Practice makes perfect: How simulator work is helping JRM’s drivers
There is a saying that practice makes perfect. And that’s certainly the theory that JRM subscribes to when it’s preparing its drivers for action at each of the races in this year’s Blancpain GT Series.
The British trio of Sean Walkinshaw, Craig Dolby and Martin Plowman are all racing the Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3 in the Blancpain PRO class this season as part of JRM’s Race Driver Development Programme line up.
And thanks to JRM’s status as the Official Partner to Nissan Motorsports International (Nismo) in the GT3 category, all three drivers have direct access to a state-of-the-art racing simulator that’s housed in the ‘Nismo Lab’ (pictured above) at Silverstone Circuit in the UK.
As a resource, the simulator gives Walkinshaw, Dolby and Plowman a valuable opportunity to fine-tune their driving skills before each race weekend by racking up hundreds of ‘virtual’ laps on the track they’re about to visit.
“The sim is a fantastic tool for us to use because it allows us to learn the layout of the track, the gearing for each sector and to generally get a good feeling for the rhythm that the track requires,” explains Dolby, JRM’s Pro driver and coach.
“As a driver, you don’t want to be arriving at a track for an important race weekend and having to refresh every part of your memory during the free practice sessions. Using the Nismo simulator means we can do all of that in the build up to the race and that’s something that leaves you feeling confident straight away.”
Work in the Nismo simulator has been particularly useful for Walkinshaw this season. The 21-year-old was signed as JRM’s Development Driver at the beginning of 2015 and this is his first of three seasons in GT3 competition.
As a young racer that’s cutting his teeth in the category, the knowledge that he can extract from the Nismo simulator has been vital when it comes to successfully competing against more experienced GT3 drivers this year.
“There are a few tracks on the Blancpain calendar that I haven’t raced at before Zolder, Nogaro, Misano and Russia so the Nismo simulator is hugely useful to me,” he says.
“Our engineer, Gus, comes to every simulator session and he gives me data from previous tests that I can then use when I’m driving the track on screen. It’s accelerated my learning this season.”
Once aboard the Nismo simulator, the driver uses a fully interactive replica race steering wheel that features sequential gear change paddles on the back.
The driver also wears headphones that provide all of the sounds that would be heard inside the cockpit of the Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3 on the real life racetrack engine note, gear change and braking noise.
The steering wheel also feeds back different physical sensations to the driver, including bumps in the track surface, camber changes and oversteer and understeer.
“It’s as close to real life as you’re ever going to get it,” Dolby adds.
The JRM drivers typically spend three hours in the Nismo simulator during each session and, as a close-knit team that’s shown enough speed to score a Blancpain podium and set fastest laps already this season, all of the drivers offer each other advice while the simulator laps are being racked up.
But, the simulator also provides an opportunity for some competitive rivalry when it comes to analysing the lap times that are logged during each session.
“By driving on the same track in exactly the same simulator, it’s a great opportunity for us all to push each other and create an element of competition,” Sean says. “Although we’re team-mates, the simulator is a fantastic tool that we can use to push each other. We all want to be the fastest and you know everyone’s giving their best.”
JRM partnership manager, James Walters, believes having access to the Nismo Lab is a valuable asset for the Race Driver Development Programme to utilise.
“All three of our drivers have found the work we’ve done in the Nismo Lab to be beneficial this year and I think it’s made them better competitors and stronger on track with the Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3,” he says.
“We’re hugely fortunate to have direct access to a state-of-the-art sim and I believe the Nismo Lab will continue to have a big impact on the performance of our drivers as we shape them into the sports car drivers of the future.”