Ford #LockdownLaps: How I managed to make it through qualifying
Last week Monday marked the beginning of the Ford Performance #LockdownLaps competition: an online sim racing challenge that aims to reward some of the top sim racers in the country with bragging rights, prizes and glory. Held on the popular Gran Turismo Sport platform, the first week of the competition was all about going out and setting a qualifying time around the tricksy Red Bull Ring in a Gr.4 Ford Mustang.
Having five days to set a qualifying time (the track “closed” on Friday at 9pm) is a double-edged sword. On one hand it gives sim racing newbies such as myself an opportunity to learn the track and slowly improve our lap times the best we can. On the other, however, it lets the experienced racers whittle their times down and make qualifying for the event that much harder for everybody else. At the end of the first day if you ran a 1:38.500 you were pretty much in there. But by Wednesday if you weren't running a 1.37.500 then there was absolutely no way you'd be one of the 72 making it through to the second round.
This was bad news for yours truly. After spending most of Monday and Tuesday night practising, the best I could scrape together was a 1:38.386. Useless. Meanwhile, the guys at the sharp-end of the timing sheet were just about to dip below the 1:36.000 mark. Things were not looking good and I was getting frustrated - I simply couldn't find any more time.
About to pack it all in I got a message from one of the members of EKZ Motorsport (a South African online racing team that competes in both Assetto Corsa Competizione and Gran Turismo Sport) asking if I'd be keen for some online coaching. Of course I said yes.
So on Wednesday evening one Tristan de Nobrega (aka LondonExpress) set up a training lobby, fired-up a PlayStation Party (this basically allows you to talk to each other live via a headset) and got to work on this not-so-switched-on 37-year-old. Though my lines were decent he quickly found fault with many of my braking and turn-in points. He also helped me fine-tune the force-feedback settings of my Logitech G29 wheel and suggested I swap camera views: racing from the cockpit perspective may be fantastic for realism but it does you no favours when it comes to hunting down quicker lap times. So I switched to the more popular bumper view and found it much easier to identify my new reference points.
We spent more than an hour in the lobby and by the time each of us had logged out I was confident I could improve on Tuesday's time. And I did. After a break and some much-needed dinner I ran a 1:37.842. We had another coaching session on Thursday evening in which De Nobrega basically reinforced what I had learnt the night before and highlighted a few areas on which I was still falling short. It was just what I needed.
Later on I set to work and watched with glee as my times got quicker and quicker the more I pushed. I nailed a 1:37.584, a 1:37.440 and then a 1:37.362. I never expected to get anywhere near the latter so when I crossed the line with a 1:37.081 I was literally whooping and clapping from behind my steering wheel. At 10.35pm. Yep, my neighbours must think I'm a proper lunatic.
I had plans to better this lap-time on Friday but as usual a bout of food poisoning got in the way (a similar thing happened at the Emerald Speed Festival earlier this year). Luckily it proved competitive enough to put me in 42nd place overall and into the next stage of the competition - a race around WeatherTech Laguna Seca in a N300 Ford Focus ST on Saturday, July 11 at 4pm.
Here's hoping that with some practice and some more coaching from De Nobrega (if he's up to it) I can put on a similar performance. Updates to follow ...
- For more information on the event follow “Ford Sim Racing” on Discord.