Droning motors and nearly 280 km/h on the speedometer. The steering wheel shakes, the curve pulls, the tyres graze the markings – so close that it’s barely allowed. Not a single centimetre is left to chance. Braking later, accelerating faster, changing gear in a split second. That’s how races are won. We’re in the simulator.
Nothing is possible without virtual training in Formula sport, where competition is always becoming more extreme. In races, hundredths of a second decide whether or not a driver will make it to the top ten. The lap times of all drivers are usually within one second of each other. Those that know the track by heart have the advantage. And this is only possible with the help of simulator training.
Team Motopark owns two modern driving simulators in Oschersleben. In the cockpit mounted on a moveable base in front of a large, curved screen, the Motopark drivers regularly run through their simulation sessions, especially before tests and races.
Meticulous preparation leads to success
For Andreas Kohler and Tom Dillmann, there’s no question that this meticulous preparation leads to success. Kohler is the technical director of Team Motopark, bringing to the table driving know-how and reconciling it with engineering. As a professional racing driver, Tom Dillmann knows the intricacies of the tracks like no other. This Frenchman won the 2016 Formula V8 3.5. For the guys competing in the European Formula 3 and German Formula 4, the 28-year-old is an idol. When it comes down to milliseconds, a winner’s advice is worth gold.
Training on a simulator is especially important because test times are limited. Differently from a biathlete or tennis player, racing drivers aren’t able to constantly practise on the tracks to get better.
Before the simulation session begins, there is an introduction in the conference room. Andreas Kohler explains, metre by metre, when it’s best to change gear. When the last possible opportunity is to brake. And when the kerb can be taken. Advertising banners, lorries on the track, bridges and markings are used for orientation.
The Motopark drivers getting into the simulator this time around are Keyvan Andres from Germany and Marino Sato from Japan. Both are rookies in the FIA Formula 3 European Championship. They pay attention and take notes. In theory, they know precisely how to do a perfect lap.
Then it’s time for them to get in the simulator. The two rooms are directly beside each other. First, coach Tom Dillmann gets in the cockpit. He demonstrates how it’s done. The course is the Hungaroring near Budapest. When did he drive it last? ‘Last year. I won,’ says Dillmann.
He sets a time that the two rookies won’t come near to. With data logging his performance is recorded and used as a reference for the two drivers. Now, it’s Marino and Keyvan’s turn.
It’s Marino and Keyvan’s turn
The dimensions of the cockpit and the steering wheel are the same as in a real Formula 3 car. The seats were individually manufactured for Keyvan and Marino. The steering wheel feedback is very precise, making understeering and oversteering clearly noticeable. While it’s true that centrifugal forces can’t be simulated, simulation training still isn’t a walk in the park. The training takes a huge mental toll. And there have been drivers that have broken fingers on the steering wheel.
Through a window, Tom Dillmann watches his protégés have a go at it. He sees on the monitors that Keyvan braked to soon in his first lap. Marino drives into the gravel trap. After a few more hours, they’ll be doing much better.
They’ll keep practising until they press the buttons instinctively. The track, especially the tricky sections, has to be trained until it becomes second nature to the drivers.
Now they’re ready for the race.