Several months ago, as the world began to grapple with the unfurling of COVID-19, much of society came to a halt. The racing community, both amateur and professional, was one affected group. Races were cancelled or postponed, with cars left on battery tenders to await their next day in the sun.
I was afforded the opportunity to speak to one racer via Zoom who’s been affected professionally. Mitch Evans has been racing Formula E for Panasonic Jaguar Racing since 2016. Originally from New Zealand and based in Monaco, Evans has been staying home and working with a simulator to keep his skills honed.
Mitch Evans’ last race in an actual car was the Marrakesh E-Prix on February 29. Following that race, he was provided a simulator setup for his apartment, courtesy of Formula E. Though Evans and his teammates are familiar with simulators between races, what was delivered to his home is nowhere near as “real” as their normal setup. The normal simulator that Evans uses is a near-direct replica of his Formula E racecar, down to the ECU, and requires multiple crew members to run.
Panasonic Jaguar’s simulator can return lap times “within a few tenths” of the real cars. Evans claim the team does “run prep,” to include practice, qualifying, and race simulations. Crew members and engineers analyze simulator data and can make minute tweaks to ensure the closest representation of reality possible. Did the curbing move 2mm in real life? They’ll adjust it to match on the sim.
While Evans has been using the professional simulator for years, he said online sim racing is all new for him. Evans has been racing online in the Formula E championship, using RFactor 2 software and a Playseat simulator seat, Fanatec wheel, and gaming PC.
Evans has also taken to the amateur motorsports fan favorite, iRacing. He appreciates the greater scale of the platform and ability to race against friends and fans alike. “It’s taken a long time to get used to it,” claims Evans. The physics of these games don’t necessarily translate to reality, and he’s had some “wakeup calls” in which random amateurs blew him away on a track that he thought he knew well. I found it interesting that also Evans claimed iRacing required extreme precision – more precision than is required in real life.
As for us amateurs looking to compete before our events come back online at physical racetracks? Evans encouraged the use of any simulator we can access, be it iRacing or otherwise. He spoke highly of something many of us do already – reviewing video and data from past races.
I’m personally anticipating a start to our 2020 NASA Mid-Atlantic season at Summit Point Raceway in late June. Though I lack any sort of gaming or simulator setup at home, I’ll certainly be watching recent Summit Point race footage to get my head back in the game.