Drones: The Future of Race Coverage

For a look at how photo journalists used to cover racing, see this photo from the the website http://www.f1history/deviantart.com. Image

The modern eye, naturally notices on the left side of the photo: a man, standing inches away from the speeding Formula 1 Ferrari of British legend Mike Hawthorn. Do you see him? He’s the slightly blurry figure wearing a light blue sweater and brown trousers. Now, I’m sure you can see him.

That looks dangerous.

We would never suggest or even allow, photographers to get so close to the action today. But technology has developed innovations to allow similar if not better, photos and video to be taken during races. I’m thinking of in ground embedded cameras, the swinging gantries that allow a camera to sweep through a corner following the action or even the camera on a wire as employed by NASCAR and American football.

A new technology promises to blow current systems out of the water. In one word: drones. Pilotless remote control multicopters (usually named for the number of rotors on board) with gimballed cameras are being used increasingly in documentaries and news programs. They provide dramatic otherwise unobtainable footage. They can hover near ground level, then almost instantaneously zoom hundreds of feet in the air.

Watch this amazingly disorienting yet wonderfully flowing video taken by The Flying Camera Company (link to their website) to promote their endeavors. Fortunately, on first glance, it looks like they might have some interest in motor related subjects.

The Flying Camera Company is a new video production group focusing on this paradigm shift in airborne camera work. I was able to ask them some questions about the technology and what applications they see in the future for motorsport. While the technology itself is exciting. And the video results are impressive. Regulatory concerns mean that there are ways the flying cameras can and cannot be deployed.

First, the best thing about this new technology is just the type of shot it can get. It is unlike any other technology and comes at a fraction of the cost of traditional helicopter mounted cameras. When you’ve got something like that, you’ve got to believe F1 is going to want it. The Flying camera Company explains:

“The great thing about multi rotors is that you can do moves that no other piece of equipment can so you usually want to show that off with some movement, perhaps starting beside the track at ground level then developing to a higher wide shot drifting over the track as the cars came underneath. Also with aerial filming your usually on a fairly wide lens as your trying to achieve those big, epic shots but most things are achievable with them with the right equipment and planning.”

The Flying Camera Company is currently using octocopters, or UAV’s — Unmanned Aerial Vehicles — with eight rotors. I believe they prefer the term UAV to “drones”.  Drones come with immediate negative connotations, but UAV’s should begin to change that. These aren’t by any means the type of missile shaped armament carrying drones of the U.S. military. The octocopters use high tech navigation and hefty construction to withstand the rigors of their work environment. Since the UAV’s use GPS for navigation, they can basically be parked at a set location and film from there. So, a first possibility would be to have them used in areas where crowds are prohibited and it would be too difficult to get a film crew or helicopter into location. One hovering UAV could be “parked” for example, above the unused section of Interlagos and film cars as the come out of turns one and two, up through the back straight and into corners four and five.

Interlagos UAV Fly Zone

A possible UAV fly zone (click on image to enlarge) marked in white with red borders at Interlagos.

For that matter, they could be used extensively in rallying, greatly reducing the cost of helicopter flights while providing wider and more diverse coverage. Instead of sweeping over the snow covered forests of Sweden, imagine sweeping through them!

As helicopter type vehicles they are not fast in a straight line. The Flying Camera Company estimates maximum straight line speeds of around 30 mph. But, covering a curving section of a road course or rally stage they could sweep over areas in a straight line providing unique coverage as the cars navigate the twisty bits on the ground. Again, the limiting factor here is safety, as no one right now wants to risk a malfunction causing spectator injury or a possible collision with a race car.  The possibility of physical tethering could provide additional safety.

The heft of the camera and motors means that the octocopter used by the Flying Camera Company weighs in at about 30lbs. I asked if there is any problem with aero wash from vehicles being filmed and they haven’t experienced any problems filming in close proximity to speeding Ferraris and Paganis on a closed course. Initially, as the technology proves itself, the UAV’s will undoubtedly be used more for promotional work on closed courses where safety concerns are minimal. Eliminate the crowd and most of the cars and the safety aspects become much easier to control. I would predict some spectacular shots in the upcoming F1 season of team cars being shot during private video sessions.

