Sim Racing Setups: Where Are Our In-Game Engineers?

Custom setups header RD.jpg
With setups being so complex across multiple sim racing titles and a good setup being worth huge amounts of time across a race, it can be rather daunting for those who do not know much about car setups. So we had an idea, rehashed from the MotoGP and Project CARS games.

Image credit: Codemasters / EA Sports

We have all been there, have we not? About to do a race on our favourite sim or game and quickly looking for a setup on Google, since we all pretty much assume that the default setups are no good. Of course, for many people, developing the setup from scratch is part of the fun.

But that is still a strong minority who are more technically and mechanically inclined, and for the most part setups are a surface level topic for less hardcore players. It should come as no surprise, the Fixed Setup series on iRacing for the most part have more participation than their Open Setup equivalents.


With it being such a controversial subject matter within sim racing, maybe there is one thing that can be introduced that will satisfy both the immersion crowd and those who have not got the faintest idea of what to do.

A Setup Wizard​

Creating setups in sim racing titles has become quite the business, with many services charging subscriptions to access setups created by some of the top sim racing pros. But surprisingly, for all the claims about immersion, these titles lack something that could be very helpful and perfectly realistic since every driver has one: an in-game engineer.

In the MotoGP games developed by Milestone, you are able to talk to your engineer if there is an issue with the way your bike is behaving out on track. In the menu called ‘Guided Setup’, options include Braking, Corner Entry, On corners, Corner Exit and Acceleration. After going through the criteria, the engineer suggests some changes.

This is infinitely better than looking at things like ‘Front Pre-Load’ and ‘Swingarm Connector’, and all these other many options which are just as incomprehensible as hieroglyphics to most racing game mortals. It can be quite daunting, like having loads of options for something to watch on Netflix and eventually you want to just eat your pizza so you watch Friends for the 384th time.

MotoGP 23 Guided Setup.jpg

The setup refinement process is made so much easier with the Guided Setup menu. Image credit: Milestone

A similar system could even be found in Project CARS 2, so it is not like car racing sims could not implement it. In PC2, players clicked the tab called ‘Tuning Setup’ and then ‘Race Engineer’. They are then presented with four options: Brake, Downforce, Suspension and Gearing.

Again, the player just answers a few questions trying to describe the issue that is bugging them. The engineer then suggests changes and voila, give it another chuck around and see if the car feels better to drive. Repeat the process until you are fully comfortable with the car – like professional racers would to with their engineers at the track.

For a demonstration, here is a video by the late William Marsh of Sim Racing Paddock putting it to the test.


How Could It Work?​

A possibility would be an external tool in the same vein of Crew Chief, for instance. There does exist an ACC Engineer app that we have reviewed before on stream, although that does not do what we are suggesting.

This hypothetical Race Engineer software would analyse the setup you have in-game – whatever it may be like ACC, F1 23, iRacing, et cetera – and you can then tab into it and be presented with the same kind of questions as in the MotoGP game and Project CARS 2. Then once you have figured out the issue, it suggests changes and you manually apply them to the game.

Of course, the difficulty here is the fact that different games would warrant different settings for the same issue. It would be quite the task for whoever would make this app to have the solutions for each and every title, since the setups across all these games are so different. Plus, with the handling models being so different, a solution on ACC may not work on iRacing.


It would also have to cater for both qualifying and race setups. One of the easiest things to do on the F1 game is go to time trial and load the world record setup for a particular track, but that setup could not suit you but more importantly, not be a good race setup. There is more to a race than pace, you want to also not have a setup that destroys your tyres.

Sim Racing Setup Engineer Tool – Helpful For Everyone?​

A piece of software like this would not only be practical to quickly iron out issues, but also go a long way to helping people learn more about setups in sim racing. With AI on the rise, it might even learn what works and what does not for different sims, making it more and more useful over time.

Should a tool like this become reality, more people being able to optimise their setups would close the gaps and make for an even better experience for us all. Let’s face it – not everyone has five hours to dedicate to keep lapping a track to find those precious extra tenths. This is for the most part, a hobby after all.

