In Part Two of our discussion into the use of the simulator and the coaching of the customer driver in a GT Pro-Am pairing, EnduranceandGT editor Andy Lloyd speaks to 2019 British GT Champion Graham Davidson.
Graham, with teammate and Aston Martin factory driver Jonny Adam, drove the #47 TF Sport Aston Martin V8 Vantage GT3, to the overall drivers title in only his second year competing at the highest level of domestic GT competition in the UK. Graham was very generous with his time to explain in-depth how he worked with his coach to develop both his driving skill and his understanding of the then-new Aston Martin GT3.
Graham, thank you for your time. You mentioned, as we went into the 2019 season, that you would be spending more time in the simulator as part of the race preparation. Why was simulator time so important to you?
“It’s very important, just in terms of getting your head into the right mindset, leading up to race. As an amateur in British GT, everyone’s watching you so there’s a lot of pressure on being able to qualify well and race well. Going to the simulator for a couple of hours on a Thursday or Friday night before you go to the track is a good part of getting you into the ‘zone’.
“I think for me, as well as that, it was just a great way to get comfortable and be confident going into the weekend. Quite often I’d leave the simulator having been within a tenth or two of Jonny’s reference lap. I think that gap came down during the year and, before we did the last Donington race, the gap in the simulator was half a tenth between us so that gave me a lot of comfort and confidence that I know the track well and I know what I’ve got to do.
“To be honest, I think the easy bit of the weekend is to drive a fast lap. The difficult bit is managing the traffic at the start and managing the GT4 overtakes throughout the race. Those elements of the race are probably what require the most concentration because if you make a slight mistake or misjudgment when you’re overtaking a GT4, that can ruin your race. Even if there’s no contact, you can drop back down the pack. If you’ve lost two or three seconds, depending on what penalties are in the works, you can lose a lot of places in the pit stops and be off the podium.
“For me the simulator was a great tool to train me to do the fast laps and get the muscle memory so that I could just repeat-repeat-repeat. If I was in clean air, I could just bang in the lap times and all my concentration was in overtaking, positioning the car, defending my position or attacking to gain position. Working in simulator and training with Jonny gets you in a confident, comfortable position. You know you can do the lap times and you don’t have to think about that. If you’re got clean air, or in qualifying, you’re going to do a good lap without thinking about it and the best way to do that is practicing in the simulator to test before race weekends. When it comes to the race you can then just concentrate on what’s going to give you the points.”
What were the key elements that you were looking to learn from a simulator session?
“Certainly in 2019 the new Aston was quite a sensitive car and every track has one or two corners in particular where the gear you’re in makes the difference in terms of settling the rear of the car. Coppice at Donington you could take in third but if you take it in second, the rear would be much more settled and planted which allows you to get back on the power slightly earlier.
“There were some corners where it was a choice between taking it in a lower gear with higher revs but risking over-braking the car or taking it in a higher gear and carrying the momentum but ending up with power over-steer. The simulator allowed us to do that as well and try different things.
“Your positioning as well is very important so if you don’t get that right in the sim it will be the same as on the track – if you’re not positioned right, your corner won’t go to plan and you lose tenths.”
When you arrived at the circuit, how accurately did you find your results in the sim translated to the circuit into consistency on track?
“Very accurately. I think there’s very little difference between what we had to do in the car in the sim and the track. The guys at Base Performance, and Jonny and Aston with their input as well, have developed a simulator that gives a very accurate representation of what the car does. The software is very good.”
A lot of drivers are investing in sophisticated simulator rigs for their home. Is that a route you have considered?
“I’ve got a very basic simulator plugged in to the PlayStation with a seat, pedal, steering wheel and I plug it into my 70” flat-screen TV and sit in front of it with Project CARS. It represents a similar sort of situation to a simulator in terms of learning the positioning of where to put the car but that is just a fixed seat on a frame. It doesn’t move and it doesn’t give you the feedback.
“In the Base Performance simulator, the caliper, the brake pad, the disc, the master cylinder, the brake fluid – it’s all there to replicate the exact feel of what we would experience in the car. We sit inside an Aston chassis with the same seat, steering wheel and dash arrangement as the actual race car so that’s the length they’ve gone to make it feel real.”
Would a home set-up be as effective as going to an organisation such as Base Performance?
“I know that a lot of people that I have raced against have big £30,000 – £100,000 simulators in their house that have multiple screens, moving seats and force feedback and things like that. I’ve never been a massive fan of simulators – the one at Base Performance is the only one I’ve liked and which is actually very accurate so, other than my £500 PlayStation set-up, I don’t plan to spend any money on a home rig.
“The home set-up just helps get the track in my head. I can load up a track and select a front-engined car which is similar in size and lay-out to the one I’ll be driving. I’ll sit for an hour on the time-trial mode and just go round and round to get the circuit in my head. The next day I’m off to the simulator and it’s the simulator that makes it real. I don’t want to overdo it at home because I want what Jonny says to sink in and I don’t want bad habits to creep in. I think there’s a fine balance between creating bad habits for yourself and learning. The home simulator preparation is fine to a certain degree but if you’ve not got your pro with you, you can easily learn bad habits.
“While I’m in the simulator at Base Performance, Jonny will be watching all my inputs. He can see how hard I’m pressing the brake pedal, how much steering angle, when I’m steering, when I’m braking, and he can tell me; “Right, Graham – that was good but five metres later on the brakes next time round, but the rest of your lap was great”. He’ll just talk me through it with the headphones on and give me pointers as I go. That is where the learning is done.”
Again, huge thanks to Graham for his time for this piece. More information about Base Performance Simulators can be found here.