The big thing to expect from UAV cameras in the future is probably not shots from right next to the track like the brave old F1 photographers, but rather a totally new way to see the race tracks and races. Maybe sooner than later, we will get track previews provided by UAV’s sweeping around the track and zooming in from high to low, and from a broad field to a narrow field to highlight certain corners and features. My guess is, my imagination can’t fathom the amazing shots these little robotic flyers will soon be providing.

The pilots who control these vehicles need to be licensed and they must have permission to carry out aerial work from local flight control authorities like the CAA. The onboard GPS navigation systems help a lot when learning to fly and stabilizing the camera, but like any aircraft, the best pilots know how to take manual control of any situation. And, like any aircraft control comes with hours of flying. The only other restriction is flight time, which is currently limited to just under a quarter hour. That’s a lot less than a helicopter, but multiple teams could be used to cover the same event providing overlapping coverage.

Motorsport fans are drawn to F1 because it has traditionally been on the cutting edge of technology. With a new era in coverage opening up, it will be interesting to see who takes the lead in promoting and developing this exciting new technology.


Win or Lose: Rossi Can Be 2014 MotoGP Champ

Toby Moody’s well written critique of Valentino Rossi asks important questions. Can Valentino Rossi compete for the World championship again? But, Moody left out important questions in his Rossi analysis. Maybe because those questions can only be answered by Rossi to Rossi. A 2014 MotoGP championship would confirm Rossi’s return to the pinnacle of the sport, but it’s not necessary to see him continue. In 2014 and beyond, Rossi can throw down a more important challenge to his young rivals and the sport he loves.

Moody claims journalists surrounded Rossi’s longtime mechanical mentor, Jeremy Burgess, and asked him tough questions about his relationship with Rossi. This would have been Friday at the last 2013 race in Valencia, Spain. If that’s true, why didn’t the journalists report Burgess’ answers? If they did, it didn’t make enough of a ripple in the MotoGP press to show up on a Google search a month after the fact. If you can’t Google it, it didn’t happen.

How to get confirmation that those tough questions were really asked of Burgess? Was Burgess directly questions about his alleged direct criticism of Rossi? Again, if you asked the question — even if the answer was an emphatic denial — that’s still a good story. Do journalists following a racing series become too much part of the scene to ask difficult questions and report unwelcome answers?

Does Moody’s critique of Rossi ignore two elephants in the room? They are unpleasant topics. They are not something MotoGP wants appearing in the press. First, Rossi is only two years out from seeing his spiritual younger brother — Marco Simoncelli — killed at Sepang. Rossi was involved in the accident that killed his close friend. Only else in war does that sort of tragedy occur and the participant is expected to just keep on going. 2012 had to have been a huge test to Rossi’s wherewithal, a test he appears to have survived. But 2012 was a year when Rossi knew he wasn’t going to be competitive on the Ducati.

In questioning Rossi’s current level of motivation, Moody never mentions Simoncelli. Two years later and it still seems odd not to see a gangly rider on #58 trying the impossible. How does Rossi, get back on the bike again and again? Is it  possible to go that little bit over the edge after such an incident? The type of handlebar to handlebar battling that Pedrosa and Marquez are capable of, that saw Pedrosa thrown off his bike at Aragon this season, might simply be impossible for Rossi today.

It might be carrying the military analogy too far, but is Rossi simply unable to push to the front due to a type of undiagnosed PTSD? The fans and the press look at a rider pushing into his mid-thirties and they talk about the physical inability to ride the bike at the limit. Just as important is the mental component. A young rider has a much more limited imagination. And imagination at 180mph on two wheels can be a rider’s biggest enemy.

Consider the change in MotoGP over the past four years that chased a great rider like Casey Stoner from the sport. Again, this is an elephant no one surrounding MotoGP wants mentioned in the press. Young riders are expected to do two things: ride past the limit and fall; and then ride injured with bones held together with titanium, screws, tape and good luck. Stoner did so in his career. But he got sick of the constant criticism he received when suffering from his mystery ailment, that turned out to be due to his lactose intolerance. Stoner grew sick of the pressureconstantly pushing riders to get back riding, when few have any idea of the physical demands of the sport.

