An Interview With RaceDepartment's Assetto Corsa Advanced Driver Academy On 23 January, 2018, RaceDepartment announced in an article found HERE that it was starting a new Assetto Corsa Advanced Driver Academy (ACADA) for RD’s Premium Members to augment the more basic Assetto Corsa Driver Academy that RaceDepartment has been running for a number of years. The announcement indicated, “If you are looking to make the most of your racing experience in Assetto Corsa and are hungry to learn new skills, unlock more pace, develop your racecraft and understand more about the little tricks that help put together that perfect performance, then the brand new Assetto Corsa Advanced Driver Academy could be for you!” Its funny how just one little word can stand out when you read it. When I looked over this announcement, frankly, I was a little put off by the word “Advanced”. My thinking was that it meant that this is a MASTER CLASS, and even though it was clearly stated in the announcement that this class was not designed to turn very experienced senior racers into aliens … I was simply not fast enough to benefit from taking it. At the time of the announcement, I hardly described myself as “very experienced” or “senior level”, and certainly not worthy of an Advanced or MASTER CLASS. My Sim racing resume shows that I am still running the same bone-stock, chassis-mounted Logitech G27 I bought in March of 2016, and have only raced on Assetto Corsa since that time. I have never run anything in the career mode of AC. I have no other gaming experience whatsoever, and consider myself a racer rather than a gamer. That said I have 39 starts in SRS races, mostly driving my beloved Mazda MX5 Cup Car. My record shows 28 top 10 finishes, but only 1 podium and two DNF’s, one for a blown engine and one for running out of fuel. I do have some real world experience in amateur road rallies, autocross and sports car racing spread over 20+ years. Over that period of time I attended a small number of workshops for driving autocrosses and the two driver schools put on and required by the sanctioning body for me to get my racing license. At the time of the announcement, I had been running 3 to 5 seconds behind the aliens I was racing against and was failing in my attempts to move into a faster group of cars. Not only was I looking for something that would give my driving a lift, my ears did perk up when I read that this class would give some instruction in the Assetto Corsa software and setting, as I am woefully limited, some might rightly say ignorant, in this regard. But my question remained, was I fast enough to get anything out of this school? After the initial announcement, I promised myself that I would keep an eye on this class and monitor its progress. Since the beginning, The ACADA has put on 10 classes, 5 each for students in the EU or US time zones. To date, these events have been held on 7 different tracks using 4 different cars. Reading over the threads concerning these events I find that the classes are deliberately kept small so all drivers get the time and attention they need, but are very well attended. Importantly, I did not see any type of negative comments in these threads … this indicated to me very satisfied clients, with no time spent during the course nit-picking and arguing with instructors … a HUGE plus. But I still had questions, so I kept a notepad by my computer as the weeks went by; I wrote them down against the day I felt it was time to ask them. Below is my interview with Bobby Pennington (@Bobby Pennington), Jeremy Brewer (@Brewer), and Tariq Gamil (@Celtic Pharaoh). From the very start of the interview process I found all three of the principals of ACADA to be friendly and helpful. To be sure, there is a seriousness to their answers, but I also found the lightheartedness and fun of doing what you love, and wanting others to join in. I directed my first batch of three questions to Bobby Pennington, RaceDepartment's Assetto Corsa Club Manager 1. One of the things that has intimidated me is the name ADVANCED Driver’s Academy. How advanced does someone have to be to take this course? 2. Who would most benefit from taking the Academy … a new driver, an intermediate driver, a senior driver or a budding alien? 3. Since the start of the ADA there have been 10 classes, 5 US and 5 EU, on 7 different tracks. I noticed that the US and the EU classes are held mostly on different tracks and in many cases using different cars. Any particular reason? BOBBY PENNINGTON: The Advanced part of the name of the program just means we get into the setup's and explanation of what and why we do things to make the car react the way we want. Jeremy, Tariq and I also go out on track together and have the class ride with us and demonstrate some of the do's and don't's of club racing. So you can see it doesn't matter what level of experience you have. In a perfect world, the drivers would go through Bram's academy and then come into ours, but we don't dictate that it must be done that way. The beginner to the high level intermediate can benefit in my opinion. We have some drivers that are incredibly quick and don't have a clue about car setup so it really helps them out. Most alien drivers already have a firm grasp on race craft and setups so I doubt it would benefit them any at all. When we started the academy's the US was running a different car than the EU guys were so that was the big difference. We were also on a different track schedule. Now that the EU and US are using the BMW 235i, we decided to coordinate our races. This way a driver can participate in the US or EU and if they have the time, they can join both and get that much more race experience. The next set of questions I addressed to all three instructors. 