The racing debut of Patrik Marek - Behind the scenes of the 9hrs of Brno...
It all started to take shape, when I saw few of my friends doing the race with the Radical Racing Team, and I thought, this is probably the cheapest way to try this out in real life. So I started talking to my wife about our possible dates for coming back to Czech Republic for holiday ( we now live in Vancouver/Canada) , to see if any of the dates would align with the times when the MAKPAK ENDURANCE series takes place, .. and it did! the very first race in Brno - which happen to be a race track that I have already driven on back in the days when I used to live in Czech Republic ( back in 2001-2006, and then briefly in 2010) , so it was all decided, I'M DOING THIS!
I arrived at the race track on Saturday close to 7pm. It all felt so familiar, even-though I haven't been here for almost 8 years!
The team wanted to meet the novice racers, to go over few things and among other things, also to try to sit in the car, so that we try out how to get in over the roll-cage, without destroying the door with were paper thin and couldn't support any weight. Guess this was a proper race car after-all !
After taking a few photos, I found the race team. Actually! I also helped to get some guy from Germany directions how to get some stuff from the organizers, because not that many people speak English in our land - well maybe they do but they are shy to speak!
Once I reached the team garage, I quickly took a look at the car to see what is it that I signed up for. And here she was, dressed in black with few sponsors - nothing too fancy, but it was a proper race car and that all that mattered!
This is going to be my work station tomorrow for 1 hour out of 9, but let's not get ahead of ourselves, still long time to go
After finishing some paper work, where I was basically acknowledging all the risks, including the co-insurance up to $5,000 in case I write the car off, I was back on the way to my friend's house for sleep - at least I thought I would get some. I started with my sleeping attempts around midnight, as I had to be back at racetrack around 7am, leaving me with comfortable 6 hours of sleep or so, but how could I sleep ? Mixed with excitement and also bit nervous in case I wreck, or if someone else wrecks before I get to drive the car! Needles to say, I could sleep at all, and finally around 5am, where I said to myself - "well, there's no sleeping tonight, let's do this!" boom! I fall asleep for at least a bit of time off! Before I could enjoy resting at least a little bit, my alarm was going off and it was time to drive back to race track. I now understand why people have motor-homes at racetracks, because every second that you can spend resting counts!
After I arrived to the race track, and got some nice breakfast from the team, I starting really living up with the racing atmosphere, as mechanics started waking up the cars , getting everything ready! Nothing like the smell of petrol in the morning! ( after hardly sleeping) But this was all I needed, because my hearth (and brain also) started getting excited, but now it was already time for the drivers briefing
As the race took place 24th of March, it was quite cold, too cold to be fair! Day started at around -3 degrees and stayed around 0 for the most of the day, which I suppose was good for the engines, but not so great for the tires and overall grip levels - at least those were the things I was thinking about. I was hoping that temperatures would rise a bit towards afternoon , when it was time for me to drive, so that I would have a bit of an advantage over the other drivers in my car. Yes! let's be honest here! My target was clear - this wasn't about winning our class ( which sadly there was no chance of winning, because the leading car in our class was some 10-15 seconds quicker on average, so even the best of drivers out there - and by that I don't mean myself - couldn't really overcome this huge difference in horsepower ) - this was about being the fastest driver in our car! Even-though I have never driven a proper race car, and some of the guys in our team already have, but the lack of experience I was ready to fight with being brave!
This is our lineup of the touring cars, the only 2 cars missing were the 2 Radical SR4's , at the time of taking this photo, I had no idea how the horse power / weight was distributed among the cars , but now I know that fastest of these was the blue number 60, followed by our 53, and then 75. 52 was the slowest one here, even-though I thought it would be the fastest, but the car had battery charging problems, so I'm not sure if that meant that they had to tune it down a bit , or what the deal was. 2 Radicals were in top class, reserved for properly fast machines, including Porsche 911 (not sure about the spec, but it had some 400hp ) which in the end after tough battle with one of our radicals did finally beat us
We rolled on the starting grid, which was assigned by the organizers. There was no qualifying laps sadly, but it didn't really matter, since I knew I wouldn't be the first one to drive and quite frankly, I wouldn't want to be first one to go anyway, cold track, cold tires, first lap craziness - which compared to racing sims was nowhere near as dramatic!