Stoner never mentioned — as a reason for retiring — that he was just expected to get on the bike and ride immediately after his high side at Indy. But, he was. Stoner used words like passion and happiness and family, but all of that can be taken away by one accident. Bike riders have always been as replaceable as light bulbs, but today they are expected to crack up on Friday, qualify Saturday morning, have surgery Saturday evening and race on Sunday. But, perhaps because of his long term ailment, Stoner more than any other current rider grew tired of the constant pressure from teams, factories, journalists and fans to just get on the bike and ride. Casey saw through the bull shit.

Where is the limit in MotoGP when there is no limit? If a rider can break ribs, collar bones, arms, fingers, feet, legs and still be expected to get back on the bike, then where is the limit? Valentino Rossi was the only top four rider in 2013 who did not seriously overstep the limits and end up injured. Not surprisingly, that left him in fourth place in the championship. But should it? As an elder statesman, Rossi can start to put pressure on the sport to change and show more respect for the athletes the fans follow, the stars who have brought MotoGP a massive worldwide following.

These two factors, the loss of a close friend and the pushing of the limits beyond the limits, might not enter into a pro like Rossi’s thinking at all. What does, and what explains his separation with Jerry Burgess is simple: over every riders career bikes change. Kevin Cameron wrote an excellent article in Cycle World about the evolution of a top riders career. He compares Rossi’s search for answers to the only top level racer who can compare to the doctor, the great Giacomo Agostini. Just like Rossi today, Agostini changed things late in his career to attempt to find new solutions.

Motorcycles evolve. A riding style that might have worked perfectly from 2001 – 2009, may not work on today’s top class bikes. More importantly, Rossi was the master of the wild and hairy 990’s. Stoner incorrectly criticizes Rossi, claiming the Doctor was a champion of traction control and used it to win. In point of fact,  Rossi dominated the sport when the bikes were more difficult to control than today. Yes, it was an era when engine mapping and other traction control tricks became more predominant, but since engine rule changes in 2007-2009 and 2012, stepping up to the top class has become much simpler. Lorenzo was able to come up to speed with his Yamaha teammate, only due to the shift to the tamer multi-race engines. Rossi, remember, was the last world champion on a true 500cc twin. Earlier in his career, Rossi’s superior feel for the bike gave him a larger advantage. That advantage has been taken away by engine regulations, improved traction control, and a younger generation pushed to ride beyond the limit to keep up with one rider: Valentino Rossi.

Rossi is probably the person most aware of his own shortcomings. Whether the data registers, he can be shown where Lorenzo changes direction more quickly, where Marquez is stretching the bike more. After two years of chaos at Ducati, Rossi might have anticipated a difficult return to Yamaha. The question now is whether he can evolve his riding style and mentality to fit a bike more attuned to Lorenzo’s riding style, or to the recklessness of a rookie like Marquez.

Rossi says he will know after the first third of the season 2014, if he will continue into 2015. The bikes will be changing and it’s hard to predict who will benefit from the 2014 rule changes. Only Rossi knows what he considers an acceptable level of performance. It might not necessarily relate to his performance on the track. Perhaps Rossi sees himself now as an important mentor for this younger generation of riders.

It’s telling that the new generation of superstars keep falling off of their bikes to stay ahead of the Doctor. Rossi could do a service to this next generation by putting together another solid season of good results, staying within his limits and staying on the bike. He has had injuries from accidents through out his career. He has pushed the limits — his own and those of his rivals — with questionable moves like his pass of Stoner at the Corkscrew, Laguna Seca. Marquez paid that move back, in an almost identical homage, in overtaking Rossi there last season. Rossi spent the first years of his career embarrassing past front runners like Max Biaggi and especially Loris Capirossi.