1. What part of the world are you from? Bobby Pennington: Born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee. Graduated college from Middle Tennessee State University. Jeremy Brewer: Born at Ft. Bliss U.S. Army base Texas. We moved to Michigan when I was 5 due to my father being stationed in Germany and not wanting to take his family overseas. I have lived in many different places across Michigan and spent 2 years in Iraq as a contract worker for KBR, however I have always called Flint, Michigan my home. Tariq Gamil: I'm half Irish, half Egyptian and lived my life between the two countries, specifically in County Donegal and in Egypt, where I lived in Cairo. 2. Do you have any real world motor sports experience, including schools, autocross, road rallys, track days, closed circuit racing or dirt or ...? When did you start? How long? What cars, what tracks? Bobby Pennington: None really to speak of. I did do 12 laps at the Richard Petty NASCAR Experience at Orlando, Florida. I did do some Motor Cross and Enduros when I was younger, so I've always had a passion for speed. Jeremy Brewer: I have a background in street racing both cars and bikes, something that I no longer do thanks to wisdom and a family. But I grew up in Flint's street racing scene. I started driving blocker when I was 16, and finally built my own ride when I was more financially stable, which was needed considering race fuel at the time was climbing towards $7.00 a gallon. I only have a few pictures of me at the track as we only went once a year. This was probably my most exciting ride at the track: Tariq Gamil: I have only ever competed in rental kart level competition about 12 years ago and didn't have the money to go real racing at the time. Rotax Max engines sure ain't cheap! Aside from this, I attended a 1-day school to get my racing license at Ireland's only international racing circuit, Mondello Park. There was no formal driver training as such as most of the focus was on teaching technical regulations. However, I did an exam and although I never submitted my form (duh!), I am (unofficially) qualified. I also attended a racing experience course at Mondello Park Motor Racing School where I got to drive a single seater for the first time. It was pretty cool as my assigned instructor was Árón Taylor-Smith, former BTCC driver. 3. How long have you been racing sims? Which sim did you start with? Did you attend any type of classes or training for sim racing? Bobby Pennington: I started with Papyrus IndyCar Racing in early 1994 and Papyrus NASCAR Racing. My favorite sim series when I look back is Geoff Crammond's Grand Prix 2, 3 and 4, but netKar Pro by Kunos is what really let me know what a sim could be. When they announce they were going to make Assetto Corsa, I knew it would be good and I couldn't wait. I've never done any classes. Everything I've learned is through stubbornness, videos and friendly advice. I've received most of my advice since I became a Premium member here at RD about 1 year ago. Our social atmosphere is what hooked me. I love people and helping them out when I can. Jeremy Brewer: I started racing sims last April with Assetto Corsa. I've played racing games pretty much my entire life, but I would consider AC my first sim. My training consisted of hour after hour in the seat. Tariq Gamil: It’s hard to really say when I started as I was exposed to Formula One Grand Prix by Geoff Crammond at a very young age as my brother was an avid sim racer himself and subsequent Grand Prix games (GP2, GP3 and GP4). It wasn't really until 2005-2006 when I started sim racing properly myself and I would say Live For Speed would've been my first proper sim, although I had played a little of GP3 and GP4. Back before the likes of netKar PRO and iRacing, LFS was seen as the pinnacle of sim racing during the mid 2000s. Its quite a shame really that development has seemingly ceased or is very slow as it had been a very promising simulation at the time. I never officially attended an academy at the time when I started but I found a website, CleanRacersClub, which I suppose would've been the RaceDepartment of its day, however strictly focused on LFS. There I got to talk and learn from older, more experienced sim racers than myself but it was never treated as an academy as such. 4. Do you know when the Race Department