Race started! and after 1 lap, Safety car was deployed due to a Renault Clio which engine bay caught on fire (a bit), and has stopped on the race track. As I said earlier, my time slot was from 3pm to 4pm, so it took quite a while before I got behind the wheel. Looking at the timing screens and seeing the car on the final straight, it was obvious that this car isn't the fastest one out there, but that was fine. You can get more fun by pushing 200hp ( which is my estimate of the power we had) to it's limit, compared to a 400hp monster that you dare not to provoke into anything more serious.
About the series
Makpak Endurance, which for this very race was also called Le Brno ( mimicing the Le Mans endurance series) is a race series which does follow proper FIA rules, however it's not an offically FIA governed race, which to lucky people such as myself mean, that you don't need proper racing license, also the cars, while modified for racing, don't need to include all the proper racing safety equipment - eventhough for the sake of safety, most of the cars do have the basic stuff such as roll cages, lexan or other type of plastic windows, but especially in the past - yeah forget to mention that this was 18th year of the racing series !!! - people used to bring road legal / stock cars, with minimum upgrades/tweaks. Of course over the years series developed into semi-professional race, where even some actual racing teams take part as a bit of a training before their actual races start.
There were 36 cars registered to race that weekend, divided into 6 divisions ( 6th being for the really fast cars, our Bimmer belonging to 3rd division)
and now comes that moment that I was most eagerly waiting for, even-though that looking at me getting into the car doesn't look like I was rushing in
Now is the time! let's see what it takes to be a race driver for real!
well, to begin with, it helps to put car into the gear! yes this was a automatic transmission with paddles for "manual" shifting, but as I'm not that used to automatic tramissions, I didn't realized I actually have to put it into the gear! This was quickly spotted and solved by my coach, and the black thing started to roll. I was momentarily stopped because of one of the fastest cars on the track pitting in, and nobody wanted novice getting into their way. After few seconds, I was moving again, getting towards the end of pit lane.
Ha! this feels strangely familiar, eventough I have never done this before. It reminded me of racing at home in VR with my Oculus. Wow, this isn't all that different to what I'm doing at home. Cool! But I'm already half way through my first lap, it's time to start concentrating to job at hand, and go for it! Slowly at first, to get the feel for the car, and also to get used to that almost everything on 4 wheels is faster then me, also the transmission wasn't really my cup of tea since it would downshift time to time, while I was trying to keep things bit calm before starting to push. One great thing was that car had display that was hooked up to the transponder, so I knew how fast or slow I was, which was really helpful to see as I knew where I'm slower and losing lot of time compared to my fellow drivers, but strangely - it was missing things like my gear so it was bit difficult to get the sense of what gear is car in, making it bit harder to get more in sync with it. As the time went, it was starting to make sense though and both me and the car were slowly starting to talk the same language.
My plan for first couple of laps was to keep it slow, getting used to the car - which was reflected with my lap times being some 8 seconds behind the fastest time in the car. After few laps, I started to be used to the car and to the traffic around me - which btw surprised me, how hard you have to concentrate on all of this, rather then just my line and breaking. But now it was time to start pushing and finding those seconds! My first ever lap was 2:51.246, but in the next laps it was quickly down to 2:46, and then I started to keep it faster and faster, getting into the 2:43, 2:42 range - which to that point was the fastest lap time 2:42.310. On lap 76 I finally managed to beat this time with my time of 2:41.3 ( on board 50:32, celebrating this moment as I have seen in on the display that this lap will be faster), only to beat this time bit more the very next lap with the final fastest time of 2:41.125, this time remained the fastest time for a long time, for 66 more laps! but then I was beaten by one of the more experienced guy, who not only has driven with the team before, he was allowed on the track without the coach, and 90 or so kg does make a difference ! let alone that the track temperature has raised quite a bit ( from 3 C to some 15 C), but now was a time to slowly head to the pits, my first ever racing was over.
Interesting moments and final thoughts
on board time of 41:58, yellow flag waived, can't overtake. Not really sure which car was it, but I think it was the right thing to do, so that I won't get penalized for overtaking under yellow
there are also few corners with craaaazy understeer, where I overshoot my breaking, and the lap time was ruined. All it took was one corner. Oh well, but what an amazing experience overall. I can't recommend this enough to everyone !!