No rider today embarrasses Rossi. There’s dubious honor in out crashing someone to a championship. In the final analysis, that might be the most important reason for Rossi to stay in the sport or hang up his boots: can he get his message of just riding better, rather than riding out of control passed onto a rider of the next generation. If he manages that nearly impossible feat, win or lose, Rossi goes out a champion. It is an awful tall task.

Message T-Shirts I Never Thought About

Think about this for a minute, or just a few seconds, the next time you don that favorite T-shirt with a great snarky message that really lets the world know how you feel: do I really want the world to know how I feel?

This great article by John Nicholson @JohnnyTheNic at  www.Football365.com about the meaning of the new list of top ten most popular Premier League jerseys brings that question sharply into focus. It sounds like we are about the same age and probably went through the same “bearded hippy” phases. Albeit, mine was a spiky haired punk phase.

I would go to the store, or to a concert, or out for a night on the town with a great T-shirt that read “If It Ain’t Stiff, It Ain’t Worth a…” You either know, can guess, or must Google the rest. Why did I wear that T-shirt, and not expect a hostile reaction? Of course, I expected a hostile reaction. I wanted a hostile reaction. Except, I was also looking for members of my tribe. I quickly learned the shirt was quite appropriate for a night at a live gig at a band I liked, versus just a random night out where it could be counted on to offend the biggest baddest drunk in the bar, or worse, create a mutual air of anarchist bon vivant, and I’d end up spending the evening as a sort of show piece for the biker crowd, “Hey, check this Dude’s shirt out!”


So, why do it to yourself? The obvious tribal aspect is important, but really, does wearing a T-Shirt suddenly lift someone to a level of camaraderie where I feel compelled to embrace them as part of the global revolution, just because they have a posterized face of Che Guevara on their chest? No, not really, and I suppose I should expect the same.

And, of course, as we age the messages on our T-shirts become more banal and generic. I have loads of T-shirts from road races I’ve run in. Ditto, places I’ve been on vacation and needed a spare shirt. Or, places where I have friends who thought it would be nice for me to carry around a graphic of their hometown. Not to mention the mountain of orange and black T-shirts accumulated as my children grew through the recreation & sports programs in our (Go Hilton Lake Tigers!) community.

For several years now, an industry has existed to turn all of those message T-shirts into wonderful memories compressed into quilts made up of squares cut from the various T-shirts. That’s a great solution for discarded T-shirts. But, first, I’ve had to decide to discard all of my message T-shirts.

I’m dumb. For years, friends of mine have made asinine comments about message T-shirts that I wear, but I’ve never taken the hint. Nobody cares that I support the Lung Research Center in Poughkeepsie, NY. They don’t care that I supported the Packers the year they won the Super Bowl. The Patriots the year they won they Super Bowl. And both teams when they met in the Super Bowl. I don’t care about the messages on other people’s shirts, so why should they care about mine?

Or worse, I do care. And, here is the only reason I ever care about the message on someone else’s T-shirt. It proves to me that they are an idiot. Call me shallow, but I think I speak for the vast majority of the T-shirt reading populous. If I agree with your message, I probably either ignore it, or wonder how a punk like you became a fan of the greatest football team in the history of football forever. Or, as @JohnnyTheNic points out, I probably think you’ve made a boring choice of player to support.

In the EPL, or BPL as it is now known, I became a Chelsea fan back in the days of Zola, DeGooey, Poyet and Vialli. Chelsea were even then, the flash club in the Premier League that claimed to always be trying to play football. They were the first club to start 11 foreign players and through out the 90’s seemed like a slumbering giant, capable of greatness, but not quite prepared to take it on. That’s my standard Chelsea CV that I must recite every time I wear a Chelsea jersey near an Englishman. Why? Because, it’s just assumed: American, Chelsea, wanking, glory hunting, wanker.

So whose name do I have on the back of my Chelsea shirt. Well, Zola of course is on a shirt too dilapidated to wear now. I’d of had Gronkjaer as he was a player whose game I could relate to: sprint down the wing and lash a cross into the seats behind the goal. Our careers paralleled each other, mine in the Sunday leagues, his on the grand stage, but both of us basically performing the same stunt. But, the Internet was just in it’s glowing infancy and Gronkjaer shirts were hard to come by.