Driving Academies came to be and how long they’ve been in operation? Do you have an approximation of how many students have gone through the sessions? Bobby Pennington: I can't speak to Bram's Academy, but when I signed on last year, it was a vision I had to do the type of Academy we're doing now and when Jeremy came on, I had a partner that I could work with and he liked the idea as well. I would like to take it another step further in the future, but it's baby steps at this point. Getting new guys to a point where they are comfortable in our Social Races is the life blood of what we do here. Jeremy Brewer: I'm not sure the date that the Academies started. Between the normal and advanced academies, I would say it's in the hundreds of attendees. In terms of the Advanced Driver Academy that we recently started, we are already close if not beyond 50 attendees. Tariq Gamil: At the time when the academy first started, I wasn't staff at RaceDepartment so I don't really know the origins of it. All I knew when it happened was that Bobby was the one who came up with the idea and he and Jeremy have done a fantastic job helping guys out with driving technique and car setup. I can't really say how many have attended the academy but I would guess we’ve had in the region of perhaps 50 since it started. 5. How long have you been teaching/coaching sim racing? Have you taught sim racing at venues other than RaceDepartment? Bobby Pennington: First and only time, and to be honest I was a bit nervous to do it because we have so many Alien drivers here. Jeremy Brewer: I began teaching racing techniques with the Advanced Driver Academy. I have no other history of teaching sim racing. My experience as an instructor comes from my years of experience as an instructor for an online military type community. Tariq Gamil: I have never taught in an academy until RaceDepartment as I would help Bobby out from time to time. I would like to think I have helped some people since I've started racing at RaceDepartment over the last year. 6. Favorite virtual track(s) to race on, favorite car(s)? Bobby Pennington: Spa above all others, then Imola, Road America, Monaco in no particular order. I like the Nordschliefe, but at 53 it really taxes my concentration so I usually use it for hot lapping or goofing off with different cars. My favorite cars are definitely F1, but as I age, I'm not as good with them as I used to be so now to race door-to-door it's tin tops like GT2 and GT3. Jeremy Brewer: Favorite track is difficult to name but I would probably have to say Spa. Favorite cars in game would be GT cars. I've also fallen head over heels for the Porsche 962C Short Tail. Tariq Gamil: For the track, it’s a difficult one to answer. You have the usual favourites everyone mentions like Spa or Monza, tracks which I'm a huge fan of. I love Suzuka, the Nordschleife, Brands Hatch, Donington GP and Le Mans. There are a few North American tracks that I really like such as VIR, Road America, Road Atlanta and Mid Ohio. Perhaps which are my favourite tracks from each region would make my track mentions simpler. As for favorite cars, its a lot more straight forward really. My favourite category has to be Formula 1 and more specifically, mid '80s, early '90s, but I enjoy driving even some of the cars from early 2000s as well such as the Williams-BMW cars and the Ferrari F2004. 7. Why did you choose the car(s) and track(s) you are using for the Race Department Academy? Bobby Pennington: Our first goal is to make sure we have content that comes with the game or DLC's, easy to get into and isn't too hard to drive or set up. I like to use rear wheel drive cars, since that is what you'll be graduating too once you step out of the Social Events and into the regular club races. The tracks are also stock content as well. Jeremy Brewer: As Bobby stated, a lot of our decision is based on what is easily accessible within the game. And we try to choose a car that "feels" fun. Tariq Gamil was not take part of the decision making process when cars were chosen. 8. Which track(s) do you think is the best one for a novice driver to practice on? Why? Bobby Pennington: For me, Spa is one of the best since it has a little bit of everything, fast sweepers like Pouhon, almighty Eau Rouge which is so different from anything, slow corners like turn 1 and a flat out corner where you don't have to lift if you get it correct, like at Blanchimont. Jeremy Brewer: I always recommend Spa for an all-around track to learn on as it offers a good mix of everything. There's a reason it's known as "the drivers circuit". Tariq Gamil: I would have to say Monza really. There aren't many corners and the only really odd corner is Parabolica which you have turn early for and perhaps the Ascari chicane a little but aside from that, its quite a simple track to learn and master. Not the ideal track for slower cars I don't think but certainly the easiest to learn in my opinion. 