cars 2 and looking at the actual time stamps of when you set some of your records; it seems like you can spend 10 minutes on a TT, gain first position and move on to the next one. In fact, I’ve seen you post 12 world records in one day. But, how?

Mike: There’s a limited number of tracks I’m familiar with, so I tend to stay “fresh” on them. If I find a car I enjoy driving, I will get comfortable with it on the first couple tracks and then take it to other tracks I’m familiar with.

aotocross couple sitting in Scion-FRS-GT-86
Mike and Tonda in their Solo Spec Coupe

Okay, we are nearing the end of this monumental interview, but before we do please allow me to ask you five hard ‘n fast questions in 60 seconds.

Here we go…

1. Question: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

Mike: I’ll paraphrase from memory here: ”You have amazing car control skills. Now, if you had done it right I never would have known that.” I was at a Solo Pro driving school that my club sent its instructors to and Neal Tovsen, a well-know name in my sport, was my instructor. It was his way of explaining that I was making things harder than they needed to be. The way he simultaneously boosted my ego and crushed my soul was most memorable. He made his point well.

2. Question: Race anyone online or in real life, who lines up on the grid beside you?

Mike: It would be cool to have Randy Pobst co-drive with me. I’ve just always thought he was awesome.

3. Question: Describe yourself in three words?

Mike: Cute, charming and humble. At least, that’s what I keep telling Tonda.

4. Question: There are 5 places at your dining table waiting for your fantasy guests to arrive. Who is on the guest list?

Mike: Yutaka Katayama, Lisa Su, Obi-Wan, Richard Petty and  Louis Armstrong.

5. Lead the conversation Mike, what do you chat about during your meal?

Mike: Spacetime and time travel.

End of Interview

Mike, on behalf of the Sim Racing RX community, many thanks for indulging us in your private thoughts and philosophies.

We wish you and Tonda many more happy days racing in both real life and online.

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