But, I wear ZOLA on the back of my shirt in one part tribute to the great man, but also to ward off the “Glory Hunter” label. I want to be recognized as one of the fans who initially rejoiced when the club was saved by Abramovich, but with ever increasing doubts about the long term benefits. Maybe Chelsea would have been better to have suffered as Leeds have suffered. But, that conversation will never get started with TORRES or DROGBA or TERRY or LAMPARD on my back. Those names will get you quickly dismissed as a lightweight.

But, regardless the message, whether it be a sport’s team, a 5K fun run, an auto parts supplier, or my favorite local diner, a message T-shirt opens the wearer up for the easiest form of derision. We all have friends and family members (usually older sibings) who enjoy nothing more than commenting, ironically, on T-shirt meanings. “Oh, I see you ran a whole 5K race. Is that the T-shirt you get for winning?” “Oh, I see you support a charity for injured football players. Do you also support injuring them first?” “Oh, that’s a cute race car on your shirt. What are you twelve?”

Probably, there is a place for message T-shirts. At the track, at the concert, at the ball game; when I am with my tribe. So, for me anyway, the message T-shirts are going in a special bin bag today, probably never to be pulled out again. Oh, I’ll save some of the newest that arrived as presents for puttering around in the garden, but in general, you will meet me in public wearing the plain T-shirts and simple casual and dress shirts of the silent majority.

Inside, I might still be a seething punk rocker, whipping around a Che Guevara flag in the away section near the Sud Curve as my heroes from Chelsea take the field at the San Siro to battle either Inter or AC Milan. But the world will see me from now on as the man I have become, a middle aged guy who chooses to ruminate more on the battles we face in life, rather than wear them on his sleeves.

GT Academy: That’s a Wrap

It was a better season for me in @GTAcademy. In fact, my best to date, finishing 317th in my region. That and the fact that I was a full 1.7 seconds away from posting a qualifying lap time, might cause naysayers to poo poo my efforts. C’mon naysayers, don’t start poo pooing already! Let me explain.

There were 12″ of snow and I had to walk uphill both ways to get to my PS3. No? Okay, I’m not as talented as I need to be and I can’t start from a zero baseline on the wheel and catch up in just four short weeks. The last weekend I was still improving massively. I came through with a half-second-per-lap improvement on Saturday to drop my time to the 2:19.5 region. And late on Sunday I started consistently (well twice) running laps in the 2:19’s, so more improvement was definitely in the cards.

I didn’t lose. I ran out of time.

So, what did I learn that I can share? The physics is pretty good in GT6, even on a slightly cludgy Logitech G25 wheel. Going into the sharp left hander that really defines the lap (turn 3 maybe) at Silverstone, when I got it close to right, the wheel would give a violent “gludge” as the weight shifted from drifting thru a right hander to quickly drifting thru a left hander. Awkward, but probably less so than in a real car.

Repetition, as I said before, is critical to quick lap times. As a fan, it really makes you appreciate racers like Moto GP’s young star Marc Marquez who went to Laguna Seca having never seen the place and almost took pole and did win the race. That’s incredible. He really is an Alien.

What else? Well, I thoroughly enjoyed every minute on the wheel. My mental approach was much improved after going through the online competition in 2011 and 2012. I didn’t let set backs and a lack of progress upset me, as I could see my average lap times improving and know that a great lap develops from many laps of making many mistakes and learning. I also didn’t burn myself out on marathon sessions, until the very last day.

As, I mentioned in a couple tweets, I did start to feel that a lack of consequences took something away from the experience, but I don’t have a solution for that. Perhaps if you bash the car so thoroughly into a wall, you can’t log onto the game for 24 hours (while car is being repaired). Anything like that would be controversial, but would certainly add meaning to the sim nature of the event. Going off anywhere at any speed with no regard for the consequences is not sending the right message to young racers. I worry about stunts like a driver intentionally T-boning another competitor and hope that they are not becoming more common in racing as the zero consequences world of online sims smashes into real life physics.

