The year started pretty well for BMW Motorsport. Winning at Daytona in January, his large M8 GTE came home best-in-class for the second year in a row in the high-profile 24-hour race that really kicks off the international racing season. The next would be the 12 Hours of Sebring in March. But that visit to the bumpy concrete track that used to be a World War II Florida bomber base bumped into the harsh reality of SARS-CoV-2. The (hopefully temporary) end of public gatherings has prompted real racers to compete on virtual racetracks for our entertainment, as each professional racing series, in turn, offers its own take on esports. And despite the shift, BMW Motorsport continues to pull in the wins.
IMSA has unlocked autoconfiguration
Most esports racing events, whether in iRacing† rFactor 2, or something else, have used standardized cars and locked setups as a way to create level playing fields. But IMSA’s sports car series has taken a different tack, allowing competitors to tune their cars to their liking. And from the start, BMW Motorsport took full advantage of the podium at a virtual Sebring with a 1-2-3 finish for the iRacing version of his M8 GTE race car. That’s because it’s been treating sim racing like any other discipline in motorsport for some time now, said Rudolf Dittrich, general manager of BMW Motorsport’s vehicle development.
“Of course the situation is a bit special at the moment with the coronavirus, but even before that you could see that the interest among participants and as well as viewers and spectators has grown enormously, so it made sense for us to do a little more research. do.” Dittrich tells Ars. “And we thought it was worth expanding our business and also trying to have a really very structured backbone, like we would have in any other motorsport discipline; to really be able to work on this stuff like we’re used to in other programs.”
As a manufacturer, BMW’s commitment to a platform like iRacing starts early, with piles of technical data and images for the M8 GTE race car being provided to the developers to ensure the most accurate model possible. It also hosts its own professional sim racing series (the BMW Sim Cups), but for IMSAs iRacing Pro Series, BMW Motorsport’s role is like a competitor, and it approaches that the same way it approaches “normal” racing. “But there are still a few differences. One is that testing is not limited and testing does not cost much. Therefore, if you are ambitious enough, you can spend the time and really try to figure out what your best possible configuration is,” said Dittrich.
In the sim no one can hear you test
Despite the high reliability of today’s racing sims, it’s not as simple as using track-specific suspension or aero settings straight from the real M8 GTE. “The physics engine of iRacing is clearly as limited as any other car model – we are always talking about a model, be it our own internal simulation model or the iRacing simulation model. The way you enter the data isn’t exactly the same, and you have to understand why you’re doing it,” explains Dittrich.
The freedom to test in sim racing cannot be overstated. In real world racing, testing is a highly regulated activity and most series limit the number of testing days to a handful per year to control costs. But with sim racing, you don’t have to plan a track, load the trailers or spend hours scraping your knuckles or adjusting the suspension settings between runs.
“Sometimes at night I think ‘Okay, I have to try this in the morning’, and then I wake up early in the morning, I go in my sim and try something new on the setup, even if it doesn’t always work” , explains Bruno Spengler, one of BMW’s factory drivers and the winner of the first two rounds of IMSA’s iRacing Pro series.
If they wanted to, drivers could practice hourly, and the aliens that dominate professional esports will have countless thousands of hours behind them. But Dittrich is there to make sure his drivers get the most out of their time, just like they do in the real world.
“When you work as a team, like in the real world, you have at least two drivers working together. They can also exchange ideas, exchange data and help each other – maybe with the setup – which makes the team as a whole move forward. like in the real world. And beyond that, like I said, we’re trying a little bit with the infrastructure and the backbone to keep it structured to keep it together and also to keep a little bit of guidance if necessary,” she said. Dittrich me.
It’s not just a setup: strategy matters too
One aspect that might surprise the simracer newbie is the importance of environmental conditions such as track or air temperature, conditions set by the race organizer.
“In the M8 GTE, the conditions make quite a difference – and in sim racing too. That’s why you’re also limited to what you can prepare, because you don’t necessarily know what the exact end conditions are, right? So what you do is try your tire pressure and [tire] degradation for a likely scenario of all circumstances. But once the race is up and running, you still need to see how the race evolves, just like in the real world. I guess that’s the thing – it’s not about having the exact same thing [suspension or aero setting]but it’s more about the same approach, the same methodology — how you react to what you encounter,” Dittrich said.
The approach clearly works. Last Thursday, Spengler went two-for-two in IMSA’s Pro iRacing series with a win in a virtual Laguna Seca, with his teammate Nicky Catsburg in third (separated by visiting Australian Supercar driver Shane Van Gisbergen, who also happened to be in a BMW) .
List image by BMW Motorsport