Would you like to see a setup guide service for sim racing? Tell us on Twitter @OverTake_gg or in the comments down below!
About author
Luca Munro
Biggest sim racing esports fan in the world.

Comments

I would definitely give something like this a go. Wouldn't hesitate to throw some money at it too, if it 's effective. Time is money and running hot lap after hot lap to test each little variable change in the ARBs, springs, differential, etc. is an exhausting exercise at times. Would be quite the undertaking on the development side though, especially with all the variables involved between sims, cars, etc.
 
Ahh........ the black art of setups.

I have spent the last year evaluating my sim racing. I decided to spend an entire year racing AI in all of the games I have (AMS2, Rf2, AC, ACC, PC2). My goal was to drive enough to be able to decide if the car was bad or my driving was bad. I only used the base setups with tire pressures and brake bias as the only changes.

Over time I realized the biggest setup changes I had to make first was me. In order, the changes were

1. Looking far enough ahead
2. Proper seating position
3. Proper FOV
4. Proper FFB

I was able to knock off 2 seconds just by improving these things. I also developed the ability to actually know what the car was doing as opposed to what I was making it do.

It was only then, AFTER I knew my driving weaknesses and strengths, did I look at car setups. I have installed MoTec and I bought a book called " Interpreting the Squiggly Lines" to delve into telemetry.

I read up on suspension components, what they do, how they interact and how to change them.

I have found that a setup that worked for me yesterday somehow doesn't work for me today at the same track. I realized that some days I just have a bad day and no setup is going to fix that. I know now that no setup can fix a bad driver. I had to spend the time over and over again developing a driving routine so that I could approach a setup change intelligently.

I also realized that a setup is specific to me. I could take a crap setup, drive it over and over and eventually be able to set a decent time with it. But if I wanted to go faster, I had to change the setup. So what happens I make the changes ? I have to change the way I drive because now the car behaves differently. That is why I believe paid setups are only a starting point. If you buy a setup just trying to get faster immediately, good luck with that. Setups are an iterative process. You never have the perfect setup.

If an in-game engineer is included in games, it should have the ability to say, " Boy, you really suck. Come back to me after you have practiced for a while".
 
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Quote: 'Where are our in-game engineers?'
Well, they are in the same place as mid race saves, AI driver swaps, oval racing lines and blue flag behaviour, they are in the 'we can't be bothered, it'll do as it is' box, or in the 'Don't worry, that feature is coming' pile, but it never does.

I agree, there should be much more made of this aspect, (especially to increase the career aspect), with options for briefings/debriefings/engineer discussions to develop the car in the right direction as well as improve the setup during a session.

It's a shame that, even though we still see some enjoyable sims appear, they rarely seem to push forward with any of this stuff.
 
Premium
I would pay for it. I just want to let the engineer know what I am experiencing, and they make the changes to the car. This would be great. I have limited time to sim race and just want to drive, not tweak setups.
 
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Naaaaaah. Not happening. First of all people should have a clue what is happening to begin with, is it even understeer or oversteer. Is it genuine setup problem or not. Be ready to have your engineer quietly turning away and going to talk with team boss about your future in the team.

I also wonder is there any steroids for esports already ? How could one get that superhuman level of concentration and reactions ? As a natural athlete I wonder, where do I stand. We could all take those steroids and stay equally unequal, just everybody faster.

In perfectly perfect world all of the lucky ones who are fast naturally stays natty, and the unlucky ones takes simroids to make up for lacking luck. This way we can have five cars or more photofinishes everytime. What a wonderful world would it be, so much equality, no more racingsism.
 
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1. Looking far enough ahead
2. Proper seating position
3. Proper FOV
4. Proper FFB

I was able to knock off 2 seconds just by improving these things. I also developed the ability to actually know what the car was doing as opposed to what I was making it do.
Yes I agree with this. I must admit, more often than not I will race with almost default setup and adjust the difficulty to suit, and concentrate on improving my own driving rather than changing the car. I'm not saying that's the right way, but it generally works for me. (But of course that's more relevant to singleplayer racing, which I prefer to do).
 