There was some online whining about the need to drift the car. I think this was made more prevalent as it was something some of the competitors lacked IRL in the reality TV show competition last season. They had a hard time getting the back end to break away and feel comfortable controlling a tail happy oversteering car. That’s been a long time complaint about the Gran Turismo series. But, too much throttle induced oversteer begins to feel very arcady fast. So, Gran Turismo has been inching the oversteer up every generation.

Congratulations to the racers who made it through the competition and on to the next round.

For me, there’s always next year. 338 days until GT Academy 2014.

GT Academy Stasis Update 2

How can you be making progress in a race car (even a virtual one) when your lap times aren’t improving? I’ve asked myself that a lot the last few days, and yet, I do feel that I’m making progress. Dare I say, I think I’m improving as a virtual racer.

“But, Captain Slow,” my brain argues, “you’re not going any faster.”

“Neither are you!” I shoot back.

But gaining a scrap of emotional control (thank god a steering wheel and pedal set is too clumsy for an old man to chuck across the living room…it’d have been chucked a long time ago otherwise), I step back and as my mom always told me to do: I look at the big picture. Not the actual living room, that’d be too depressing with empty cans of Red Bull and Gatorade piled on the floor at my feet.

No, for progress I look at the fact that every session now ends with me setting a time very close to my personal best. And — perhaps I’m only fooling myself — but I feel that I know how to make up those two seconds. It might be impossible for me, but at least I can see where they are at in the lap. Where, my best lap consists of several moments where I am easing on the throttle coming out of corners, the best laps run by the fast guys are all about solid, immediate and unflinching throttle input. My hats off to Tidgney and the guys at the top of the time charts.

I’ve cut down a lot of the see sawing on the wheel. My inputs are much more controlled and economical. It feels as if I’m moving the wheel half as much as I was a week ago. I know the braking points to within a yard. I need to know them to within a foot. But the main thing is solid throttle application coming out of every apex. I’m not there yet and I don’t think I can get there by Sunday.

Right now, that type of driving sends me into a wheel spinning spiral into the virtual Silverstone weeds. I then try to chuck my G25 wheel into the ravine behind the house, but my old body just can’t do it. And, maybe that’s the final lesson from GT Academy 2013.

My old body just can’t do it. But, in the end, racing is a young man’s sport. And, honestly, SIM racing (for driver development) should become an even younger man’s sport. If there are kids out there with as much enthusiasm for racing as this old man, then they will make it in racing as far as their money can take them. Racing is a lifestyle. Sim racing is also a lifestyle. Not a glorious lifestyle filled with pit girls and boozy Red Bull sponsored after parties. More a monkish lifestyle filled with funky smelling living rooms, a lack of close personal relationships, and the people around you wondering if you’ve finally, deeply, truly, gone mad.

The maddening thing about each new lap? There’s always that possibility.

GT Academy Stasis Update

See what I did there? Up in the title bit there? I made it so it was changed a bit and it reflects my current lack of progress in the competition. Have I reached my limit? Possibly. But, limits are funny things.

I’m stuck on a time of 2:20.105 (or thereabouts) and I cannot budge off of it. But, I’ve fiddled some settings and changed around my wheel setup, things that I needed to do to move forward, but they’ve left me hanging — a bit.

“You see,” he said as if explaining a lack of progress on a term paper, “it’s like this. Overall, my average lap time is falling (getting better) but I haven’t been able to punch through the 2:20 barrier.” And with days running out, I’m afraid my GTAcademy 2013 dreams end here.

I’m not giving up. I actually enjoy the “driving” when I’m doing it. But it does become ever more awkward for my family. Don’t take pity on the fool addicted to a stupid videogame. Feel some real remorse and empathy for his wife and children. Thank goodness this competition only lasts until July 28th, or I’m sure I’d end up divorced. 