9. What do you think is the most important aspect of sim racing a novice should concentrate on? Do you have any other advice for folks new to sim racing? Bobby Pennington: Fun! Enjoy the ride, don't get discouraged and whatever you do, don't spend a lot of money on equipment in the beginning. Some of my equipment is better than some guys and they still kick my butt. The key to your success is putting in proper practice and concentrating on consistency. It's what has helped me more than anything. The other advice I would give people that want to get better is to do a little reading and research and try to apply what you learn. There is no shortcut to getting better as a driver. If you pop in each week and ask for a setup, it may or may not help you for that race, but you'll learn next to nothing. Most of the base setups in AC are decent and until you can consistently lap within .100 - .200 each lap, you're just chasing your tail. Once you do that, change one thing at a time and do 5 to 10 laps to see if it makes the car better in your hands. Jeremy Brewer: Have fun! In terms of getting fast: How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice. You won't reach another planet and become an alien on your first launch. You're gonna crash and burn... A lot! Learn from it, and build upon your failures in fact, welcome them as a chance to learn. Your brain should constantly be active, always gathering information, even if you don't realize you're doing it. If you’re not tired mentally after racing, then you weren't racing. You were just driving on a prepared surface. Tariq Gamil: Consistency. While it takes the greatest mental effort, it is without doubt the most important aspect in sim racing. Too many times have I seen 4 or 5 really fast guys who qualify in the top positions in qualifying, only to spin out on the first, second or third lap in a race. Consistency also helps in car setup development and it’s much easier to try out new things in different corners and figure out what works when you know you can drive the rest of the lap virtually within the same couple of tenths. 10. Do you have any fun or interesting stories or incidents from your time teaching sim racing? Bobby Pennington: You mean other than tonight when I bumped into a student from behind when he and I were in first and second place? That was pretty embarrassing for me. I was on the binders as soon as he was, but I simply couldn't get the car slowed down enough. My load cell may be going out on me, I really don't know, but some guys have mentioned that could be what's happening. I've had a lot of fun with the guys and girls that have signed up with us and hope they will continue to join when they can. The ultimate compliment for me is to see the drivers start to take part in more and more races. Now when you get into our normal races there are so many funny stories I could tell you, so to make it short, I call my guys that race with us in the US races the Hooligans and we have a blast. It's meant to be an affectionate term because I've made so many friends through this little thing we do and it has blessed me beyond belief. Most of the time, the driving gets in the way of the fun. Jeremy Brewer: No interesting stories as of yet. Only copious amounts of pride when I see one of our attendees improve not just their lap times, but more importantly their knowledge of race craft. Tariq Gamil: No funny stories yet but I'm working on it. And there you have it. The instructors at RaceDepartment’s ACADA allayed my concerns sufficiently that not only do I plan to sign up for the next scheduled Academy, but also have signed up for my first race here at Race Department. I am very excited about the prospects of learning more about setups and perhaps some of the mysteries of the software side of Assetto Corsa and that will hopefully translate to more enjoyment of my hobby … and just maybe faster lap times. I plan on doing a follow up article to this piece describing my experiences at ACADA and comparing it to the instruction I got when I got my racing license back in the late 1970’s. The next Assetto Corsa Advanced Driver Academy for the US time zone will be held Monday, 16 April, 2018. More information and a sign up sheet can be found HERE. The next Assetto Corsa Advanced Driver Academy for the EU time zone will be held Monday, 16 April, 2018. More information and a sign up sheet can be found HERE. Like what you see here at RaceDepartment? Don't forget to like, subscribe and follow us on social media! Please remember that Race Department’s Drivers Academies are available to Premium Members only. Why not join them HERE and take part? RaceDepartment YouTube RaceDepartment Twitter RaceDepartment Facebook RaceDepartment Twitch RaceDepartment Instagram I hope that I have anticipated some of the questions that those new to Race Department may have and also the questions of those who might be been sitting on the fence about investing the money for a Premium Membership and the time to participate in ACADA. If you do have questions, I hope you will take the time to post them below and know that the ACADA Team will be very happy to answer them.