I would suggest to add more good base setups to choose from. If you don't like working on setups, you could at least try different setups and pick the one you like the most.
If you do like working on it, well you have a good base to start from.

For MP you could then add the option for multiple fixed setups.
 
There is value in race engineer like stuff but the problem is genuinely fast setups are often exploiting some mechanical aspect of the engine and the only way to compete is to use the same exploits. I think what our games need is the ability to just take someone elses setup from timetrials and maybe during a multiplayer race. That way any winning exploit is at least publically available and everyone can learn to use it and they only get to win one race using it. It puts an end to the paid setups market and means esports setups get distributed. Project Cars 2 had the right idea and it produced a more even playing field.
 
Premium
I would pay for it. I just want to let the engineer know I am experiencing, and they make the changes to the car. This would be great. I have limited time to sim race and just want to drive, not tweak setups.
Yep agreed, the holy grail would be some sort of system where you can just say something like "the rear is getting loose when I brake in turn 3" then either get some suggestions on setup (or even technique).

That's probably a bit wishful thinking but I'd take something that's more generic like "car is loose on medium speed corners" and it then makes some adjustments. Obviously would want a bit of an overview of what was adjusted for educational purposes.

I still think devs underestimate the importance good quality base setups. Ideally they should be providing 3 or 4 per car. They don't have to be track specific just "Twisty track", "Medium/Flowy Track", "High Speed" and one for Wet. Then keep them updated when they make changes to the physics model.
 
I would suggest to add more good base setups to choose from. If you don't like working on setups, you could at least try different setups and pick the one you like the most.
If you do like working on it, well you have a good base to start from.

For MP you could then add the option for multiple fixed setups.
I think this is the most practical solution. A bit like the M button (or whatever) on cars. Once you identified your preferred default, you could then go on to tweak if you were inclined. Like most people I only know if I like the base setup of a car. If I dont like it, I probably wont drive it. There are too many others that I do like to invest the fiddle time.

It does sound like a perfect job for AI though. Analyse your lap data, and give you the option to apply suggested changes to see if it improves your time.
 
I've only recently been trying some "pro" setups in ACC, as opposed to my usual choice of the game's default aggressive setup. So far my lap times are the same - I just find the new setup more difficult to drive and my tyres overheating... So there's definitely more to it than just making changes to the car. I'd need to reconsider my driving style.

But if I want my driving style to be the starting point (I'm not chasing any lap records anyway and I mostly play single player), I'd love some engineering feedback and suggestions from the game - to have some sort of back and forth. I have no doubt someone can come up with an app to play the virtual engineer. That would be great, just as CrewChief is. It just puzzles me that no game seems to be able (or the developers willing) to create something as good as CrewChief, in-game. All that is the sort of thing that could make a game stand out.

In any case, while knowing your way around car setup parameters is part of what makes racing sims so immersive to many people, it's often not what real life drivers need to worry as much about as gamers. The same goes for race strategy or making decisions in changing weather conditions. I'd love to have the option to be able to rely on my virtual team's expertise and analysis on such matters.
 
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I honestly feel sorry for all of the guys here who just simply want to go very fast, but don't enjoy a process getting there. I think lack of understanding here spans to these ideas of such tool even being possible. Racing is a problem, and solving it is main reason why it should be fun and interesting. Even if you'd get perfect setup, you'd ruin it eventually. First reason being unideal car control. Second reason - not knowing what setup choice gives you exactly, because big deal in driving car fast is anticipation of what is going to happen before it does happen.

So you'd get all perfect setup for this one track, this one car, these particular conditions and what now ? You think you'd just go very fast now ? But your gears selection is bad. Your steering is bad. Braking is bad. You don't understand the track, your lines are bad. You don't know how to use brakes and throttle to induce yaw just right to get best possible turning and keep it under control. You don't know that aero allows you to go much faster here and there and you underutilize it. Brakes allows you to brake later now, but requires more finesse to avoid lockups. Car is nervous under braking, but it should make up be being more agile around turns, but you experience only drawbacks. Car is perhaps much stiffer now, but is also twitchier so you keep crashing because of that. Maybe the setup is much faster in 90% of the track, but is compromised at 10% and you can't comprehend it and keep pushing harder through whole track, still being unhappy about your engineer. Unfortunately over twenty minutes of driving you wear out rear tires too much, also weight distribution changes because of decreased fuel load, ambient conditions changes, setup is wrong now, again blame engineer for not seeing this in advance.