My wife has the patience of a saint. And, of course, she’s pleased that I’m not burning up my pension in tires, fuel and pit pass money. Also, there’s the not inconsiderable matter of a complete lack of risk of me doing any more damage to myself than falling off the couch. Why, if you are really interested in progressing in motorsport wouldn’t you put yourself through a challenge like GTAcademy first. Save time, money, possible injury, all sorts of nastiness that occurs on the track but is easily avoided on the couch.

My progress might be stopped at the moment, but I can feel myself getting better at easing on the throttle coming out of Luffield and onto the old pit straight. If I can just sort that, and the Maggots to Chapel complex, I know I’ve got a chance. The yard will be there to be mowed after this Sunday. Hopefully, putting my life in stasis, won’t have cost me too much.


GT Academy Status Update 5

I have been slacking on my GT Academy updates. I’ve just been grinding away on the wheel. If you look at the GTplanet website, you will see loads of players faster than me commenting on the competition. Still, I’m into the top 600 in my region. Out of about 100,000 participants that’s not bad. But, if I admit that I’m still 2.6 seconds slower than the qualifying lap times, you can see I have a lot of progress to make.

The competition is highly addictive and available to anyone with a PS3. So, I suppose you see the marketing angle right off. If you enjoy the free competition, you’ll definitely want to buy Gran Turismo 6. And, as addictive as it is for me now, trying to slice my time to get into the top 500, if you’re new to online racing or sims, but enthusiastic about motorsports, I guarantee if you spend some time with a controller in hand, you will slice your way through the ranks.

One of the little known secrets of motorsport is this: it’s not how much faster you can go, it’s how much faster you can go faster. Trust me, given an unlimited supply of coffee (your caffeine choice here) I could eventually get a qualifying time. But, the competition has a time limit. Every driving school, every track day, I’ve been to, I always improve. Improvement, if you’re paying attention and breathing is almost inevitable. Every lap is a learning experience in every kind of vehicle.

The good guys, though, the ones who become the great drivers: they go fast faster. They have an innate ability, or they’ve trained themselves, or the physiology of their inner ear that controls balance is just more finely tuned, or something. But, the trick to becoming a racing driver is not going fast. The trick to becoming a racing driver is going fast faster.

This holds true even more so in the real world, where every lap on track counts as dollars spent. Every lap you’re wearing away the tires and brakes, the engine is slowly shaking itself towards a rebuild, the suspension can only take so many bangs over the curbing, not to mention the gas and oil being consumed. So, a driver who can go fast, faster, in the real world, is a valuable commodity. You can almost put a dollar value on getting up to speed on the first flying lap, versus say the fifth. That’s four laps of gas, rubber, etc. not wasted.

Now, if that fast driver provides accurate feedback after just one flying lap: that’s what separates the absolute best from the very very good. But again, that is also a function of getting up to speed faster, then reading the vehicle and realizing what changes are needed. I once asked the manager of a kart track I raced at, how I could get down to the lap times of the most competitive racers at the track, his answer was simple, “Do about another thousand laps.”

So, there in lies the conundrum. The guys who are fast faster might have that inner ear advantage, but more than likely (and here, look no further than the current F1 grid) they probably started in racing at a very young age. I wonder if starting racing at a young enough age can actually change the physiology of the inner ear? Never mind, the point is, you need to get fast faster. Gran Turismo 6 might have finally reached a point of force feedback that makes gaming a valid opportunity to do just that.

This will shock traditionalists, but I am going to make a bold prediction. Within the next 2 years, a national sanctioning body will allow some form of simulated driving experience to be used to replace some portion of ground school for competition license qualifying. Undoubtedly, the requirements will be rigorous and probably involve a lot of the mandatory class room time that feels like waste at a race track. But, why shouldn’t it happen? The GT Academy series has shown us that a level of dedication to online racing shows a correlation to success on track. Yes, GT Academy grads are well supported in racing, but so far they have proved that support justified.

The next step is to go from just promoting the top 0.001% with race drives and sponsorship, to promoting the top 1% with license waivers and contingency programs. It can happen. It will happen. Maybe that’s why this old man keeps grinding on the wheel. I have faith that I can still unlock those magic 2.6 seconds and I believe that simulation is the path that will open up motorsport to a much younger generation.