As my final thoughts, I would like to thank Radical Team for giving me this opportunity - and I mean, I know I did pay to drive, but without the team offering that choice, I wouldn't be able to do this, so thank you for allowing me to experience one of my lifetime dreams! Thank you! Also thanks to my wife for allowing me to do this! it's far more safe then you thought!
what surprised me the most?
it can take one look into the mirror to see approaching car, and I suddenly missed my breaking point, which would mess up my exit on the straight and lap time is ruined by 4 seconds - one moment of losing concentration.
would I do this again?
hell yeah! if time and money will allow, I will do this again!
how different it felt compared to sim racing
strangely, especially when taking VR into account, surprisingly not that different at all! resolution is better though!
Of course you feel the g forces, but on the other hand - "force feedback" is way different, you don't feel nowhere near as much information coming through steering wheel ( which I suppose is to be expected) Even things like understeer are quite a lot felt thanks to the sound, which is also what you get in sim racing ( oversteer I can't really say, becasue the car wasn't setup for pretty much any ovesteeer, even if I tried to provoke it, it wouldn't oversteer - mind you, I'm not saying I tried really hard, but I did few times add lots of gas in corner, and car would just understeer more)
was it loud?
not as loud as I expected, but this wasn't anything like those Radicals, or the m3 gt car, which I suppose will be very different story
How much is your butt gives you more information than the steering wheel?
Butt and the general feel of G forces is by far the biggest factor that informs you about the car movement. For example this car was setup for lot of understeer ( which I suppose was done on purpose, because understeer is generally safer then overseer, and the team of course wants to bring car home in one piece) , so yeah, lot of those corners where I break late, the most feeling of understeer was coming from the butt and the sound, the steering wheel didn't really tell me how much I need to steer for car to grip back. I would of course intentionally reduce steering angle to see if the car grips back, but it would be the general feel of G forces combined with visuals, rather then my steering wheel telling me what to do - at least that's how it felt to me
Now that you have raced, how does the VR simracing feel?
as I said in my initial write up, this was one of the things that really surprised me a lot, having a helmet on ( partially reducing my FOV, and having something heavy on my head) felt very similar to having a VR headset. One of the big difference (of course) was that in real life, I often just glance with my eyes, whereas in VR you have to turn your head, but it felt strangely familiar, so SIMRACING , especially in VR, isn't really that far off !
You do feel way more tired though in real life, after that 1 hour of driving, I felt bit tired and also bit dizzy,
Dizziness came from constantly looking at mirrors trying to monitor the traffic around me, and when you do that in corner where you are trying to go as fast as you can, it was something that my body isn't used to , whereas in VR, I remember doing even 2 hours stints, felling completly fine
that being said though, of course real life is another level,
you feel things like smelling that Golf Diesel when you got behind it, or if someone spins out, you feel the rubber smell ( ooh the rubber smell.. )
but when you consider the amount of money, yeah I gladly take sim racing , because even when this kind of racing I would call "affordable" , it's still way way way more then what you pay as sim racer
Just out of interest how did it compare to Project Cars seeing as people love to bash the game for being unrealistic?!!
here I will say, this always does depend on a particular car, because one car can feel great while other doesn't feel so good in a given sim,
that being said though, the car ( mind you it was NOT on slicks, but on sports tires) did had a bit of a floating ( it didnt' felt razor sharp), and also, there was a bit of a feeling of the car not having enough downforce, so while undesteering it would feel like it's sliding off, not having enough grip, feeling bit floaty
and this is something cars in pCARS or rFactor2 can feel like. in AC for example, it feels like the cars are bit too planted , .. but then again, those cars , especially on slick tires, I didn't drive, so they probably do have way more grip and downforce
as far as Brno racetrack goes, it feel very close, Brno is very smooth track and very wide, which is captured well in pCARS
But did you practice a bit on the track with the car before the race?
I did ran few laps in pCARS in VR before I flew to Czech Rep. But I have driven on the track before ( with Nissan Primera ( not BTCC) and my Nissan 350z , so I knew the track quite well, although my coach did show me few different lines in few corners then what I was doing in games... especially later turn in points.
How much did this cost you in total?
racing gear I payed around CAD $500 ( glows, balaclava, shoes and socks) * I took this as an investment into the future, so the next time it would be cheaper, although I'm tempted to buy my own racing suit
race itself costed about CAD $1000 ( this covered 1 hour in car, everything payed - tires/fuel/service etc., starting fee payed by team etc.)
and while I did flew to Czech from Canada, it was part of our seeing family trip, so I didn't include that in this
please let me know any other questions and I will try to answer them as honestly as I can