I could guarantee if there were some fantastic race setup engineer software, which just can't happen, most simracers would be too lazy to read into all the output and all the "if" and "depends" of it. At the end learning nothing and not even becoming faster.

Why not just discuss about these things with actual real people. Why physics and talking about car handling is a taboo topic ? Maybe just race marbles.
 
clearly an excellent idea, because it's true that we're not engineers and that my pleasure is to drive and not to spend hours looking for something that won't lead to anything anyway, faced with drivers who know how to do it
Setups usually don't give that much of laptime, apart basics: gearing, pressures and tire compound, fuel load and aerodynamic settings. A lot of setup has most influence on how consistent, comfortable and enjoyable car is. Most of them doesn't necessarily combine for more than a second of laptime, assuming default isn't just absolutely terrible.

It is not unusual to come back to default after tweaking bunch of stuff wrong, and to do a PB laptime. Because apparently you spend hours of driving not to just nail a setup, but to actually master the track, master the car and make it all work together in your hands.

Eitherway this esports attitude is just pure toxicity. You should be finding about a track you're about to race just when the practice starts or soon before. A good driver with reasonable understanding will be able to get 98% of performance in less than an hour. No need to grind for a week to obtain remaining 2% and iron out the performance to inhuman levels.
 
Premium
I honestly feel sorry for all of the guys here who just simply want to go very fast, but don't enjoy a process getting there. I think lack of understanding here spans to these ideas of such tool even being possible. Racing is a problem, and solving it is main reason why it should be fun and interesting. Even if you'd get perfect setup, you'd ruin it eventually. First reason being unideal car control. Second reason - not knowing what setup choice gives you exactly, because big deal in driving car fast is anticipation of what is going to happen before it does happen.

So you'd get all perfect setup for this one track, this one car, these particular conditions and what now ? You think you'd just go very fast now ? But your gears selection is bad. Your steering is bad. Braking is bad. You don't understand the track, your lines are bad. You don't know how to use brakes and throttle to induce yaw just right to get best possible turning and keep it under control. You don't know that aero allows you to go much faster here and there and you underutilize it. Brakes allows you to brake later now, but requires more finesse to avoid lockups. Car is nervous under braking, but it should make up be being more agile around turns, but you experience only drawbacks. Car is perhaps much stiffer now, but is also twitchier so you keep crashing because of that. Maybe the setup is much faster in 90% of the track, but is compromised at 10% and you can't comprehend it and keep pushing harder through whole track, still being unhappy about your engineer. Unfortunately over twenty minutes of driving you wear out rear tires too much, also weight distribution changes because of decreased fuel load, ambient conditions changes, setup is wrong now, again blame engineer for not seeing this in advance.

I could guarantee if there were some fantastic race setup engineer software, which just can't happen, most simracers would be too lazy to read into all the output and all the "if" and "depends" of it. At the end learning nothing and not even becoming faster.

Why not just discuss about these things with actual real people. Why physics and talking about car handling is a taboo topic ? Maybe just race marbles.
This is the thing I don't really care about the absolute fastest setup, I don't hotlap and I don't race online.

I want a "race engineer" that will help me tweak the car for AI racing. I don't want to stick the AI at 80% start at the back and try to beat them all in 5 laps. I don't care if I come first I'll quite happily qualify mid pack/top ten and have a good race with the AI in a car that works for me and get a top 5 finish. If I qualify first at 100% AI I'll quit out and up the difficulty, starting in pole and driving away from the AI is a pointless exercise to me.

Not all sim racers are interested in maxing out the car, some of us just want to enjoy a bit of competitive offline racing and have a "race engineer" to help us tweak the setup to our liking.

If I've got a couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon I want to be racing not tweaking setups.
 
Premium
This is the thing I don't really care about the absolute fastest setup, I don't hotlap and I don't race online.

I want a "race engineer" that will help me tweak the car for AI racing. I don't want to stick the AI at 80% start at the back and try to beat them all in 5 laps. I don't care if I come first I'll quite happily qualify mid pack/top ten and have a good race with the AI in a car that works for me and get a top 5 finish. If I qualify first at 100% AI I'll quit out and up the difficulty, starting in pole and driving away from the AI is a pointless exercise to me.

Not all sim racers are interested in maxing out the car, some of us just want to enjoy a bit of competitive offline racing and have a "race engineer" to help us tweak the setup to our liking.

If I've got a couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon I want to be racing not tweaking setups.
Precisely. Not everyone is without outside responsibilities so they can dedicate themselves fully to tweaking every little thing, and just want to get into a race and have some fun.
 
Premium
Anyone using AI chatbots for a setup engineer? What's your experience?
 
This is the thing I don't really care about the absolute fastest setup, I don't hotlap and I don't race online.

I want a "race engineer" that will help me tweak the car for AI racing. I don't want to stick the AI at 80% start at the back and try to beat them all in 5 laps. I don't care if I come first I'll quite happily qualify mid pack/top ten and have a good race with the AI in a car that works for me and get a top 5 finish. If I qualify first at 100% AI I'll quit out and up the difficulty, starting in pole and driving away from the AI is a pointless exercise to me.

Not all sim racers are interested in maxing out the car, some of us just want to enjoy a bit of competitive offline racing and have a "race engineer" to help us tweak the setup to our liking.

If I've got a couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon I want to be racing not tweaking setups.
Race default, thats it. And if doing basic setup tweaks demands more than two minutes from you, then really stick to default.

If you only have a hour or few per week, optimizing a setup to gain 0.5s of laptime should be least of your concerns. To me personally even longer than usual game launch is a deal breaker if I am there just for little run. Also in more complex and detailed sims like rF2 you just simply can't possibly get a decent run without spending a hour or so to warm it all up and get comfortable after longer break, lets say few months of not touching it, similar it is with every other game/sim.

I think in your case AI matcher algo would be much greater addition, where game would autoselect AI difficulty in reference to your result, or possibility to adjust it on the fly in game. It is true that AI which is much too fast or too slow completely ruins not only immersion, but also the way you perceive physics of a car as it tricks feel of the limit, I know it well because just recently I was adjusting our 1954 cars pack for rF2 AI for wet track conditions, and did the same for 1967 cars pack before.

Do you think you'd get good setup made by AI much faster ? I bet you you'd still have to drive it, move sliders, evaluate it. At the end it probably would result in greater time loses and a setup very likely not to be what you expected.
 
Premium
Race default, thats it. And if doing basic setup tweaks demands more than two minutes from you, then really stick to default.

If you only have a hour or few per week, optimizing a setup to gain 0.5s of laptime should be least of your concerns. To me personally even longer than usual game launch is a deal breaker if I am there just for little run. Also in more complex and detailed sims like rF2 you just simply can't possibly get a decent run without spending a hour or so to warm it all up and get comfortable after longer break, lets say few months of not touching it, similar it is with every other game/sim.

I think in your case AI matcher algo would be much greater addition, where game would autoselect AI difficulty in reference to your result, or possibility to adjust it on the fly in game. It is true that AI which is much too fast or too slow completely ruins not only immersion, but also the way you perceive physics of a car as it tricks feel of the limit, I know it well because just recently I was adjusting our 1954 cars pack for rF2 AI for wet track conditions, and did the same for 1967 cars pack before.

Do you think you'd get good setup made by AI much faster ? I bet you you'd still have to drive it, move sliders, evaluate it. At the end it probably would result in greater time loses and a setup very likely not to be what you expected.
You’re not getting the point, it’s about getting a bit of an assist in setting the car up how I want it to feel. I don’t care about 0.5 of a second I care about it driving how I like it.
 

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